All I can really tell you is what worked for me.
That is all anyone can really do when it comes to addiction recovery. It is a struggle to sober up for anyone and part of the journey is an internal one. You have to take that leap of faith for yourself. We can help each other and give support, but no one can do the hard work for you. Each of us carries this responsibility in recovery. Everyone gets sober for themselves, or it will never work out.
The first part of sobriety is always going to be preceded by surrender. Surrender to what? Surrender to a few different things:
1) Surrender to your disease. Surrender to addiction itself.
2) Surrender to a new solution in your life.
3) Surrender to the fact that you can no longer enjoy your drug of choice while also controlling yourself.
If you surrender to nothing else but those three things, you should actually do just fine. Nothing more is really required.
Surrender is fundamental to successful recovery.
Surrender is fundamental to addiction recovery
There are different programs of recovery out there.
For example, there is the 12 step programs of AA and NA. But there are also other programs that exist that have nothing to do with the 12 steps. And if you go study all of those various programs and see how people are doing in them, you will find a few common themes among them.
Those who are successful–regardless of what recovery program you are talking about–went through a surrender phase. They surrendered. They surrendered to their disease, and then they surrendered to a solution. This is universal. You can’t get clean and sober without surrendering to these things. It just won’t happen.
It is possible to surrender to your disease but not to a solution. If that happens then you will not stay sober. I know this because I did it once. I surrendered to the fact that I was alcoholic. I broke through that level of my denial. I knew for sure that I was a real alcoholic, and that my drinking was only going to get worse over time. I knew this for a fact and I fully accepted it. I had been to rehab twice. I paid attention. I had talked with many therapists and counselors about my addiction. I was no longer in denial about the fact that I had the disease of alcoholism.
But that did not mean I was ready to get sober yet. I was still in denial of the solution. I was still in denial that a recovery program might be able to help me. I outright denied this and did not believe it.
I was too scared to take action. I knew I had a problem and I could no longer deny the problem. I was alcoholic. But I was still in denial of any and all solutions. I was terrified to get sober because I thought that I would be unhappy forever. I could not say goodbye to my good friend alcohol. That was my solution and I was sticking with it. That is, I stuck with it until I finally became so miserable that I no longer cared about the fear.
This is how I personally reached the turning point that they talk about in AA. For me, that was the turning point. I was so miserable and I was so sick and tired of being miserable that I no longer cared about how afraid I was. And don’t get me wrong, I was living in fear and had been for a long time. And I was terrified of rehab and I was terrified of facing a lifetime of sobriety. I didn’t want it. I was scared of it. But I was so sick and tired of being miserable that I became willing to give it a shot.
That was my moment of surrender. When I was willing to look past the fear, to feel that fear and not even care about it any more. To be willing to face sobriety, to ask for help, to take action.
Everyone who gets clean and sober has to go through this sort of surrender. They have to let go of something deep within themselves. For me, it was that fight inside of me that had been struggling for control for so long, that struggle to stay medicated on booze and drugs and not have to feel my feelings or face reality or get honest with myself. I was running away from myself with the drugs and the alcohol and I did not want to face the truth. When I surrendered I became willing to face reality, to face the truth, to find out who the real “me” really was.
And that journey is fundamental to recovery. If you are not willing to face the truth then you will eventually turn back to self medicating.
Asking for help and following through
Asking for help and following through on the advice that you are given is really just a symptom of surrender.
So in other words, surrender leads to this naturally. Once you surrender to your disease and to a new solution in your life, it is not difficult to then ask for help and follow through. It should be easy at that point.
I asked for help from my family members and they sent me to rehab. They helped arrange for me to check into detox. This was the best thing for me at the time because I was out of control and I could not stop drinking by my own power alone. I needed outside help. I needed professional help.
I went to detox and then I went to residential treatment. Now if you go to treatment they don’t just wave a magic wand and cure you instantly. I certainly wish that was the case but it most definitely is not. I know this because not only did I live in long term rehab for 20 months, I also worked in a rehab center for 5 years plus. And in that time I learned that modern day treatment is definitely not a cure for people. Far from it. But it is still the best solution that we have and I still recommend it to anyone who is struggling. Rehab can work when other solutions fail.
Many, many people who go to treatment don’t end up following through with it. Why not? Because addiction is powerful. It is very challenging to beat any addiction for just about anyone. The odds are stacked against you. Therefore I suggest that you need all of the help that you can possibly get. One of the most foolish things is to assume that you can do it alone, that you can figure it all out for yourself–especially in early recovery. That is just not very likely to be the case. Nearly every serious alcoholic and drug addict needs a lot of help in order to overcome their addiction. I was no exception to that.
When I worked in rehab for several years I noted that most people don’t follow through with recovery, even though they had made the decision to check into treatment. Why the change? Why the shift in attitude? People who voluntarily came into rehab would, you think, have pretty good chances at following through after they left treatment. But addiction is a powerful thing. And most people end up underestimating their disease while also overestimating their ability to beat it. They overestimate their willpower in many cases. And they believe that they are smarter or better than the average person in recovery.
These are big mistakes to make, and nearly everyone makes them. Something like 80 percent of people believe that they are smarter than average. Think about that one! Most of us are putting ourselves too far ahead of the curve, and in reality we are just as vulnerable as everyone else. Statistically it is very difficult to turn your life around and get clean and sober. Sure, it can be done. But you have to realize what you are up against here. Most people who try, fail. Therefore, this should have a strong bearing on the efforts that you are making.
When I finally surrendered I asked to go to long term rehab. I knew that I needed serious help, and a previous treatment center had recommended long term treatment for me. So when I finally surrendered I knew that I had to “go big or go home.” I knew I wasn’t just going to do a few weeks in treatment and suddenly be cured. My whole life revolved around drinking and drugs. Nearly every friend of mine was into drinking or drugs (or both). So I knew I had to do something radical. I knew that I was in for the challenge of a lifetime.
And it has been exactly that. I went to detox, then I went to residential treatment, then I lived in long term rehab. I dove head first into recovery. I did everything that I could in order to NOT overestimate myself. I did everything that I could in order to NOT underestimate my disease. I did this mostly by taking advice and following through with it. And I did that for a really long time in a very intense way. Listening to counselors, therapists, sponsors. Living in rehab for 20 months. I tried to throw myself into recovery with every ounce of energy I had.
And it worked. I watched a whole lot of people relapse. Many of my peers relapsed. And somehow I was lucky. I was blessed. It definitely isn’t intelligence that bought me these last 13 years of sobriety.
No, it was because I got out of my own way. It was because I took advice and I followed through on it. I listened to people who had strong sobriety and I did what they told me to do.
I was humble enough to do the work, even though I thought some of it was stupid. I meditated. I exercised. I wrote in the steps. I got a sponsor. I went to group therapy. I listened at the lectures. I went back to school and got a job. I kept taking suggestions from people who had more sobriety than I did.
And it worked. It was working through no genius on my part. I really was just doing what I was told to do. I was getting out of my own way. And I think this is one of the biggest secrets of recovery.
This is, in essence, what surrender is. You have to surrender to something. And when you do that, you are NOT using your own ideas. You are not surrendering to yourself, right? No, you surrender to someone or something else. And that something else will guide you to a better life. Because if you are left to your own devices you will just screw it up. That’s how it was for me, anyway. I had to surrender to something else. I had to get out of my own way.
Recovery without personal growth isn’t really recovery
I knew a few people in early recovery with me and I did not believe that they were doing the right things. And they did not think that I was doing the right things either. Because at the time I had drifted away from the daily AA meetings. And I was trying to convince these people that I was OK, and that I was on a path of personal growth, and that this was enough to keep me clean and sober.
We argued about this a lot. One guy in particular argued with me all the time. He was very much into the AA program and he believed that I was doomed to relapse.
Now to be honest I did not know back then if I was “right” or not. I was not 100 percent convinced at the time that if I stayed on this path of personal growth if I would truly remain sober or not. There was a tiny voice in the back of my mind that was genuinely worried that this guy might be right, that I might relapse just because I drifted away from the daily meetings, and that I would one day come crawling back to AA and say “You were right, I was foolish to leave the meetings….”
That guy I am talking about relapsed over a decade ago. And I remained sober. And I honestly think that remaining sober all of that time and continuing on this path of personal growth was what I needed in order to give me the confidence to know that I was onto something.
Some people believe that the AA program is magic and that it keeps people sober and nothing else in the world could ever work instead.
I learned that this is not true. I learned that the AA program can work, but it really only points towards one solution. It is not actually THE solution, it simply points towards one solution.
AA is not fundamental to recovery.
Personal growth is fundamental to recovery.
This is the truth that I was trying to reason through back when I was arguing with my friend, and I was still nervous that I might relapse. Now over ten years later I believe that I have discovered the truth. The truth is that AA is a program that can lead you to personal growth, and therefore it can potentially keep you sober. But it is just one solution, and it is not the only solution.
If you go to AA meetings and listen you can start to hear phrases that seem to back up this idea. For example, people will say things like “You are either working on recovery, or you are working on a relapse.”
Yes, I agree with this completely. This is true whether or not AA has anything to do with your solution for addiction. Either the alcoholic is moving towards personal growth, or they are moving away from it. If you are stagnant then you are, by default, sliding back down the hill. You can’t stay still in recovery. You can’t just tread water. If you do, you sink, you relapse. The only way to do well in recovery is to move forward, to make progress. You can put all sorts of different labels on this but I would call it “personal growth.” You are either improving yourself and your life or you are not. There is no in between. Those who try to coast in between the polar opposites of growth and destruction will end up falling victim to relapse.
Therefore I don’t believe that anyone who is complacent, or who is coasting through recovery, can ever be sure of their future sobriety. Personal growth is fundamental to successful recovery. If you want to stay sober you have to keep improving yourself and your life. This is a fundamental truth.
Holistic health and taking care of yourself in long term sobriety
There is more than one path to relapse.
That is both dangerous and scary. That the alcoholic can relapse in many different ways, for many different reasons.
And half the time it seems that the person never even sees it coming. At all.
I watched this happen over and over again during the first few years of my sobriety. A lot of people that I knew who relapsed did so because of a relationship that went bad. This happened so frequently when I lived in long term rehab that I could scarcely believe it. Nearly everyone relapsed because of a relationship. It was crazy.
So obviously, you have to take good care of yourself emotionally in recovery. You have to eliminate toxic relationships from your life. Lesson learned.
Later on in my recovery journey, I noticed another scary trend. Some of my peers in recovery were getting sick. Or they might get injured. And sometimes when this happened they would end up on strong medications. Or they would become sick for so long that it would wear them down to the point of relapse. And so I noticed that physical health was a really important part of sobriety. If you got sick then you were definitely at an increased risk of relapse.
I have had many peers in recovery who were destroyed completely or at least driven to relapse due to mental illness. So certainly your mental health is important in recovery as well.
And I have had many peers in recovery who relapsed spiritually. They forgot to be grateful for what they had and who they were. And so they stopped being grateful long enough and this led them to say “screw it, I deserve to drink” and they selfishly picked up some booze.
This is why I believe that you have to take care of yourself every day, in every way: Physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and socially. If you neglect one of these areas of your life then it can lead to relapse eventually.
What is your daily practice?
In order to be strong in your recovery you have to take care of yourself every day.
So your daily practice are the habits and the routines that allow you to take really good care of yourself.
This is going to vary from person to person. I can tell you what my daily practice is, but you have to find the things that work for you as well.
And you may need to ask for help and advice to learn what those things are.
What about you, have you found a daily practice that works for you in recovery? A daily practice that allows you to take care of yourself every day, in all of these different ways?
Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!