It takes massive action in order to overcome addiction and alcoholism. You have to actually do something in order to recover.
Most people believe that specific programs of recovery hold the magic key to their sobriety, but the truth is that the path to recovery starts with action….practically any action at all. Make a decision, ask for help, and put your recovery in motion. Getting bogged down in the details is a good way to screw up early in the game, when what we really need to kick start our recovery is a leap of faith….
We learn as we go along. How could recovery be any different? You are not perfect, and your first few days, weeks, and months of recovery will probably not be perfect either. But the key is to take action rather than to sit around and complain that you will probably fail anyway. Simply act, then learn as you progress. Refine as you go along. Take action!
We can frame recovery principles in a lot of different ways–we can talk about motivation, or we can talk about willingness, or we can talk about spiritual paths, and so on. But ultimately, it all comes down to massive action. You gotta take action to get results.
It takes change to overcome addiction. No action, no change.
So what follows are my thoughts about taking massive action in recovery…..
* Why addiction demands massive action to overcome it.
* Willingness: how surrender turns into action.
* A popular misconception: that thinking can change things in recovery.
* Dipping your toes in: how little actions can snowball into big results in early recovery.
* Go big in early recovery or go home.
* Transitioning to long term recovery: turning action into habits.
* Why you need continuous action to stay sober over the long run.
* Improving health through lifestyle changes requires massive action.
* How massive action sets you up for long term success.
* Lack of action = relapse.
Why addiction demands massive action to overcome it
Drug addiction and alcoholism dominate our lives, to the point that the pursuit of our next high pretty much consumes us entirely. Our priorities change drastically as we go further and further into our addiction. Our behaviors change, who we hang out with changes, where we spend our time changes.
The disease takes over our life. Everything that we do is set up around our drug of choice. We are either using it or thinking about using it, or possibly working so that we can use it later. The mental obsession is constant and overwhelming.
We medicate all of our emotions with our drug of choice. We want to use it to celebrate happy feelings. We want to use it when we are frustrated, sad, or upset. And of course, we are constantly using our drug to medicate our fear. Everything becomes an excuse to use drugs or alcohol.
Do you see what I am getting at here? Addiction is pervasive. It infects our lives completely. It is not a surface-level phenomenon.
Addiction runs deep.
All of this is true, even if the addict has only been using for a short period of time. But for every year that an addict or alcoholic continues to stay stuck in their disease, they become even more dependent on the addictive lifestyle.
Think about it….how many years has the addict been using? How many years has the alcoholic been drinking? These activities define our lives. Addiction is a crutch that we use every single day. It is not a trivial thing. It changes how we live, how we deal with our emotions, how we deal with relationships, and how we deal with reality.
So the idea of recovery demands massive change. For years and years you are self medicating with your drug of choice every day, and then suddenly in early recovery, you stop using all drugs and have to find a new way to deal with life. This includes:
* A new way to deal with relationships.
* A new way to cope with reality.
* A new way to handle your emotions.
* A new way to deal with your fear.
Overcoming addiction requires massive change.
And that requires massive action.
Willingness: how surrender turns into action
An addict or alcoholic who is struggling and in denial is not in a position to take massive action. Instead, they are resisting everything that might actually help them. New ideas about how to live, an opportunity to get professional help, a trip to a drug rehab–they will likely resist all of this. They are not ready to take action because they are struggling for control.
This is classic denial. The addict may or may not admit that they actually have a problem. Regardless, if they are not willing to take action then they are still stuck in denial, and they are blocked from making any real change in their life.
The paradox here is that massive action starts with total surrender. Before you can dive in and start creating awesome recovery, you have to be willing to let go of everything. You have to throw up your hands and say “That’s it. I can’t keep doing this.”
Surrender is a non-action. It is a release. You let the tension and need for control drain out of you.
You probably cannot choose to do this. It just happens. It happens when an addict is finally sick and tired of the rat race that is active addiction.
Surrender is the moment where you let go of your need to control your life. You become open to the idea that someone else might have a better way for you to live. This is how your journey in recovery can begin.
Before you reach this moment, taking massive action in recovery is not possible. Surrender is always the first step in recovery, regardless of what program you are using.
A popular misconception: that thinking can change things in recovery
People make this mistake all the time. It is a subtle mistake that does not get a lot of attention, because people normally do not talk about it much. They just do it.
What they do is that they have this erroneous belief that thinking can produce recovery. They have a mental block, a thing that they stumble over, that makes them believe that they can produce a better life for themselves by simply sitting on the couch and thinking about it.
We tell ourselves things like “I have to get my thoughts straight,” or “I guess I have some serious thinking to do about my recovery.” This is all just a big waste of time, and masks us from what really needs to happen instead: we need to stop thinking, and take action.
Our false belief is that we can execute easily in our lives, but that we have to put extra time and effort into our thoughts and preparation for everything. We believe that we have to concentrate on our thoughts, and the rest of our lives will fall into place.
Backwards, in fact.
Just observe the person who immerses themselves into recovery meetings and therapy, even though they may still be having thoughts of wanting to use drugs and alcohol. Notice that this person is overcoming their addiction through action. In spite of their negative thoughts, they are able to find success in early recovery, simply by taking deliberate action every day. They may be going to treatment, attending meetings, going to group therapy, or interacting with their sponsor every day. Whatever. The key is that they are taking real action, rather than becoming obsessed with their thoughts.
Our actions can easily improve our thoughts. You want to have more positive thoughts? Then forget about thinking for a while and go take action. Help other addicts in recovery, every day. Reach out and help newcomers in recovery in any way that you can. Do this with real dedication and real energy for a few weeks, then let us know what your thoughts are doing. I can tell you already that they will have improved one hundred fold, and not because you concentrated on changing your thoughts internally. It is because you took action. Massive action.
Dipping your toes in: how little actions can snowball into big results in early recovery
Willingness is a funny thing in early recovery. If you give it just half a chance, you will amaze yourself when you look back a year later.
For example, I had always been personally against the idea of long term treatment. The idea petrified me. How could I give up so much time from my life? It was unthinkable. So I continued to struggle with addiction, until one day something broke free, and I surrendered.
I agreed to check into short term, residential treatment. By doing so, I saw that the situation was acceptable. My world did not end. And, because of this smaller success of checking into rehab, I became willing to consider the idea of long term.
Of course the story ends that I did end up going to long term rehab, lived there for 20 months, and have been clean and sober ever since.
Now at my moment of surrender, I never would have been willing to agree to live in rehab for 20 months. No way.
But willingness will give way to more willingness. Thus, massive action can be discovered through taking baby steps in early recovery.
You have to do something. That is the whole key. They have a saying: “If nothing changes, then nothing changes.” Well, duh.
If you want to get to massive action, you probably have to start with something small and reasonable.
Then, build on it.
Go big in early recovery or go home
I am in the unique position of being able to watch a lot of recovering addicts and alcoholics in early recovery. I also have been in this unique position for the last 9 and a half years straight. I have seen hundreds of winners in recovery, and thousands who relapsed.
And what have I learned from watching all this?
That the winners go big. They take massive action. The people who relapse, they, well……do nothing.
Well sometimes those who relapse do something, but they don’t do much. They make a half hearted effort. They put in a 70 percent effort into recovery. Or maybe like a 30 percent effort.
Folks, it takes more than that. So much more.
Have you ever heard of the concept of overwhelming force? Let’s say your latest goal is to lose 10 pounds. If you were using the concept of overwhelming force, you would do several things in order to achieve this goal.
First, you would hire a world class fitness trainer. Then you may hire a world class nutritionist. They would help you to drastically change your diet. You would carefully plan each meal, and snack, to be as healthy as possible. And you would start working out, hard, every single day. No excuses. You would wake up early every morning and exercise more in your first few waking hours than you used to exercise all week.
And you would keep pushing yourself to take positive action toward this goal every single day. Your actions would become ingrained, automatic habits that would redefine your lifestyle. Every activity, every meal, and every waking moment of every day would be an opportunity to help move you closer to your ideal weight and a healthier body.
That’s overwhelming force. And for some things, such as learning to play the trumpet or forming a new habit of meditating every day, you will not really need to go this far. Most changes that we make in our lives are relatively easy, and do not require such ridiculous dedication, such overwhelming force.
But overcoming addiction does require overwhelming force. And that means taking massive action.
You can test this easily enough if you do not believe it: simply go interview those who are clean and sober in recovery. Ask them: “Was getting clean and sober one of the hardest things you ever had to do?” Then ask them: “Was it the hardest thing you ever had to do?”
Duh. They will all answer “yes.”
You need massive action, people!
Transitioning to long term recovery: turning action into habits
Some of the best decisions I made in early recovery involved making a commitment to myself to keep doing something positive. If an action is truly helpful to recovery and it benefits you no matter what, then it makes sense to try and turn it into a habit.
For example, I found that regular, vigorous exercise had a huge impact on my recovery. It affected me so much more than I thought it would, on so many different levels. After a particularly vigorous workout, I noticed that:
1) I felt absolutely terrific, while being both physically exhausted and yet strangely satisfied all at once. Right after an intense run, my head and heart would be pounding with natural chemicals, producing a natural endorphin rush. This rush would be very addictive if it did not require so much work!
2) I also noticed that I would feel better throughout the rest of the day, too. More calm, yet happier for having worked out.
3) Also, I slept better on the days that I ran. I would fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply.
4) I also noticed a meditative quality to distance running. You can finish a one hour run and not even realize what you thought about for the entire hour. This is awesome. Instead of constant, obsessive thought, you can just take in the countryside as you run. This meditative quality of running is very, very underrated in my opinion.
These benefits from running just kept adding up for me, and I basically made the decision the first year that I started doing it: I was going to keep on running forever. The benefits were too great to not turn this into a regular habit. And so it became a lifestyle choice for me, one that continues to pay dividends for me in recovery.
I see other people do this too, with other things that work great for them in recovery. For example, some people really connect with 12 step meetings, or they might get tremendous benefit from sponsoring newcomers in recovery. And so they turn these things into habits that carry them through into long term sobriety.
Find what works, and run with it. Not too difficult, really.
Why you need continuous action to stay sober over the long run
I have the luxury of watching so many different people in recovery. Every year, I watch thousands of people in short term recovery, and hundreds of people in long term recovery. Many people from both groups frequently relapse. So what are the similarities in those who falter?
Most people get it wrong and say “they stopped going to meetings.” This contains a half truth, but it is not the whole story. Meetings are just a tool, they do not keep anyone clean and sober in any sort of direct way. Anyone who is dependent on them–really dependent on them for sobriety–is not cut out to make it in the long run anyway.
No, the fact of the matter is that the people who relapsed stopped doing anything. Yes, many of them stopped going to meetings, that may be true. But it is the fact that they stopped doing anything for their recovery altogether that ended up sinking them.
Continuous, positive action. That is the only real remedy for addiction. Why? Because using drugs and alcohol is our natural state. We are most comfortable when we are getting drunk and high. That is perfectly normal for the addict to be doing. It is their natural state of being.
It takes continuous energy to divert from this course. That is why they say: “You are either working on recovery, or you are working on a relapse.” There is no standing still in recovery. You have to get active, and stay active, in order to keep the threat of relapse at bay.
So what does continuous action consist of? The details are all around you on this website. Do what works. Do something positive. Help others in recovery. Seek holistic health. Take what works and turn it into a habit. Push yourself to grow personally. Actually push yourself to grow as a person.
These are not always going to be specific actions like “Do A, then do B, then move on to C.” We are talking about personal growth here. It is not always perfectly linear and predictable. But one key is that you have to keep doing it, and you have to keep growing in your recovery. It is a continuous process, that, if stopped, will generally result in relapse.
Improving health through lifestyle changes requires massive action
Recovery is about life. It’s about embracing a healthier life for yourself.
Why would we stop at abstinence from drugs and alcohol?
Holistic health is an extension of recovery principles. Start caring for yourself in recovery and building real self esteem, and you will inevitably be led to start taking better care of yourself as a whole person.
That means taking care of yourself spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, nutritionally, and so on. Why would you limit your approach to just spiritual growth? Or just physical stuff (like abstaining from drugs?).
Instead, the holistic approach to recovery seeks to treat the whole person, not just the spiritual side of them. So naturally, this leads people to take a look at their whole life, and how they can improve it. A huge part of this is going to revolve around their health: physical health, mental health, emotional balance, and so on.
Most of that stuff is hard to change. Lifestyle changes do not come easy. Quitting smoking, or incorporating daily exercise, or making radical changes to your diet–none of these things are easy. And that is why holistic health demands massive action.
Think about it. If you want to make huge gains in your health, it is going to take a huge effort. You can’t get something for nothing. Anything worth doing requires real work. It is no different when pursuing holistic health in recovery.
Making real changes that positively affect your health is not easy. But if you really embrace a new life in recovery, you don’t have much of a choice. Start living, or start dying…..
How massive action sets you up for long term success
Because of the reasons outlined above, you cannot expect to have long term success in recovery without taking massive action. It is just not possible.
At the most, you may be able to stay clean for a short while based on some minor changes in your life, but these will never last. As they say in traditional recovery circles, “you have to change everything.”
You can tell when someone is still stuck in denial and they just don’t get it. Maybe they are drinking heavily every night, and they try to blame it on the bar that is close to their apartment. “If I could just get a new place on the other side of town, I would be alright.” This is ridiculous and anyone who understands how addiction works can tell you that the location of the bar is irrelevant. A true drunk will walk miles and miles to get their buzz on.
And yet, people do this all the time with other forms of denial. For example, say you have a struggling addict and their life is dominated by using drugs and getting high every day. Maybe they have been doing so for several years now, and they pretty much dedicate all of their free time, energy, and money to the pursuit of more drugs. They are “in deep,” so to speak.
Does this person really think they are going to change their life with a few outpatient sessions each week? Do they really think they can go to an NA meeting each weekend and somehow change their whole life because of it?
These are not realistic goals, because we are dealing with an extreme situation. Addiction is hard to overcome. It takes massive action. That is why I can always spot someone who is still in denial, because they are not willing to take massive action. Instead, they keep hedging. They are in denial.
“No, I’d rather not go to long term treatment. In fact, I don’t much like the idea of a 28 day program either. I think I would just like to do some counseling each week. That is what works well for me.”
Or they might say:
“I don’t understand what I am doing wrong, or why I keep relapsing. I go to 3 meetings every week….”
Ridiculous. These types of rationalizations are the sound of denial, from people who are not yet ready to change. They are only taking modest actions. Not massive.
If you take massive action in early recovery, you are automatically setting yourself up for success down the road. Anything less, and you are flirting with disaster.
Lack of action = relapse
Hopefully it is clear by now what the formula for success is. Continuous, positive action.
Those who relapse are those who stop doing stuff. They simply start coasting. Whatever they were doing that helped them in recovery, they stopped doing it. Then they relapsed.
Some people believe that there is magic in certain recovery programs. There is no magic. There is only action.
You supply the magic when you put in the footwork. That is the magic of recovery. It is all in the footwork.
Ask those who have 5, 10, 20 years sober in AA: “Does it require action?”
Ask them: “Does it require lots of action?”
Yup. It sure does.
Anyone who thinks that there is a mystical shortcut to long term sobriety is fooling themselves. There are no shortcuts. There is only hard work. Continuous, positive action.
If you want to stay clean and sober, you get busy. You go big, and take real action in your life.
The rewards are there. Life starts getting good. Real good.
But you have to work for it.
Ask yourself: Are you willing to take massive action in order to live an awesome life in recovery?