What are some highly effective strategies for beating alcoholism and overcoming a drug addiction?
I would say that there are certain fundamental principles of recovery that serve everyone the same, regardless of which recovery program they are following or how they learned to live sober.
Some of these fundamental principles are outlined below.
The zero tolerance policy
When you first get clean and sober you make a commitment to yourself.
They say that you cannot overcome addiction or alcoholism using willpower alone.
This is true. It takes more than just sheer force of will. You have to have some mechanism through which you can fight your addiction. It can’t just be you, by yourself, gritting your teeth. That doesn’t work.
But make no mistake–you still need willpower. In fact, I would argue that you still need quite a bit of willpower if you are going to get clean and sober.
For example, say that you are attending AA meetings. They tell you that you don’t need willpower, and that willpower doesn’t work. But in reality, you have to make a commitment to yourself to work the program, to do the work, to show up at the meetings, to work the steps, and so on. Does that happen automatically? No, of course not. It only happens if you make it happen. You still have to be responsible, show up every day, do the hard work, and so on. It is still a force of will on your part.
When I got clean and sober, I wanted to know what the secret of recovery was all about. I was going to AA meetings and I was in rehab and I was trying to figure out what the big secret was. How was I going to stay sober for sure? What was the real key that I was missing? I wanted to know very desperately, because I did not want to relapse.
At that time I made an agreement with myself. It was a pretty simple agreement, and to be honest, I never told anyone about it. I was too embarrassed, too afraid that I was doing something stupid.
But it made sense to me, so I did it anyway. And so here was my agreement:
I said to myself “I am not going to use drugs or alcohol today no matter what. That is my highest priority in life and it is my most important objective each day.”
And I made this a policy with myself. I referred to this as my “zero tolerance policy” because I was not going to give myself any leeway.
So I couldn’t just say to myself one day “oh, screw it. I am sick of following the rules, I think I will go get drunk.” I thought of this new policy in my mind as an immutable law. Something that I could not contradict, no matter what happened.
Now the key, of course, is to make that commitment to yourself, and then to start doing the work that will help you to back it up.
In other words, you make an agreement with yourself that you won’t drink or use drugs no matter what. Now, how are you going to deal with life? How are you going to deal with reality based on the fact that you cannot just run away using your drug of choice?
In my opinion there are two kinds of work to be done in recovery. The first kind is in learning how to cope with reality in early recovery and getting support. So you might go to AA meetings, you might go to therapy, you might talk to you peers in recovery, and so on. You deal with the cravings and the triggers and such.
But the second part of recovery is in learning how to improve your life. This is insurance against wanting to relapse. In other words, don’t give yourself excuses to want to drink. Don’t live a miserable and chaotic life and then complain that it is difficult to remain sober. That doesn’t make any sense. Instead, start working on improving your life so that you are not as tempted to self medicate. Take away your excuses to want to drink! Rebuild your life, make it better, so that you don’t have to want to drink all the time.
For example, eliminating toxic relationships from your life can go a long way in reducing the desire to self medicate. In other words, if you still have toxic people in your life every day, then it would make a lot more sense that you would want to drink and self medicate all the time. But if you can eliminate those people from your existence then you won’t have as much of a trigger to want to drink any more.
Therefore, it’s not just about finding support in recovery, or hitting AA meetings every day and whining about your life. It’s about doing the work, rebuilding a better life, and improving yourself every day so that you have far less reason to self medicate.
Disruption, personal growth, holistic health, oh my!
Let’s talk about the basics for a moment.
Let’s assume you are stuck in alcoholism or drug addiction right now, and you want out.
You have made a decision. You want to change your life.
How do you go about doing it?
The three basic principles, in my opinion, are disruption, growth, and health.
From those three concepts you can design and implement an entire program of recovery.
Disruption is simple–you need to disrupt your pattern of abuse. Go to treatment. This is the easiest and quickest way to do it.
There are probably alternatives to this, but in my opinion they are not very good. Don’t bother trying to figure out the alternatives if you are serious about getting clean and sober. Instead, just dive right into treatment. Go to rehab. Get on the phone and call up a few treatment centers. Get the process rolling. Get the professional help that you need. This is how you interrupt your addiction. Treatment is disruption.
Growth is the idea that you have to change. Recovery is nothing if not personal growth. You are taking bad habits and switching them out with good ones.
And when you remove a bad habit and replace it with a good one we generally recognize that as “growth.” You have improved your life.
The key is to keep doing this over and over again in recovery. If you are on a path of continuous growth in recovery then you are fairly well protected against relapse.
The question that many people ask themselves is: “If I am going to keep pushing for personal growth in my life, how do I prioritize? What areas do I focus on?”
Holistic health is the answer to that. If you look at your overall life in recovery, you need to spot the weak areas to see where to put your best efforts.
For example, I was out of shape and pretty inactive when I was in early recovery. It did not take much for me to realize that I could vastly improve my life if I was willing to exercise every day. So this became a priority for me because it was an obvious negative in my life.
At one time I was suffering a great deal due to self pity. I had to realize this and become aware of it as a negative block in my life. Once I did that, I had to make a decision to eliminate the self pity so that I could move forward in my recovery.
So at one point I was focusing on my physical health with the exercise, and at another point I was focusing on my emotional health by eliminating self pity.
In each case, that specific challenge just happened to be the biggest negative thing in my life at the time. Whatever was bothering me the most was the biggest priority.
This is counter-intuitive. You would think that we should strive for happiness, for positive things in our lives, to always focus on the positive.
But the truth is that we need to examine our lives and find the negative stuff and eliminate it.
If you don’t do that work then you will never be truly happy in recovery. Why not? Because you will always have something negative dragging you down or holding you back.
This is why the holistic approach is important as well–because you cannot afford to neglect any one area of your life. The holistic approach means that you are treating your “whole” self in recovery, not just the spiritual self, but also the physical, mental, emotional, and social parts of your life as well. If one of those areas of your life has a major negative in it then it will cause you to be unhappy and drag down your whole recovery.
The best strategy is the one where you assume complacency, and take massive action to correct it
One of the smartest things that you can do in recovery is to assume that you are complacent.
That’s right–I am suggesting that you make an assumption. And we all know how foolish that can be, right?
But this time it is different. Because when you assume that you are complacent, the only natural solution is to push yourself towards more personal growth. The only solution that makes sense is to take positive action.
How can that be a mistake? Why would that ever be a mistake, to motivate yourself to do better, to try harder, to accomplish more good in your life?
You have two things you are trying to do in addiction recovery.
One is to improve your life.
The other is to improve your life situation.
Both of these things are critical to your long term sobriety.
When you improve your life you are working on the internal battles….the shame, the guilt, the fear, the anger, the self pity. You are working on eliminating all of that stuff. At first you have to acknowledge it, then you have to make a plan to eliminate it, then you must do the work. And you may have to ask for help in order to do this from a therapist, a sponsor, or from someone else that you trust in recovery. You might do this through the 12 steps of AA, or not. It really doesn’t matter so much as long as you do the work and stay vigilant about it.
When you improve your life situation you are working on the external battles in life….the people, places, and things that threaten to sabotage our efforts in sobriety. In order to remain clean and sober you may have to rearrange your life situation to some extent.
Now don’t take this the wrong way, to mean that you can simply move across town and get a new apartment in order to get clean and sober. For the most part, relocating doesn’t solve the problem of addiction. You take yourself wherever you go, and the problem is right between your two ears. No, you cannot necessarily stay sober just by rearranging your life. There has to be some internal progress and a real commitment to sobriety in order to make it work in the long run.
In other words, you can’t just avoid bars for the rest of your life as a recovery strategy. That alone won’t do it. You still have to do the internal work in order to remain sober, that is, process through all of the negative stuff like shame, guilt, anger, and so on.
But on the other hand, don’t make it harder on yourself on purpose. Don’t hang out at the corner bar where you used to drink. Don’t stay stuck in a toxic relationship that makes you want to self medicate. Don’t stay stuck in a job that stresses you out and gives you an excuse to drink all the time. Or at the very least, don’t just complain about that job without actively seeking an alternative.
You have to improve both your life (internal) and your life situation (external) in order to recover.
Replacing your addiction with positive habits
One of the most important strategies for recovery is that of replacing your bad habits with good ones.
The question is, how do you do this, and where do you find good habits?
I would suggest a few things:
One, go to treatment and start taking their advice immediately. In doing so you will automatically eliminate your bad habits and start picking up good ones. For example, just by going to rehab, I stopped drinking and using drugs and I started attending meetings every day instead. This may not have been a perfect and permanent solution for me but it was certainly a vast improvement in the way I had been living.
Two is, start to listen to people in recovery and take their advice, even after you leave rehab. These would be people that you trust in recovery, such as sponsors, therapists, or your peers. The idea is simple: Start testing out new ideas in your life.
When you first get clean and sober, you don’t know what is going to happen and you don’t know what will be effective for you in recovery.
You don’t really know what is going to work well for you and what will help you, versus what will just be extraneous and a distraction.
So you have to sort that all out. You have to muddle through it all. How do you do that?
You figure out your path in recovery by simply walking the path. Any path. Just try something. Go to treatment. Go to AA. Get a sponsor and work through the steps. Start trying new things in your recovery. They have a saying in AA: “Take what you need and leave the rest.” Use that philosophy and start testing out ideas. This is the only way that you are ever going to know what works for you and what does not.
The most effective strategy is the one that actually produces the results you want.
Therefore it is your responsibility in recovery to figure out what truly works for you versus what is extraneous. For me, daily meetings turned out to be a poor use of my time. But I found other things that made a big impact on my sobriety such as online recovery, exercise, practicing gratitude, and so on.
Incorporating the practice of gratitude into your everyday routine
One of the most important strategies in recovery is that of gratitude.
You might think that gratitude is a tactic but I like to think of it as more than that. I like to think of gratitude as being a strategy or even a philosophy of life.
In order to use this strategy you have to first realize that being grateful is a choice. It is not something that will happen for you automatically if all of the stars line up properly.
Instead, you have to cultivate gratitude for yourself. In doing so you can learn to change your reality by changing your attitude. When something “bad” happens in your life, can you turn it around somehow and find the silver lining, the hidden lesson? If so then you have a great deal of power in your life.
Everything that happens can be an opportunity for learning if you are grateful.
So how do you practice this every day?
One way is by phrasing your prayers in terms of gratitude. So you say thanks for everything in your prayers, even for something that may not be fully realized yet. Or if you are praying for, say, more courage, you would simply be thankful for the courage that you already have, even if that is not much. In doing so you are teaching your mind to practice gratitude all the time, and you are training yourself to find things to be thankful for.
When someone relapses and takes a drink, do you think that they are grateful in that moment? No, they are not. In fact, they are experiencing something in that moment that is the exact opposite of gratitude. They are experiencing selfishness. They have decided that the universe has not given them what they want, what they deserve, and therefore they are going to take what is rightfully theirs. They want a buzz and they are going to get it right now. This is selfish rather than grateful.
When you practice gratitude rather than selfishness, you would never be angry at the universe for not giving you what you wanted. Instead, you would figure out how to be happy with whatever showed up in your life, and to try to learn from that situation whatever you could.
What about you, what have your most effective strategies been for beating your alcoholism or drug addiction? How have you been able to overcome your problems and turn your life around? What strategy has worked best for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!