In recovery circles they promise that if you work the 12 steps that one day you will be “happy, joyous, and free.”
So how do we go about getting to this richer life in recovery, a life that gets us excited to be living, a life that makes us excited to wake up and face each day? What is the process by which we can achieve this? Let’s take a closer look at how recovery can unfold (if you are willing to do the work).
Setting a foundation for a richer life in recovery starts with doing the work
Early recovery is all about building a foundation. In order to achieve what the 12 step program refers to as “the promises,” we have to be willing to spend the time and the effort in early recovery to do the work.
Much of the time this work will be uncomfortable. It is not always going to be pleasant. For example, when working through the 12 steps, you will probably have to revisit moments from your past that you would much rather forget about. But if you take the time to thoroughly process those things and deal with them head on, it can make you a much stronger person in the future.
There are many ways to build a foundation in early sobriety. One way to do this is suggested all the time at AA: Go to meetings every day. They often suggest going to 90 meetings in the next 90 days. This probably sounds overwhelming to some people, and it probably sounds like overkill to some folks as well. There are many reasons that going to meetings every single day can be a powerful strategy. One reason is because it helps you to build new relationships with people who are being positive in recovery. If you don’t go every day then it is easy for those new relationships to dwindle and you can easily fall back into an old routine instead. Another reason that you might want to attend meetings every single day is for the support that you get as a direct result of doing so. If you have an immediate craving to drink or use drugs then you can address that directly when attending an AA meeting. Scared or intimidated to go to a meeting? That happens a lot….but if you are in the habit of going every single day no matter what (90 in 90) then you have no problem getting yourself to where you can receive help. Being in the habit of daily meetings gives you a strong foundation.
I no longer attending AA meetings every single day, but then again, I honestly don’t believe that I have to do so. When I was in my first year of sobriety I almost never missed a meeting, and some days I would actually go to more than one. It was a real source of my foundation.
Other sources of foundation building included the fact that I was living in long term rehab for the first 20 months of my journey. This is huge. If you try to get sober and you fail and you relapse, then my suggestion to you is to try more intensive treatment next time. In the long run if you continue to relapse then eventually you will want to consider long term rehab. That means staying in treatment for more than 28 days, usually 90 days or longer. If that sounds like a prison sentence to you at first, don’t worry. I felt the same way for a long time. But eventually I got to a place where I was desperate enough for change that I no longer cared that it felt like I was sending myself off to prison. And once I got to long term rehab I realized very quickly that it was nothing like jail or prison, in fact it was giving me back my total freedom in life. I realized when I was living in treatment that I had real power and that I had choices today, and that I could pretty much do whatever I wanted in life because I had this strong foundation under my feet. Living in rehab gave me that powerful amount of support.
So if you want to build a richer life in sobriety then you need to start with the basics. You need to master the fundamentals. What are those basics? They are:
* Surrender. You need to surrender to your disease and admit (and accept fully) that you have a serious problem and that you need professional help. Stop trying to do it on your own.
* Asking for help. You need to become willing to ask for help in order to move forward in your life.
* Humility. You need to get out of your own way. It is not enough to ask for help. You must also listen, and obey. Take advice, then follow that advice.
* Personal growth. You must be on a path of self improvement in order to succeed in long term sobriety. You are either moving forward or you are moving backwards. As they say in AA, you are either working on sobriety or you are working on a relapse. There is no middle ground. Therefore you must always be engaged in some form of personal growth. You build your foundation and then you improve your life over and over again in sobriety. Your foundation should be made of these basic fundamental principles.
* Honesty, open mindedness, and willingness. These are really all the same thing. If you are lacking in any one of these then eventually you are lacking in all of them, and your recovery efforts crumble. In order to succeed in sobriety you must attain all three of these fundamental principles. You have to be honest with yourself and others, you must be willing to take advice and to take action, and you have to have an open mind to be able to listen to the advice of others.
Early sobriety is a fairly simple concept, but no one really wants to do it. The concept is: Stop directing your own life for a while and get out of your own way. You do this by arresting your disease, asking for help, and taking advice from others. Stop doing what you want to do, and start doing what other people tell you to do. A simple concept, but no one really wants to do it. None of us likes to take orders from other people. We like to believe that we are smart enough to live our own lives. But in early recovery you need to hand the controls over to someone else for a while and get out of your own way. Again, no one likes to do that. We tend to resist it. And this is why you have to hit bottom first and get really desperate before you can build a proper foundation for recovery.
Expanding your horizons with feedback and advice from others
Even after you are stable and living your new life in sobriety, it is extremely useful to get feedback and advice from other people.
We are often limited in what we can see in our own lives. We are too close to our own problems, so much so that we cannot see the solutions.
Think about it: Just think about how easy it is to point out the obvious problems of others, and offer them simple solutions that would vastly improve their lives, and yet the person often does not want to listen and take our advice. Have you ever noticed that tendency?
The same is true with you. Other people can often see your problems and the specific challenges that you face and the ways in which you block or sabotage yourself. But when they tell you what to do in order to fix it, we often resist that advice. We don’t want to hear it. We don’t want the criticism, or we don’t like being told what to do.
We need to get past that. We must expand our horizons in recovery if we are to live a richer life.
Our biggest job in sobriety is to eliminate the negativity in our lives.
You may think that your goal in recovery is to figure out positive things and move towards them. Instead, I want you to think about your goals in early recovery as moving away from the negative.
So you may have blocks in your life such as guilt, shame, anger, fear, self pity, resentment, and so on.
Those are real problems in our lives and they can block us from living a better life in recovery.
You may be saying “wait a minute! I don’t care about those things, if I can achieve my positive goals in life then I will have this rich life anyway, and I don’t mind if some fear or anger or guilt comes along for the ride. I want to work towards the positive things, and forget about the negative stuff. I don’t want to focus on the negative. It is too depressing to do so.”
That is a trap. If you do that then you will be disappointed with the results.
Here is why.
If you get into sobriety and you chase after your dreams, that is fine. You may or may not achieve those dreams. You may or may not achieve those positive goals in your life.
But meanwhile, all of us have some of this negative stuff in our lives. Call it “baggage” if you want. It is fear, guilt, shame, resentment, self pity, and so on. All of that negative stuff that lives inside. All of that negative stuff that surfaces in our minds throughout the day. Throughout our lives. Some of it may be a daily thing, and some of it may only be triggered every once in a while.
And it doesn’t matter how rich or good your life becomes in recovery, if you still have some of this negativity inside of you, then you are going to be miserable. It will hold you back from living the life you really want to live. Your life will not be enriched because you will have these negative aspects holding you back from true happiness.
Is someone really free and happy if they are dwelling in anger, fear, resentment, or self pity? Of course not. They could be meeting all sorts of positive goals in life, and they could be striving to achieve all sorts of different things, but if they have this negative cloud in their mind and are constantly living in fear, or shame, or guilt, or anger…then they will be unhappy overall.
The negative stuff drags us down, holds us back.
This is why the 12 steps are designed as they are. They focus on identifying the negative stuff, then they focus on eliminating it. Not much fun, right? It would be more fun to focus on the positive things instead, right?
The truth is that we have to “do the work” in order to recover. And that means doing the hard work, doing the things that we don’t really want to do, and being willing to be uncomfortable in order to uncover some of these darker things in our lives. This is how you let the shine in. You have to be willing to tackle the negative stuff.
When I was in early recovery and in treatment, someone gave a lecture about “balanced lifestyle.”
I really did not think that it pertained to me at the time. I thought that I needed to focus instead, I believed that I needed to avoid balance and focus entirely on spiritual growth as my solution to my problem.
I still think I was pretty much right in this. In early recovery, I focused hard on staying sober, on building new relationships, and on the fundamentals of recovery. But as I remained clean and sober for longer, I realized that it really was all about balance.
I think anyone can become unhappy in life if they are not living in balance. There are a lot of reasons for this. I think the biggest one is that the solution in sobriety is a holistic approach. Or perhaps I should say that the strongest approach to a life in sobriety is one that is holistic.
So what do we mean when we say a “holistic approach to recovery?” Let me define it like this: The traditional approach to sobriety is usually one dimensional. It is typically just about spiritual growth, and the focus is on spirituality.
With a holistic approach to recovery, the focus is on your overall health as a human being. So that means that you need to take care of yourself every day in terms of physical health, mental health, emotional health, spiritual health, and social health.
This is the holistic approach. The idea is that sometimes people relapse for different reasons. It is not always a spiritual crisis that leads to relapse. Although it is the last line of defense, there are other ways to strengthen your recovery and to prevent relapse.
For example, many people who relapse do so because of an emotional relapse. They drink or take drugs in order to avoid having to feel uncomfortable feelings. So it might make sense to learn how to take care of yourself emotionally, how to deal with negative emotions, and ways to minimize the damage that may be caused by negative emotions. You might find ways to avoid having to feel really negative emotions. You may learn new coping mechanisms. One time in my recovery journey I was very close to relapse due to an emotional upheaval, and because I exercised every day I used that as my outlet. I walked out the door and I started running, and I just kept running until my emotions had finally calmed down. I literally ran away from my problems, and it worked because I was in the habit of taking care of myself from a holistic standpoint. If I had not been in the habit of healthy exercise I would not have had that particular outlet, and I feel like I would have relapsed.
Of course there are other solutions out there other than exercise. You can go to a meeting, you can call your sponsor, you can meditate, you can pray, there are lots of different solutions. But if your recovery is one dimensional then you don’t have a lot of different options. If you live a balanced lifestyle then it is more likely that you have a variety of solutions at your disposal in which you can overcome the threat of relapse.
Deeper relationships take real work to achieve
If you want a richer life then one way to achieve this is by having deeper and more meaningful relationships.
This requires real effort and real work. If you want to deepen your relationship with others then you need to put in the time and effort to make it more meaningful. You need to communicate, you need to face challenges together, and you need to help each other. You need to find mutual goals and work towards those goals together. It takes real work to do this sort of work, and it takes guts to press on and get through some of those challenges. Recovery has a way of putting uncomfortable moments in your face, and this sort of relationship work is no exception. In order to create deeper relationships with others you are going to have to make yourself vulnerable and share your fears. Again, most of us don’t want to do this sort of thing, we would rather stay safe and be protected in our own little cocoon. But in order to experience deeper love and deeper relationships you are going to have to put yourself out there a bit and take a risk.
Living the life you are meant to live all along
In order to live the life that you were really meant to live you are going to have to put in some effort.
Hopefully by now you are realizing that recovery takes serious work. But in the end it is all worth it because that work that you put in pays off serious rewards.
There are two paths in any recovery. One path leads to relapse, and the other path leads to a life well lived in sobriety. You may think that there is a third path of stagnation, of complacency, but that path is an illusion. If you think you can kick your feet up and relax you are mistaken. That path of complacency also leads to relapse.
The bonus is that doing the hard work yields amazing results. You don’t just get sobriety, you also get this awesome life in recovery.
We can become complacent in many different ways. Think about the holistic approach to recovery. Then ask yourself if you have taken care of yourself today in terms of your physical health. In terms of your mental and emotional health. In terms of your spiritual health. In terms of your relationships. If you can’t say that you have taken good care of yourself in one of those areas then you have work to do. Because if you neglect one of those aspects for too long then eventually it could cause a relapse. This is why the holistic approach is so important. If you want to live a richer life in recovery then you have to mark off all of these check boxes. A one dimensional recovery is not going to get you there. You must take care of yourself every day, in all of these ways.
What about you, have you achieved a more meaningful life in sobriety? How did you achieve it, and what was the process like for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!