Before you can get started in long term addiction recovery, you first have to make it through early sobriety.
My belief is that there is a certain amount of “cost” to gaining entry to long term sobriety, meaning that you have to pay your dues in terms of surrender, breaking through denial, and learning how to live a basic life again.
In other words, there is a prerequisite to gaining entry to long term recovery, and that is essentially surrender itself. You have to surrender fully before you can even play ball, so to speak.
Once you surrender fully and you ask for help, then you can start to build a new life and a foundation in early recovery.
This is all necessary if you want to gain any kind of foothold in recovery. The starting point is surrender, followed up with willingness and positive action.
This is not the endgame, however, this is just the beginning. You must surrender and ask for help and probably seek out inpatient treatment and possibly some sort of support program such as AA–just to get started in recovery.
But what about after all of this? What about after you have built your foundation and gained entry into long term recovery? How do you insure that you continue to succeed in long term sobriety? How do you insure that you do not become complacent and fall back into your old ways?
What strengths should you focus on in order to increase your chances of long term success in recovery?
I believe that one of these key strengths is that of mindfulness.
Now the concept of mindfulness is trendy lately, and everyone talks about it, and there are entire programs of recovery that are built around the concept of mindfulness. There is, of course, good reason for this–mindfulness works. It is helpful in a way that supports nearly every aspect of your life in recovery.
Now just because you are picturing someone sitting cross legged and deep in meditation does not mean that this is the only way to achieve mindfulness. In fact, you can achieve this concept in your day to day life on a very practical level by simply making a few simple changes.
When I was very early in my recovery I tried to meditate in the traditional sense, and I really could not get into a routine with it. For whatever reason I was just too keyed up to make it work consistently, even though I made a real effort at it.
So what happened? I eventually discovered distance running. So exercise–physical exercise–became a big key for me. It was my shortcut to mindfulness because I noticed that when I jogged, my mind would initially wander in a very conscious way: I would think about my to do list, I would think of my schedule for the next few days, and so on. I was very conscious and aware.
But after my mind did these tasks for a while, and I continued on with my jog, it started to drift into a less conscious “zone” if you will. This is what we are striving for when we meditate, to some extent. We want to drift off into that zone, just run along the countryside and notice the trees, stare off into nothing in particular, and let our mind go completely. And without even realizing it, because I was jogging for 45 to 60 minutes outdoors, up to 7 days each week, I was really engaging in something that equated to “mindfulness training.”
If you interview a dozen people who have multiple decades sober in AA or NA, and you ask them if they do anything regarding meditation, exercise, or mindfulness–you are going to get a nearly 100 percent rate of people saying “yes, I meditate” or “yes, I work out regularly” or “yes, I definitely have a mindfulness practice” or “yes, I do yoga 3 times a week and I would not miss it for the world.”
Everyone who finds success in long term recovery seems to have some way to tap into mindfulness, and they make it a part of their recovery.
Therefore, I would strongly suggest that you incorporate this principle into your own journey. It can be through yoga, exercise, jogging, walking, meditation, seated meditation, or something else entirely. But I think that is part of the journey, to figure out how to discover this element and tap into it.
Now the second “strength” that I believe you should build up is that of helping others in recovery.
The 12th and final step in AA is that of reaching out to other alcoholics or addicts who may be struggling.
Reaching out and helping such people gives us a boost in our own recovery that is pretty much unparalleled by anything else.
In other words, there is no better way to insure your own sobriety than to make it your mission to help others to recover. This is something that you cannot miss out on if you want to succeed in the long run. The boost of self esteem that you get from doing this is too big to miss out on.
Also, when you help others to recover, you reinforce the lessons that are necessary for your own sobriety to continue. Believe it or not, if you stop practicing and learning and teaching the basic concepts of recovery, your brain will actually forget about them. It will forget them for just long enough to let a thought or a craving for alcohol sneak in, and that thought will make you miserable. And if that happens over and over again then eventually it can push you towards relapse. It doesn’t happen instantly, it is a slow buildup over time, and it can only to happen to someone who is no longer living the principles of recovery, learning the principles, or teaching the concepts to others. So doing what is known as “12 step work” and reaching out to others can be a very powerful strategy for continued success.
And finally I want to suggest that a strength for you to develop is that of the “growth oriented mindset.”
This is crucial for success in long term sobriety because it is actually the very mechanism that keeps a person sober.
It is easy to get confused by recovery programs, because in early recovery they have you do an inventory, they have you make amends, they have to work on your resentments, and so on. There is a list of things to knock out, and once you do those things, you may believe that you can kick back and coast for a while.
This is not true though. If you are coasting through your recovery then you are in danger of relapse. In order to succeed at 5 years sober, at 10 years sober, at 20 years sober and beyond, you have to find a way to tap into a personal growth mindset.
If you, at any time in your recovery, declare yourself to be healed, or finished, or cured–then you are playing with fire and relapse becomes a strong possibility.
Therefore you must always be learning, always be looking for that next personal growth project, always be willing to examine your life and determine the best path of positive changes to engage with.
These are the strengths that have served me well. Good luck!