I heard a little bit of wisdom and I thought it applied well to recovery:
“You must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessings.”
Andrew Jackson (March 15, 1767 – June 8, 1845)
In my own recovery journey I have received many blessings, the biggest one being sobriety itself.
It is fairly easy to look back and see the price that you paid for the blessings you received, but when you are going through the chaos you do not always realize what the payoff is going to be.
Hitting bottom is the price you pay to surrender
Before you can embrace recovery you must first surrender to your disease of addiction.
Unfortunately this cannot happen when things are going well in your life. You are not going to beg for change in your life or check into detox when everything is going well. It is only when the chips are down that an addict or alcoholic will consider the ego-crushing admission that they might actually need help.
Addicts and alcoholics refer to “hitting bottom” as the point at which they can not possibly sink any lower in their addiction. For some people this happens when they find themselves sitting in jail, when their spouse leaves them, or when they black out and say things that they later regret.
And for some addicts there may not be a defining event, they may simply reach that point where they are sick and tired of being sick and tired, and they cannot imagine going one more day in their addiction. At the same time, that same addict cannot imagine surrendering and asking for help either. That is why they call this “the turning point.” The alcoholic has hit bottom and they cannot picture a future with or without their drug of choice. They have reached a point that is near madness, near the point of suicide, and certainly is a point of real desperation. They do not know what to do and so hopefully, some of these individuals will reluctantly ask for help. They will ask to go to rehab, ask to go to a 12 step meeting, ask to go to a medical detox.
This is the price that they pay in order to surrender. The price is hitting bottom. The reward is an entry card into a new life, this turning point, this moment of surrender. Without hitting bottom first or reaching this point of desperation they cannot start their journey to sobriety.
Ego deflation is the price that you pay to learn a new way of life
Of course once you are in recovery and you have surrendered to your disease, you are not out of the woods just yet! There are more prices to be paid and more rewards to be had. Not to worry though, as the reward that you get for ego deflation is a lifetime of positive growth in recovery.
It is not enough to surrender and check into rehab. This is but a start, and judging by some of the relapse rates in early recovery it is far from a magic cure. No, it takes quite a bit more to change your entire life and find a new way to live that does not involve self medicating. In order to do that you are going to have to relearn how to deal with life, how to have fun without your drug of choice, how to deal with relationships without self medicating, and on and on.
In order to learn all of these things you are going to have to first clean out the garbage that has filled up your mind. I am not saying that you are a bad person, as that has nothing to do with it. Instead, what I am saying is that your coping mechanisms have all evolved into something that is slowly killing you (your addiction).
The task at hand in recovery is not just “I need to quit using drugs” but rather it can better be expressed as “I need to relearn how to do nearly everything in my life without resorting to my drug of choice like I usually do.”
There is a huge difference there and the bottom line is that early recovery is all about learning. You have to learn an entirely new way to live and so therefore you need to gain quite a bit of humility.
Entering into recovery is ego-crushing. Essentially you are admitting “I do not know how to live my own life, I cannot do it without resorting to drugs or alcohol, and I just keep screwing everything up, so someone, please, show me how to live.”
To admit that is one thing, but to really accept it on a deep level and to start living it on a daily basis is another thing entirely. This is why we have so many false starts in recovery. Many, many people think that they want to change their life and find a new life in recovery, but after they make the leap and attempt to surrender they quickly pull back, realizing that they are not yet willing to pay the price of admission.
There it is again….paying the price. Many people who land in rehab start to feel a bit better after detox, they get a good look at the 12 step meetings, and suddenly they start to think “Maybe I don’t really need all of this higher power stuff, all of these meetings every day, and so on. Maybe I can just do it on my own.”
And so they talk themselves out of it. It is not so much that they do not want the benefits of recovery, because they clearly see those benefits and they know that they are withing reach, but they are just not willing to pay the price to get them. Go to meetings every day? Work on personal growth and try to become a better person? It’s so much easier just to go and get high one more time!
Therefore early recovery can be a tough time for many people in recovery, because they are not always willing to put in the work and the effort needed to learn a new way to live. They wish that things were different–yes–but they are not yet desperate enough to ask for advice from others and then blindly follow it.
Again, it all sort of comes back to surrender. If you have not yet paid the price of chaos and misery then you are not likely to be desperate enough to follow directions in early recovery.
That is an important point there so let’s say it one more way:
Addicts and alcoholics will only get clean and sober after they have had their fill of pain and misery in addiction. It is only after they have paid this price and endured substantial chaos and turmoil in their life that they will become willing to do what they need to do in order to be successful in recovery.
Pain and suffering is the price you pay in order to get to the point of full surrender. This is why enabling an addict or an alcoholic is a poor choice. When you enable someone you deny them of their pain and consequences and therefore you make it less likely that they will choose recovery. The price that they must pay to get clean and sober is one of pain and suffering. Do not deny an addict their pain by enabling them.
The farther you fall in addiction, the greater the reward in recovery
Part of the reason that we experience such great joy in recovery is because we have the luxury of being able to contrast our recovery with the misery and pain of addiction.
Some people in this world have never known the pain and misery of addiction, so they do not know the true joy that is recovery. This is a theme that is repeated in many other philosophies and also some religions. Kahlil Gibran perhaps said it best:
“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
I have definitely found this to be true in my own recovery journey. Before I ever experienced addiction, there was a hard limit to the amount of joy or gratitude that I could have in my life. Something was holding me back; I was not yet fully alive.
In recovery, the joy I have felt and the gratitude that I realize each day is much greater than anything that I ever felt pre-addiction.
So the chaos and misery of addiction has led me to truly appreciate the gifts of recovery. Today, I can enjoy a simple meal with friends and appreciate it
Personal growth is the price you pay to overcome complacency
In long term sobriety there is another “price” to be paid and that is the effort that you have to make in order to overcome complacency. This is the threat or the danger of becoming too lazy in your recovery from lack of personal growth. Therefore, the price that you must pay in order to overcome this threat is to continuously engage in personal growth.
Many people in long term recovery reach a point where they slip into a routine and they stop challenging themselves. Instead of conquering a challenge and saying “OK, what can I do next to improve my life?” they kick up their feet and decide that they have “arrived.” They make an internal decision that they are now on easy street and that they should not have to make any more serious changes in their life in order to maintain their recovery.
This is a dangerous place to be in and it can sneak in very subtly when things are going really well. If it were not so tricky and subtle then it would not cause people with multiple years sober to relapse. But complacency DOES cause people with many years in recovery to relapse (at times), so it is worth addressing and it is especially important for people who are in traditional recovery programs.
Why is it so important for people in AA and NA to actively guard against complacency? Because they can easily fall into the “daily meeting trap” and simply start relying on their daily meeting in order to maintain sobriety, rather than relying on (the much more powerful solution) of personal growth.
If you happen to leave AA or any other traditional recovery programs and stop relying on meetings for your recovery, you then sort of build in a safety net against the threat of relapse due to complacency. You are forcing yourself to sort of “wake up” and work your recovery on your own, for yourself, with no excuses to anyone. When you walk away from the support system of a traditional recovery program then you quickly realize that your recovery is 100 percent your own responsibility, and that no one is going to create success for you.
If you happen to be sitting in AA meetings every single day, day after day, month after month, it is easy to become complacent. You pay lip service to the idea of working the steps, but in reality you may come to rely on your daily meeting in order to vent and release any frustrations. You are not really focused on personal growth as you are not pushing yourself to work the steps, work with a sponsor, work with newcomers in recovery, and so on. Now keep in mind that this does not happen to every person in AA, just to some people. Those who stay active and push themselves to keep growing and to keep making positive changes can avoid complacency, either in or out of AA. But there is a definite threat within the AA program for a person to become dependent on the meetings and stop doing the other positive things that they need to do in order to recover.
The price of avoiding complacency, both in and outside of AA meetings, is to continuously push yourself to keep growing and to keep making positive changes in your life.
I have a few suggestions for how you might do that:
* Determine the single biggest positive change that you could make in your life (such as quitting smoking, establishing a daily exercise routine, or starting a new career), and then push yourself hard to start taking steps to achieve that goal within the framework of your recovery.
What I mean by “within the framework of recovery” is simply this: every time you make a positive change of this nature, lock in the gains. Do not move on and take on a new challenge until you are confident that you can lock in the gains. For example, if you have two weeks sober and you also want to quit smoking cigarettes, you might give yourself a month or two until you try to tackle that goal.
Figure out your biggest (impact) goal in your life, then tackle it, one at a time, and lock in the resulting positive change. THEN, and only then, should you sit back and evaluate again and say “OK, what is the next change that I can make that would have the greatest positive impact on my life at this time?”
One change at a time. One goal at a time. Lock in the gains. Re-evaluate and then move on.
* Look at your overall health in order to seek positive changes. If you smoke cigarettes, quit. If you are out of shape, start exercising. If you are overweight, consider losing weight. But again, do NOT overwhelm yourself by taking on too many changes at once. Instead, pick the one goal that would have the greatest impact, and work on that first, and lock in those gains. One thing at a time.
* If you pursue positive changes in this manner, you will not have to have many “wins” in order to build momentum and really start opening up your life to a better experience in recovery. What will happen is that you will build confidence, discipline, and a more positive enthusiasm after you reach just two or three of these major goals. But obviously they have to be substantial positive changes, things that actually make a real difference for you and have a real impact.
Thus if you set one of these goals and you meet it and lock in the gains, then you do it again, you will increase your ability to set and meet future goals. You will start to learn how to learn. Your success will start to build on itself, allowing the way for future success. This is the life that you were meant to live in recovery.
Personal mastery is the price you pay to gain discipline
As I mentioned above, the best way to experience personal growth in recovery is to “lock in” each positive change as you make it. This way, you are not sliding backwards and screwing up previous growth that you had made and thus risk relapse when everything starts to go bad. If you are deliberate and careful about how you create positive change in your life, you will master each change before you move on to the next one.
Thus, mastering each positive change is the price that you pay to learn discipline. This is a hugely powerful technique in recovery that most people in traditional programs have never even considered.
Just imagine this: there is a recovery program for addiction and alcoholism that is based on distance running. How does it work? Pretty simple….you become a distance runner, and you run, a lot. Building up the discipline to do this, amazingly enough, gives you pretty much all of the discipline that you need to overcome an addiction. Now obviously this program (called Racing for Recovery, by the way) does not work for everyone, but it certainly illustrates the power of discipline and the role that it plays in overcoming an addiction.
I learned this lesson first hand when I first developed the discipline to quit smoking cigarettes. When I finally mastered that change and locked in that positive gain, I knew that I could accomplish pretty much anything I chose to do.
Running had a similar effect on me. When I was able to build up to a regular six mile distance, and eventually run a few marathons, I knew that I had the discipline to accomplish other goals that I might have in life–even goals that are not directly related to fitness.
And this is the beauty of discipline, and it is the incredible reward that you get when you take the time to really master a positive change in your life. Not only do you gain the benefit of mastering that single positive change, but you also learn the discipline and realize fully what it will take to reach other goals that you might have in life. It really does translate from one area of your life to another.
Most of these “prices” that we pay in our journey are rather steep, but I have found that this is OK by me. It just means that the rewards will be that much greater. Anything worth doing is going to be a challenge, it is going to be tough, and it will generally be well worth it. It’s all about the cycle of growth that you experience in life, and in recovery. Keep looking for that next challenge, that next positive change that you can make, and then go make it happen. This is what has worked for me and I have seen it work for others as well.
Pay the price, reap the rewards.