Your journey into addiction recovery is one of personal growth and development.
Without personal growth, all you are really doing in recovery is avoiding your drug of choice. This is certainly better than nothing, but it is a far cry from “true recovery.”
The whole point of recovery is not just to avoid your drug of choice, but instead it is to discover a new life that you never even knew existed. You don’t just “recover” the life you had before addiction took over…..you get a whole lot more than that. The catch is that you have to be willing to work for it.
In the past, someone may have tried to help you in saying something like “here is a suggestion for how to be healthier.” At the time you may have ignored such a suggestion, feeling content to just go on about your business, do your own thing, and generally be lazy. In other words, you had no interest in personal growth or becoming a healthier person, because you thought that you were doing just fine. Why bother with trying to change or improve things if you are basically happy, right?
But of course our addiction and alcoholism changed all that. Now we don’t have a choice. Because our addiction eventually made us miserable, we have to take action now if we want to restore our life to peace and happiness. There is no going backwards now. Once you reach this point of misery in your addiction, you don’t get to start over and try again with your drug of choice. You are stuck at this point of misery forever, because addiction is progressive. It just gets worse and worse over time, never better. So at some point the disease forces a decision: continue on living in total misery, and accept that it will never get any better…OR, make the decision, surrender to the fact that you can no longer be happy by self medicating all the time, and embrace the idea of real change.
If you decide to take the plunge into recovery then you are making an agreement with yourself. You have essentially agreed that you can no longer ignore the idea of personal growth. The act of recovery demands positive changes. That is all there is to it, really. At times we can complicate recovery a great deal but in the end it is a move towards greater health. You make healthier choices than what you did in the past. Is there really more to it than this? The decision begins with a commitment to total abstinence. You agree that it is time to stop putting drugs and alcohol into your body every day. This is your first and most important healthy decision. From this, all new healthy decisions can now flow. Without the commitment to total abstinence everything else goes out the window. No growth can occur if you are still holding yourself back by self medicating every day. Doing so erases all potential progress.
In other words, you have to get clean and sober before you can start making healthy changes. Otherwise, your addiction will simply eradicate all of your efforts with more chaos and misery. You will take two steps back for every step that you take forward.
It all starts with a baseline of sobriety. But in order to do that you first have to surrender.
Surrender and your foundation of personal growth
Recovery begins with surrender. Until you can make that critical leap, you are doomed to keep struggling with the idea that you can somehow make it all work.
When you are caught in addiction or alcoholism, it is like you are juggling a bunch of balls, and you can’t stop for anything. Surrender is the point where you simply stop juggling, let them all fall where they may, and then start over from scratch. You just let go of everything. This act of total surrender is necessary if you are going to be successful in your recovery effort.
Imagine being on a human hamster wheel. You keep running and there is no way to stop or get any rest. This is addiction. When you surrender, you simply step off the wheel. It is so easy to do, yet so difficult. It is difficult because the addict or alcoholic clings to the need to control things. They want so desperately to be able to control their chemical intake and still be happy. They are terrified of facing life completely sober. So they stay on the wheel as long as possible, refusing to give recovery a chance.
If you are still struggling with addiction and you can’t find a way to “step off the hamster wheel” then here is what you need to do:
Start measuring happiness.
Why are you using your drug of choice? I can tell you why: you are trying to maximize your happiness. You self medicate in order to be content with yourself. We are motivated by happiness. This is why we use drugs and alcohol. To feel good.
So it is time to start measuring how well it is working. Because what happens with addiction is this: When you first discover your drug of choice, it works very well for you and it actually does make you feel good. But as your tolerance shifts over time you end up having to use more and more of the drug (or alcohol) more and more frequently. At some point your normal state of mind is to be self medicated. In the past you were sober and then suddenly high and you could actually appreciate the buzz. But later on in your addiction the buzz is just your everyday state of mind. It becomes the new normal for you. It is no longer special. And therefore it no longer makes you happy like it once did.
The problem is that our addiction clouds this truth from us. This is how denial works. We deny that we are miserable. Why do we do this? No one knows for sure, but this is how the addict mind works. We slowly become more and more miserable over time, even as we desperately try to self medicate our way to happiness. Our tolerance keeps this goal forever out of reach. We remember what it was like to be high, drunk, and completely happy when we were early in our addiction. We try to take enough drugs or booze in order to get back to that same buzz. We always fall short, or perhaps we finally get it right every once in a great while. But it is just enough to tease us, to make us believe this big lie:
* That we can be happy whenever we want, just by using our drug of choice.
That is a lie. In the beginning of our addiction, it was true. But it is no longer true once we are full blown addicts or alcoholics. We reach a point in our addiction where we can no longer depend on our drug of choice to create instant happiness. In the past it may have worked. But as our disease progresses we lose this magical ability. Why, then, keep chasing happiness in addiction while being miserable? This is the realization that will bring you closer to surrender.
If you are trapped in addiction, focus on your misery. You must become aware of just how ineffective your drug of choice has become in creating happiness for you. It is only then that you will surrender and agree to seek help.
Personal growth starts with this point of surrender.
Taking suggestions as a path of learning
What happens when you finally surrender?
You ask for help. It is time to stop listening to your own mind, which as done nothing for you lately except to get you tangled up in the miserable cycle of addiction. Your own ideas have not worked out well. Time to listen to someone else.
This is easy to say but hard to do. Most people have a huge ego that gets in the way when you suggest to them that they need to ask for help and take advice from others. But this is the strongest path in early recovery, and it is also the path that will lead you to personal growth down the road.
There are two basic ways to create growth in your life: you can stumble around for a long time and figure things out for yourself rather slowly, or you can simply take advice from other people who have already made the growth that you are seeking to make. In other words, find someone who has made the journey through sobriety (successfully) and then ask them what you need to do. If you want results like they got, then you need to do what they did. Pretty simple. The alternative is to stumble around for years and possibly decades trying to figure out the secret to sobriety.
The real secret of course is that there is no secret, and that creating positive change is hard work (just like anything else!). The good news is that it is not any harder than staying stuck in addiction and scrambling every day to get yourself one more drink or drug. In fact, recovery is probably a lot easier than addiction because of the momentum that you gain over time and cumulative benefits that you receive.
What does that mean? It means that recovery gets easier and easier over time, just as addiction gets harder and harder and over time. This is based on the idea of accumulation. And it works both ways. If you are stuck in addiction and you continue to self medicate for several years (or decades), things just keep getting worse and worse. The negativity starts to multiply. Say that you get in a wreck some day because you are drunk driving. Then you lose your license and you also have no car. Life gets worse. Yet you may continue to drink. Perhaps a spouse will leave you. Now you are lonely, without a car, and still drinking. You may have lost your job as well. People exist like this, where things just keep worse and worse, and yet they continue to self medicate. In fact they may drink more and more as their situation deteriorates. It is a self perpetuating cycle. Things get progressively worse.
But there is hope, because the same principle applies to your recovery as well. So long as you have a mindset of personal growth, that same spiral of negativity can now be turned around in your recovery journey. This is how recovery starts to benefit you in the long run and becomes an amazing journey. Things just keep getting better and better.
Of course this is not true if you get clean and sober and then just become lazy, avoid your drug of choice, and never really push yourself to make positive changes. In order to receive the benefits of recovery you have to work for it. You have to put in an effort. But for all of the effort that you put into your sobriety you will reap huge rewards. And those benefits start to accumulate over time, and that is how life gets better and better.
This should become your motivation for personal growth in recovery. The promise of a better life, but also the promise of a constantly improving life. This is what makes recovery so exciting. Not that it gets better, but that it keeps getting better. Recovery is therefore an adventure.
Figuring out what you want in life and learning from your growth experiences
Once you have surrendered and made it to the path of recovery, it is time to figure out what you want to learn (or what you want to change).
There are many ways that you can explore this. The first way is also the most important way:
* Eliminating your points of misery.
This is an extension of your decision to get clean and sober. Why did you get into recovery?
Because you were miserable and you wanted a way to be happy and healthy.
So now you can extend that idea in recovery and find ways that you can improve your life. No need to complicate this and make it difficult; start with the obvious stuff. That is why we call them “points of misery.” Take a step back and look at your life. What is making you miserable? At one point it was your addiction, and you attempted to fix that by getting clean and sober. But there are likely other, smaller points of misery in your life. For example, I was a cigarette smoker in early recovery, and I did not realize (at first) that it was adding to my misery. I had to become aware of this, and then eliminate it.
Your point of misery may be a relationship. Or it may be the fact that you want to go chase your dreams but you are stuck in life without the resources to do so.
Whatever your point of misery is, you can fix it. And you need to do so. This is how personal growth should begin once you are clean and sober. You have to fix the stuff that is creating chaos, misery, and pain in your life. Eliminate it. All of it. One thing at a time.
Choose the one thing that is causing you the most distress or pain, and focus all of your energy on fixing it. This is how to eliminate a point of misery.
Now that you are in recovery, you have an abundance of two things that you never had enough of in the past: Power, and time.
You have plenty of time in recovery. You have the rest of your life. Seriously. If I had realized how much extra time I had in recovery now that I was not self medicating every day, I would have set loftier goals for myself right from the start.
Second of all you have much more power in recovery. You can accomplish so much more stuff than you ever could have dreamed of doing in your addiction. You have power because you have time, energy, and the ability to focus. You also have more resources in recovery and more help from your peers. People in recovery are almost always willing to help each other out. During your addiction it was more “every man for himself” kind of an attitude. In recovery we are much more willing to help each other. This creates power for you.
Ask yourself: “What do I really want in life, and in my recovery?” If you do not have a good answer for that then try to identify your points of misery. Once you identify them, figure out what the most pressing concern is, then tackle it with all of your focus and energy.
Seeking advice and feedback in long term recovery
One of the most important tools of growth is feedback and advice from others. You may believe that you do not need this once you are established in long term sobriety, but that is not the case. You can still benefit a great deal from other people and their advice, and therefore you should seek it out.
You may ask your peers in recovery “What do you think I should be working on in my life in order to grow?” Or you may ask “What do you think I most need to work on in my situation?”
Ask various people in recovery. Ask people who are living the life that you want to live. Ask people who are successful in recovery.
When you do this you are taking a huge shortcut, and it is a very effective way to live. Seeking advice and feedback has two major advantages:
1) You get a huge boost of knowledge from other people about what actually works. You get vital information that is useful.
2) You get a shortcut to instant action. You avoid the dabbling and hemming and hawing that your brain would normally put you through.
This second point is important. We probably don’t realize how long it takes us to make a significant and positive change in our lives. If we leave it up to our own discovery, it can take months or even years for us to really make a positive change. This is because we are too busy trying to figure out if the change is really worth all of the energy that we are going to have to spend on it.
This is tragic because it impedes our growth, but it can easily be avoided. Here are the two principles that can accelerate your growth in recovery:
1) Seek feedback and advice from other people. Benefit from their experience.
2) Take action instantly by following their advice. Don’t waste time trying to weigh the benefits of a possible change. Just do it!
Keep in mind that you gain a lot of time in recovery. Stop worrying that you may be wasting your time. I was always paranoid about this and it is pointless. You are not wasting your time. If someone you trust makes a suggestion for you, take it! Take their advice and implement it and know that you have plenty of time in your recovery.
You have to do this anyway in order to get good results in the long run. You are going to have to experiment a bit. You are going to have to take lots of different suggestions and then use the ones that work out the best for your unique personality. Not everything will be a perfect fit. For example, someone once pushed me to explore meditation in my early recovery. I spent a few months on it and eventually evolved into exercise, leaving meditation behind. Am I upset that I “wasted” all of that time on meditation? Of course not! I am glad that I did it so that I could learn what really helped me and worked better for me (distance running is also a form of meditation, and has many of the same benefits).