What does the perfect life in alcoholism recovery look like? What are we really striving for when we get clean and sober?
Most of us would answer something like “Health, happiness, and being able to reach out and help others.”
But how many of us are really striving for those themes in our every day experience? I think at times we get lost along the way.
At least I do…..
You cannot possibly picture a perfect life when you are stuck in the misery of addiction
The thing is, when you are still stuck in your addiction, there is no way that you can possibly picture what it is like to have a perfect life in recovery. In fact, you can’t even picture what it is like to have a “normal life” any more.
I was completely miserable when I was stuck in active addiction and I could not imagine ever NOT being miserable again. This was doubly true if I was imagining being sober. Because at the time, I was basing my entire idea of happiness on the fact that I could self medicate every day. Take away my ability to self medicate and I had no idea how I could ever achieve real happiness again. I did not even believe it to be possible.
The thing is, I think we get used to our misery in addiction and we grow accustomed to it. So if you ask an alcoholic how satisfied with their life they are right now, they might tell you that they are a “7” on a scale from one to ten. But you take that same person and sober them up for a few years and get them on a path of personal growth and they might realize that now, even though they are vastly happier in recovery, they are still only a 7 or an 8 out of ten. So when we are stuck in addiction we lack perspective. We don’t even know what it is like to be content and happy any more because we have been living in misery and chaos for so long.
When you are stuck in addiction the misery starts to feel normal. And so after a while you can no longer relate to what a happy life must be like. It is completely foreign to you. You cannot even imagine what it might be like because you are so ingrained in the patterns of addiction and misery.
There really is no solution for this other than to embrace the misery. That is a very counter-intuitive thing to do, to embrace your misery.
But this is how you find surrender. This is how you get to the point where you are willing to change.
The alternative to this is to deny your misery, to deny the chaos, to deny the fact that your life is a train wreck. To put on a mask and pretend that everything is fine. That is the alternative to embracing your misery. Better, I realize now, to embrace your misery fully and accept the fact that you are no longer happy. This will help lead you to real surrender.
You see, if you are struggling for control in your addiction and trying to convince yourself that it’s not so bad, you will never get sober that way. Those are all just forms of denial. You have to break through your denial, realize that the misery and the chaos is real and that it is consuming your life, and then do something about it.
Starting out with the concept of surrender and disrupting the chaos and misery
So how do you get to the perfect life in recovery?
First of all, I realize that it is never going to be “perfect.” But you know what I mean. Compared to my life in active addiction, my life today in sobriety is nearly perfect. It is so vastly better that there is just no comparison. So I’m going to say that I am living a perfect life now. I should be grateful every second of every day because my sobriety and the blessings in my life are such an enormous gift. By all rights I should have died drinking. Heck, I wanted to do so for a while! But here I am, blessed beyond measure. It’s a perfect recovery, even though technically it isn’t exactly “perfect.”
Now you don’t go from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye, and you don’t get to the “perfect life” without a whole lot of work and effort. But there is a starting point for every journey, and that starting point is called surrender.
You must surrender. That means that you let go of the need to control things. You give up the struggle to be happy every day by self medicating. That isn’t working for you anyway, so just drop the idea and move on. Make an agreement with yourself that you are going to sober up, take advice from other people, see what happens, and find out if there is really happiness at the end of the rainbow in sobriety. I can promise you that there is, but that promise doesn’t mean much.
Why not? Because that promise didn’t mean squat to me when I was struggling with alcoholism. People told me that I could be sober and happy one day, and I did NOT believe them. I was different. I was unique. Their magic AA program did not apply to me. It wouldn’t work. I didn’t care. I was miserable, I was stuck, and I was not like these other alcoholics.
Or so I thought. Or so I told myself. And it doesn’t really matter. Every alcoholic and drug addict has to fight their own battle. Sure, we can help and support each other. But ultimately each of us has to carve our own path in recovery.
Every alcoholic has to make a leap of faith at some point. It is like jumping off a cliff into thin air. It really is. Because when you continue to drink or take drugs, at least you KNOW what you are going to get. Even if you are mostly miserable in addiction, at least it is familiar. It is predictable. It is known.
Sobriety is unknown. It is scary. It is the leap off the cliff into thin air. You have no idea what is going to happen, how you are going to feel, or whether or not you will ever be happy again.
You see, with drinking and drugs, I know for sure that I can be happy again at some point. Yes, I might have to go through a whole ton of misery before I get there. And it may be a whole lot of chaos and misery and negativity in my life every day for months on end. But at some point I will hit that perfect buzz again, and everything will fall into place, and I will be just drunk enough to enjoy myself and just buzzed enough on other drugs to keep me feeling good and everything will be right with the world. That magic moment might only happen once a month or it might only happen once in a whole year. But my brain is stubborn and it clings to that possibility because it can remember when it happened in the past, when the buzz was perfect and everything was right in my world.
And if you continue to drink or take drugs then you know for certain that you will hit another magic moment some day. Our brain lies to us and it tells us that we can experience that magic moment every single day and every single time that we take a drink or a drug, which is a total exaggeration. The real truth is that you are miserable 99 percent of the time in addiction and you are only chasing after that perfect magic moment.
The reason that addiction is so insidious is that the magic moment is real, and it can be achieved again in the future, if only for a brief moment.
Is it worth it to live in misery for 99 percent of your time, just to experience that one magic moment?
No it is not. Of course that is not worth it. Especially when you consider the fact that, in sobriety, you can start having these same “magic moments” eventually without even taking any drugs or alcohol! I never used to believe people who told me that “they could get just as high in sobriety through natural means,” until I was clean and sober for a few years myself. Now I know that I can get just as “high” in recovery by doing other things…..such as distance running, meditation, deep relationships, and so on. This is what the “perfect life” in recovery is made up of….a series of these magic moments that rivals the best moments that you had in active addiction. And yet you don’t even need to take any drugs or alcohol to get there. You can do it completely sober.
But of course it takes work. And you have to get started in recovery before you can experience this perfect life.
For that, you have to jump off the cliff into thin air. Meaning that you have to take a big risk.
And the risk is this:
Going to a treatment center or a rehab and going through detox, knowing that you will never use drugs or alcohol again and thus achieve that “magic moment” where you are happy and everything is perfect in the world. You are risking saying goodbye to that forever. You are walking away from that sure thing, the fact that drugs and alcohol can, in fact, make you happy at times. Just because it does so very rarely and comes along with a bunch of misery is besides the point, at least to your scared little brain. I get that. That is the risk. That you say goodbye to the magic moments that drugs and alcohol gave you.
And what is the payoff? In recovery, they tell you that you can be happy again without booze or drugs. But can you trust them? Can you believe it?
I couldn’t. I didn’t believe it.
But I was so miserable that it didn’t matter any more. Because I had to do something different. I had to take a chance. What I was doing wasn’t working any more. I was miserable nearly all of the time. The magic moments in addiction were becoming fewer and fewer.
And I realized, at the moment that I broke through denial, that any “magic moment” that I experienced in the future through drinking or drugs could only come to me at the expense of great misery. In other words, I glimpsed the future and I could clearly see a lifetime of misery with tiny little dots of happiness from the drugs and the booze. But for some reason, I could finally see the truth. Which was that I was miserable 99 percent of the time in my addiction. And that was when I finally broke through my denial, realizing that it was never going to get any better.
I wasn’t going to suddenly wake up one day and be able to get super happy every time I took a drink or smoked a joint. Those days were gone forever. (It used to work like that, when my addiction first started). Tolerance cheats you out of happiness. You can’t go backwards.
Time to move on.
Focus first on eliminating the negative things in your life before striving for a positive vision
Once you get clean and sober and break through your denial you have a lot of work to do.
At first you (hopefully) go to rehab and get stable. This is what I did. In fact, I lived in rehab for 20 months. This worked well for me. It does not work well for everyone, but it worked well for me at the time. It was what I needed.
At first you don’t really want to be in charge of driving your own bus. Let someone else drive for a while. Meaning, don’t make your own decisions during the first year of recovery. Let other people make the decisions for you. No one wants to hear or take that piece of advice. Everyone should though. It will save your life.
So you get stable and you listen to others in recovery and you take their advice. Maybe you start going to meetings or working the steps with a sponsor or go to therapy once a week. Or all of the above. Whatever….you are taking positive action and you are working some sort of recovery program.
One of the themes that you need to embrace in early recovery is this:
* Strive to eliminate the negative rather than to chase after the positive in early recovery.
That probably sounds a bit weird, right? Why focus on the negative?
If you look at the 12 steps of AA, they are structured this way too. They focus on the negative. So you take inventory, figure out what your defects of character are, then you work on them and eliminate them. That is very heavily focused on the negative, right?
But it works. They are not stupid. Do what they suggest. Focus on the negative stuff and work hard to eliminate it.
You may be wondering why this is the case.
The reason is simple: The negative stuff holds you back, even if you achieve other goals that may be positive in life.
In other words, you can have a long list of positive goals in recovery, and you may chase after those things and achieve them, but you will still be unhappy if you are carrying around resentments, engaging in self pity, constantly shaming yourself, or dealing with toxic relationships in your life. In other words, the negative stuff will always hold you back and drag you down.
So maybe you have a positive goal, or many positive goals, such as “go back to college and get your degree” and “get the perfect job as a therapist” and “meet the perfect life mate and marry them” but none of those will make you happy if you still have the negative stuff clinging to your life.
You have to deal with the negative stuff first, eliminate it and create a blank slate in your life, and then from there, happiness can occur.
You can still chase after positive goals in your recovery. But realize that you should really focus on eliminating the negative stuff first and foremost, otherwise you will just be endlessly chasing happiness and always being frustrated because of your character defects.
Isn’t this how it was in our active addiction too? We were unhappy, so we medicated with our drug of choice. We experienced temporary “happiness,” and then we were stuck right back in the same old negativity. Nothing really changed as a result of our self medicating.
The same thing can happen in sobriety, even while you are completely clean and sober. Don’t just chase after happiness in recovery and expect life to be perfect. Instead, work hard on your own personal growth, on improving who you are, and you will then create the sort of life in which happiness can occur naturally.
Building your new life based on personal growth and suggestions from others
As always I believe that you should take suggestions from other people in recovery. This is one of the most powerful ways to explore a new life in sobriety.
The reason for this is simple: Our knowledge is limited. When we take suggestions from others in recovery who are successful, we at least double our wisdom, if not triple it. This is amazing when you follow through with it.
Find people in recovery who are living the sort of life that you want to live. Then ask them for advice.
Then, take that advice and act on it.
It really is that simple. The results from this will amaze you.
The entire idea of sponsorship is based on simply modeling other people. Monkey see, monkey do. If you do the things that I did, then you will likely get the results that I got. So simple, yet so effective.
And of course it is hard work. Which is why very few people want to do it.
If you go to an AA meeting and you really talk with people who have sponsored others through the years, you will find that very few people actually follow through. Most who walk into their first meeting are just sort of drifting. They don’t really want to commit and do the work.
Of course, some people do commit. They follow through and therefore they get the amazing results. They get to experience that “perfect life” in sobriety.
How your vision of success in recovery will change over time
When I first got into recovery I had no idea what a successful life would even look like.
And over the years my vision of success has changed a great deal. For example, during the first few years of my recovery I was not exercising at all and I continued to smoke cigarettes.
Today I would not consider that to be a successful vision for my future! Today I exercise and I quit smoking almost a decade ago.
But that was a change that I had to go through. My vision changed as I learned and experienced new things.
And this trend will continue. I may look back at where I am at today and realize that I was wrong in some ways, or emotionally immature in some ways, or whatever the case may be. This is the nature of personal growth in recovery. We are always uncovering more and more about ourselves. We are always learning more about ourselves.
Even if our vision of the perfect life is not technically “perfect” I still think it is worth striving for. Our goals, even if they are slightly flawed, can still be useful in directing us. They are certainly better than having no goals at all and just bumping through life like a pinball in total random chaos.
I try to live by certain themes today. I try to be healthy, and I try to continuously improve my health–physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually. I try to help other people so that I am also helping myself. I try to reach out to others who may be struggling with addiction. I try to challenge myself to not be complacent, to learn more about myself. Even when it is not comfortable to do so. Especially when it is not comfortable to do so!
What about you, have you found the perfect life in recovery yet? Are you still striving for it? Are you grateful for the journey itself today? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!