9 Out of 10 People Relapse in the First Year. Are...

9 Out of 10 People Relapse in the First Year. Are You One of Them?


Yesterday we looked at how to survive your first trip to rehab. Today we want to look at the scary statistic that you are bound to hear while in rehab that “nearly everyone relapses during the first year of recovery.”

Here is how to avoid becoming a statistic.

The big scary statistics

You will no doubt here someone quote some dismal success rates while in early recovery. It is inevitable. People love to throw these statistics around as if it made them smarter or something.

The fact is that success rates are very hard to pin down in early recovery, but the doom-and-gloomers are mostly right: the numbers are not great. Most people do, in fact, relapse. But we don’t have to let this discourage us, not in the least.

Take me, for example. I am a recovering addict/alcoholic and I have been lucky enough to beat the odds and stay sober for over a decade and counting now. I did not do anything special other than to fully commit to abstinence 100 percent, and to dedicate my life to recovery. My goal in early recovery was 100 percent follow through. I was determined to take every positive suggestion and run with it.

Of course if you change your inputs, you can easily change the output. If you want to see how to get to a 100 percent success rate in recovery, then start looking at ONLY those people who are fully at the point of surrender, and who are willing to take massive action. If you screen your inputs correctly then it will result in a 100 percent success. That guy over there who relapsed? He wasn’t serious about it anyway…..so he doesn’t count in our calculation. You get the idea. But there is a bit of wisdom on this mental exercise, because then you realize that you can “screen” yourself, and see if you are headed for relapse or long term sobriety.

How to screen yourself for success in recovery

Probably the best indicator of your potential long term success has to do with the depth of your surrender.

When you first get clean and sober there should be this release. You should be giving up, letting go, surrendering. The intensity of that feeling is your best predictor of success.

Are you completely sick and tired of chasing your next drunk or high? That’s good! Are you so tired of it that you would do anything to get off the hamster wheel? That’s good! These are indicators of future sobriety. The farther you have fallen, the greater your chance to turn your life around, and to stick with it in the long run.

I “tried” to get clean and sober twice before I was really serious about recovery, but at the time there was almost no way of knowing that. If I look back though and get honest with myself I can see that during those two “attempts” I was not really serious, I was not fully ready, I had not truly surrendered. They were false attempts. I wanted things to be different but I was nowhere near the point where I would let go of all control, completely.

Thus you can sort of pre-screen your chances at long term sobriety, simply based on the depth of your surrender. Ask yourself:

“Am I willing to let go of everything? Am I willing to walk away from my job, from certain relationships, from my “friends” (who may be no good for me)?”

“Am I willing to ask for help? Am I desperate enough to take nearly any advice, so long as it is not my own crazy ideas, just to try to stop this madness?”

“Am I willing to take action, to go to rehab, to go to meetings, to do whatever I am told to do, without really questioning it?”

If your ask yourself those questions and the answers are consistently “yes,” then you may be in a position to discover a new life in sobriety. But any time you hold back when thinking of one of these questions, any time that you hesitate and hang on to some part of control, then you are seeing a possible hitch in your recovery plans. Each hesitation could potentially wreck your chances for success in getting clean and sober. Each hesitation is merely you, hanging on to the need for control, and this could eventually mess you up in terms of your sobriety.

How to tell when you are headed for relapse

If you are constantly “taking back self will,” then this is a dangerous warning sign.

What does it mean to “take back self will?”

They have a concept in recovery, and even if you are not religious, this concept can still be observed in your life. They talk about doing “God’s will,” which generally consists of taking positive action based on the suggestions that you are given in recovery. People try to help you and they give you advice, such as “go talk to a therapist” or “go to a meeting” and so you do that and they nod their head and say “that’s God’s will for you.” Fair enough, this is more helpful than most skeptics would believe.

Now when you find yourself “at odds with everything around you” then you have taken back self will. Now you are somehow struggling for control instead of just going with the flow. You can sense that things are not going well, but the more you try to get control of the situation and assert yourself, the worse things seem to get. This is exactly what we do not want in early recovery. This is the exact opposite of the attitude that leads to success in long term recovery.

If you are struggling and fighting for control in early recovery then you are going about it all wrong. This is the path to frustration and relapse. The way to turn it all around and get on the path to recovery is to let go, to let go completely, let go absolutely, let go of everything. It can be difficult to describe to someone exactly how to do this but once they have done it (and actually surrendered) it will seem so obvious. It is the easiest thing in the world to do, you just have to do it. You have to let go. You have to just let it all slide. Stop worrying about all of it for a moment and allow yourself to take some advice from others.

If you cannot do this, if you refuse to do this, if you are dead set on maintaining control and hanging on to your own need for control…..then you are probably headed for relapse.

Instead, kick back and relax in early recovery. Take on a new attitude. Say to yourself “I am not worried about myself so much anymore, I know that these other people want to help me and they will give me good advice, and I am not going to struggle against their ideas. I will go with the flow, take suggestions, and do what they tell me to do. And I will see where it all takes me, and I will ultimately still have the final decision in things, but for now I am going to turn everything over to someone else, I am going to follow advice rather than relying on my own ideas, because my own ideas have not been working out so well lately.”

This is the kind of attitude shift you need to make. This is the sort of surrender that it will take in order to turn things around and be successful in recovery.

Of course, just saying that you will do this is not enough. You have to actually follow through on all of this with real action. And so the real test in recovery is not necessarily in how deeply you surrender control, but in how willingly you follow advice, take action, and follow through. Of course, the two are inseparable. If you don’t follow through, then you had failed to surrender fully. And if you do not fully surrender then there is no way that you will be able to muster the willingness to take the massive action that is required to succeed in recovery.

So it all starts with surrender and willingness. Those are the initial predictors of success in recovery. But in the end it is all about follow through.

Aftercare and follow through

If you attempt to get clean and sober by attending rehab then they will talk about something called “aftercare.” This is their programming for you after you leave your initial 28 day stay in treatment. It might consist of different things for different clients. For example, the therapists and counselors at rehab may suggest that you leave treatment and then go to 12 step meetings every day. Or they might suggest that you go to outpatient for a while. Or they might suggest that you go live in long term rehab. These are all examples of aftercare.

What they suggest does not necessarily matter nearly so much as how you approach your aftercare. If you dive into their recommendation and take it seriously then you will do much better in your recovery than if you blow their suggestions off. This may sound obvious but it is also of critical importance. There is nearly a perfect correlation with your dedication to recovery, your ability to follow through with aftercare, and your chances for long term success in recovery. In other words, how many people who blow off their aftercare are still clean and sober after a year? After five years? After ten years? You can imagine how bad those numbers are.

The thing is, even if you do everything you are told to do in recovery, there is still plenty of chance for problems down the road. This is why you must be so vigilant. This is why you have to dedicate 100 percent of your effort to recovery. If you only dedicate 99 percent to recovery then your addiction will find that weakness and exploit it, leading you to eventual relapse. The odds are stacked against you and therefore you need to use the concept of “overwhelming force” in order to claim your goal of long term sobriety.

Overwhelming force in recovery

I have mentioned overwhelming force in the past but it is such an important concept that it bears repeating.

Let’s say that you are leaving rehab and they suggest that you go to meetings, and work with others in recovery if you can. This will help you, they say. So you decide to take their suggestion but you only go to one meeting each week and you don’t really connect with anyone else in recovery, and you don’t really find a way to help or work with other recovering addicts.

This results in eventual relapse. You had a goal, you took some action, but you did not exactly “crush” your goal. Your efforts were mediocre at best.

Now let’s say that you leave rehab and instead of going to one meeting each week, you fully immerse yourself in recovery by attending meetings daily. You volunteer to help out in whatever way that you can and before you know it you are working with a new sponsorship group, going on 12 step calls, helping others directly. Maybe you did not really think that AA was your thing but you pushed that to the side and decided to throw yourself into it anyway just to see what results it got you. People advised you to do this and so you dove in and followed through. Instead of just going to one or two meetings each week you dedicated your entire life to this solution. Instead of just applying force, you are applying overwhelming force. You are crushing your goal rather than just lamely hitting one or two meetings each week.

The idea is that you are focusing on your recovery FIRST, and then fitting the rest of your life in around that effort. Don’t do the opposite. Most people (the 9 out of 10) attempt to work their recovery in around the rest of their life. This is all wrong. I was lucky in that I lived in long term rehab for 20 months, so I started with the idea that recovery was the only important thing in my life. Later on I added back in stuff like school, exercise, relationships, and so on. But I put my recovery first because I was trained to do so (by living in rehab).

Why most people relapse in early recovery

The reason that so many people relapse in early recovery is because:

* They have not surrendered fully to their disease. They only wish that things were different, but they are not ready to take massive action.
* They are not prepared to use overwhelming force to combat their disease. Instead they believe that they can use a moderate approach, something sensible and reasonable, and still succeed. They are wrong. Making a modest effort in recovery will result in certain relapse. A modest effort will never be enough.
* They do not take massive action. Go to meetings? Try going every single day, immersing yourself fully in them, and actually creating new relationships with people who would help you to recover. You can not expect to be “on the fringes of recovery” and do well. You either dive in fully or you are headed for relapse. There is no in-between.

Most recovering addicts and alcoholics have to ease into this level of action, dedication, surrender, and commitment. They do not just one day decide to get sober and then they automatically apply this insane level of commitment and use overwhelming force and all of that. It rarely works that way.

Instead, what happens is that they try and fail. They try to get sober and they relapse. And so they learn that the “modest” effort that they put forth just wasn’t enough. They tried to get clean and sober but looking back they can see what does NOT work.

Most addicts have to do this a few times before they arrive at the conclusions you find here. They have to try and fail in recovery a few times before they realize that it takes a huge effort, it takes 100 percent surrender, it takes overwhelming force. This is crushing to the ego and so no one wants to accept this truth unless they absolutely have to. No one wants to do this much work if they can avoid it either! So most people in recovery come to these conclusions very slowly, over time.

The level of dedication and commitment that it takes

So how much dedication and commitment does it take to stay clean and sober? Basically you would have to be in the top ten percent if you want to succeed. Think of it this way:

Go interview 10 people who are new in recovery. Ask them how dedicated they are to their goal of staying clean and sober in the long run. Now realize that only one of those ten people is really going to make it (statistically anyway). Which one is going to make it in the long run? The loudest cheerleader? The one with false optimism? The person who seems the most stubborn?

To be honest it is impossible to predict, because the best indicator is internal. The best indicator is their level of surrender. How defeated are they by their disease? How sick and tired are they of chasing after a happiness that they realize they cannot achieve?

Whoever has surrendered the most deeply, whoever has the most willingness to do whatever it takes–that is the person who will succeed in the long run.

How not to get tripped up in early recovery

We trip ourselves up in early recovery. That is the only way that relapse will ever happen, is if we “take back self will.”

Early recovery is the perfect time to kick your feet up, relax, and let someone else “drive” for a while. This means that you need to stop making decisions based on your own ideas for a while, and instead let your life be dictated by someone else’s suggestions instead.

Most people fail in early recovery because they have too much pride to be able to do this. They cannot let go. They believe that no one else could possibly care about their happiness, so they trust no one. They hear suggestions but they do not take them. They do not follow through because they are only following their own ideas, not those of others.

This is how to trip yourself up in recovery–only listen to your own ideas, and block out everyone else’s suggestions.

If you want to success then you need to do the opposite–you need to start ignoring your own ideas, and start listening to other people’s suggestions.

Transitioning to personal growth

Later on in your recovery you will be tested again, this time in the long term battle to overcome complacency and live the good life in recovery. If you have laid a strong foundation in early recovery then making this transition will come naturally.

In early recovery there is no need to look this far ahead or worry about complacency. Instead you should focus all of your energy on getting through that first year without relapse. So many people fail to succeed and the vast majority relapse early on, during that first year.

Later on you can branch out and do your own thing. Later on you can find your own path of growth in recovery. You can become more independent. But the first year of recovery is not the right time for this. The first year demands that you follow direction, take advice, and basically “get out of your own way.” If you can do this then you have a good shot at long term sobriety.

You are not a statistic. Anyone can recover if they really dedicate themselves to it. Remember the concept of overwhelming force. Dive head first into recovery and crush your goal!