Yesterday we looked at how to reach the point of surrender so that you can get started on your recovery journey.
Today we are going to look at how to take that next step in your recovery journey….specifically, how to find the right amount of disruption so that you can break free from your cycle of addiction.
It takes disruption to overcome an addiction.
It takes a major break in a person’s life in order to escape the trap of addiction.
The lifestyle of addiction or alcoholism has a great deal of inertia built into it. They don’t call it a “trap” or a “cycle of addiction” for nothing. It’s tough to break free and therefore you are going to need some amount of disruption in order to stop.
In fact, the entire definition of addiction includes the concept of disruption. As in:
An alcoholic is someone who cannot stop drinking successfully without some form of disruption (help). Same obviously goes for addicts.
If a person can easily walk away from their drug of choice with no help or any sort of disruption, then we do not even label such a person as an “addict” or an “alcoholic.” Indeed, the very definition of addiction includes the idea that you are going to need some form of disruption to get better.
So the question naturally becomes:
How can we discover the right level of disruption in our lives? How can we find the right level of help in order to overcome an addiction?
Start like every other addict and alcoholic on the planet…and just do the bare minimum
This is not being pessimistic here, this is simple realism.
Addicts and alcoholics are not stupid. Meaning, we are not one to just blindly do something that takes a great deal of effort and courage just because someone tells us to do so. Why would we go to extremes with no apparent reason to do so? This is essentially what is happening when we first confront the idea of treatment.
The addict or alcoholic may be having problems in their life and they are experiencing some consequences based on their addiction. Their friends and family express concern and urge the person to get help. They suggest going to inpatient rehab for 28 days.
If this is the first time the subject has been brought up, the typical reaction from any addict or alcoholic is likely to be:
“28 days? In a rehab center? Are you crazy? Why would I go to that extreme? It’s not like I am lying in the gutter drinking cheap gin here!” etc.
The disruption that is being suggested is too severe, too extreme, and it also carries a certain stigma with it. People may believe that they are “normal” compared to their own idea of what a “washed up wino” is really like. They are attaching a stigma to the idea of intensive rehab and they do not believe that they fit the profile (yet). Maybe in another decade or so when they are living on the streets and drinking out of a paper bag, but not yet! Going to rehab for a full month is just crazy (in their minds).
And so what happens at this point? The struggling addict or alcoholic is going to do what every other human on this earth will tend to do when faced with a challenge:
They do the bare minimum.
They might make an effort, but they are certainly not going to go check into long term rehab for two years based on this “little problem” of theirs. (Keep in mind that this is describing the initial diagnosis of their disease, when they have not yet sought help before in the past).
Sensible humans act this way naturally. We are not stupid. We do not waste our time and energy and effort if we do not have to.
So, like every challenge we have ever faced before us in our lives, we tend to take a modest approach, putting in just as much effort as we see fit in order to overcome the problem. In terms of overcoming an addiction, this might mean an attitude and actions something like:
“I admit that I have a drinking problem, but it’s not like I am a homeless wino here. I’m not going to waste my time in rehab. Instead I will go see my therapist and talk with him and see what he suggests.”
“I admit that I am taking too many pills, but it’s not like I’ve lost my job or anything critical. Maybe I will hit an NA or AA meeting or two and see if it helps at all. Stop panicking.”
Notice that the person is admitting to the problem but not truly accepting it at a deep level (there is a difference!)
Note too that the person is minimizing their disease, making light of it, trying to convince themselves and others that it is just not that serious.
And finally, note that they agree to seek help (sort of, maybe) but they are not going to go all out and find an intensive solution like inpatient rehab. Instead they are going to find relatively NON-disruptive treatments for their problem. Hitting a meeting or two or going to see a counselor is likely a 2 hour per week time commitment. True disruption for an addiction that is out of control is generally going to require much more than a two hour per week disruption.
Do not be surprised when an addict or alcoholic tries to do the bare minimum in order to treat their addiction. This is human nature. When we face complicated problems, our tendency is not to go overboard and waste all kinds of time and energy. Instead, we try to solve the problem simply and efficiently.
Unfortunately, addiction is a complicated problem (even though people in AA and NA will try to convince you that it is a simple problem and a simple solution….it’s not!).
Because addiction has so many second and even third order affects in our lives, the solution of recovery is necessarily complex as well. If all we had to do was to quit drinking or taking the drug then recovery would be easy. Of course we know that it is NOT easy, and in fact it is a very challenging problem to be dealt with.
Therefore one of the biggest problems for newcomers in recovery is the resistance to massive disruption. They are in denial, they do not want to face the truth head on, and that truth is generally something along the lines of “they need an extreme amount of disruption in their life in order to get healthy.” No one wants to admit that they need to be locked up for 28 days and taught the basic principles of how to live. This is generally too crushing to the ego. But this is what disruption is and therefore it is what most addicts and alcoholics truly need in order to get a fresh start on life. Just checking in somewhere for a weekend detox or going to a few 12 step meetings is probably not enough to reverse course and escape the cycle.
Realize that you might have to take more aggressive action to “solve” your addiction problem
So at some point the struggling alcoholic or addict has to realize that they may need more disruption in their life if they are going to conquer their addiction problem.
I actually realized this in stages and reluctantly had to learn it over a period of several years. At first I agreed (reluctantly!) to go see a counselor once a week. I did this for a long time with no real intention of quitting my addiction permanently. It was a small step and it was not very disruptive and therefore it was quite easy to keep self medicating while I was not really getting any help at all.
Next I finally reached a breaking point where I was fairly out of control with my drinking to the point that I had scared myself a bit. I went into a short term rehab and stayed for a few weeks. I realized that my drinking was toxic and dangerous but I was still hanging on to the idea that I could use other drugs successfully. As such I was nowhere near full surrender and I was simply not ready to change my life at this point.
It was a huge deal for me to enter into a rehab at this time in my life and it was the first time that I had ever done so. I felt like it was an extreme amount of disruption to attend rehab for two weeks and I was actually a bit ashamed to be there. The stigma of addiction and rehab was strong in my mind. Even after I left that rehab and relapsed I still felt like it was a big deal and a great amount of disruption. Because I relapsed I also decided that “rehab doesn’t work” and that certainly “rehab doesn’t work for me” (slightly different idea there). Because I wanted to justify my addiction and keep self medicating, I wrote myself off as a total failure when it came to rehab and told people that I could not possibly be helped (so why try?) The truth was that I was in denial and I just wanted to drink and keep using drugs.
My denial was keeping me from realizing the truth: that I was going to have to take aggressive action at some point if I wanted to solve my problem. This meant an even greater amount of disruption in my life, something stronger that had a chance to break the cycle of addiction. I was a real mess and I needed serious help but my denial prevented me from admitting this.
Realize that counseling, therapy, or a few meetings here or there are probably not enough to help you
If you are trapped in this downward spiral of addiction then you have to realize at some point that minor disruptions are probably not going to “cure” your addiction. In fact a great deal of your problem may be that you expect a “cure” rather than what the true solution is: massive disruption and sustained hard work. No one wants to hear that this is the real solution for a lifestyle problem but it is the truth. The minor disruptions such as therapy and counseling and meetings may all be part of an overall recovery plan for someone, but taken individually they are probably not enough to create real disruption.
In other words, it may be possible for an addict or an alcoholic to go seek help and then one day maintain their recovery by using therapy or meetings or counseling. But it is misguided for an addict or alcoholic who is stuck in their addiction to try one of these isolated solutions (such as counseling) with the intention of overcoming their addiction and breaking free.
It’s not enough disruption.
It is not enough for an addict who is trapped and struggling to simply say “I am gonna go to talk with this counselor once a week and try to overcome my addiction that way.” This will never work. What is going to happen for the 99 percent of the time that you are not in counseling?
The same is true of meetings, for the most part. They last an hour and when you leave you are out on the street, out on your own, out in the cold cruel world with liquor and drugs on every other corner. What are you going to do then? If a meeting is enough to disrupt your addiction and turn your life around then by all means, do it. The same is true of counseling or therapy or outpatient treatment. If any of these “less intense” solutions actually work for you then more power to you. But the truth is that most addicts and alcoholics need more disruption than this. They need to take massive action rather than these smaller actions in order to overcome the powerful inertia of their drinking and drugging habits.
Massive action for the win!
Therefore the key is to take massive action, not just any kind of action but “massive” action.
As I described above this generally takes time and a bit of trial and error before the struggling addict is willing to take the plunge and seek serious help. No one is going to do extra work in this life that they do not have to do. We all think that our willpower is stronger than the average, so it is natural to believe that we can overcome our addiction with less help than the average person.
The problem is that so many people who actually do seek a modest amount of disruption (such as inpatient rehab) actually fail anyway. The success rates with short term rehab are not so great, but they are certainly better than doing nothing.
Success rates are slightly better for long term treatment. This is ultimately what ended up working for me when all other solutions had failed. I had gone to counseling and therapy but that had not worked. I had been to short term rehab twice on an inpatient basis and that had not worked either. Finally I had to agree to take massive action and for me that meant living in rehab for over a year.
Not everyone has to go to long term rehab, this is just what I needed in order to break free from my addiction. You may not need long term rehab but you still need to take massive action. You may not need to live in rehab like I did, but you definitely need a massive amount of disruption. If you keep nearly everything the same about your life and only try to change one or two little things (such as by no longer putting chemicals into your body and avoiding the old bar or hangout) then you are setting yourself up for failure.
They have a saying in recovery: “The only thing you have to change is EVERYTHING.” It is sort of a funny little saying but if you talk with people who have actually achieved long term sobriety, they are not laughing when they tell you this. They are dead serious about needing to change everything, because when they look back at their life and at their early recovery they all have the same exact though process: “Gee, you know what? I really DID change everything in my life, it’s true!”
When you get clean and sober, everything changes, not just the drinking and drugging. This is why massive action is so critical. If you could avoid taking “massive” action then it would be a cinch just to walk away from the drugs and the booze and start to live a “normal” life. But this is not possible for a true addict or alcoholic. Instead they need to surrender, they need to take serious action, and they need to change everything about their life. If it were enough to just quit the chemicals then recovery would be easy. But it’s not. It takes so much more than that, and that is why you need to get comfortable with the idea that massive disruption and extreme action is the solution for your problem.
How much is your addiction costing you? Is massive disruption really so bad?
When I was still stuck in my addiction, I used to complain about the high cost of disruption. Not in monetary terms, but in terms of time commitment.
28 days? Are you kidding me? That is like such a huge sacrifice! I may as well be in jail!
That is seriously how I argued and whined about the idea of treatment. I equated long term treatment with being in prison.
What I was failing to realize was two things:
* My addiction was costing me more than I realized. I was miserable and would not admit it.
* Massive disruption was not nearly as bad as I made it out to be. 28 day programs are no big deal. Living in rehab was actually a lot of fun, believe it or not! I would do it again if I had to with no hesitation.
Therefore I needed to realize that the disruption that I was so dead set against (treatment) was actually not that bad. In fact it was just what I needed to turn my life around and find true happiness, but my denial kept me from seeing this. When I finally agreed to go to rehab I was counting on being miserable in recovery, I just no longer cared.
Your priorities will shift in recovery and popular disruptions will not be so bad anymore
Obviously now that I have been through the recovery process I can look back and realize that these massive disruptions (inpatient and long term treatment) are not so bad. In fact I was quite happy while I was in both of them, and I would willingly do them again if I had to. I would even be willing to live in long term treatment right now, being sober, without any problem. It’s just not that bad.
But you could not have convinced me of that when I was still stuck in addiction. My fear and denial kept me terrified of solutions like that because they were so disruptive, so threatening to my addiction and my current way of life. I was afraid to be sober. I was afraid to “be locked up without my drugs or booze.” These fears turned out to be false, but I had to find that path the hard way. I had to get miserable enough to the point that I no longer cared before I was willing to seek massive disruption.
It takes a bold leap of faith to embrace a disruption (such as rehab) but this is the quickest way to recovery
Ultimately it takes a leap of faith. You have to trust the idea that life will get better if you go through with massive disruption (treatment). I was so miserable that I no longer cared if it worked or not, I just wanted to stop being so miserable in my addiction.
When I asked for help and started following directions, things started to slowly get better. But I had to be willing to embrace disruption.