Yesterday we looked at how to achieve goals and embrace the cycle of growth, thus defining our creative theory of recovery. But today we need to take a step back and look at the question of how to even get started on the path of personal growth in the first place.
Getting to the point of surrender
The first question is about how to even get yourself to the point of surrender in the first place.
Surrender is mostly about timing. One thing to keep in mind is that you are not going to be able to launch yourself down a successful path of recovery when everything is going good for you in your life. This is not the time to try to get clean and sober because it will never work (or rather, if it does work, then you are probably not a true addict/alcoholic to begin with).
No, the true addict or alcoholic has to learn things the hard way, for the most part. Therefore they going to have to go through quite a bit of pain and misery before they finally become willing to try a new path in life.
What has been working for them in the long run is to self medicate with drugs or alcohol. This has been their solution for dealing with life and it has worked for them for a long time. If it didn’t then they are not a true addict.
So automatically you can see what you are up against here. The change is not an easy one to make because we are talking about leaving a comfort zone, one that has been established for years or even decades. When you boil it down to its core we are looking at this mountain of fear. The addict deals with life by self medicating, and this includes dealing with all of their fears, anxieties, and frustrations. That is how they cope. That is how they face their fears–by self medicating the fear away using chemicals. And it has worked well for them for a long time. The idea that this could all be stripped away can be overwhelming.
This is why surrender is a slow and steady process that has to be built up to and achieved at some point in time. The addict cannot just decide on a whim to surrender just because their best friend thinks that the person should stop using drugs or alcohol. In fact, this sort of outside influence is almost completely inconsequential in terms of the decision to surrender. The struggling addict is not really weighing how much other people think they should change. Instead they are thinking about what their life would be like if they could never use their drug of choice ever again. They are focused on this concept of “going without” much more than they are focused on what everyone’s advice is for them. In other words, the person is focused on their fear and how they would have to face and confront that fear if they were to get clean and sober some day.
Keep in mind that every addict and alcoholic has gone through brief periods where they were without their drug of choice. Every single addict has been inconvenienced at different times throughout their addiction and could not get high or drunk or self medicate for some reason. During these times, the addict experienced some amount of withdrawal and the unpleasant detox symptoms that come along with it. They went through massive physical discomfort and probably quite a bit of mental anguish as well. They experienced real cravings unlike what they had ever known previously. And so in most cases the addict quickly finds a way to get back to using their drug of choice so that they can make these horrible withdrawal symptoms go away as soon as they possibly can.
This is how the fear is built up. This is why the struggling addict is so terrified of sobriety.
It is not so much because they are afraid of this discomfort, but because they now associate that experience of discomfort and withdrawal with the idea of being sober. When they ask themselves: “What would it be like if I was clean and sober?” they shudder in terror because they remember what the discomfort is like, and they associate that with sobriety. They know that this is what to expect. And they probably also falsely project this discomfort onto the entire lifelong concept of recovery, assuming that they will be miserable the whole time. In other words, they are assuming that the first week of sobriety is going to be just like the fifth or tenth year of sobriety–that it will never get any better, that they will feel miserable, that they will live in fear for the rest of their lives. They may not even think these thoughts consciously, it is just all part of the subconscious fears that keep the addict stuck in addiction, rather than to face their fears and move forward in recovery.
So this is how you have to approach the concept of surrender. It is a wall of fear for the addict, and as someone once said, “you must step through that fear.”
One problem of course is that most addicts will not even admit that it has anything to do with fear at all. If this is the case I am not sure pushing their buttons is going to help. The ego is a powerful thing and so no one wants to admit that they are afraid. But it is fear that keeps people stuck in addiction, and the only way to surrender and get better is to face that fear head on. You have to “step through the fear” and once you have become willing to do so then you know you have reached your point of surrender.
How to know when you have had enough, or are sick and tired of addiction
Like I said above, if everything is going good in the life of the addict then they are not about to surrender and change their life all of a sudden. When things are going well or even just decent, the addict or alcoholic is not about to surrender their self will and take the humbling steps to ask for help in early recovery. The timing is all wrong for this to occur.
A much better time for the addict to take action and ask for help is after they have just gone through the wringer, and their life is a total chaotic mess. This is when they actually have a chance at becoming clean and sober. For example, the following might be good timing for when to consider asking for help or going to rehab:
* The addict has just experienced some serious consequences in their life due to their addiction, such as wrecking a car while intoxicated or being fired from a job for stealing money or medications.
* The addict has just lost social connections due to their addiction. Maybe a spouse or significant other has just left them due to their addiction.
* The addict has just gone to jail or had legal trouble because of their addiction.
* The addict has recently dropped out of school or lost their job.
* The addict has recently experienced medical consequences as a result of their addiction, or is in hospital or mental ward because of it.
You get the idea…it has to do with consequences. If there are no serious consequences facing the individual, then it is very easy to engage in denial and go on with life as if there is no problem at all. But if there are heavy consequences facing the individual then it is much harder for that person to maintain denial. If they are in the hospital because they overdosed on drugs or alcohol, it is pretty hard for them to deny that there is a problem (unbelievably, some still will deny it at this point!).
The addict must be “sick and tired of being sick and tired” before they reach the point of surrender. They have to be at a point where they almost want to give up on life because they are so discouraged. They may still be pointing fingers at others and placing blame on others, but ultimately they are going to have to ask for help on how to live their life. This is the moment of surrender, when they admit that they cannot produce their own happiness any more, that they have failed when it comes to life. If they admit that their way is not working and that they are willing to try something else, anything else, then they are at the point of surrender.
It is then that I highly recommend inpatient rehab as the first step forward in recovery. There are other possible solutions for recovery but none of them are as comprehensive as inpatient rehab. For example, some people might say “oh well, I have surrendered to my addiction but I am going to go see my old therapist, he will help me.” Or they might say “well I have surrendered now, so I am going to go hit an AA meeting here or there and see how I do.”
In my opinion these are all lessor solutions. Going to inpatient rehab is a superior path and it also includes these other possible solutions within it. For example, anyone who goes to inpatient rehab will likely be exposed to both therapy and 12 step meetings. Therefore this is a better solution then just going to see a therapist. It is also a more powerful solution because you are entering into a controlled environment that makes relapse nearly impossible in the short term. In other words, no one is going to relapse while they are staying in a controlled facility, though they may very well relapse later once they are out.
Checking into an inpatient facility is a big step for someone who has never done so, and this is part of the fear that prevents people from getting clean and sober. It takes guts to admit that you are out of control and “need to be locked up.” That may not be the exact truth when it comes to rehab (in most states the residents are not locked in or held involuntarily), but it sure feels like this to the struggling addict who is considering going to rehab. It can feel like you are going to prison even though inpatient rehab is a cakewalk compared to jail.
Again it is all about fear in the beginning. The struggling addict or alcoholic has been self medicating their fear for a long time, and going to rehab represents a whole lot of their biggest fears all at once. Not only does it mean giving up their drug of choice, but it also means a loss of control and freedom because they equate it with being “locked up.”
Because inpatient rehab typically represents the biggest fear for the addict, it also has the biggest payoff if they are willing to face it and confront it head on. “Fear is a mile wide and paper thin, you must walk through it.” The biggest step that an addict can take is to ask for help and check into rehab. This can start the ball in motion that will lead to a whole new life in recovery. Facing their biggest fear (rehab + sobriety) is going to give the biggest benefit (new life of serenity + happiness).
The path of personal growth in recovery and how to get started on it
As mentioned above the first step on the path of recovery is to surrender and ask for help. No growth can occur until this has happened because the addict will just be sabotaging their own efforts until they finally surrender.
So the first step is to surrender and ask for help. The second step is therefore to take some direction and start acting on it. This is the humbling conclusion to the problem of early recovery. There is a point in recovery where you get to assess you own life and your own situation and make decisions about what you should be doing next or pursuing with your time and energy. That time is not early recovery. That time is not when you have 3 weeks sober.
No, early recovery is the time to take advice, to take direction from others, to take suggestions from others and do what they tell you to do. This can be crushing to the ego and you may be protesting that you “thought you were going to have total freedom when you gave up drugs and alcohol!” Well this is true, you will have total freedom some day but in early recovery you are not stable enough to handle “total freedom.” Your tendency to self medicate is still too strong and you have not yet learned enough alternative solutions in life. You cannot be “set free” at 3 weeks sober and expected not to relapse, especially if you are putting yourself squarely in the driver’s seat and outlining your own recovery program. This comes later on when you have achieved stability.
The path of personal growth starts by asking for help and taking direction. This is how to get started on the path of personal growth so that you can begin to “bank stability.” What I mean by that is over time you will become more and more stable in your recovery if you take suggestions and do what others tell you to do. Obviously this only works if you are asking people who are genuinely helpful in giving advice about recovery. Such people are fairly easy to find: AA meetings, sponsors, therapists, counselors, rehab workers, peers in recovery, etc.
In fact, you could almost take advice from one of your equal peers in recovery and do better than what your own mind will come up with (at least in early sobriety). This is because we know what is good for someone, but doing it is hard work. We know how to stay clean and sober and clean up our lives, but putting in the action and the follow through is still quite difficult.
So it is easy for nearly anyone, even someone on their first day of sobriety, to look at a struggling addict and say “You should really go to rehab, you should clean yourself up and quit using those drugs, maybe start exercising and eating better and getting good sleep and stay away from the drugs and then go create something interesting in your life, go chase your dreams and make something amazing happen with all of your creative energy.” It is easy to tell someone else to do that, but it is difficult advice to act on and the hard part is all about the follow through.
What you need to focus on in early recovery is the follow through. Don’t worry so much about getting the advice absolutely perfect, or finding the perfect sponsor who is going to be your salvation. For the most part, none of that matters. What matters is the follow through. What matters is that you put in the effort and do the work. It’s pretty important in early recovery that you use someone else’s ideas. If you use your own ideas then you may just sabotage yourself so that you can relapse. Your brain would love to have full control so that it can lead you back to its drug of choice.
So the more powerful alternative is to take advice and suggestions from others. They will not steer your wrong, for the most part. You may think that no one could have your best interest at heart, but taking direction from others is a very powerful approach in early recovery. In fact I am convinced that it is the only way that works. If you try to design your own detox and early recovery you will just end up relapsing. You have to give up some control in order to get past the tricky stage of early recovery. That is why they call it “surrender.”
Moving past your fear and plunging into recovery
Really the only way to make the leap is to, well…..leap.
Once you have had enough pain and misery in your addiction, you should get to the point where you are willing to try something else. You have to be willing to take suggestions. If you are still at the point where you want to tell people how you will get sober, where you will get sober, what you are willing to do and what you are not willing to do, then you are probably not ready to take the plunge.
Plunging into recovery means full abandon. You let go of everything. Maybe you are worried that if you go into rehab that you will lose your job, or that your friends will think weird things about you, or that your family will be disgraced, or that people will gossip about you and say mean things. At the point of surrender you let go of ALL of that stuff. You let it all slide because none of it is truly important. You had believed it was important but you were mistaken. Not dying from your addiction is important, and everything else is secondary to this. And so you have to get to the point where you realize:
“Hey, if I don’t quit using my drug of choice, it is going to kill me. I am really going to die from this.”
At that point all of the worries about going to rehab are just silly and meaningless. You either go get some help or you die from addiction. What’s it gonna be? There is an awesome new life for anyone who is struggling but in order to claim that life you have to LET GO OF EVERYTHING. Really. You just let go of all of your fears and ask for help. Agree to go to rehab. Any rehab. Any time. No conditions. Just agree to do it, and start moving towards a more positive life.
This is how to get started on the right path in recovery. It starts with surrender. Ask for help. Start taking direction.
Life does get better!