First of all I want to point out that there is a very distinct line when it comes to addiction and recovery, at which point an alcoholic is either in a state of “total and complete surrender,” or they are not. If they are not in this state then they are technically still in denial.
I have been in many different stages of denial, and therefore I have a very thorough understanding of the gradations that exist. There is a point at which the alcoholic will say “yes, I know I am alcoholic, I know it is my biggest problem in life, and I know that I need to do something about it.” And yet that alcoholic, even admitting and accepting their problem, will not be in a state of surrender that allows them to take positive action in trying to fix it. They remain in denial because–while they are accepting of the problem that they have–they are still in denial of the solution. They have excuses as to why recovery is not going to help them or work for them. They simply are not ready to change.
So if you happen to be someone who is stuck in a state of denial and you have not yet accepted a solution in your life, such as going to inpatient treatment and following up with AA and therapy, then you are going to struggle to find any kind of real motivation.
Or rather, any motivation that you find at this stage of your denial is pointless, unless it helps you to break through denial. And the kinds of things that typically help a person break through denial are things like consequences and becoming more honest with yourself.
This is difficult to engineer yourself without the help of natural consequences piling up on top of you. However, I believe that a sincere alcoholic or drug addict who genuinely wants to live a different life can move closer to surrender by writing in a journal every day. This becomes a reflection of where they are really at and why they are unhappy with their life. Writing in a journal can get you closer to the action phase where you become wiling to ask for help. This is because, after writing in a daily journal for some time, it becomes impossible to deny how unhappy your addiction has made you, and at some point the alcoholic (hopefully) realizes that there has to be a better way.
So we have established that there is a clear line between being in denial and having zero effective motivation, versus being in a state of “true surrender” and becoming willing to ask for help and follow directions.
Let us move on to the surrender stage of recovery in which the alcoholic has asked for help and has been directed to treatment services.
So what now? The alcoholic goes to a 28 day rehab program, they get introduced to AA, and they start doing some sort of IOP or therapy after their inpatient stay.
How does the recovering alcoholic generate motivation when they have 30 days sober? What about at six months sober? What about at a year clean? What then?
I can tell you a few bits of advice based on my own experience with this. When I was very early in recovery I was luckily in a treatment center, because I have to admit that there were moments in which I had very little motivation to keep pursuing the righteous path. Because I was in rehab I had the benefit of that safety net, so that the craving or trigger would pass and I could get back to an even level again.
However, at some point in your recovery journey, it is sink or swim. At some point you will have total freedom and autonomy and you will be faced with temptation. If you are not ready for that moment then it could result in relapse. So you need to prepare yourself for this possibility by strengthening your own personal recovery program.
Now this is where the motivation can come into play. One, are you motivated to do the work of recovery, to improve yourself and to work on your character defects so that you can remain sober?
And two, are you motivated to pursue personal growth, to seek out insight and advice from your mentors and be willing to make changes in your life?
And if you are not motivated for those things, how can you create that motivation? How can you inspire yourself to change?
Here is what has worked for me.
First, I went to rehab and I started attending AA meetings. They have a saying in AA which is to “stick with the winners.” So I started to talk with the winners and I started to get to know them a bit, and I realized that they had the kind of life that I wanted for myself. So I got some motivation out of that–seeing successful people in a recovery program, and becoming willing to do the work in order to get those same results in my life.
Second, I started doing the actual work. I started following directions and ignoring my own wants and desires during the first year and I simply did was I told to do. I listened to my therapist, to the counselors at rehab, to my sponsor in AA, and so on. I made a deal with myself that I would not take my own advice, but instead I would listen and learn and obey.
And it worked. Within a few short weeks I noticed my life starting to improve. Within a few months I noticed that I had an entire full day with no cravings or urges. Amazing! This recovery stuff was working, even though I had been quite skeptical of it. I honestly did not have any great faith that AA and rehab and the 12 steps would help to eliminate my cravings. And yet that is what happened, and it happened fairly quickly for me.
This realization gave me a huge boost of motivation. Suddenly I had a new incentive–I could accomplish just about any goal that I set my mind to if I pushed for it. I ended up going back to school, getting a job, acquiring a vehicle, and generally getting my life back in order.
Accomplishing these things fed the cycle. Now I was on the positive upswing, and I was meeting goals and hitting targets, and I realized that I should shoot even higher. I had a new confidence about myself and so I set the goals to graduate college, to quit smoking cigarettes, to get into shape physically, and to start a side business.
I accomplished all of those goals, one at a time, and each goal that I ticked off gave me extra incentive and motivation to pursue the next challenge in my life.
Looking back, I now understand the principle of “success breeds success.” But of course when you are stuck in denial and nothing is going right in your life it is impossible to make any sort of progress based on the statement that “success breeds success.” It’s just meaningless words.
That is, until you surrender and start following through and accumulating a series of successful days, all strung together in a row. That is how you build momentum and motivation–by winning one day at a time, over and over again. Start stepping!