Personal growth is not merely a part of recovery, it is recovery.
We recently explored the idea that complacency is the number one threat to long term recovery. This is mostly due to the fact that you cannot just react to the complacency problem when it pops up and deal with it in a reactionary way. Instead, you must be proactive about complacency in developing a long term strategy for growth in recovery.
This is why overcoming alcoholism is an exercise in personal growth. Not because you have to make certain changes to remain sober, but rather, NOT making any positive changes is the sure path to relapse.
The opposite of recovery
Anyone who has been stuck in denial and has refused to change knows what the opposite of recovery is. It is when you are too stubborn to take any suggestions from other people and thus you are too stubborn to make any changes. Other people in your life may have good ideas about how you could be living a better life, but you refuse to hear any of them or take them seriously because you are stuck in your addiction and afraid to change. This is denial and is basically “the opposite of recovery.”
If we could describe a successful path in recovery that leads away from drug and alcohol addiction we would have to do it in terms of positive changes.
The addict or the alcoholic is stuck in a pattern of drug and alcohol abuse. They self medicate all the time and thus they are addicted and their life is a mess. The path to success for such a person would have to involve massive changes. Keep in mind too that this person’s default mode of operation is to self medicate with their drug of choice. This is what is normal for them and this is what comes naturally to them. Using drugs and alcohol is their default, their normal, it is what comes easy to them.
Such a person hypothetically decides to go to inpatient rehab and make an attempt at getting clean and sober. So they check into rehab and they get detoxed from their drug of choice and they experience a new baseline. Suddenly they have stripped away all of the drugs and alcohol and all of the self medicating and this is the start of making positive changes in their life.
Now the key is that if they want to stay clean and sober in the long run they are going to have to engage in personal growth from this point forward. Eliminating the drugs and the alcohol was just the start of recovery; it is the tip of the iceberg. In all reality they have not even really got started yet on their recovery journey and they have a long road ahead of them.
Their success at this point is based on making MORE positive changes in their life. Their success in achieving 90 days sober, six months sober, five years sober is all dependent on whether or not they continue to pursue personal growth in their recovery.
If they continue to pursue personal growth then they have a chance at staying clean and sober. If they do NOT choose to pursue personal growth then they are basically stuck in what I would call “the opposite of recovery.”
They are directly opposing their own recovery because now they are slowly reverting back to their old ways. They used to self medicate all the time with their drug of choice in order to deal with life and as the solution to nearly every problem that they might face.
Their life continues in recovery and they leave rehab and they are clean and sober and now they have to engage in personal growth if they are going to learn how to deal with all of the problems that life throws at them.
The recovering addict and alcoholic basically has two paths they can choose from at this point:
1) They can learn to deal with life sober, or
2) They can revert back to their old solution and self medicate with drugs or alcohol.
The first option is the “personal growth” option. If you rise to the challenge that is recovery then you are going to be making positive changes in your life and making all sorts of personal growth. The alternative is to simply give up and slide back into your old ways, which will involve self medicating and a full blown relapse.
Basically, the things that a person must do in order to remain clean and sober are all exercises in personal growth. They are all actions taken, they are all positive changes made, and they all require conscious and deliberate effort. You don’t just float through recovery and accidentally stay clean and sober by dumb luck. It takes focus, conscious choice, and lots of energy. If you see positive changes that you can make in an effort to grow through an experience, you had better do it. Anything less is probably part of the path back to relapse.
What it means to accept full responsibility for your own personal growth in recovery
The start of any recovery is a massive step in the right direction, because the amount of surrender needed to get the ball rolling in recovery is enormous. Just the initial surrender is a huge step in the right direction and you should try to build from that willingness.
The decision to check into an inpatient rehab for the first time is also a massive step in the right direction. It is a very scary proposition to check into a treatment center and so if you are at the point where you become willing to do so then you know you are on the right path. But be cautioned that you can easily come up short even after attending rehab and end up quickly sliding back into a relapse when you leave. For some reason, the addict can make a start on the path of personal growth in recovery, but then they somehow get diverted and end up relapsing in short order.
This happened to me in my own recovery more than once. I had the willingness to take some action and get a start on my recovery, but I did not have the willingness to follow through with all of the actions required to stay clean and sober in the long run. To be honest I had an immature view of the recovery process at the time and this is largely why I failed.
What do I mean by having an immature view of recovery? I thought that getting sober should be an event, that it should just happen overnight and that the addict or alcoholic could then walk away from rehab and get on with their life and be normal again. I really believed that this should be how it worked and if a treatment suggested to me that this was not, in fact, how it actually worked then I believed that I should just find another solution or a better rehab center.
This was a very immature view of the growth process of recovery. The mindset and the attitude described above is that of a stubborn three year old who wants everything to go exactly his way in life or he throws a tantrum.
The truth is that recovery does not work that way. Instead, recovery is a lifelong process of personal growth. It requires continuous, deliberate, and conscious effort. You cannot just check into some super rehab center and let them take care of all the details for you without making any personal effort.
You cannot outsource your sobriety to professionals. It remains an inside job, no matter how badly you may want someone else to take care of it for you.
At one point in my own journey out of addiction I had to realize this fully. I had to accept the fact that there was no easy path to sobriety, that there was no way to avoid the personal responsibility that it would require to get clean and sober, and that I was going to have to make a conscious effort if I was going to make it work in the long run.
I also realized fully that it was a lifelong commitment, that this was not just some weekend trip to rehab, and that it was going to take a massive effort if I was going to make it work in the long run. I became mature enough at some point to see the true scope of the solution and how it would span the rest of my life and involve continuous effort and continuous growth. I was done looking for the easy way out and I accepted the fact that recovery was going to take a little work and a little effort on my part.
If you get to this point in your life and you are hungry to start making positive changes and you are eager to embrace massive change then I would say you are on the right path. Recovery is nothing else if not change. Personal growth is simply the idea that you are going to make positive changes rather than negative ones.
Embracing massive changes implies personal growth
It is not enough to agree to make changes in your life. When I was still stuck in my addiction, I had some brief periods where I agreed to make some changes, but this was not real recovery and it was not the level of personal growth that I needed to achieve in order to recover.
Why not? Because I was simply agreeing to make minor changes in order to appease those who were worried about my condition.
For example, I agreed to get help by going to counseling. This is not massive change and for me, at the time, this was not personal growth. I was not eager to take suggestions and I was not embracing massive change. Instead, what I was really doing was to hold on fast to my old life, to the addiction and to the disease, while trying to do as little as possible while still proving that I was “willing to change.” Of course the truth was that I was not willing to change at all, and I wanted to stay stuck in denial and continue to self medicate with my drug of choice.
When I was still in denial I attended short term rehab and they suggested that I live in long term treatment for over a year. I recoiled in horror at such a suggestion and could not understand why someone would “waste so much of their life by living in rehab for so long.” I was still in denial and I was still stuck in my addiction and I was not ready to embrace massive change.
You see, personal growth is not about making little changes. Little changes are nothing, they gloss over the real problems that we have, and in fact making little changes is the same thing as making no change at all. When I agreed to go to counseling and was seeing someone for an hour each week, that was the same as making no change at all. I continued to self medicate and I had no intention of quitting drugs and alcohol and so this was not a real change at all.
Small changes = no real change.
In my experience, real recovery is about making massive changes. This is the key to unlocking the full potential of recovery and personal growth.
For example, when I got clean and sober this last time and actually made it stick, I made some seriously big changes in order to pull it off. For example, just within the first month of my recovery journey I:
* Checked into long term rehab and made a commitment to live there for at least six months (I ended up staying for 20 months).
* Left all of my drinking buddies behind and never saw or contacted any of them again. I abandoned all of my “friends” from my drug using days.
* Committed to attending daily 12 step meetings even though I was terrified of them.
* Agreed to take suggestions and advice from others in order to learn a new way of life in recovery, and actually started following through on this promise.
And this was just within the first month of my recovery journey. In particular, leaving all my old life behind and moving into long term rehab represented huge changes for me, and becoming willing to do the things that I was never willing to do in the past for my recovery were huge milestones as well.
Later on in my recovery journey I continued on with this theme of massive changes, and I pursued other positive growth experiences such as:
* Going back to college and completing my degree.
* Seeking more challenging and meaningful work in recovery.
* Challenging myself to get into shape and becoming a distance runner even though I had limitations such as asthma.
* Starting a business and turning it into a success so that I could leave the trap that was my current day job.
* Building a recovery community online and working hard on it to make it grow.
None of these changes were small. All of them represented a huge time and energy commitment on my part.
And that is the whole point: you have to make massive changes if you want to get awesome results in recovery.
If you look at those two lists up above you will also realize that this is true for any and all stages of recovery.
I had to make massive changes in order to get clean and sober and get from that initial moment of surrender up to the one year clean and sober mark. Early recovery required massive changes just to break free from the old life and the old patterns of abuse. But if you look at long term recovery and look at the problems that can creep in from complacency then you know that living in long term recovery requires massive changes as well.
You do not get to coast in recovery. Later on when things are going well and you have achieved stable sobriety, you still do not get to coast. Massive changes are still required. You want to keep making positive growth in your life and this is always going to require conscious effort.
Remember that if you just try to make some small changes in your life that are not very challenging then this is the same as doing nothing at all. If it is not challenging and meaningful then it is not going to have much positive impact on your recovery.
Preventing relapse in recovery requires massive amounts of positive growth. Anything less and you will risk relapse.
Each stage in recovery development is a new set of challenges for the alcoholic or addict
As mentioned, you need massive change in very early recovery, and you also need it in long term sobriety.
In fact, every stage of your recovery demands massive action.
For example, maybe you are about one year into your recovery journey and things are going well. You have achieved some amount of stability. You are not threatened with relapse each and every day like you were in the beginning.
On the other hand you are not exactly living in “long term sobriety” yet either. You feel like you are in a transitional phase. Not quite in early recovery any more, but not living in long term sobriety yet either.
So what do you do, and how do you live your life in recovery?
In my opinion the “stage” of recovery that you are at does not change the strategy. What you should do is to basically ask yourself the question:
“What is the biggest positive change that I could be making in my life right now?”
At one point the answer to that question will be “going to detox and getting off of drugs and alcohol.”
At another point in your journey the answer might be “Quitting smoking and starting an exercise habit.”
At another point in your journey the answer may be “Working with other recovering addicts and alcoholics on a regular basis.”
What you need to consider is your overall health in recovery–all aspects of your health. Your physical health, your spiritual condition, your emotional stability, your social connections, your career, your education, your fitness level, and so on.
What positive change could you make in your life that would have the biggest impact for you?
My strategy has always been to identify what that change is (just a single change, one goal at a time) and then to attack that goal with all of my focus.
After periods of growth you can pause, reflect, and then start to think about what your next major goal might be.
You do not necessarily have to push hard every single day…..but you do have to always be thinking forward, to your next goal, your next positive growth experience, and making sure this is in alignment with your recovery strategy.
Living in long term recovery requires continuous personal growth to overcome complacency
As we saw yesterday, long term success in recovery requires continues growth in order to overcome complacency.
Really what this means is that you are going to be making a conscious effort at continuous growth anyway, just to maintain long term sobriety.
It is a requirement. Without continuous growth, relapse slides back into high probability.
So you may as well get deliberate about it.
Challenge yourself to make continuous personal growth in your life.
Do not allow yourself to “coast” for too long, without challenging yourself to make any positive changes.
And remember, the little changes don’t really qualify! You have to make some massive changes in order to ensure long term success in recovery.