Yesterday we looked at why surrender is important for recovery, regardless of what kind of program you may be working. Today we are going to look closer at the concept of disruption, and why it is necessary for most people who want to change their lives.
The pattern of addiction
First of all we have to establish that addiction is a pattern. This is pretty obvious to most people but it is also the foundation of why we need to disrupt the pattern. If we have been self medicating for months, years, or decades then it is very likely that we are going to continue to self medicate. Simple inertia makes this so. It is tough to teach an old dog new tricks.
Unfortunately our addiction tends to define nearly every area of our lives, including how we feel on a moment to moment basis. This makes it very difficult to disrupt the pattern. The process of withdrawal makes it very tough to shift over to a new way of life without giving in to the old pattern. All sorts of triggers show up in our daily lives which also make it difficult to break free from the pattern of addiction. The more triggers we have to confront just to get through an ordinary day, the greater our disruption is going to have to be in order to overcome our addiction.
The simplest form of disruption is a simple mental decision with no follow up action at all behind it. So the addict might say “I am going to stop using drugs or alcohol all the time, it is messing up my life, so I will try to eliminate that behavior.” But the addict may not actually have any plans in place beyond this single idea, and they may not have any resources or additional forms of disruption planned to help them out on their recovery journey. Such a person is likely new to recovery and has probably never even tried to stop using drugs or alcohol before. Because they are using such a weak form of disruption, they are likely to fail and relapse quite quickly.
Now the same person might later on realize that they are a bit more controlled by their addiction than they thought they were. Initially they believed that they could overcome their drug or alcohol use simply by making the intention to do so, without any elaborate plans or strategies for recovery. My thought when I was still using drugs and alcohol was “I have never wanted to get clean and sober, therefore I have never truly tried to do so, therefore when I am truly ready and want to get sober, I may not need any help in order to do so.” This logic proved to be dead wrong and the fact was that I needed a great deal of help and disruption in order to change my life, even when I became willing to do so.
Part of the problem is that once the addict becomes willing to change their life and is truly at a point of surrender, they are no longer in a position to be able to help themselves and make confident and amazing changes in their life. Instead they will be beat down, miserable, and completely hopeless–especially in terms of their own confidence in themselves. This is the point of surrender and if the person still has faith in themselves and in their own ideas then they are not likely to surrender to their addiction at that point. Instead they will continue to try to control their addiction by their own means and by their own ideas and thus they will continue to struggle instead of surrendering.
So after failing to get clean and sober by simply wishing it to be so, the average addict or alcoholic might start to see a need for treatment of some kind. They may start to realize that they need help, that they cannot do it on their own, and that their pattern of addiction needs a serious disruption if they are going to break free somehow. Such a person may become willing to ask for help and take some direction.
Now it is interesting to note that a person might get to this point but not be at the point of full surrender. In particular I reached this stage myself but I would not agree to go check into an inpatient facility, and instead I agreed to get counseling once each week. I was holding back and the reason that I was doing so was because I was not yet ready to change my life. I knew that I had a problem and I knew that I needed help but I was not willing to fully surrender and do what they were telling me to do. This was evidenced by the fact that the counselors were telling me point blank that I needed to go to inpatient treatment and in fact I probably needed to live in long term rehab. I was not willing to do those things at the time so instead I continued to attend counseling for an hour each week (which was completely worthless to someone who had no intention of quitting drugs at the time!).
The counselors knew what the answer was for me at the time, I needed more disruption in my life. They could see that I was seriously trapped in a pattern of addiction, one that had enveloped my entire life. I worked with a whole bunch of people who used drugs and alcohol with me. All of my friends were into drugs. I spent all of my time and energy either using drugs or working to get the money to buy more drugs. My entire life and all of my actions revolved around my addiction.
The only way out for someone in my situation was an intense amount of disruption. We can picture the various levels of disruption/treatment for addiction and alcoholism like this:
* Intention to quit using but no follow up action.
* Going to an AA or NA meeting once a week.
* Going to counseling or therapy once a week.
* Going to meetings or counseling several times per week.
* Heavy involvement or full participation in 12 step program + sponsorship meetings, etc.
* AA + outpatient treatment.
* Inpatient treatment + follow up (such as daily AA meetings, etc.)
* Long term treatment + follow up.
This is not a comprehensive list, just a rough idea of how you might go from a small amount of disruption up to a much greater amount of disruption (long term rehab).
My life was such a mess and I was so deeply involved in drug and alcohol addiction that I needed a huge amount of disruption. Just hitting a few meetings or going to counseling was not going to cut it, and it was pretty obvious that this was the case. So people who were trying to help me pushed me towards greater and greater amounts of disruption, until I finally took their advice and went to long term rehab.
The level of addiction and the amount that it dominates your life will dictate how much disruption is needed.
If you continue to fail and relapse while trying to get clean and sober, then chances are good that you need a more serious level of disruption in your life.
If you do not disrupt your life deliberately then the consequences of addiction may do it for you
Also note that if you are struggling with addiction and alcoholism and you fail to disrupt your own pattern then it is very likely that the consequences of your addiction will do it for you. They have a saying in the program of recovery: “Jails, institutions, and death.” These are the only 3 ends for addiction if you continue to abuse drugs and alcohol. Those are the 3 disruptions and eventually one or all of them will befall you if you continue to stay stuck in your pattern of addiction.
Now obviously you do not want to hand this control over your disease of addiction if you can help it. Wouldn’t it be much better to overcome your addiction on your own terms, rather than having it be part of the fate of negative consequences that eventually stack up against you? If you surrender yourself to the disease of addiction then you can embrace recovery on your own terms and find happiness again in this life (even if you do not believe that such happiness is possible for you!). On the other hand if you continue to self medicate then eventually the negative consequences are going to punish you in a way that is unpleasant and beyond your immediate control.
Addiction and recovery are both types of accumulation. If you are stuck in active addiction then there are all sorts of tiny consequences each day that are negative. For example, if you are drinking heavily every day or on a regular basis then your health is in a slow but constant decline. If you drink a half gallon of vodka every day for a hundred years, guess what? You aren’t going to make it to 100 years. In fact you will likely die at least 20 to 30 years before you should have simply based on this intense amount of abuse you are giving to your body. This is not based on an accident or a drunk driving episode, this is simply based on the accumulation of negative consequences over time. Every day that you abuse your body adds up more negativity to the whole thing.
But accumulation works in other ways too. For example, the tendency toward isolation tends to accumulate over time. If you drink heavily for years and years, eventually you will slowly drift further and further away from human interaction. Blackouts just complicate things when there are other people around, so the hard core alcoholic tends to avoid such interaction in the long run. They may not even notice this tendency as it accumulates, but one day will realize that they have become a total recluse due to their uncontrollable drinking. They did not even see it happening over time. It was the result of steady but negative accumulation over the years.
Your health and the amount that you socialize are just two tiny examples of things that tend to accumulate in addiction. The real problem is that ALL of the negative consequences of addiction tend to do this. All of the consequences slowly erode the happiness of your life away over time. And the tragic thing is that we are typically so far in denial that we can gloss over these consequences as they begin to mount in favor of our drug of choice. We rationalize in this way:
“Yes, I can see that I do isolate a tiny bit more due to my drinking episodes and blackouts, but I still make it out to the bar occasionally, and this is a small price to pay for the happiness that I get from drinking. If I gave up my drinking I would be totally miserable!”
Because we are in denial we do not see that we are actually miserable due to our drinking (99 percent of the time), and that if we were to quit entirely then we could slowly build up our happiness again in recovery without having to rely on booze any more. But it is tough to see this possibility when we are still trapped in addiction, because we know how miserable we will be if we quit the drugs or the booze suddenly. We (erroneously) believe that the misery of detox and withdrawal will last for the rest of our lives if we quit our drug of choice. Of course this is not actually the case because the concept of accumulation works in recovery as well.
Establishing new habits of living
When we choose to disrupt our life and get clean and sober, the concept of accumulation (or inertia, if you will) starts to work in our favor instead of against us.
It is difficult to visualize how this will benefit us if we stop using drugs and alcohol.
What happens is that we make a decision to change our life. We decide to ask for help and we become willing to follow through and to take real action. This means that when we ask for help and ask our friends and family for advice on what to do, we actually take their advice and do what they suggest (which is almost always to follow some form of disruption or treatment).
If we have fully surrendered to our disease and we are truly sick and tire of self medicating with our drug of choice (and the misery that this brings) then we will follow through on the advice that we receive and we will disrupt our lives. Most people will thus attend a treatment center, go through detox, and go to a residential inpatient program as well. Such places will almost always recommend some form of follow up care, and most will encourage involvement in 12 step programs as well.
What I found was that I had to surrender fully and actually follow through on everything. I could not pick and choose how much disruption I was willing to follow. Doing so always resulted in relapse for me. Perhaps this is misleading though because those times that I relapsed it is clear to me that I had not fully surrendered. But in doing so I had also not been willing to follow through and take all the advice that was given to me. When I was struggling to get clean and sober I ignored suggestions for greater amounts of disruption. People were always encouraging me to go to MORE treatment and I thought it was a huge waste of time. This was because I had not fully surrendered to my disease yet. Later on after I had fully surrendered I was then willing to do whatever it took to stay sober, and therefore I was willing to engage any level of disruption in my life (including living in rehab).
Once I became willing to engage in any level of disruption, I was then able to start taking advice and actually following through with it. So I took a positive action in that I went through detox, became sober, and then went to the next part of my disruption: inpatient treatment. From there they suggested that I go live in long term rehab and I was willing to do that as well (something I had never been willing to do in the past, but I had become miserable enough this time that things were different).
So now I was taking positive suggestions in my recovery and I was following through with them. I was taking action. People were telling me what to do, and I was doing it.
Now you would think that this would turn a person into a miserable slave. Taking advice from others and doing exactly what they tell you to do sounds awful to most people’s egos.
But when I started to do these things and to follow through with real action, I started to notice something. My life was getting better, and this was a result that I could never achieve on my own. My own ideas about how to live my life and be happy were a total failure. I just kept self medicating and hoping that I would feel better. Instead I became more and more miserable as I used more drugs and booze. But I was taking positive direction in recovery and it was working, even though it was not my own ideas.
I started to notice that “the good stuff” in recovery that I was experiencing was accumulating, just like all of the negative stuff in recovery also accumulated.
This led me to seek and to take more positive action, to explore new areas in which I might grow, because I was starting to see how powerful the idea of “accumulation” was in recovery.
Not only did the positive stuff in recovery tend to accumulate, but different growth experiences enhanced and multiplied with other growth experiences. So in other words, many of the positive benefits in recovery would multiply with each other rather than just accumulate.
For example, I found this to be especially true with my two goals of exercise and quitting smoking. Doing just one or the other goal would have had a certain positive benefit to my life, no doubt. But doing both goals had a multiplicative effect. Quitting smoking AND getting into the habit of regular exercise had a tremendous effect on my life and on my recovery. The overall benefit to my health based on both of these changes was much more than just double what each single change would have been. Their positive benefits worked together in an explosive and transformative way.
Being willing to disrupt your life
There is a strong element of willingness (and therefore surrender) that comes into play when we talk about disruption.
Anyone can say that they wish they were clean and sober. Any addict can say “yeah, I wish that things were different.” But the magic in recovery does not happen unless such a person says “I am going to do whatever it takes in order to make things be different.”
This is the level of commitment that it takes in order to create a new life in recovery. You have to be willing to “do whatever it takes,” and that means that you have to be willing to disrupt your life.
I used to argue that I was happy (because I was in denial) and therefore I did not want to disrupt my life and go to rehab. This argument was based in fear. I was afraid to face life sober so I tried to argue that i was happy in my addiction. The truth was that I was still miserable and I needed to see past this denial, surrender to my disease, and become willing to disrupt my life in a serious way. It was only then that I could turn things around and start on a new path towards recovery.