How can someone find the motivation to get clean and sober? Actually, I’m not so sure that it is actually possible for an addict or alcoholic to suddenly make the decision to start creating a more positive life for themselves. Instead, the traditional method of finding recovery is through surrender, which is more an admission of defeat against drugs and alcohol, rather than a positively-inspired motivational decision.
Are all addicts and alcoholic doomed to find recovery only through a hopeless admission of defeat and surrender? Or is it possible to positively inspire a struggling addict or alcoholic to change their life? Let’s look a little deeper.
Positive inspiration for change
At one time during my drinking and drugging career, I attended a treatment center and heard an amazing speaker at an in-house AA meeting. The man was promising us the world if we would only follow this simple program, and he did it with such power and elegance that I was truly moved. I became excited about the possibility of a new life in recovery; of living a life without drugs and alcohol. This speaker gave rise to the idea that such a life could actually have meaning for me.
Upon leaving this treatment center, I failed to stay sober. I hate to use the cliche, but I simply was not ready to stop using drugs and alcohol. I had not yet surrendered. This means that I was still holding on to control, still fighting to stay in power of my own life and actions, still operating out of raw fear and unwilling to face my life without self-medicating. My point here is that no amount of positive inspiration or promises of the benefits of recovery could have possibly converted me at that time. The speaker at that meeting did an awesome job and sparked a genuine hope and interest in me, but it was not enough. My self-will was still too powerful. I insisted on driving the bus, instead of surrendering and learning a new way to live.
Digging into the past
The question often gets raised in recovery: “What did you do for fun before you started using drugs and alcohol?” And also: “What gave your life meaning before drugs and alcohol took over?” The answers to these questions supposedly have the power or potential to snap an addict back to reality and make them realize that chasing drugs and alcohol is meaningless, and that they used to have more worthwhile pursuits that they should return to. The problem is, this doesn’t work, nor does it provide any level of motivation to the struggling addict or alcoholic. Of course, I can only speak from my own experience, but I can assure you that, in my active addiction, all of the meaningful things in my life slowly faded into the background as my obsession with drugs and alcohol grew, and I could not bring myself to care or get excited or passionate about those pursuits even though I wanted to. I knew that I had once had various interests and hobbies and some terrific friends that didn’t use drugs, but I could not bring myself to care about such things.
I could not see any way to make that sort of “normal” life be exciting for me again. I could not see myself facing the world without drugs. Getting high had become my new purpose. This is the trap of addiction–the reason why you can’t use positive inspiration to motivate an addict. They simply don’t care. So what if they used to enjoy various hobbies, meet lots of new people, and have fun volunteering to help some great cause? None of that matters anymore, and the addict or alcoholic can’t imagine such a life appealing to them ever again. And so the hopelessness is perpetuated. Is there any way out at all?
Surrender: the gift of desperation
The call it a gift because it is the defining moment and conceptual shift needed for an addict or alcoholic to start making a real and lasting change in their life. If things are going great for a using addict, why would they change? That doesn’t make any sense. That is why you hear of people in recovery talk about “hitting bottom”–getting to that lowest point of their life where the only way to go is up.
I have heard countless addicts and alcoholics in recovery tell their story, and they all seem to share and relate with the experience of surrender. There is a real sense with each person’s story that they were beaten by the drugs and alcohol. Surrender was the catalyst for change, not the lure of a positive new life. They had been defeated, and this allowed them to transform their life.
I wish this were different. And perhaps I am wrong here. Maybe you can dangle a carrot in front of a struggling addict and entice them into getting clean with the promise of an exciting new life. But it didn’t work for me, and I don’t see it working in others around me. Surrender to the disease is the beginning of recovery. You’ve got to be broken down until you can be built back up.
If you know of a struggling alcoholic or addict, here is what you can do to help them find the gift of desperation.
And what about the positive inspiration, you ask? It’s still important, and I would maintain that positive action is really what’s all about. But it all starts with surrender, where the gift of desperation eventually leads to a creative life of recovery.