Alcoholism treatment or drug rehab can give you the gift of new life, if you are willing to take the plunge and give yourself over completely to it.
Most people who are struggling with addiction are still fighting for control, however. They do not want to give themselves over to a new solution and a new way of life. They are fighting to hang on to some amount of control because they still have reservations in some form or another.
The key of course is to “let go absolutely.” That means you really have to let everything slide and just go with the flow. Show up to rehab with a truly open mind and let things unfold as they may. If you try to force the situation then you are going to lose. You cannot muscle your way through early recovery. It won’t work. Instead, you need to realize that your ideas leading up to this point have not worked, so it is time to listen to someone else. This is a tough pill to swallow but it is absolutely necessary if you are to recover. We can’t do it ourselves. If we could then we are not really addicts or alcoholics.
How to build a new life from scratch in just 3 simple (but difficult) steps
Many people believe in the 12 step program of recovery. I think that the 12 steps can be useful to some but to other people it can just be overwhelming.
To be honest, I was a bit overwhelmed with the idea of 12 steps when I first got into recovery myself. For one thing, the first step did not explicitly state that I was to remain abstinent. So right off the bat I realized that the 12 steps had some assumptions built into them, one of which was the whole abstinence thing. I mean, if I were writing the 12 steps today from scratch then you had better believe that the first step would be something like:
“Decided to never put alcohol or addictive drugs into my body again.”
That would be step one. It is clear. It tells you right off the bat what you need to do in order to start building a new life. Avoiding relapse is priority number one, and it should be like this for every person in recovery. Why they don’t make this the first step is beyond me. I guess it is just implied due to the powerlessness and the un-manageability? I suppose if it works for you then you can make that assumption, but to me it is not clear enough. I think step one should come right out and tell you not to put alcohol or addictive drugs into your body, period. Let’s be clear about it, right? Why confuse the issue. Abstinence should be the cornerstone and the foundation of your recovery effort.
That is why I would rewrite the 12 steps as a much more simple 3 step process. Those steps would look something like this:
1) Step one: Decide never to put alcohol or addictive drugs into your body again. (If you feel it necessary, you can tack “just for today” on the end of that sentence.”)
2) Step two: Disruption and support. Go to detox and also find a supportive environment. That may mean finding peers, sponsorship, going to meetings, etc. Find support.
3) Step three: Personal growth. Take positive action each and every day. This is relapse prevention. It is the only thing that truly prevents relapse.
That’s it. You decide to quit. You go to detox and get spun dry. Then you start making positive changes on a daily basis, and do so until you die.
Three basic steps. Some people need much more support than others. So the need for support is sort of a wild card. If you go to detox then it is likely that you will go to short term residential treatment as well. There you will find the basic support systems and how they work. For example, they will probably expose you to 12 step meetings and they will also encourage you to connect with your peers. They will also probably teach you about sponsorship.
Support is the wild card because you don’t absolutely need it like you do the other elements. You might need support to get you through early recovery, but you do not have to depend on support in order to maintain sobriety in the long run. What keeps you clean and sober at 5 years is not the support systems (if it is then you are in trouble). What keeps you sober at ten years is not support. What keeps you sober in the long run is personal growth and the positive action that you take every day. In order to keep moving forward in recovery you have to put forth effort.
Recovery takes work. That is why step three is simply called “personal growth.” That could encompass a whole lot of stuff. We are talking about holistic health, building relationships, spirituality, seeking emotional balance, physical fitness, and so on. The whole spectrum of potential human growth. You have to actively engage with that stuff in order to build a new life in recovery. Not only will you be making positive changes and enjoying a better life, but you will also be protecting yourself from the threat of relapse.
People who relapse in recovery do so because they stopped growing. They stopped taking positive action. It is as simple as that. They will obviously have other excuses as to why they drank or used drugs but in the bigger picture their relapse could have been prevented if they were still actively engaged in personal growth.
There is this concept of daily maintenance and daily habits that can help you to remain sober. If you are doing the important things each day then you will remain sober. If you listen to traditional recovery and AA then you will hear that this daily maintenance consists only of spirituality. You will be told that your spiritual condition is the sole determining factor of your strength in recovery.
This is misleading at best and downright wrong at worst. The problem is that the word “spirituality” is so ambiguous and has become tainted through overuse.
Your spiritual condition is not the only thing that matters when it comes to relapse. Rather, it is one piece of the pie. There are several other pieces of the relapse pie, however.
For example, I noticed during the first few years of recovery that many of my peers who relapsed did so because they were sick. Some illness or injury would befall them, and this would somehow lead them to relapse. It was a subtle trend that I just barely noticed, but then after I picked up on it, I started to see it happen again and again.
And I thought to myself: “These people who get sick and then relapse, do not they not realize how important their physical health is in terms of keeping them off of drugs and alcohol?”
And then I realized: “Did I even realize this connection?” Up until this point I had never considered it consciously. But here it was staring me in the face: Many of my peers who relapsed had done so after getting sick in some way.
And that was when I started to piece this all together. Had those people who relapsed been “spiritually fit?” I guess it did not matter, because they fell physically ill or they were in pain from an injury and they relapsed anyway. This happened enough that I believe that it is another piece of the “relapse pie.” You don’t want to be sick. You don’t want to be in physical pain from injury (and possibly be put on pain medication). Those things are extremely dangerous in terms of relapse. In fact, it appears to be just as dangerous as someone who lets their spirituality practice slip a bit.
Of course if you extend this “pie analogy” you will notice other pieces of the relapse pie, such as the emotional condition. I noticed another trend in early recovery that was far too big to ignore. Many of my peers who relapsed did so because of a romantic relationship that went bad. This happened over and over again, even more so than the physical illness thing. So I realized that if you wanted to have a strong recovery then you would have to be very careful when it came to your romantic pursuits.
When I first got clean and sober I was living in long term rehab with 11 other guys. During the next 20 months I watched many of these peers relapse, and nearly every time it was because of a relationship.
The solution is holistic, it is not spiritual. If you believe that the solution is spiritual then you are half right, but you are missing the bigger picture. The solution is bigger than just spirituality. It has to do with positive action and holistic health. “Holistic” just means that you need to treat the whole person, including their physical health, their emotional health, their spirituality, and so on.
Most people do not learn this right away in early recovery. In fact, I only know a few people in long term sobriety who have really figured this all out as well. The solution is not spiritual. It is bigger than that.
Why you need to embrace support in early recovery to be successful
I mentioned earlier that “support” is sort of the wild card in recovery.
I would also say that you should just accept the idea that you need support in early recovery.
Later on, support matters much less and in fact it can become a liability. But in early recovery you definitely should seek out as much support as you can find.
There are several reasons for this:
1) One is that you need to identify with other addicts and alcoholics. Identification is important because it lets you know that you are not crazy. Most people who are just starting to try to get clean and sober may believe that they are truly crazy, that no one has gone through what they are going through, and so on. If you find support and exchange stories the you will realize that this is not true, that you are not crazy, that there are others who share the same struggle.
2) Two is that you need to learn. You can pick up a book such as the big book of AA or you can read other material about addiction (such as on this website) but none of this will really teach you like talking with others in recovery. Your ideas about how to live life have not worked out well, as evidenced by your problem with addiction. You need new ideas in order to move forward. So you can get these ideas from other people who have already tested them out. They can tell you what worked well for them. This is more powerful than reading books or websites because you learn more directly from the one on one interaction.
3) Three is that you could benefit from immediate help and support. For example, getting phone numbers from your peers and then calling them if you feel like drinking or using drugs and telling them about your craving. Thus you can get direct help from this support if you are willing to reach out and ask for the help that you need (harder than it sounds like!).
How to transition to a life of personal growth and development
If you start out with a strong amount of support in early recovery then eventually you will want to transition into a life of personal growth.
The way to do this is to take action and to establish a “daily practice.”
If you have positive habits and they help to shape your success in recovery then you can become much stronger by establishing such habits and doing them every single day.
If you have a daily practice then there is no question about what you will do today for your recovery. You don’t have to hem and haw and wonder about whether you want to do it or not. You simply do it because it is an ingrained habit and part of your daily practice.
This is a very powerful way to live. You should refine your habits so that they are building you into the person that you want to become.
One of my daily habits is exercise. I am a distance runner and doing so helps me on many different levels. Most people do not realize that distance running is at least as powerful as nearly any meditation you can do. If you read up on what many monks have written about their lives you will find this nugget of truth. Physical exercise like running can hold many emotional and meditative benefits that many people do not realize.
I also write every day. This has become part of my daily practice. It is therapeutic as well, and in some ways it is a lot like the meditation that I get when I am running.
But I did not just get clean and sober and start doing these things immediately. I had to explore and try new things over the years, find out what worked for me and what really seemed to help me in my recovery. I had to talk to other people and find out what worked for them. I had to try different things. “Take what you need and leave the rest.” This only works if you are constantly trying new ideas and experimenting with your life.
So what you need to do in early recovery is to start taking positive action. If you don’t know what that is then you can ask for advice and feedback from others. Even if you do think that you know what will help you, you should still ask for advice and direction from others.
The idea is to try lots of different things. Give them time to see if they are beneficial in the long run. This is how you refine your daily practice over time. You keep adjusting what you do each day in order to build a more positive life. Keep the ideas that benefit you and discard the rest and move on.
There is always more to explore and new ideas to test in your life. If you run out of ideas then you should simply start talking to other people. Get feedback. Seek advice. See what you can learn from others.
Avoid becoming a statistic and come up with a strategy to overcome complacency
Many people in recovery eventually relapse. This is just a fact of life. In order to avoid becoming a statistic you are going to have to work at it and put forth a serious effort.
Early recovery is actually pretty straightforward. You disrupt your pattern and go through detox. You seek help and support in early recovery. If you work hard then you can become stable in your recovery. At that point your job is to transition to long term recovery. The way that you make this transition is to start depending on personal growth for your continued success in recovery. I think a lot of people in early recovery get this wrong, and they believe that they need to depend on their support systems instead.
In order to remain sober you will need to learn how to take positive action on a regular basis. The easiest way to do this is to establish positive habits and a daily practice. If you are constantly improving yourself and your life then it is very hard to relapse.
Your new life can absolutely begin in a rehab center, just as mine did
Rehab can be the start of your new life, just as it was for mine.
Treatment is not a cure. I don’t believe that it ever will be, because so much of the process depends on the individual and their level of willingness. If you are only partially ready to get sober then it doesn’t matter what you do or where you go to rehab…you are doomed to relapse.
But if you are ready to surrender then treatment can be the best choice you have ever made. The benefits of a life lived well in recovery are incredible when weighed against a lifetime of misery in recovery.
Do I want to keep getting more of what I have been experiencing lately? Is this life good enough for me? Am I truly happy with the way that my life is going right now?
All of that can be changed. It starts with disruption. Detox only takes a few days and it gets all of the drugs and booze out of your system. That way you can start with a clean slate again. You really can have a new chance at life if you are willing to give yourself permission to ask for help.
There are other ways that you can potentially get sober, but I don’t recommend them. All of them are either more dangerous than inpatient treatment or they offer much worse odds of success.
If you want to experience a new life in recovery then you have to take action. In fact you have to take massive action and do something to disrupt the pattern that you are stuck in. This takes effort and initiative. You cannot expect recovery to happen spontaneously just by wishing for it to occur.
Instead you have to make it happen for yourself. The easiest way to do that is to dive in, ask for help, and go to rehab. This is the quickest way to experience the gift of new life in recovery.