From an outsiders perspective, quitting drinking seems like a process of elimination. It’s not.
The struggling alcoholic is trying to attain a meaningful life in recovery. Successfully attaining that goal has very little to do with the idea of not drinking. Instead, it is a creative process.
Intuitively, the struggling alcoholic knows that this must be the case–because they have tried and failed over and over again to quit drinking. Simply not drinking has never been enough.
Photo by Shermeee
The need for a replacement
What do I mean by “creative process?” This is the whole secret to a life in recovery: the addict finds new meaning in their life through the cultivation of positive action. It’s not about simply abstaining from chemicals, as that will create a miserable and resentful addict who secretly wishes to get high. It’s only a matter of time before someone who is simply abstaining returns to their drug of choice in an effort to self-medicate.
I had to create an entirely new situation in my life in order to overcome drug addiction. Think about it: my entire life revolved around using drugs and alcohol. Either I was getting high on drugs or drinking, or I was working so that I could get the money to do so. This became my routine; my whole meaning for existence. My only thoughts were to use drugs and alcohol and find the ways and means to get more. My ultimate fantasy was to have an unlimited supply of the stuff.
So think about it: take an addict who is deeply obsessed with getting and using drugs and alcohol, and simply remove those chemicals one day. What are you going to be left with? A shell of a person is one way to say it. I didn’t just make a habit of using drugs, I made a lifestyle out of it. And furthermore, I glamorized the thought of being stoned out of my mind–it became a religion of sorts, a (false) spiritual state of being that I was trying to attain. Getting high was my religion, and I worshiped the drugs and the booze. I idolized them. I glamorized them. I lived for them.
For me, the lifestyle that went along with getting drunk and high every day involved 3 major components:
1) The job I worked at that could tolerate me in that state of mind
2) The group of friends and/or girlfriend that I used and drank with
3) My living situation – the apartment complex with roommates and/or neighbors that I also used and drank with
So when I stopped using drugs and alcohol, 3 things happened:
1) I stopped worshiping the drugs.
2) I stopped associating with all of my old drinking buddies.
3) I got out of an unhealthy living situation.
Those are all elimination steps. I got rid of stuff. Note the following 2 things: First of all, this stuff was necessary for me, but addiction is complicated, so other people’s solution might be different. For example, there are a number of recovering addicts and alcoholics who did not have to change their living situation at all when they got clean and sober. For them, it wasn’t necessary. In my situation, it happened to be an important step. Second, note that doing the 3 things above did not insure my success in recovery. There are plenty of people who go to extreme measures and enter long term treatment centers and unfortunately still relapse. Also, I still stand by my opinion that long term treatment still affords the best chances for achieving long term sobriety (but it is by no means a magic bullet).
I had to get rid of a lot of stuff when I quit drinking and using drugs. I quit using booze and chemicals, moved out of an apartment, left a large circle of unhealthy friends, and left a job that accommodated my drinking. That’s a lot of stuff to let go of all at once.
Simple elimination is not enough. There’s nothing to fill the void, nothing left to engage a person in their daily life. Think about all the hours each day spent obsessing over drugs and alcohol. Consider the hours spent drinking and using with friends and drinking buddies. Think of the time spent actually getting drunk and high.
When you free up all of that time, what are you left with? What are you going to do?
When you stop worshiping drugs and alcohol, what are you going to focus on in the future?
When you walk away from your drinking buddies, who are you going to associate with?
You need a replacement strategy
Most people who first try to quit drinking or using drugs are essentially using behavior modification.
Behavior modification is not effective as a means to recovery. Why not? Because it’s not a replacement (creation) strategy. I believe it can only lead to short term sobriety. In the long run, behavior modification falls short because it generally only seeks to eliminate negative behaviors:
-Not going to the bar
-Not going to your old drug dealer
-Avoiding negative influences
and so on.
This is not reinventing yourself. It is not creation. You’re just tearing down your old habits. What are you putting up in their place? What are you building for your new life? If you simply eliminate the old stuff, relapse is inevitable. It’s just a matter of time. You need a creation strategy.
12 step meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, are one example of a creation strategy: you stop drinking and go to an AA meeting. Then you continue attending meetings, and the fellowship that helped you get sober starts to depend on you to help and guide the newcomers. This is creation, in your own life. It can fill you up, if you allow it to. Reaching out to the newcomer, working with others, showing up and sharing honestly in daily meetings–these are creative actions. They require initiative and positive action on the part of the recovering addict. They are not acts of elimination. This is recovery in action.
Another example: quitting smoking
Think about cigarette addiction. Quitting smoking is notoriously difficult, because it is primarily an exercise in elimination. When a smoker quits smoking, there is nothing there….I can remember wanting to simply reach my hand out as if it held an imaginary cigarette. This was a crushing withdrawal on several levels, because it is all elimination. There is very little to “replace” with. Smoking is social, it is comfortable, and it is ritualistic. Quitting smoking abruptly strips all of those benefits out of your life, with very little to replace them with. It is an exercise in elimination. Very difficult.
Realizing this, I actually did formulate a creation strategy for quitting smoking, and it finally worked for me:
Physically, I replaced cigarettes with toothpicks and sugarless gum.
Socially, I continued to take “smoke breaks” and went outside to socialize with other smokers, even though I did not light up.
On an emotional level, I did some empowering things and set up an exciting reward system for myself to enhance motivation. Notice that these are acts of creation, of building something, of taking action. Something more than just not smoking. If you just sit there and not smoke all day, you will drive yourself insane to the point of relapse.
So in the smoking example, I finally found success with quitting when I managed to employ a creation strategy. It wasn’t enough for me to put down the cigarettes and simply walk away from a lifestyle of smoking….I had to find new meaning, positive action that could fill in that massive void that was left when I could no longer reach for a comforting cigarette.
Filling the void
Perhaps the biggest part of the creation/replacement strategy has to do with spirituality. This is huge. Regardless of your religious beliefs, or how spiritual you were while using drugs and alcohol, there is a big task ahead of you if your goal is to obtain meaningful and long term sobriety.
What exactly is this spiritual task? Quite simply, you must create meaning in your life that exceeds the passion you felt for drugs and alcohol. This definitely requires a creation strategy.
For the addict or alcoholic, using drugs or drinking every day filled us up–both emotionally and spiritually. It was a sick way to bring a false sense of fulfillment into our lives. When we get clean and sober, there is a massive void that needs to be filled. This void cannot be filled up with things. Nor can it be satisfied through other potentially harmful behaviors, such as with gambling or compulsive eating. This is, in essence, trading one addiction for another. You can imagine that this does not work, and always leads a person back to their drug of choice.
But perhaps the biggest pitfall of all when attempting to fill this void is in pursuing unhealthy relationships. To someone who is new in recovery, getting into a relationship is extremely dangerous, because doing so artificially fills the void that was left when the person stopped using drugs and alcohol. Getting involved in a serious relationship actually functions as a replacement strategy, but it is an extremely dangerous one, because the other person essentially becomes your only purpose in life; your only means of conquering your addiction. It is only when an addict can find spiritual meaning and purpose in their life beyond the new relationship that they can achieve long term sobriety.
Photo by riffraff67
So what, then, is the creation strategy?
The creation strategy explained
A creation strategy is about creating a new life for yourself. Does that make it goal-oriented?
Heck yes it does! Setting a goal for yourself and achieving it is the very essence of creation. But what’s important here is that you change your thinking; change your mindset. You want to shift from an elimination strategy to an empowering plan-of-action mindset.
The task is not to quit drinking. The task is not to kick drugs. Instead, it is to create a new life in recovery. Start focusing on the positive. Yes, you are going to remain abstinent from chemicals if you do this right. Technically, you are going to quit. You will eliminate something. But the mental shift is important if you are going to enjoy long term sobriety because you are creating a new life for yourself.
When I first got sober, I would wake up and wonder how I was going to make it through the whole day without drinking. That doesn’t happen anymore. I wake up excited, with the prospect of a creative life in recovery; of reaching out to help other addicts. That’s creation, and it’s exciting! It adds purpose to your life–enough to offset the purpose you once felt for getting drunk and high. You can have this! It is passion for a life lived sober.
Ask anyone who has several years of clean time or sobriety. Ask them if they are still “quitting drinking,” or if they are now enjoying an awesome life of recovery. You can guess what their answer will be. The alcoholics who are not busy creating positive things in their lives are–unfortunately–the ones who relapse.
Consider the newcomer who is struggling to stay sober. They are going through the motions, avoiding the bars, clinging to their sobriety with their teeth clenched. This solution is behavioral and it won’t last. Either they make the transition or they go back to drinking.
Making this transition is commonly referred to as a spiritual experience. It represents the shift from elimination to creation. Here is what it looks like after the shift:
1) Creating with positive action – You empower yourself and others through action. You stop hurting and abusing yourself and others.
2) Complete change in personality – You no longer obsess over how to medicate yourself. Reduced obsession with self.
3) Connection with a higher power – Prayer and meditation. Positive action. Positive guidance for decisions. Daily strength.
4) From self centered to interest in others – You start taking a genuine interest in the well being of others, both in and out of recovery
That is what it looks like once you’ve made the transition. How you go about making this shift is really the focus of this entire website. In my experience, different addicts and alcoholics have traveled different paths and all made it to a spiritual experience. Addiction is complicated, so the solution is necessarily complicated as well. Furthermore, it’s not clear to me yet if any addict can decide to transform spiritually or not. Some of those I’ve met in recovery have tried so hard and still failed.
Perhaps what you’ve read here will help you or someone you love to make the shift to creation as well.
But for now, just know that I Am Blessed.
That’s the power of creation.
If you think this article might help someone, then please share it with them. May God bless you…..now go create a new life for yourself in recovery!