If you want to create success in sobriety then you must learn to embrace addiction treatment. Failing to do so will only result in a lifetime of struggle and misery at the hands of addiction or alcoholism.
But how do you actually embrace treatment? How do you let go and surrender? That is the challenge for the addict who is only trying to remain happy by self medicating. At some point they have to work through their denial if they want to have a shot at recovery.
The first step in any recovery–regardless of your treatment philosophy–is always going to be surrender. If you do not surrender you can not get started on a new life.
You have to let go of the old to make way for the new. Recovery is so radically different from the way that you have been living that you must first let go of all of your old ideas. This sounds easy in theory but of course we all know that it is quite difficult in practice. Many people struggle for years, decades, or their whole life without ever fully letting go.
Surrender is the first key that you need to embrace.
Surrendering to the idea of total abstinence
When I was still struggling in my own addiction, I could remember just how bitter a pill it was to have to swallow the idea of addiction treatment. I did not want to go because I knew that it means total abstinence. I just refused to accept that as my solution. For years I though about how I could make it work somehow without having to be so darn extreme, without having to let go entirely and give up all alcohol and drugs completely. It was like being forced to jump into a freezing cold pool of water all at once–couldn’t I just dip my little toe in at first and try to get used to sobriety, one little bit at a time? But the answer, of course, is no–you cannot ease your way into sobriety. It is impossible to try to do so because as I have pointed out before, recovery is entirely pass/fail. There is no easing into it. You are either 100 percent clean and sober, or you are 100 percent relapsed. There is absolutely no middle ground between those two extremes.
The very nature of the addict or alcoholic has eliminated that middle ground. We are extreme people and we take things to their logical extreme. If a drug is good then we use it all the time, every single day. That is what addicts do. So in trying to cut back, control our intake of drugs, or ease into recovery–none of these concepts make a bit of sense. The addict or alcoholic cannot even attempt to make any of those things work. We deal only in extremes.
And so it is in early recovery–you must go to the extreme and surrender everything in your life to the idea that you can never use drugs or alcohol ever again. Just ask any addict or alcoholic who is in recovery and is living a life of sobriety from day to day…..ask them if they had to finally surrender to the idea of total abstinence. They will inevitably tell you that they did. If they had not then they would be out there using again! It is really that simple. Total surrender is the only way to produce any sort of sustainable recovery.
I worked in drug rehab center and alcohol detox for several years, and I can tell you that most people who fail in recovery have failed to surrender totally and completely when they first check in. This is where it all starts, and the success of your recovery is largely based on the depth of your surrender. Most people have just not fully surrendered. They have some sort of reservation, or they have an idea in the back of their mind that they might use again successfully some day, or they might just not be miserable enough to take enough action in recovery. Whatever the case may be, you can frame their problem in terms of “lack of surrender.” Had they had more surrender, they would be doing OK in sobriety.
Becoming open to any new path in recovery that seems positive and helpful
If you want to know how to embrace recovery then you need to start with the idea that total abstinence from all drugs and alcohol may be the solution for you.
But then what do you do after that? What happens after you make that mental leap? What happens after you crush your own ego and tell yourself that you really need to give sobriety a chance this time? Where do you go from there?
First of all you should start by asking for help. There are very few times in your life where you should depend on other people, but your moment of surrender is one of them. This is not the time to plan your own recovery for yourself. Trust me, that will come later, and you will have years and years in which you can plan your own path of personal growth. But for now, in early recovery, you need to listen to other people.
Ask for help and then listen to what they tell you. Most reasonable people will find you a solution. They probably won’t give you options, instead they will just say something like “I called my friend and he is going to take you to an AA meeting” or “I called this rehab center and they are going to take you in on Tuesday morning for detox and residential treatment.”
Really your only possible response to these suggestions is one of two things:
1) I will do it, thank you for helping me.
2) I think I need more help than that.
It is possible that just going to an AA meeting is not going to really be enough to help you at this point. You may need, at the very least, a medical detox. That is very possible. So if you sense this is the case then speak up. On the other hand, if you just go with the flow then it is also likely that the people at an AA meeting will tell you to get yourself into rehab, at which point you can tell your friend or family “I think I need more help than this.”
If no one will help you then get on the phone and find someone who will. Again, don’t try to solve your own problem at this point–instead, find professional help. So call up local rehabs and find out what you need to do in order to get into them.
This is your second step after you surrender to the idea that you should abstain entirely–you must now find a way to do that. Inpatient rehab is generally the best starting point for that. If you are on heavy drugs or lots of alcohol then you may need the medical detox anyway. So inpatient rehab is a natural starting point.
Someone once asked me: “Is it possible to get clean and sober without going to rehab?”
Of course it is possible. It is also possible to dig a new swimming pool out with a tiny little teaspoon. But there is a better tool for the job, and that tool is inpatient rehab.
Some people object because they say that they have no insurance and they cannot afford treatment, so they may as well just keep on drinking or drugging. This is not acceptable. If you are serious about changing your life then you cannot just take “no” for an answer when it comes to getting the help that you need. Keep trying. Make more phone calls. Find out what funding options are available. Find out what alternative treatment options are available. Keep digging until you find a solution that might work for you. If you just take the first “no” that you get, then all you are doing is taking that excuse to go back to drinking and running with it like a coward. If you really want to change your life then you need to be more persistent in getting the help that you need.
Being willing to accept outside support and help for your new journey
Some people are not willing to accept outside help and support for their recovery. They want to do it all alone and they believe that getting help from others is a sign of weakness. This idea has to be smashed if you want to get clean and sober.
In order to embrace addiction treatment you are going to have to accept the idea that there will be groups, peers, and support via networking. If you go to rehab then you will likely be exposed to AA meetings. For people with social anxiety this can be a nerve wracking experience. Or some people will avoid treatment altogether because they are so terrified of having to associate with others.
First of all, rehab centers will generally try to help you with anxiety. Believe it or not there are few medications for anxiety that are not addictive that they might be able to help you with while you are in treatment. Don’t let the fear of anxiety keep you from getting the help that you need.
If you get into treatment then you will likely hear the expression “this is a WE program.” And the truth is that you have so much to learn in early recovery that to try to learn it all by yourself without any outside help is, quite frankly, a huge waste of time. You may not even have enough time in your life to learn it all by yourself.
The shortcut is to learn from other people. This is why recovery in groups or in AA is actually quite powerful. You do not have to make the same mistakes that other people have already made in the past. You can learn from their mistakes and thus avoid them. You can benefit from the collective wisdom and knowledge of the recovery movement.
The way that this knowledge transfer happens is not carved out in a straightforward way. Instead, it is messy. You got to meetings every day, for example, and you hear people tell their stories. Sometimes you may listen closely and other times people may seem to ramble. You may pick up on something important or you may just tuck a story away for future reference, because it does not seem to apply to you right now.
For example, maybe you are just new in sobriety, and you are listening to a person in AA tell their story. They just got back from a relapse after having had over ten years of sobriety in AA. They relapsed and now they are back from their relapse and they are talking about how they had become complacent. How they had got lazy in their recovery and how they were no longer really growing. And so you think to yourself “Well, that doesn’t really apply to me just yet, I am too new in recovery.”
But you can see that this is still a lesson for later on down the road. That it may apply to you some day.
And this is exactly how you can benefit from others, from the groups in recovery, from accepting outside help on your journey. You can benefit from their collective knowledge. You can learn from their mistakes. And you can share your own mistakes, so that others may benefit from them.
Getting excited about personal growth as a path in recovery
At some point in your addiction recovery journey you have to get excited about personal growth. In the example above I mentioned a story about complacency, and how someone with several years sober relapsed because they got lazy. What do you think the solution for that is?
I can tell you what it is: the solution is personal growth. But implementing that solution is an ongoing, life long challenge. It is not easy. And that is why you must commit to personal growth in your life. You have to make a decision at some point, and say to yourself “I am not going to settle in this life, I am not going to just prop my feet up and become lazy, I am instead going to keep pushing myself to learn new things, to grow in my recovery, and to become a better person every single day.” This is how to fight complacency. You must commit to personal growth, and then you have to actually follow through and take action. It is all about the action.
If you look at people who relapse in long term recovery, they were bored and they were frustrated. It is OK to get frustrated from time to time, as that will happen to anyone. But I would caution you against becoming too bored in your life, especially if you are also angry or frustrated for some reason. Because once the boredom creeps in there, the solution of getting drunk starts to look really appealing. Drunkenness cures boredom, if only temporarily.
But you can overcome boredom by striving for a better life, and for a better YOU. If you are willing to keep making an effort to improve yourself, then you will never have a shortage of challenges.
Finding success in long term sobriety on a personal level
One of the biggest parts of my own journey was in defining success for myself in recovery.
First, I had to clear out the wreckage of addiction. This took several years for me to do, and it included things like quitting smoking as well.
Later on in my recovery I had to pause for a moment and say to myself: “OK, I am clean and sober now. I’ve been this way for a while. What do I want to do with my life?”
I had trouble defining this question at first. What did I want to become? It was a tricky question to even ask of yourself. But I think it is important to ask it after you become stable in recovery.
So the question for me eventually evolved into “what do I want to create?” I am not happy in my life unless I am striving for a goal or making something.
In asking these questions I was able to create my own definition of success in recovery. Abstinence was the baseline for it, but it was up to me to define the upper limits of what would make me “successful” in life. I had to choose that.
So for example, exercise and fitness became a big part of that for me. I did not have to let other people define what made me successful. I was able to do it for myself, and become healthier as a result.
What treatment centers can teach you
If you embrace treatment then what you are really purchasing is a foundation for your addiction recovery journey.
If I had never gone to treatment I doubt that I would be clean and sober today. I doubt that I would have achieved such success in my life today.
Treatment was the entry point for after I had reached full surrender. It was my training ground where I started to learn how to live a life without drugs and alcohol. This was to become the foundation of everything good in my life that came later on. Without my sobriety I have nothing, it all goes back to misery and chaos. This is something that you must never forget if you want to maintain sobriety in the long run. What is the price that you pay for relapse? Just remember that you lose everything, up to and including your own life. But at the very least you will lose everything that you have gained so far in your recovery. Remember what you came into recovery with in the past? Remember where you were at with everything on your first day sober? That is where you will return to if you choose to relapse.
Treatment centers show you how to build a new foundation. The baseline is total abstinence, which you must embrace as part of your solution. But then they build from there with things like meetings, therapy, peer support, and so on. Recovery is an act of creation. People think that you can just eliminate the problems from their lives and then move on. But addiction doesn’t work that way. If you simply eliminate the drugs and alcohol you will be left with a troubled addict or alcoholic, one who is geared towards self destruction and relapse. Somehow you have to replace that chaos and misery with a path in recovery that works. That path is best described as being a path of personal growth. But in order to even get started on that path you have to build a foundation. Treatment allows you to do that.
The connection that you make with your peers in recovery are also part of this foundation. You need new knowledge in order to recover and therefore you need to communicate with others who have walked the path before you in recovery. If you ignore their wisdom then you only make it harder for yourself.
In order to embrace recovery, start by embracing treatment. This is the strongest path that you could start with on your journey.