What is the ideal life? What does the ideal life look like in addiction recovery?
How could we ever be sure of what the ideal really is, when we are in a continuous state of change anyway?
I was very worried about this particular question when I was early in recovery because I did not want to end up relapsing. I figured that if I was living anything less than “my ideal life” in recovery then I would be susceptible to relapse. I suppose that is arguably correct, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is only true path to sobriety.
I would like to think that I am striving for the ideal life today, hopefully zeroing in on it more and more with each passing day (or month, or year).
In my opinion the ideal life is one that is fueled by personal growth and continuous development. Some people disagree with this idea because they believe that we should (instead) strive for acceptance of self rather than personal growth. Of course with all things like this, what we really need is a healthy balance, along with the wisdom to know when to push for change and when to accept ourselves as we are. I am still learning along that path myself.
But before we can get to the point where we are deciding between more personal growth versus self acceptance, we have to at least get the ball rolling in sobriety.
And you can’t do that at all if you are still trapped in the cycle of addiction, drinking or using drugs on a regular basis. That won’t work at all. In order to get your foot in the door you have to at least get through surrender and get started on a new path in life. This takes a moment of courage and can only be called by those that have actually done it “complete surrender.”
First things first: Avoiding the continuous pain and misery of alcoholism and drug addiction
Before you can get into recovery you have to first figure out how to stop being miserable and living in fear every day.
Addiction and alcoholism are a trap. What happens is that you live in fear, and then when you self medicate that fear is covered up by your drug of choice. The downside to this is that you have keep drinking and using more and more of your drug of choice, and this invites pain into your life. Sometimes a great deal of pain. The negative consequences of addiction just continue to pile up until you are completely miserable. So you might back off for a bit and “lay off the sauce” for a while, only to realize that this brings back all of the fear.
Anxiety, fear, call it whatever you want–the alcoholic or drug addict just doesn’t feel comfortable in their own skin when they are stone cold sober. So when they are drinking or using to excess they are miserable and creating all sorts of pain for themselves, and when they try to lay off their drug of choice for a while they get anxious or live in fear. There seems to be no happy medium.
Before you can get started in the world of recovery you need to first step out of this cycle of fear and pain. Addiction is nothing but a big vacillation between these two things: fear and pain. You are not about to embark on a journey of personal growth–or for that matter, find your ideal life–if you are still stuck in this vicious cycle.
So the way out is through surrender. Give up. Ask for help.
The reason that this is so difficult is because the solution is so tough to accept. Total abstinence from all mood and mind altering substances is not an easy thing to swallow. But this is the starting point. This is ground zero. Walk into rehab and ask for help. Walk into an AA meeting and swear of drugs and alcohol, just for today. Then do it again when you wake up tomorrow. This is simple stuff but that doesn’t mean it is easy to do. It is very tough, very challenging, and for most people it will be the hardest thing they have ever done. But of course it is well worth it once you do it long enough to start seeing the rewards of sobriety in your life.
Your priority if you are stuck in addiction is to take one giant step beyond it. I could not do that while stuck in my current environment. I could not step away from my addiction without some serious help. I had to check into rehab in order to break free. Of course it takes more than just a trip to inpatient treatment to overcome an addiction in the long run, but that was still a necessary starting point for me. I could not do it alone. I needed help. And that was OK, because the people at rehab were willing to help me. That is their job, after all.
My suggestion to anyone who is stuck in the disease is to ask for help and try to get to rehab. There are other solutions out there such as counseling, therapy, outpatient treatment, AA meetings, and so on. None of these solutions will help as much as inpatient rehab, however, if you are truly stuck in your disease. Also note that all of those solutions might come into play down the road, such as after you leave an inpatient treatment program, but in the beginning it is very likely that you will need MORE help than that.
I certainly did. I needed more help than what any of those solutions, alone, could offer me. I needed the whole ball of wax. I needed to check into rehab and get my head on straight. This took time. I needed time just for the world to slow down and stop spinning. I couldn’t do it overnight. I couldn’t do it just by dropping into a few AA meetings on the weekends. I needed serious help and the only place I got it was from checking into an inpatient facility.
Note that this is just me, your story may be completely different. There are certainly people out there who have recovered before without checking into rehab. It can be done. But there are also people who have scaled very tall cliffs without any safety ropes. I don’t recommend doing that either. My opinion is to use every resource available to you if you happen to be stuck in your addiction, and the best solution we have right now is inpatient rehab. It’s not perfect, but no solution is perfect. And it’s the best we’ve got right now. So I recommend that you use it.
After you go through inpatient treatment (or find some other way to get through the first few weeks of sobriety) then your life becomes a blank canvas of sorts on which you need to create your recovery.
How exactly do you do this in order to create your ideal life?
A platform for growth and creating on the blank canvas of your life
So you go through your first 30 days of sobriety. You have a bit of stability under your belt. Just for today, you are not going to drink no matter what.
So what now?
Now you have work to do. Serious work.
You know the 12 steps of AA? You might take a look at those. You don’t necessarily have to work them, but you have to do something. You have to do some internal work. You might use the 12 steps and a sponsor to walk you through that process, or you might do the work some other way. But you definitely need to do something.
All of us have negative stuff swirling around in our lives when we first get sober. All of us have at least some (or all) of the following in our lives when we first get sober:
* Self pity.
* Low self esteem.
* Too much pride.
And a host of other potential negative qualities.
These things are not helping your efforts in sobriety.
Now I want you to stop and think for a moment. Let’s say you have just one or two of the things on that list in your life, and you decide that instead of addressing those things, you are going to take a different approach.
You decide that you will think positive thoughts, and do affirmations, and only focus on the positive in your life. You decide that you don’t want to be uncomfortable and think of the negative stuff and dwell on any of that negativity listed above. So you ignore all of it and proceed to try to think only of positive things going forward.
How well do you think you will do in recovery?
I can tell you based on my own experience (and that of watching others) that you will never be truly happy that way, you will never be truly free in life.
Because you will have avoided the real work. You will have avoided the hard work, the negative stuff that is dwelling in your mind that needs to be dealt with.
Or maybe you have some resentments that are buried somewhere. Or perhaps you are prone to self pity (like I was).
Or maybe you just beat yourself up constantly and suffer from low self esteem.
No alcoholic has all of the problems from that list, but every person has at least SOME problem in their life, some bit of negativity, and it is going to be uncomfortable to confront it and correct it.
I repeat: Every person in early recovery has a choice. And that choice involves getting uncomfortable and doing the hard work to eliminate this negativity.
Nobody wants to do it. But this is the path to freedom.
So let’s bring this back for a moment to the concept of “your ideal life in sobriety.”
I can promise you this:
You won’t get to that ideal life unless you are willing to do the hard work. Unless you are willing to get uncomfortable, to confront this negative stuff inside of you.
Because otherwise you might find something positive, you may make gains in some other area of your life, but you will always have that negative thing that pulls you down if you don’t address it, confront it, and take care of it. And that takes guts. It takes hard work. You have to be willing to become uncomfortable for a bit. People don’t like to do this (generally speaking).
The ideal life must be balanced with holistic growth or you will miss out on the spiritual element, appreciating nothing
Have you ever known someone who just did not realize how good they have it?
They have everything in the world handed to them and they should be SO incredibly happy, but yet they are miserable for some reason? And they just don’t appreciate their situation and what it is that they have in life? Yet you can see it so easily and you can tell that they should, by all rights, be very happy?
That can happen to anyone. And it can happen at any time.
How do I know this?
Because your happiness does not really depend on your external circumstances. It really doesn’t.
Your happiness depends on your attitude. And you have a choice today.
The choice is binary. I am sure there are degrees here, but the basic choice is that you can either be:
1) Selfish, or
And if you are selfish then you will never really be happy. You will just have lots of excuses as to why you cannot be happy quite yet. Oh sure, you might be happy in the future, but only if things would work out for you for once and you get this, that, and the other thing.
Or you can choose gratitude. You can choose to be grateful right now, for your very existence. Fall down to your knees and kiss the ground beneath you because you are utterly amazed that you even exist at this moment in time! Any person can choose this attitude right now. It is available to you this instant. Aren’t you amazed that you exist, that you have choices today? That the universe has waved it’s wand and brought you into existence at all is a freaking miracle. You are one lucky glob of atoms to even be able to have thoughts, to comprehend your existence, to chase after happiness today. You should be grateful.
Some people never get this. Oh sure, their sponsor might make them fill out a gratitude list one day, but after they are done they just go on with their list of wants and desires and demands out of life. And they remain unhappy because the world owes them something and it hasn’t paid up yet. So they aren’t happy. Boo hoo.
What a bad attitude. And what a bad attitude for recovery! Instead you can choose to be grateful. You can choose happiness.
Your ideal life is not where you suddenly get the touch of God and everything bows to your every whim and everything works out just the way you want. That is not the ideal life.
No, the ideal life is the one in which you delight in your everyday challenges. Where you learn to appreciate the adversity because it allows you to grow.
The moments when I have been the most grateful in my life I was not afraid of adversity, of new challenges. I smiled at future problems. I said to the universe “Bring them on, I am ready, I want to be challenged so that I can grow and learn new things.” Mind you, I don’t have that feeling every day. I have to cultivate it, I have to work at it. It is tough to be that positive, to be that excited about challenges in life.
So how do you do this? How do you practice gratitude?
I believe it only really works well as a package deal. Being grateful is the spiritual arm of the beast. But there are other arms. There is your physical health, your emotional stability, your mental sharpness, and your social life (relationships). You can become unhealthy in any of these areas and if you do then your ideal life slips away from you.
The ideal life is when you take a regular inventory and ask yourself: “How can I take care of myself and love myself today?” And then you go through the list. Mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, social. Are you taking care of yourself? Where have you slacked off lately? This is the kind of vigilance that leads to long term sobriety. This is the sort of personal growth and assessment that has led me to the life that I am living today.
Driven by challenges and changes in order to overcome complacency in long term recovery
I am not positive what the ideal life is like for every person but I can tell you what the ideal life in recovery should look like for most recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.
It should be driven by personal growth.
There is a secret problem in long term recovery. I say it is “secret” because it is sneaky enough that someone with 20 years sober can still relapse because of it.
Think about that for a moment. A problem in sobriety that is so incredibly sneaky that it can cause someone with 20 solid years in recovery to relapse.
That problem is complacency.
If you go to AA meetings for long enough you can see evidence of this. People who have come back to the tables of AA after a relapse following ten, twenty, even 30 years sober. It happens. It may not happen a lot but it can and does happen, and it should illustrate a huge problem to every person who is living in recovery today.
That problem is complacency.
Your ideal life could be a whole lot of different things, but your ideal life in recovery better have a darn good contingency plan to combat complacency.
So what does that plan look like?
What would such a plan consist of?
I can summarize it for you in two simple words:
Beyond that, fighting complacency could mean many things to many different people. But if you are not learning anything, if you are not challenging yourself and growing in your recovery, then you are in danger of relapse.
Anyone who has relapsed after a decade or two of sobriety fell victim to the same problem: They got complacent. They got lazy. Go to enough AA meetings and you will learn this for yourself from first hand accounts.
The solution is to push yourself. To do the work, and to keep reinventing yourself.
Many people do this by helping others, by working with others in recovery, by reaching out and helping people.
That is one solution, and it is a very powerful one at that. Of course you can still become complacent even if this is to be your lifelong solution. You have to stay vigilant, have to stay open to feedback, have to keep pushing yourself to find that next level of growth.
There are other solutions as well. Not everyone has to be in AA and sponsor a bunch of newcomers. There are other paths. Many of them are explored here at The Spiritual River.
Relationships: With yourself, with your higher power, and with others
Your ideal life can probably be put in terms of three different relationship groups:
1) The relationship with yourself.
2) The relationship with your higher power.
3) The relationship you have with other people.
There is very little need for a 12 step program on a deserted island. Think about that one! It is all about relationships…..
And so when you consider your ideal life, you must first consider your relationship that you have with yourself. One thing that you might need to do is to forgive yourself. Many alcoholics and drug addicts benefit a great deal when they do that sort of work, that sort of soul searching, to really be able to forgive themselves.
Of course the work that you do on yourself will ultimately lead to a greater connection to your higher power. Cultivating gratitude on a daily basis will also strengthen this connection naturally, even if your idea of a higher power is only very vague at this point. Gratitude transcends all religions, it is not dependent on a specific faith.
And much of your happiness will be derived from the relationships that you have with others. But in order to cultivate those healthy relationships you must first do the work and build a strong foundation.
This is how you achieve the ideal life, by improving yourself, improving your relationship with a higher power, and finally improving your connections with others.
I am not there yet….I am still learning. But I believe that I have the right attitude, and that I have found a good path…..
Have you achieved the ideal life in recovery yet? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!