The Unique Adventure of Addiction Recovery
Alcoholism and addiction recovery are an adventure. A unique trip, of sorts, the likes of which you could never predict or anticipate.
If I was asked to predict what my recovery was going to be like, or even what one tiny part of my journey might entail, I would have failed miserably. The fact is that I am blessed beyond all measure in recovery and every day seems to unfold as a new adventure. Of course, sometimes I can forget that, and start taking the miracle of sobriety for granted, but the universe is pretty quick to remind me of who is really in charge.
So how exactly does recovery from alcoholism turn into an adventure? What makes it so special?
Let’s take a look.
The death of the ego
The first thing that happens in early recovery is that you have to kill your ego.
If you don’t do this then you will not stay clean and sober. Let your ego keep running the show and you will relapse for sure. So your only real option is to kill it.
How do you do this?
You do it by making an agreement with yourself. You lay some internal ground rules, in your own mind. The basic gist of that internal agreement is this:
* “I am no longer in charge. I tried to be in charge when I was drinking and taking drugs every day, and it never worked out. Things just got worse and worse until I hit bottom and landed here in rehab (or wherever you are at the time, jail, institution, etc.). So therefore I am going to start ignoring my own ideas for a while and simply listen to other people, or to my higher power (who speaks to me through others as well) and I will relinquish this thing called “self will.” I will not run my own life for the next year. I will let other people run it, on purpose, and see if it gets any better. It certainly cannot get much worse.”
That is the basic gist of the agreement that you must make with yourself in order to kill your ego. You basically agree with yourself that you will no longer be in charge, and that you will instead take advice and suggestions from other people instead.
This is necessary for recovery to unfold in your life. If you do not make this internal agreement with yourself then you are going to be constantly struggling to take back control of your life and live out your own ideas again. This will almost always result in relapse.
Now the kicker is that your life will get better and better if you do this. Truly, you will be astounded. We always think that no one on the planet could possibly know what we want in our lives, or what makes us truly happy, other than ourselves. But the fact is that we (ourselves) are very poor at predicting what will make us happy in recovery. And so when we take advice and direction from other people our lives just keep getting better and better. You give up control, you kill your ego, and eventually your world is transformed. But you have to be willing to sacrifice your ego first, and that is not an easy sacrifice for most people to make. That is why you have to hit bottom first and be completely miserable before you can get a foothold in recovery. You have to be so miserable that you don’t mind killing your ego for a while. It takes real guts in order to recover like this, because you will honestly believe that things will get worse before they ever get better. I mean, do you really trust that other people could lead you to happiness? I never did. But then I ran out of options, and I had proven my own senses to be very poor at producing happiness, so I had to give it a try (trusting others). And it worked.
You want to recover? You want an adventure? Kill your ego. You will be amazed at the places this takes you.
Starting with a blank slate and learning to take suggestions from others
What is the point of killing the ego?
Becoming open to suggestions.
This is what recovery is made of, especially early recovery. Early recovery is based almost entirely on taking suggestions from other people.
Heck, if you did not need the suggestions then you could just go get sober on your own. You would not need help, or a rehab, or a website like this, or anything. You could just go get sober on your own, entirely.
But the truth is that we all need help in early recovery. We need to know how to live a sober life, and how to make it through the day without going crazy. And that doesn’t come easy at first because we relied on our drug of choice to get us through so many different things. We self medicated over anything and for any reason. Now in recovery we have to learn how to deal with life “on its own terms.” Which of course just means taking responsibility and not running away from our fears and anxieties.
When you are in early recovery you are a blank slate. If you are willing to take suggestions from other people then you can make an incredible amount of growth in a very short period of time. If you have the courage to take action and follow through then you can make a lot of personal growth that otherwise would have been untapped.
For example, I once took a suggestion in my recovery to start exercising on a daily basis. At the time I thought it was a pretty worthless suggestion, to be honest. I did not see how physical exercise could have any bearing on my spiritual condition, or how it might help me to stay sober in any way. I thought it was stupid. But I was trying to be open minded, so I did it anyway.
Boy, was I wrong. This was one suggestion that I am grateful that I took. I am grateful that I was open minded enough to give it a chance. Daily exercise became one of the biggest pillars of my recovery, as it turned out. It has done much for my recovery and it continues to be a major part of my journey. I would not trade it for the world.
And it was all based on a suggestion from someone else. And at that, it was a suggestion that I really believed to be fairly stupid! So you can imagine now that I never would have done that on my own, if left to my own devices. I never would have started exercising on a whim, based on my own ideas, unless I was trying to follow a path in recovery where I stay open to suggestions from other people.
The fact is that taking suggestions from other people is a huge part of the journey. It is a shortcut to instant discovery. Because they share the very best ideas with you, the things that have helped them the most in life. So why would you ignore that? At the very least you should give such ideas a chance to see if they are a good fit for you or not.
This is especially true for ideas that have the potential to become a healthy habit. Habits are powerful. They are much more powerful than one-off ideas.
For example, let’s say that you are talking to someone in recovery about dealing with stress and anxiety. You tell them how you have been overwhelmed lately, and they ask you if you do any seated meditation. You say that you do not. You can guess where this is headed….they suggest that you try it, maybe they teach you some techniques, and they show you how to practice some basic seated meditation.
Now in some cases like this you may try something new and find that it not a good fit for you. So you walk away from the idea and go on with your life, to discover other things. But maybe you find that meditation really has a hugely positive impact on your life, and it does wonders for your stress and your anxiety levels. And you may even find that this becomes a daily habit for you, and it empowers you and serves you well for the rest of your life. This one single habit may go on to make a huge contribution to your health and your happiness going forward.
This is the power of not just a positive action, but of a powerful habit. Something that recurs on a regular basis has the power to really change your life for the better. And this is really what “the adventure” of recovery is all about for me–changing my habits over time.
It started with eliminating alcohol and drugs. This was a huge first step and a necessary one before I could make any further progress in my life. It opened the door to all sorts of future growth. Getting clean and sober was the baseline that I needed to establish in order to move forward.
Later on I fixed another bad habit–that of cigarette smoking. Then at the same time I established a new habit of daily exercise.
And there were other habits that I established. One has to do with writing about recovery every day. Another has to do with connecting with others in recovery. And so on.
With each new habit that I evaluate, I am basically asking myself:
* “Is this habit going to improve my health in the long run?”
* “Is this habit going to make me happier in the long run?”
This is an adventure. Therefore you can evaluate new ideas in terms of how much they can help you, and what the long term outcome of those habits might be. This is also what helps to shape and mold the holistic approach to recovery. So you might also consider things like healthier eating and nutrition, better sleep habits, and so on. Because these things happen every single day, they can make a big difference in the long run because the effects accumulate over time.
This is another important concept that I have explored a lot in my recovery: that of accumulation.
In alcoholism and drug addiction, the negative effects of our disease accumulates over time. This is why they say that addiction is a negative downward spiral. Things just keep getting worse and worse over time.
In recovery, the opposite is true. If you are taking positive action and growing along holistic lines, things will just keep getting better and better over time. You reverse the negative trend in addiction and replace it with positive habits and positive action.
Think about it:
If your positive habits in recovery create tiny benefits each day, then over time those tiny benefits will accumulate into something much greater (just as the negative effects of addiction will tend to snowball and get worse over time).
Finding purpose and meaning in your life comes naturally based on a daily practice of positive habits
Recovery is a trip; a great adventure.
You may believe that you have to go out there and find this great adventure.
You really don’t have to. The adventure comes to you, if you are engaged in the daily practice.
What is the daily practice?
It is the positive action that you take every day in order to make yourself healthier in recovery. It is the holistic approach that you take in sobriety, taking care to be mindful of the following areas on a daily basis:
* Physical health and well being. Maintaining sobriety. Quitting smoking. Eating healthy. Exercising.
* Mental health. Being stable. Seeking education and learning. Finding new suggestions from other people to explore.
* Emotional health. Seeking stability. Removing stress. Finding peace.
* Relationships. Removing toxic relationships from your life. Reaching out to people to help them.
* Spirituality. Connecting with others, with a higher power, with your inner self. Exploring.
If you are doing all of those things on a daily basis then you don’t really have to go out and find an adventure in recovery, because “doing the work” will bring adventures right to you.
Opportunities and adventures will present themselves on a regular basis if you are doing the work that I outline above.
The holistic approach is critical for long term sobriety, because without it you become vulnerable to the threat of relapse. For example, I have had many peers in recovery who were neglecting just one of the areas listed above, and it ultimately led them to relapse. Or sometimes it can simply lead to death (as in the case of not quitting smoking, for example) which in many ways is actually worse than a relapse. At any rate, you should view recovery as a journey of holistic health, and be sure not to rule out the possibility of growth in any given area.
The attitude of gratitude when you wake up to every day being a new adventure in sobriety
When you realize that recovery is an adventure, and that the trip continues to evolve and change over time, you can definitely experience real gratitude for the process of recovery.
It’s exciting to wake up every day and not know exactly what kind of personal growth is in store for you.
On the other hand, there will be days in every person’s recovery when they wake up and feel like they are just going through the motions. Or they will wake up and realize that they are not so excited any more, and that they seem to have lost their passion for recovery.
It is those times when you need to have a daily practice. Your daily practice are those things that you do every day, even if you don’t really feel like doing them.
And one of those things should involve gratitude. Even if it is as simple as making out a gratitude list, and coming up with 5 things that you are truly grateful for today.
If you cannot do that on a given day, then you are definitely more likely to relapse on that day than on a day when you can easily rattle of 5 things to be grateful for.
So what happens when you wake up in a funk and you just want to be angry and you don’t really feel like being grateful, or going for a jog, or connecting with others in recovery? What then?
I will tell you what then. Either you will have:
A) Not done the work to establish a daily practice, so you will have no routine to kick you out of that funk, and therefore you will have no real protection against the threat of relapse. At this point you can only fall back on conventional program wisdom, such as “call your sponsor” or “go to an AA meeting.” (not bad suggestions, but you are definitely at the mercy of other people who are now in control of your sobriety, no?)
b) Will have done work, meaning that you have established a daily practice, meaning that you have found the healthy habits that have led you to build a new life in recovery. Meaning that you take positive action every single day, whether you feel like it or not. My examples are writing about recovery, exercising, and connecting with others in recovery online. Your examples might be completely different depending on your unique situation.
You have either done the work, or you have not. If you have done the work then you are living a life of personal growth, and you continue to strive and take positive action. If you have not done the work then you are susceptible to relapse because you are not centered in your recovery.
It is almost impossible to suddenly be grateful if you have not laid a foundation yet for doing so.
On the other hand, if you have done the work and you are doing some sort of daily practice and taking positive action every day and making gratitude lists on a regular basis, then as you can imagine, it is much easier to pull yourself out of a funk and get back to appreciating your sobriety again.
Gratitude is a muscle. You either build it up, or you don’t. If you have not built it up then your defenses against relapse are much, much weaker.
On the other hand if you practice gratitude on a daily basis then you have “built a moat” around your recovery, at least on one level (there are other levels as well. For me, daily exercise is one of them).
Going back to addiction is a false adventure that leads down the same old path
There is one more adventure in life and that is relapse!
You could always go back to your drug of choice, right? Wouldn’t that be an adventure?
It would be an adventure for about the first 5 minutes. Or maybe the first 5 hours. Or maybe if you are really lucky, the first 5 days.
But by the end of the first week I will bet you anything that you are feeling exactly like you did right before you got sober in the first place. You will be feeling miserable.
Within just one week.
The rest of your life stretches out before you.
When you contemplate a relapse, the idea might sound good, but how long is the fun really going to last?
It might be fun for a quick second, but within a week or less you will be miserable all over again.
This is why they say that you must “play the tape all the way through” when you are considering a relapse.
The adventure of relapse is boring, predictable, and the run evaporates almost immediately. After that it is just the same old addiction, same as it ever was. Nothing changed.
Recovery is the real adventure. Grab it!