When you are stuck in alcoholism or drug addiction then everything spirals out of control.
Things get worse and worse over time. If nothing changes and you continue to self medicate with alcohol and drugs then you are trapped in a downward spiral.
Negative consequences pile up and drive you to even deeper levels of shame and guilt. In return you will then medicate yourself even more and more. It is a negative cycle that feeds on itself. Bad things happen and then you try to medicate them away with more drugs and alcohol. This creates even more negative consequences for you. Things just get progressively worse.
Not good, right? Addiction is terrible.
But there is a silver lining in all of this. The opposite is true as well: in recovery, you accumulate positive benefits. It is an upward spiral of growth and reward. Things get better and better.
When I was in my first treatment center (long before I finally surrendered and got sober for real) I heard someone talk at an AA meeting. He said “life is a joy for me today because things just keep getting better and better! I am amazed that when I do the work and take positive action that things just keep getting better and better in my life, as if by magic!”
Now at the time I heard this person speak I was not ready to embrace recovery. But I never forgot what he said and that may have gave me a bit of hope when I was in my darkest hour. If things could get better for him then maybe they could get better and better for me too some day.
The key, of course, is putting in the work.
Recovery is not just a magic button that you push, and suddenly your life transforms. That would be real nice, wouldn’t it? If you could just push a simple button and everything would fix itself and your life would get better and better automatically?
There is no magic button. And the various recovery programs all claim to be the magic button, and to some extent they are. Those programs all work. But you have to work them. They are not magic. They are not as easy as just pushing a button. You have to put in serious work. And that is where all of the “magic” comes from.
Most people get this wrong.
They think that a certain recovery program is divinely inspired and has magical powers to heal any addiction. This is partly true, but they are misplacing their faith. It is not a magical sequence of steps…instead it is the work that you put into them. The exact steps are a bit arbitrary. Consider the fact that different recovery programs exist that have completely different processes involved! And also consider the fact that some people get clean and sober in one program but they failed in another (likely because they were simply not ready yet, not because the program doesn’t work!).
Everything in recovery is about process. What you do every single day determines what you will become in the future. Your life is based on the principle of accumulation.
At one point in my recovery I ran a marathon. This was an exercise in accumulation. I was accumulating more distance during the training so at some point I would be able to run 26 miles. I could not just enter the race without any previous training done. I would never have been able to finish. I had to accumulate in order to reach the goal.
The same is true of recovery. There is this big gap for the struggling alcoholic or drug addict. The gap is the space in between two points in space and time. Think about these two points and you will understand the gap.
One point is when you hit bottom in your addiction. You are completely miserable and your life resembles a train wreck. Nothing is working out for you. Things keep getting worse and all you can try to do is to medicate your pain and misery away. Life sucks.
The second point is after a few years of hard work in recovery. Your life is wonderful. You wake up excited each day to experience new growth and new challenges in your life. You are excited to see what happens next in your life because it is so rewarding to keep learning and growing. You are clean and sober and life is exciting and wonderful.
Now notice that there is a necessary gap between these two points.
How do you close that gap? How do you traverse that gap? How do you go from being completely miserable and hopeless to living a life of joy and discovery and excitement?
The answer can be summarized in one word:
You must embrace process in order to traverse that gap.
Think about this for a moment. If you just do a few things, or you try something new but then move and forget about it, what kind of progress are you going to make in life? Very little.
Instead, you must embrace a new process in your life. You have to take positive action, every single day, and keep doing this over and over again.
The power of accumulation in recovery
Having a positive process leads to the accumulation of benefits.
You want to have a better life? Then you have to build it one day at a time.
You want to enjoy the accumulation of benefits in your life? Then you need to take consistent action that will lead to those positive outcomes.
I wanted to be healthy and be in better shape. So I took a suggestion at one point in my recovery and I started exercising every single day. This was a process.
It was a difficult process as well. It did not come easily to me. I had to fight and struggle and go through a lot of discomfort for a long time.
Today, I am in a position where exercise is easy. It is rewarding to me now. I enjoy it. It is energizing.
But it did not start that way. In the beginning it was hard. I would even go so far as to say that it was not fun.
But I persisted and eventually the benefits of exercise accumulated for me. I got into shape and the habit became more and more natural for me. Now it has been about a decade and it is natural for me to exercise. I cannot imagine a life without it at this point.
In order to really understand the power of accumulation you have to consider the big picture. Because I did not just try to start exercising in early recovery. In fact, I was trying to make positive changes in a number of different areas. So in fact what happened is that I was using a holistic approach to recovery. I tried to improve my relationships. I tried to improve my physical health. I quit smoking cigarettes. I started writing every day about recovery. I started building a business. I went back to school to finish a degree. And so on.
I took a lot of positive action in various areas of my life, then I persisted with those goals over a long period of time. This is how you accumulate benefits in recovery. This is why they say that “it gets greater, later!”
It takes time for all of this to accumulate. It takes a long time in some cases. Years in fact. But many of the habits that I established in early recovery paid off in a big way.
I set out to make certain changes in my life. In order to make those changes I established new daily habits. Over time some of these habits served me well, while others fell by the wayside as being not worth my effort. The habits that remained became what I call “my daily practice.” These are the habits that define my recovery and shape the future of my life.
If your results in life are not what you wanted, then you have to take a look back and see what your daily practice was over the last few years.
If you want to get different results in the future, then you must change your daily habits. What you do each day will dictate the results that you get in the future. Tiny actions taken each and every day add up to major changes over the years. This is especially true when it comes to your overall health in recovery (think diet, nutrition, fitness, cigarettes, addictions, etc.). Or even think about relationships that you may have in life. Cultivating positive relationships over the past few years will have a bit impact on what your social life is like today.
Everything in recovery is a process. You are the result of your last 5 years of effort and actions. (Obviously that is not absolute, things that you may have done 6 years ago may still be affecting you as well. But you get the idea. If you want to dramatically change your life then you have the power to do that by making consistent, daily decisions. It all adds up!).
How to commit to daily action when you don’t see the benefits yet in your life
So how can you commit to this process when you don’t for sure that it works?
This is the barrier to entry in recovery. No one wants to take a leap of faith and give up alcohol forever, right? Because you might be missing out on a whole lot of fun!
So the key to this is surrender. At some point in your life you will become miserable enough with the results that you are getting. When you reach that point then you will become willing to take a leap of faith.
Unfortunately I could never get myself to this point through the lure of positive results. I was not able to be convinced that recovery would be happy and joyous. I did not believe that those things were possible for me. So instead of being motivated to change my addiction based on something positive, I had to do it in order to avoid a negative.
This is how I am wired. I believe that most alcoholics and drugs addicts (if not all of them) are wired the same way. We are busy banging our head against a wall with our addiction, and you cannot convince us that there is a better way to do things. Not until we have had our fill of pain. It was only after I got to the point where I said to myself “you know what? Banging my head into this wall over and over again really hurts! Maybe I should try something different!” It was once I reached that point, on my own, by myself, that I was able to make any sort of progress in recovery.
Up until that point I had lots of friends and family trying to set me straight. They were saying “hey there Pat, you keep banging your head into the wall. It looks painful. Why don’t you try this other way to live for a while?” But I could not see that. I would not accept that there was any other way. I looked at sobriety and saw nothing but misery. I was stuck in denial.
So I had to reach a point where my misery became so overwhelming to me that I just didn’t care. This is when you are totally sick and tired of it all. And you just don’t care. Really, they could have been sending me to the gas chamber and I would have had mild indifference. Because I was just so sick of myself and I was sick of hating myself for what I had become. I was not suicidal, mind you–I just wished that I had never existed at that point. Because I was just so miserable and tired of being afraid. Tired of living in fear. Tired of chasing peace of mind by getting drunk and high every single day, day after day. And for what? To what end? I finally reached that point where I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I glimpsed the future. They call this a “moment of clarity” by the way. And I realized that it was never going to change. It was never going to get any better. If I continued to medicate with drugs and alcohol then I was stuck in this hopeless cycle of misery. I finally grasped that fully one day.
And that was my moment of surrender. That was when I became willing to make a leap of faith. That was when I said “you know what? I hate AA meetings and I am frankly scared of them but it is better than doing what I have been doing. I would rather face the fear and unknown of sobriety than to keep living in this chaos and misery. There has to be a better way. And I am willing to face my fear and find out what it is, and if it exists.”
Of course it exists. Sobriety is a gift that anyone can claim, if they only have the guts to do it. You have to basically decide that: No, you are not going to kill yourself, and yes, you are going to seek help and listen to what people tell you to do.
It really is that simple. You stop yourself and decide to listen to others for awhile. Get out of your own way.
What you’ve been doing has not worked out. Time to let someone else drive for a while.
It gets greater later thanks to holistic health principles
Oh sure, recovery has a rough start and all that. Surrender is never easy for anyone.
But I promise you that it gets greater, later.
Don’t believe me? What have you got to lose?
Go back to your old method of self medicating every day and see how much joy and happiness that brings you. Not much, right?
Time to try something different. Recovery is a long road but is also a really good one. This is because all of that positive action that you are taking in your life starts to add up over time.
You start with some simple decisions to change your life for the better. Stop drinking. Stop taking addictive drugs. This is your baseline for success. You detox your body. You start on a journey of greater health. You start pursuing personal growth. You seek holistic health principles. Spirituality. Relationships. Fitness. Nutrition. It’s all on the table because suddenly you care about yourself again.
You start taking care of yourself and you are on a quest for improvement. You work to improve your life, and your life situation. You make an effort to build a new life in recovery.
If you are miserable in recovery then what is going to stop you from going back to the bottle? Nothing! And I would not expect anything to stop you from relapse, either.
You are responsible for building a new life in recovery that you actually care about. If you don’t get excited about your life and what is in store for you each day, then what is the point of living? What is the point of any of it? You may as well drink!
And I would not blame you for that. Really I would not. But that is not an excuse to go get loaded. It is a hint about what it takes to really stay sober. You have to do the work so that you have a life worth living. If sobriety is not worth anything to you then relapse is inevitable. You must create and build something worth caring about.
This can take many forms. Your desires could vary a great deal. I am not here to tell you what to do with your life.
But I can tell you what the baseline is. I can tell you that if you have a daily practice in your life then it will all fall into place. I can tell you that if you let your daily practice slide then you are in danger of sabotaging your recovery.
So you go to rehab and you start doing the clean and sober thing. Maybe you quit smoking cigarettes too. Get into shape. Start eating healthier. Pray and meditate or just go run a few miles through the fields every day. Whatever. Your daily practice is up to you to discover. But it should be about taking care of you, in more ways than just one. If you focus only on spirituality then you have missed the point. Likewise, if you don’t focus on spirituality at all then you have missed it as well. The same is true of physical health, fitness, taking care of your body, and so on. It’s holistic. The solution is holistic. THE SOLUTION IS HOLISTIC!
Therefore your daily practice is very important. If you want to build a new life then start with a healthy foundation. Give yourself these gifts. Focus on the important stuff. Take care of your body each day. Take care of your spirit. Cultivate healthy relationships. Eliminate toxic relationships. And so on. It is a whole bunch of work, I promise you that! But it is also a huge reward if you are willing to take action and be persistent.
It doesn’t happen overnight. You push and you push and it will seem like nothing is working out for a few months. Maybe even for a whole year. But at some point things will get better. A whole lot better. And suddenly you will realize that your life is better today than it has ever been, EVER. And that is a miraculous gift. Isn’t that worth working hard for? Isn’t that worth pushing yourself to grow and to change for a few years?
This is what “inspired action” is all about. If you know what the reward is then it becomes a little easier to push yourself on a regular basis. But even if you don’t have much hope (as I did not) then you can still take action in order to avoid misery and pain.
And that is the great paradox: focus on your pain and let it drive you to change. How painful is it to let things stay the same? Once you get fed up enough you will spring into action.
Then, watch out. This is the gift of recovery.