Sometimes the idea of addiction recovery can sound a bit scary, like you are giving up your freedom and becoming some sort of robot.
Surrender and take direction from others? What will be left of me and my life?
This is a natural fear that anyone will probably have in early recovery. The infamous quote in the 12 step program is that if you surrender all of your self will, you could become like the hole in a donut, right?
Obviously this is not the case, and anyone who is afraid of being manipulated or under mind control due to a recovery program is probably being a bit paranoid. While there are specific examples out there where certain individuals have gone too far, don’t let a few bad apples ruin the idea of recovery for you.
So yes, you can still take direction and advice from others while creating your own life in recovery. Doing so is a bit of a balance and a bit of an art form, so let’s dive in and see how it all works.
Taking direction in very early recovery
When you first start out in your recovery journey, the time to focus on taking direction is right NOW.
You are at your most vulnerable and your ego is likely damaged from having to surrender to the fact that your disease has got the best of you. So it can be tough in this early stage to relinquish full control and admit that we need help and direction.
We can think of self will and surrender on a continuum of sorts. At the one end of the scale, we are completely taking advice and direction from others, and we are not initiating any ideas or actions for ourselves. We only do what others suggest or tell us to do.
At the other end of this spectrum we have complete self will. At this point, we are not listening to anyone and we are taking absolutely NO advice and direction. All of our actions are based strictly on our own ideas.
The idea of striking a balance between these two extremes is important, but even more important perhaps is that you want to lean heavily toward “taking advice and direction” in very early recovery.
Because we have proven to ourselves that we cannot manage our own lives. Our disease has beaten us and we have lost all control. Therefore, we need advice and direction in order to correct course. Early recovery should be an exercise in taking advice from others. That is what we should do.
Too often, people in early recovery get cocky and believe that they know how recovery works. Perhaps some of these people have been through a recovery program before, so they sort of know the drill. Others believe that staying clean and sober will be relatively easy for them. At any rate, many recovering addicts and alcoholics do not see a pressing need to surrender their self will and take direction in early recovery.
Some of the old timers have a solution for this: go recover on your own then! You either need help and direction or you do not. Which is it? You can’t hang on to your pride if you are going to get clean and sober. It just does not work. Either you need to learn to take direction and advice from others, or you will likely put yourself back in charge of things, and we all know what will happen when your ego starts running the show again. You will end up self medicating.
So we have established this fact then: there is a balance that needs to be struck between taking direction and living our own life. We have also established that this is largely a matter of timing, and that in very early recovery, you should focus heavily on taking advice and direction.
Don’t try to run your own show when you first get clean and sober. Experience has proven that you don’t know what you are doing! Let someone else dictate your life for a while, and see what kind of results you get. Timing is important. You can create your own life later, as your stability increases and you continue to stay clean and sober.
The idea of sponsorship is associated with much of the recovery community because of 12 step programs.
Like anything else in life, there is a good and a bad side to sponsorship. There are both good and bad sponsors out there, and your job in early recovery is to find yourself a good one, if you choose to use the concept at all.
This is not to say that you absolutely should seek out a sponsor for your recovery journey. Depending on your situation, you may or may not do well to seek out a sponsor. People can and do grow in their recovery without having this particular form of guidance in their lives.
If you do choose to seek out a sponsor, keep in mind these ideas:
* Find someone who is living the kind of life you want to have. Sponsorship is an exercise in modeling. You are going to model your behavior and your life after that of another person. If they do not have what you want in their life, then don’t model after them.
* Don’t ever take any form of abuse or negativity. Just leave, and feel no guilt about it.
* Try to find a healthy balance between a sponsor who never pushes you at all on anything, and one who is completely overbearing and is way too pushy.
Again, the idea of sponsorship works better the earlier that you are in your recovery. If you have been in recovery for several years, hopefully you have grown to the point where you know how to push and challenge yourself a bit. This is not to say that feedback from others is no longer valuable, it just means that you should not have to rely on a sponsor in order to stay clean and sober in the long run.
Take more direction early on, then define your own path as you continue to progress in your recovery.
Self assessment and defining your own goals
As you continue to stay clean and sober in recovery, a shift should start to occur naturally over time.
Some people believe that this shift in thinking is dangerous and that they are in danger of relapse because they are taking back self will.
I think it bears closer examination because so many people stay stuck in this mindset that they are not allowed to think for themselves in recovery, and if they do think for themselves then surely they are going to screw everything up and end up relapsing. They don’t trust themselves to have an original thought about how to live their own life.
This shift in mindset is away from taking direction and advice towards trusting our own self again and designing our own path of growth in recovery.
If a person in recovery tries to do this too soon then they are very likely to relapse and screw up their life again, because they are still too early in recovery to know what will move them closer to relapse.
But after they remain clean and sober and their confidence starts to grow and they experience more and more success in their life, they can start to take back control of their own future growth and stop relying on others for so much advice and direction.
Part of this comes from the idea of self assessment, which is a big part of 12 step programs. Every person in their recovery journey should–at various times and on a continual basis–take a step back and really take a good hard look at their life, looking for growth opportunities.
There are two things to look for:
1) Negatives that could possibly be eliminated.
2) Positive goals that we wish to pursue.
This is the art of self assessment, and it takes time, patience, and practice in order to really learn how to do it and get it right.
The serenity prayer instructs us to “change the things we can” and to pray for the wisdom to know what that is.
In long term recovery, that concept is very important when it comes to personal growth and self assessment. What are the trouble areas in our life that we could stand to correct? What are the exciting and positive goals in our future that we want to reach out for? And further, are these goals realistic, and should we even be striving to change these things?
In early recovery, we are not in a position to handle all of that. We are not ready to do all of that self assessment just yet, we just recently quit drinking and drugging (and isn’t that enough, darn it!). In early recovery, it is all we can do just to hang on and learn how to get through one more day without relapse. So we do not need the complication of trying to better ourselves in 14 different ways when we just have 30 days in recovery under our belt.
Later on, when we have a few months or a few years of sobriety, it is time to get to work on ourselves. In early recovery, that means asking for advice. In long term recovery, that means introspection and honest self assessment.
There comes a point in our journey when we become responsible for our own personal growth. We stop saying “what do I need to do in order to be a healthier person?” and we start asking ourselves that question instead. Thus, we can still make personal growth in our recovery through our own ideas, so long as we are responsible and experienced enough to realize what is truly healthy for us. With just 30 days sober, we are often not in a position to be able to do this. After a few years of successful recovery, however, we should be in a better position to recognize positive changes for ourselves when we see them.
The pursuit of personal growth in recovery
As I mentioned above, very early recovery is an exercise in simply achieving abstinence. The new addict or alcoholic in recovery is struggling just to make it another day clean and sober. Each day brings a new threat of relapse with it, and every day conquered without relapse is a success. This is the measure of progress in very early recovery.
As the struggling addict or alcoholic maintains their sobriety, it actually does get a bit easier over time. Staying clean and sober really does become more and more natural, more and more automatic, no matter how long the person has been abusing their drug of choice. Simply by maintaining abstinence over a period of time, sobriety and recovery can and will start to feel normal.
This does not mean that we can overcome all threats of relapse simply by accumulating clean time. Everyone knows of addicts and alcoholics who have relapsed after various lengths of clean time. Some people have even relapsed after decades of being sober. It happens.
So the question is this: “If stringing together long periods of abstinence is not enough to insure continuous sobriety in the future, what is the ultimate answer for relapse prevention in long term recovery?”
The answer is “personal growth.”
Long term recovery is all about pushing yourself to maintain continuous personal growth. You have probably heard it said that complacency is what causes more people to relapse than anything else. This is because complacency is the end of “working a program.” You may still show up to meetings, but your heart is no longer in it, and you are no longer driven to change.
The truth is that the meetings (or any type of program for that matter) are not at the heart of what keeps you clean and sober. Instead, it is the push for change and personal growth that keeps you fresh and healthy in your recovery.
Many people who have relapsed can look back and describe their downfall as being “complacency.” What they really mean is that they stopped growing in their recovery. To take it a step further, they stopped pushing themselves to grow in their recovery.
The growth is one aspect of it, but the personal push to keep growing is the other side of it. It is this personal push that is really the important part….the desire for more growth and more positive change.
Creating with positive change
What does it mean to “create with positive change?”
When we talk about creating change in our life, we are not talking about random stuff happening, and then we label some of it bad and some of it good.
No, the idea of creation implies some forethought. We have to think before we can create.
If we want to see something new happen in our lives, we have to plan it out, think about it, and take action to make it happen. This is creation in action. Set a goal and then work hard to achieve it.
At one point in my recovery, I got a little overwhelmed with all of the potential and different directions I might take. There were too many goals to focus on; too many things that I might want to achieve.
All of these goals had positive outcomes, so how was I to know which one to work on first? How should I prioritize my recovery efforts?
I only had one absolute in my life at this point, which was to not take a drink or a drug for any reason, period. That was my highest truth upon which all other personal growth was based.
But what should I seek to accomplish in addition to this?
The answer came to me by a simple formula of prioritizing and self assessment:
1) Make a list of all of the negative things in your life that you wish to eliminate. Choose the one thing that would have the greatest impact if you could change it.
2) Make that change your number one priority.
3) After you eliminate that negative obstacle from your life, go on to the next negative element on your list.
4) After you run out of negative things you wish to eliminate, start seeking positive goals, and then chase after them one at a time.
If you do this then you will probably realize that you will become much happier with your life before you even get to #4. Simply eliminating all of our negative habits and problems in our lives can go a long way to restore balance and peace.
Most people get this priority wrong by starting with #4, and hoping that they will not mind too much if they continue to have to deal with all of the negative stuff in their life. This approach is totally backwards. Instead, you must make it a point to aggressively get rid of all of the negativity in your life FIRST, before pursuing your dream goals.
Create whatever you desire with focus and discipline
Getting clean and sober is obviously a huge challenge, but most of us are too close to the process to really be able to step back from it and appreciate what we have achieved.
For example, I did not have my “ah-ha moment” until I was well into my recovery already and I finally managed to quit smoking cigarettes.
I had struggled to quit nicotine for so long, and failed so many times, that when I was finally able to do it successfully I was totally amazed that I had finally accomplished this goal.
And I quickly had this revelation based on this success:
I could achieve anything I wanted in recovery.
It sounds a bit trite, I know….like one of those motivational posters or something. “You can be anything you want to be!”
But this was something deeper than that….I had conquered my greatest enemy, I had finally beaten cigarettes once and for all, I had overcome this great struggle in my life and achieved success. It was so difficult and it required so much dedication, discipline, and focus that I realized that these characteristics could now be applied to ANY goal that I might have.
What else could I do or achieve? Probably darn near anything, I realized….this was my revelation.
It was so hard to quit smoking, but I had finally figured out how much effort it actually took. And now I realized that I could tackle any other goal, and I could then apply that same amount of effort to anything.
I had learned how to push hard…..harder than I had ever pushed on anything before in my life.
And in doing so, I realized that I could achieve some really incredible things. If I wanted to run a marathon, I could do that. If I wanted to earn a million dollars, I could do that too. The sky was now the limit, because I had finally learned what it meant to go all out, to tackle a goal with 100% effort, to give something maximum effort.
This is how to create something amazing in your recovery. Not with little goals or casual living, but by thinking big and tackling the really meaningful goals, going after the stuff that matters, and really learning how to push yourself to achieve great results.
This kind of positive change comes from within. It is self directed, and is largely a spiritual journey. You don’t achieve this kind of amazing positive change just by taking advice and directions from others. You have to trust in yourself, start to think a bit on your own, and learn to create your own path in recovery.