By comparison, being in recovery is way more exciting than being stuck in drug addiction or alcoholism.
One of the problems, however, is that it takes time for this excitement to become real in recovery.
It doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes a bit of work, a bit of persistence.
Because when we first get clean and sober, life can be a bit of a drag.
The monotony and drudgery of addiction and alcoholism
Addiction is boring.
At the heart of it all, addiction is just repetition–you keep doing the same thing over and over again.
People like to define insanity in addiction as “doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”
That makes sense to a lot of people, because we had that image in our minds, that fantasy, of exactly how we wanted to feel when we self medicated.
Most of us were comparing it to our past, perhaps to the first time that we really got loaded on our drug of choice.
That time when we got drunk or high and everything was perfect, everyone was happy, and no one got hurt.
That is the fantasy that fuels our denial. Mentally, we keep going back to that perfect moment in our minds and telling ourselves that every time we use our drug of choice we can experience that same level of happiness.
Of course it doesn’t happen. Tolerance builds and we become dependent on our drug of choice. We have to use it every day just to try to feel normal. We are no longer shooting for that super happy fantasy level, now we are content just to self medicate and not feel miserable. This is how denial progresses. We mentally hang on to that fantasy and that goal of supreme happiness, yet we keep chasing after it even though we have been miserable for months or even years in the day to day grind of addiction.
This is how most of us keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. We are hoping for that super happy fantasy in our minds to just start magically manifesting every single day when we use our drug of choice. It doesn’t happen, and we keep blaming this fact on our external reality. We point to external circumstances in our lives and make excuses as to why the happy fantasy is not coming true for us today.
“Well if I had more money and did not have to work at a miserable job that I hate then I could just drink and use drugs and self medicate the way I really want, and then I would achieve that happy fantasy state in my mind.”
Or: “If my annoying family would just be the way I want them to be and stop bothering me so much then I could drink or use drugs in peace, and I would be happier.”
Or: “If I could find the right combination of drugs and alcohol like I had the first time when I got so happy while intoxicated then I would be able to be super happy every single day, so I have to keep experimenting to find the right mix of drugs.”
Or: “If you had my problems you would drink or use drugs too. It never gets any easier!”
This is the trap of addiction and denial. The person is stuck in this cycle and they are telling themselves a story that helps to keep them stuck.
It is so much easier to stay stuck in your comfort zone than it is to plunge into your greatest fears.
And the alcoholic is trapped in a state of fear. They live their lives in fear. Every day they medicate their fears with alcohol so that they don’t have to be afraid.
Yet this doesn’t work completely for them. Sometimes it does, when they are able to get properly intoxicated. But they will always be living in a great deal of fear and all they can do is to chase it away with more drinking.
Most addicts and alcoholics will not even admit that they are living in fear. They won’t acknowledge it to themselves or others.
This is no way to live. It is exhausting.
And the only solution is to face that fear head on and ask for help. To abandon the crutch, abandon the drug of choice, and embrace sobriety.
But doing so comes with a huge bonus:
If you embrace recovery, life gets interesting again. Life gets exciting again.
This is how you leave behind the boring and monotonous life of addiction.
You dive head first into recovery.
It takes guts to face your fears. But doing so opens up a whole new world of challenges and rewards.
Sobriety is like the ultimate trip, the ultimate high
I used to believe that when I used certain drugs (or combinations of drugs) that I was facing some amazing new reality with an amazing set of challenges.
This is ridiculous. I wasn’t changing reality, I was only handicapping myself by being under the influence.
I wasn’t really making reality more interesting, what I was doing was to make myself more boring. And by comparison, the world became more interesting because I was so messed up and intoxicated.
Can you get drunk enough to be able to entertain yourself with daytime television? Sure you can. But is this interesting or exciting? Of course not!
So the point is that when I finally embraced recovery, I realized something that had eluded me in my addiction:
Sobriety is the ultimate trip.
Reality is the ultimate trip.
In some ways, being absolutely stone cold sober is the ultimate high you can achieve.
It is the ultimate challenge. To face reality cleanly, fairly, without any crutch at all.
And then you start solving problems. You start meeting those challenges in life.
And hopefully you take action, and solve some problems, and start to achieve some rewards for doing so.
Your life evolves and you find yourself on a path of personal growth.
And now things start to become more and more interesting. Because now you are opening new doors, facing new challenges, and everything that you accomplish in recovery is building on a previous level of growth.
All of it hinges on sobriety itself. But from there, you start to take positive actions based on your goals in recovery. And then over time you meet some of those challenges and you probably also let a few goals drop by the wayside. And you learn and adjust and correct course. Then you set new goals based on your progress. And you continue to push yourself more and more.
This is similar to addiction where you tried to change reality by medicating yourself. Only now in recovery you are seeking to change yourself while fully accepting your current reality. It is actually a bit similar in a way, to pursue personal growth in recovery and use it to motivate yourself.
Only the difference is that after you get drunk or high in your addiction you are returned to square one, with nothing to show for it other than a hazy memory of some “fun.” That’s all you get. You don’t grow in addiction when you medicate yourself. You are not achieving any personal growth at all. You remain stagnant.
In recovery when you pursue personal growth, you evolve and grow as a person. You become healthier, happier, stronger in different ways. You build on previous success and become an even better version of yourself over time. And the results and the rewards of this growth are locked into place. In other words, during your recovery you get to keep your progress. You get to hang on to the positive benefits of your growth. Those rewards no longer slip through your fingers like they did during addiction.
To me, this is the biggest difference between addiction and recovery. This is the big game changer. When you are sober in recovery, you are building something. You are locking in your gains. You are iterating into a better version of yourself over time.
Addiction is the opposite of this. During addiction it is more like you are locking in the consequences, the negative rewards. Bad things keep happening over time, and in the long run the consequences of your addiction slowly get worse and worse (sometimes quickly though). But they never get better in the long run. Addiction is progressive and the consequences always trend downward. They always get worse.
Recovery becomes an adventure because, just like during your addiction, you don’t really know what the outcomes are going to be. You can set goals and try to change things in your life, but you don’t really know what your goals are going to look like in a year, in 3 years, in 5 years. You just know that you are going to keep changing and evolving and improving your life in various ways.
And this is exciting. Once you realize that you are on a path of personal growth and that you are committed to it, you will become excited at the prospect of future challenges and rewards.
Recovery is a constant state of reinvention
In recovery you are constantly reinventing yourself.
I think that we have to do this in order to remain sober.
They talk about the danger of complacency in long term recovery, and how you can become complacent and relapse if you are not careful.
I think that this complacency is defined as someone who has stopped reinventing themselves.
They have stopped pursuing personal growth. So they have slipped back into a boring and monotonous life that was similar to when they were self medicating in addiction. So now they are just one step away from picking up their drug of choice again, because they have already slipped back into that same mindset. That lack of growth. That stagnation.
No, in order to recover you have to keep pushing the envelope. You have to keep reinventing yourself.
One way to do this is to embrace the opportunities in recovery by being prepared for them.
You can do this by taking care of yourself using a holistic approach. You can’t do this if you are, for example, severely out of shape. Or if you are still abusing chemicals and you are sick all the time. Or if you are not feeling physically healthy and energetic. Or if you are emotionally unstable and out of sorts all the time. Or if you are mentally foggy to the point where you cannot focus and concentrate on new tasks. Or if you are spiritually bankrupt to the point that you are selfish and not grateful for anything at all.
With the holistic approach to recovery your goal is to take care of yourself in all of those critical ways that are listed above. So you start some sort of daily routine in which you are making progress in each of those areas. Where you are taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally. Where you are practicing gratitude every day. Where you are pushing yourself to be healthy in all of these different ways.
That is your foundation, this daily practice where you move towards greater health. This is how the magic happens.
When you are doing all of these things and taking care of yourself, you will naturally reinvent yourself on a regular basis.
Every few months your life will change in a way that you probably could not have predicted. And this will be based on opportunities that presented themselves to you on your own unique journey.
And those opportunities will depend on your daily practice. If you are not doing the daily practice then you won’t see those opportunities. You won’t be receptive to them because you won’t be healthy enough.
So I am promising you that your life will change every once in a while and get magically better and you will be rewarded with personal growth as you conquer new challenges. But you don’t get to experience this if you are stuck in poor health, if you are spiritually bankrupt, if you are emotionally stunted or unstable.
All of these areas of your health have to be in good shape. You have to be taking care of yourself in all of these ways, every single day. And if you do this then over time your life will evolve and grow and change.
You don’t necessarily have to get specific goals all the time and have this huge plan of personal growth in place. If you are doing the work and taking good care of yourself in all of these key areas then the opportunities will come to you. They will come whether you set goals for yourself or not. It is the practice and the holistic approach that will create this pattern of change in your life.
And this becomes exciting, especially when you are able to gain perspective and look back and see it happening.
We generally cannot see the growth experience when we are stuck in it. It is usually uncomfortable at the time, or we see it as an obstacle. A challenge.
But then when you look back over a few years of sobriety you will see that you were, in fact, constantly reinventing yourself with each new challenge. You forced yourself to change, to grow, to learn.
You have real gratitude when you can appreciate the struggle itself
It is easy to be grateful when everything is going right for us.
But how do we maintain gratitude when the chips are down?
That is the real challenge.
There will come a moment in your recovery journey when you are facing some sort of challenge, when you are on the cusp of reinventing yourself yet again, and you will have this moment of peace and realize that everything is going to be OK.
And in that moment you will not have any fear.
And in that moment you will be able to glimpse the future with a sort of maturity, and know that more challenges are surely coming in your life. That there will be more challenges, more problems to overcome, and more need to reinvent yourself in the future.
And in that moment you will realize all of this and you will have no fear and you will be at peace.
I think everyone reaches this moment at some point in self reflection. Because you will be able to gain perspective as you keep doing this, and you will be able to reflect back and see the growth process.
It’s all about process. And when you first start embracing this process you don’t know much about it, you are not familiar with it, and it can be scary.
But in gaining this perspective you will one day look back and realize that you don’t have to be afraid of the personal growth. You don’t have to be afraid of the challenges that lay ahead.
And in this moment of reflection where you have no fear you will be grateful.
And it is not that fake gratitude when everything happens to be going right for the moment and so you are happy anyway. That is when it is easy to be grateful.
This magic moment I am talking about is not like that. This moment is when you are in the midst of a challenge and you are going through some personal growth challenges right now, and yet you somehow get a glimpse of this perspective and you realize that everything is going to be alright. You finally see the process for what it is, and you see the constant state of reinvention.
And so you no longer fear the future problems. You have confidence that you will deal with them. You have a sense of faith.
This is deep gratitude. It is gratitude for the process itself. It is gratitude for the challenges in life that we struggle with and later reward us.
When you can be grateful for all of it, even the challenges that make you uncomfortable, then you know that you are on the right path of personal growth.
Personal growth is the key to overcoming complacency in long term recovery
In long term sobriety you have a responsibility to yourself to pursue personal growth.
You sort of have three choices every day in recovery:
1) I can pursue growth and improve myself.
2) I can stay the same.
3) I can get worse and closer to relapse.
Here is what complacency really is.
Let me define it for you so that you understand it fully.
Option number 2 up above is “I can stay the same.” That sounds pretty decent, right?
Complacency is the idea that option number two is actually the exact same thing as option number 3 (getting worse and closer to relapse).
That is what complacency really is.
Just ask anyone who has relapsed. Talk to them. Talk to lots of people who have relapsed and ask them about these 3 choices.
They will all tell you the same thing: Trying to tread water and “just maintain” in recovery will lead you to relapse.
The only solution is option number 1: To pursue growth and improve yourself.
The other two options are no good. They lead to relapse.
Complacency is believing that you can tread water, not realizing that you will eventually sink.
But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Because personal growth happens to be exciting and challenging, if you embrace it.
And in order to embrace it you have to be ready for the opportunities that will show up in life.
And in order to be ready you have to engage in a daily practice, one in which you take care of yourself every day, in every way.
What about you, have you found personal growth to be exciting in recovery? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!