How to Get Clean and Sober in Only Half the Time

How to Get Clean and Sober in Only Half the Time

Swinging pocket watch

The title of this article is said very tongue-in-cheek, as you can’t really speed up the recovery process. Obviously you can’t get a year of sobriety in only six months. Time doesn’t work that way!

But there are also a few deeper ideas here that I want to explore that have to do with making progress when you are clean and sober. Most people follow a certain trajectory in recovery and they make a certain amount of progress and they achieve certain benefits. We explore recovery and we get some stuff right and we get some things wrong, and so our progress is not always steady. On the other hand if you can get everything “right” and eliminate most of the common pitfalls then I think it is possible to get more of the benefits of sobriety in less time. In other words, you can live a better life in recovery much quicker if you are more diligent about “working a program.”

Unfortunately this seems to rarely work. I have watched many people struggle to get clean and sober while in rehab and the harder they try, the more they seem to screw up (at times). What I am referring to here is overconfidence. People who get too enthusiastic in early recovery do not seem to fare well. They tend to relapse. Now obviously you do not want the opposite of this either–to be completely disinterested in sobriety. Somewhere in the middle lies the solution, but at the same time you must also have a very deep commitment to recovery. You just can’t go bonkers about it.

Now there is also the idea that most addicts and alcoholics who are clean and sober today had to try to sober up a certain number of times. The number three comes up an awful lot in my subjective research. Many of the people who I know in recovery (including myself) went to rehab three times before they finally “stuck and stayed” in recovery. Now obviously we would all want to just go to treatment once and get it done and over with and move on with our lives, but I have rarely seen it work out that way. It seems to take several tries for most addicts and alcoholics. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just go to rehab once and it would cure you forever? Sadly this is almost never the reality.

If your goal is to only go to treatment once in your life then you will do well to wait until you have fully and completely surrendered before your try to get clean and sober. This is how you can effectively not waste time in rehab. Simply wait until you are in a state of total and complete surrender. The problem is that most of us have a stage in our lives where we are completely miserable, we want to stop drinking or drugging, but we are not yet willing to do whatever it takes. Therefore we go to treatment but we do not follow through with all of the difficult lifestyle changes that are required.

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If you want to accelerate this process of healing then the answer is simple: wait until you are really ready to change everything before you ever seek help or go to rehab. Unfortunately that strategy is probably dangerous because when you actually get to the point of total surrender you will likely be within an inch of total self destruction. This is why people end up in rehab before they are really in a state of full surrender.

You will benefit from having a long term perspective on sobriety

I know so many people who come into recovery and they are basically in a rush. They want for it to be over or something. They want to get this sobriety thing mastered right away so that they can go home and get on with their lives. They wish that they could somehow have a year of sobriety on the day that they walk out of detox. They are antsy for progress.

But this is the wrong attitude to have towards treatment. It is a long slow process that lasts for the rest of your life. Take it from me, sitting here with over 12 years of sobriety now–recovery lasts a long time! Perhaps the rest of your life, in fact. So there is no need to rush. Time will take care of itself. The days will roll by and your clean time will accumulate. What you need to focus on, therefore, is the quality of your days.

If there is a secret to “getting sober in half the time” then it is all about focusing on the quality of your life, and improving it. This is what recovery has become for me. The method is through personal growth. The outcome is incremental improvement in my life in many different areas. In the beginning growth was made quickly in large amounts, because I had so many problems in my life. But today at 12 years sober the growth that I make is more incremental. Which is OK, it is still growth, and I still strive to make it. My life has improved a great deal in early recovery, and it continues to improve as the years tick by. But after the first few years in recovery all of the major growth experiences are out of the way, and now each new growth experience only brings an incremental amount of improvement to my life. But personal growth is still worth pursuing because:

1) It makes your life better and better over time.
2) Pursuing positive changes helps keep you clean and sober.

Therefore you should try to take a long term perspective when it comes to personal growth in recovery.

Ask yourself what you can do over the next five years that would drastically improve your life. What are some big goals that you might accomplish if you gave yourself a full five years in which to do it? These are the kinds of actions that you want to pursue on a daily basis.

Some people might object to this, and say “but I thought we were supposed to live a day at a time in recovery! How can you suggest that I look ahead a full five years?”

The answer to this is that you are still living one day at a time. But you can still have a five year goal in life that helps to dictate your daily actions.

For example, I had a goal once to run a marathon. The time to reach this goal was about a year away. But having the goal still helped to dictate my daily actions. In fact, having that goal made my daily actions much more positive.

I think some people take the “day at a time” philosophy and use it to their advantage to justify being lazy sometimes. This is a mistake, obviously. Instead, you should think with a long term perspective about recovery, and use this long term perspective to set big goals for yourself that will lead to positive action every day.

The reason that they want you to focus on today is so that you do not waste the incredible opportunity that it is. If you put off positive changes and growth for tomorrow then you are missing out on the gift that is today. Most people never consider what kind of goal they could accomplish in five years if they were determined and consistent. But recovery is an opportunity because you are taking all of this positive action in order to stay sober anyway. So you may as well get some additional goals in there to improve your life, right? For example, let’s say that you stay clean and sober over the next ten years. Why not go get an education and learn a skill that you really want to know about? Why not go get a job in a field that you have always dreamed of working in? Some might object and say “Oh, well, I could never do that….you have to go to school for that,” etc.

Well, you have nothing but time and energy in recovery! You have nothing but opportunity. The world opens up to you in recovery because now you are no longer held back by the chains of addiction. Ask yourself: “What do I want to accomplish now that I am sober?” What goal could you reach if you put the next five years into achieving it? This is how to think long term in recovery. If you have such a goal and it is really important to you, then it will help to dictate your day to day actions.

I think a lot of people get into recovery and they use the “just for today” philosophy and end getting stuck. They don’t allow themselves to think big. They don’t allow themselves to dream at all or to set future goals. This is a mistake.

High impact solutions for immediate results in early sobriety

You want to cut through all of the nonsense and get sober in half the time?

Try long term rehab.

This is a counter-intuitive solution because most of us think of long term treatment as being a huge investment of our time. Someone suggests that we go live in treatment for six months or more and we freak out at the idea. It sounds like a prison term.

But if you were to survey all of the addicts and alcoholics who are clean and sober and living in recovery today, you could ask them:

“Think back to when you first tried to get clean and sober. What if you had gone and lived in long term treatment for six months at that time, and then stayed sober from then on? Would that have been a good thing or a bad thing for you?”

Keep in mind that most addicts and alcoholics have been to at least 3 drug rehabs before they finally make it work in the long run. That is a lot of wasted time and energy and effort in trying to get clean and sober.

So most of us would answer that “yeah, if I could have started out by going to long term treatment, I probably could have saved myself several years of misery by doing it right the first time.”

Now this is not to say that long term rehab is some sort of magic bullet, because it certainly is not. But it is the most intense form of addiction treatment that you can possibly have, and most people turn their nose up at it immediately because it is too big of a commitment.

But what they fail to realize is that if they just go to a lessor form of treatment (like short term rehab or counseling) then they may be looking at several more years or even decades of misery in their addiction. We don’t know what is going to help us, we don’t know if treatment is going to work for us, and we never really know how much help we need until we realize that we have relapsed.

Think about that for a moment–you never really know how much treatment you need unless you have relapsed and failed completely. This makes for a very tricky situation. Recovery is unfortunately pass/fail. You either remain sober or you drink. You either remain clean or you use drugs. There is absolutely no middle ground.

So you may decide that you want to get help for your problem and so you ask for help and they recommend that you go to therapy, or counseling, or inpatient rehab, or whatever. So you decide to follow through with it so you go somewhere and you try to be honest. Based on your story they people who are trying to help you will attempt to get you to the level of care that they think you need. Of course this is also based on practicality as well–not everyone is in a position to be able to go to every type of treatment. And then there is the problem of funding, not everyone can afford to attend any type of treatment (as a rule, the longer the treatment is, the most it is probably going to cost!).

So based on your story and your condition they will try to direct you to the level of help that you need. When I first tried to sober up they told me to leave and go to AA. I was not willing to do that so I relapsed. The second time I tried to sober up they told me that I needed long term rehab or I might die. I was not ready for long term treatment and I was not willing to go to it. I thought that it sounded like a prison sentence. So I left that rehab and I promptly relapsed. Then the third time I went to rehab they told me I better go to long term treatment, and this time I was willing to go. I had finally surrendered fully. So this time I went to long term rehab and I lived there for 20 months and I have been sober ever since. But notice how I had to build up to that level of desperation. I was too stubborn to accept the solution when they were pushing it towards me and telling me what I needed.

There is a lesson here but it may not be one that can actually help people to learn. Obviously if you want quick results in recovery then you need to take massive action. You can’t hold back at all (as I did when I was not willing to attend long term rehab). Understand that the solution for you may not be long term treatment; it may be something else. But when they tell you what you need to do in order to stay clean and sober, the shortcut is to just buck up and do it. Do it without hesitation. Do it without questioning. Do it and be happy you are alive and have another chance at life. This is the secret to recovery.

Now some people may object to this and declare “but what if they are telling you to do the wrong things? What if they tell you to go to AA and what you really need is a religious based program. What if they tell you to go see a therapist and what you really need are AA meetings every day? What if they tell you to go to short term treatment and the only thing that will really help you is long term rehab? What if their suggestions are wrong? What if?”

This line of questioning misses the point. It ignores the secret of recovery, which is that you must sacrifice self will in order to recover. That is the whole point of early recovery–to get out of your own way. You want a shortcut to success in sobriety? Then destroy your ego and start following directions from other people.

It matters very little which program of recovery you are exposed to. It matters very little what kind of help you are offered. All that matters is your level of surrender and your commitment to total abstinence. If they tell you to go to AA every day then start going. Learn what you can. Absorb what you can. Find positive information that will help you on your journey. Make the best of whatever learning situation you find yourself in. I eventually found myself in long term treatment. Was that the perfect solution for me? Doesn’t matter, because I committed to recovery and I made a decision that I was going to see it through and start making positive changes in my life.

A lot of people get bent out of shape when it comes to recovery philosophy. The have this belief that there is one true path in recovery, that there is only one ultimate solution, and that if anyone deviates from that solution even a tiny bit then they are doomed to relapse and fail.

The truth is that recovery is wide open to many different positive paths, but it is still all about action. You have to be taking positive action in order to move forward in recovery.

I have watched many people get this exactly backwards in early recovery. They cling to one treatment method as their ultimate solution, shunning anyone who deviates from this “truth” that they have found. But then they fail to take positive action every day and it causes them to relapse anyway (even though they were so certain that their way was the “right” way).

It’s all about results. And in order to get good results you need to be taking positive action every day. If a program helps you to do this then that is great, but many people use a program as an excuse to not take action.

Don’t rush your recovery

The bottom line is:

Don’t rush your recovery. Take your time.

You have the rest of your life to enjoy and explore sobriety. There is no need to “get there faster.” There is nothing to get to. Simply enjoy the process along the way. Focus on the quality of your life and your recovery each day, and let the clean time take care of itself.

If you have an opportunity to embrace treatment, do so with a huge commitment. Most people who fail in early recovery do so because they fail to follow through. The shortcut to success is to get out of your own way, and to take advice from others.

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