By far, the single most important concept in addiction treatment is that of surrender.
Without surrender there can be no meaningful recovery from an addiction. What keeps a person stuck in denial is a lack of surrender–the person fights to retain control over their own life and over their addiction, and unfortunately, this is a battle that they keep losing. Yet the illusion persists for the addict that self medicating with drugs or alcohol is the only path to happiness for them, and therefore they remain stuck in denial. Letting go of that need for control is the act of surrender, and without it, nothing good is possible.
The second most important concept in addiction treatment is that of identification. This is why AA and NA are so popular, and it is also why they are so helpful to the newcomer in recovery. So what exactly is identification when it comes to addiction and recovery?
When the struggling alcoholic or drug addict is stuck in their addiction they become very isolated. The addict believes that they are the first person to truly fall in love with their particular drug of choice, that everyone who came before them must not have loved drugs or alcohol the same way that they do, because otherwise, how on earth did they ever get clean? This is the thought process that is echoed in the minds of every addict and alcoholic who struggles to find recovery–they all believe that they are unique, that their situation is totally new and unique, and that no one could possibly understand their situation, their struggle, and their love of drugs or alcohol.
This “uniqueness” is part of what keeps the addict stuck in denial, because they have no hope that anyone could ever help them, because they honestly believe that no one could ever understand them.
This is where identification comes into play.
So the newcomer who is still struggling with their addiction goes to rehab finally, and they attend their first AA or NA meeting. And at that meeting, the chair person who is running the meeting asks the question “Is this anyone’s first AA or NA meeting, any time, any where?”
And so the newcomer raises their hand. They have never been to a meeting before.
So the 12 step people welcome them, and say “OK, we are going to do a first step meeting.” And so they go around the circle in the AA or NA meeting, and every person at the meeting sort of tells their own story of what happened with their addiction in the past, what triggered them to get sober, and then what it is like for them now.
This known as a first step meeting and it is a fundamental building block of the recovery program. The reason it is so vital is because the newcomer needs to hear all of those stories from people and what they went through so that they can identify with someone.
In every first step meeting like this the newcomer is going to hear a few things that deeply resonate with them, where they instantly identify with the person and think “yeah, that is just like my own experience.”
This process of identifying is vital. Here is why:
The typical addict or alcoholic believes that no one could possibly understand what they are going through, and therefore no one could possibly help them. So when the newcomer hears a person in an AA meeting who is essentially telling them their story, it is an exciting moment of hope. Because the newcomer can identify with addicts in recovery who are doing well, it gives them hope that they, too, could do well in recovery.
The third important concept in addiction recovery is that of personal growth. This is the essence of successful recovery.
When you get clean and sober, what you are really doing is trading in an old set of bad habits for a new set of positive habits.
So what you do each day has to change. Your routines and habits have to change. And perhaps most importantly, how you react to problems in life has to change.
Just because you get clean and sober does not mean that your problems magically melt away. Life is going to keep throwing unexpected problems at you until the day you die.
Recovery has to do with how we choose to react to the unexpected problems in life.
Addiction is when we decide to run away from our problems and hide through substance abuse. There are other addictions too, such as food, sex, gambling, or other things, in which we could also avoid our problems and attempt to escape and run from them.
But that is all addiction really is–one big distraction.
And recovery is the opposite of this. It is facing our problems head on and finding solutions.
That is why recovery is all about taking positive action and establishing healthy habits. If you are stuck in an old pattern of thinking then it is likely that this old pattern is one of distraction or avoidance. Any new and positive line of thinking is going to be solution-focused thinking.
They have a saying: Face everything and recovery as the positive acronym for FEAR. In order to overcome your fears you have to face them. In order to succeed in addiction recovery you have to face your problems, take positive action, and come up with real solutions.
Personal growth happens when you are in situations in which you used to turn to distractions and today you have learned how to face that situation and take positive action.
This doesn’t just happen overnight, of course. It takes time and practice and patience to learn how to face the realities of life and confront our problems head-on. Ultimately if we want to experience peace and freedom and serenity in our long term recovery then this is the price that we must pay to gain that peace: We must face everything, we must find a solution for every problem that we confront, and we must never turn to idle distractions or the million forms of addiction other than drugs and alcohol. If we try to hide from life’s problems then we will pay the price and we will suffer.
Personal growth is positive action, and that means we are facing our problems and seeking solutions today. The key to long term recovery is to be solution oriented and be willing to learn how to overcome our problems. We may need to ask others for help and advice in order to do so, which is no big deal. Asking for help and guidance is a sign of strength in recovery, not weakness.
So use these concepts to your advantage: Surrender completely, then find others in recovery to identify with, and then start facing your problems and seeking new solutions. This is a very strong path to recovery, and they are key concepts that you will see recurring over and over again throughout your journey.