Alcoholism and drug addiction are unique in that they are problems of epic scale.
Nothing could have prepared me for the problem that I was facing when it came to my addiction.
This drastically changed the surrender process and how I had to go through denial. It also changed what my ultimate solution was for overcoming my problem.
Most alcoholics have never faced a problem of this immense size and scope before in their lives
The real truth about addiction and recovery is that most people have never had to deal with a problem this large and complex.
Not only is the problem of addiction overwhelming in scope but it is also a very complicated condition.
People don’t like this. They like to put their problems in a nice and neat little box so that they have a mental handle on it. They like to feel that they are in control of their problems and that the solution will be easy and straightforward.
I do not believe that this is ever really the case when it comes to addiction recovery. Alcoholism is a complicated problem and the solution is necessarily complicated as well.
People generally disagree with that statement. They will argue and say “the solution is simple. Just work these 12 steps, it is simple. Maybe not easy, but it is simple and straightforward.”
I disagree with this. Working through 12 different steps is not simple. Maybe if there were 3 steps, but not 12 steps! Twelve is a lot to handle for a solution to anything. Of course this is just my opinion, but I have always felt that something was not right when people tried to convince themselves that recovery was “simple.” It felt wrong to me.
When I was struggling to get clean and sober I had no idea how big the problem truly was. I thought that perhaps I could overcome my addiction with a casual effort. After all, I had other experiences in my life in the past that only required a modest effort. For example, getting through high school did not really require a massive effort. I just had to show up and basically make a half hearted effort. The same was true with all of the jobs I had held in my life. I did not have any experiences that really prepared me for addiction recovery. Nothing in my past had anywhere near the intensity that was required for beating an addiction.
So I had no frame of reference. They told me to go to AA meetings every day for 90 days. They told me to live in long term rehab for up to 2 years. I initially thought that these suggestions were crazy because I had no frame of reference for how difficult the problem was.
It is possible that other people might have a better frame of reference when it comes to beating an addiction. If you have ever had to make difficult lifestyle changes in the past, such as losing a significant amount of weight and keeping it off, then you have an idea of what the ballpark of successful recovery will look like. You have a general guess at the intensity level that is required and the depth of your commitment. But if you have never made those sort of difficult lifestyle changes before then you would have no way of knowing just how difficult beating an addiction is going to be.
This doesn’t mean that it is impossible. Of course anyone can overcome alcoholism or drug addiction if they simply commit to it 100 percent and dedicate their lives to recovery. But the issue that I am pointing out here is that almost no one realizes the intensity that is required for this. Especially at first. Meaning that if you have never even tried to sober up in the past then you probably going to underestimate the difficulty by a great deal at first. Most of us have to try and fail at least once or twice before we realize just how hard we have to push. It takes a massive commitment to be successful in recovery and there is no easy way to learn just what the depth of that commitment has to be. The only obvious way is to make an effort and realize that you did not try hard enough. So then you have to try again, and obviously you have to try harder, commit more.
You cannot solve a problem like alcoholism by using old solutions that worked for other problems
One of the things that you should know about addiction is that it is not like your other problems in life. You cannot solve your problem of addiction by using basic methods that work for most of your other problems.
This particular problem requires a unique approach. First of all you have to stop struggling against the problem and you have to surrender. That in itself is quite different than the way that most of us have lived our lives. When was the last time you had to surrender to something in order to conquer a problem? That is really a pretty rare thing these days. It is not the mentality that we are taught to live by these days. Surrender is rare.
Second of all you generally have to get information from multiple sources in order to recover. You can’t just read books and beat an addiction that way. If you could then I surely would have done so. But I found that I could not do it. I had to have “real experience” from real people in the form of verbal, face-to-face communication. I had to talk to people. I had to sit in meetings. I had to talk to therapists. I had to go to group therapy. I had to talk with a sponsor. I had to live in long term rehab and talk with my peers there. I had to do all of these things and more in order to recover.
I had to reconsider my daily habits and routines in order to overcome addiction. Seriously, this is not an exaggeration. I had to look at my day to day life and figure out new and healthy activities that would not lead me back to relapse. I had to look for holistic health in my life. I had to get better sleep patterns, I had to experiment with meditation, I had to find a spiritual path, I had to get physically healthy and exercise. All of these things played a role in my long term sobriety. All of this to solve one single problem: that of drinking too much and too often! What other problems in our lives have this same level of impact? What other problems in our lives demand for us to make this level of changes in order to overcome them?
Addiction is unique in that it requires such a serious effort and commitment in order to overcome it. This is what separates it from other problems.
The one thing that you have to change in recovery
There is a saying in traditional recovery: “The one thing that you have to change is everything!”
If you ask people who have been successful in sobriety for many years what they had to change, they will tell you “everything!” Alternatively, ask people if they really had to change everything in order to get sober, and you will be astounded that nearly everyone will tell you “yes, I did have to change everything in order to get sober.”
In fact it is not so much that everything changes, it is that the individual changes completely from within. It is a shift in personality and a shift in attitude. At the same time, the individual has to make many changes in their external life as well (people, places, and things). So the successful recovering alcoholic has to make changes on both the inside and the outside. So of course in retrospect it is going to feel like they really did change everything.
This goes back to the idea that you have to change your daily habits. You have to change your daily actions. And you also have to change from within, to work on the negative stuff that can drive an addiction like shame, guilt, resentment, fear, anger, self pity, and so on. In early recovery you have the task of needing to identify all of that internal stuff and to clean it up. This is often referred to as “doing the work.” Every alcoholic has to do this work if they want to remain sober in the long run, because otherwise those things (shame, guilt, fear, anger, etc.) can and will eventually threaten their sobriety.
This work is not trivial. Often the individual will need help in order to do this sort of work, either from a sponsor or from a therapist. And so when they do this work and make these internal changes and eliminate this negative stuff, combined with the external changes of changing people, places, and things in their lives, it really does seem like they are “changing everything.”
And this is what it takes to recover. You have to change from the inside out. And this means doing the internal work as well as making changes in your day to day life and in your daily habits. It is a lot to take on all at once.
Why it is so hard to take massive action and why we resist total surrender
Nobody likes to make these massive changes in recovery. We resist it until the pain of staying the same becomes so great that we are finally motivated to change.
What is stopping us? Fear holds us back. Nobody likes to face their fears.
And most people do not like to admit that it is fear that is holding them back, either.
But make no mistake, when you are resisting a change that you pretty much know is good for you (like quitting drinking or drugs) then it is fear that is in the driver’s seat. It is fear that is holding you back.
The only way to get past this fear is to smash through it. And most people will not be able to do that unless they are motivated by pain.
Unfortunately the alcoholic is typically motivated by pain and suffering. So they drink and they face consequences. How bad are those consequences? If they are not too bad then the alcoholic will continue to drink, because they fear change.
Over time the consequences will add up and get worse and worse. At some point the alcoholic will reach a turning point. This is the point where their pain and suffering is finally greater than the fear that is holding them back from change. At that point they will be able to ask for help and make changes in their life. But until they reach this point where their pain is greater than their fear, they will not change.
This is also why Al-Anon teaches people not to enable the alcoholic. When you enable someone you are trying to minimize their consequences. You are minimizing their pain for them. This just keeps them stuck in their addiction because they will not face their fear. They can only overcome their fear of sobriety when the pain of addiction becomes great enough. This is why Al-anon teaches you to back off and let them suffer natural consequences of their actions. If they get arrested while drunk and end up in jail, then that is where they need to be. Don’t go bail them out because then you will be denying them of their pain and suffering. It is that pain and suffering that will eventually motivate them to overcome their fear of sobriety. This is the basic philosophy behind the process anyway, and it is one that I agree with. I was not willing to face my own fear of sobriety until I reached a breaking point in regards to my pain and suffering. I was so miserable in my addition that I no longer cared about the fears I had. So I became willing to face those fears and ask for help.
How to try harder than you have ever tried before in your life at anything
In order to succeed at recovery you are going to have to try harder than you have ever tried before in your life.
This is actually not that difficult to do. Simply gather up all of your strength and realize that you have to make a supreme effort. Prioritize your life around the idea of recovery and sobriety. Everything that you do each day has to revolve around recovery. This is actually very simple because there is no wiggle room. Everything that you say and do should be geared towards keeping you sober. You must dedicate your life to sobriety and recovery.
Before I reached a point of surrender I never would have considered living in long term rehab. I thought that this was a waste of time and that it was too much like being in jail or prison. But after I reached my point of surrender I had no problem living in long term rehab. I was eager to do it because my priorities had shifted.
I also used to be terrified of going to AA meetings. I did not want to sit in one of them, period. But after I reached my point of surrender I was willing to go to them. And so I accepted that they may be part of my solution and I was willing to attend them every single day. Later in my recovery I even chaired a meeting on a weekly basis.
I had to be willing to go to these extreme lengths in order to remain sober. I don’t think that you can make a casual effort in recovery and expect to stay sober. This is what people are learning when they relapse. Talk to people who relapse or listen to what they say when they come back to AA meetings. They were not doing the things that they needed to do in order to remain sober. They had stopped going to meetings, they had stopped pushing themselves to take positive action, they failed to do the internal work (either through the steps or via counseling, etc.) and so they relapsed eventually. Certainly these people who relapse had not dedicated their lives to sobriety and done everything that they could every single day in order to remain sober.
And so therein lies the answer. You must dedicate your life to recovery. Look at the percentages, find the statistics as to how many alcoholics remain clean and sober in recovery. The odds are not very encouraging when you see the numbers. Depending on which data you look at, maybe 1 out of 10 will stay sober for the first year. Maybe one out of 100 will make it past 10 years sober.
Now think about those 100 alcoholics who are all trying to stay sober and realize how few of them make it in the long run. Then realize that some of them are trying harder than others, some of them are more dedicated to sobriety than others, some of them are pushing themselves to take positive action every single day while others are just passive.
And then think to yourself: “OK, if I want to stay sober for the long haul, I am going to have to dedicate my life to sobriety. I am going to have to take positive action every single day. I am going to have to try harder than 99 percent of people who casually attempt to get sober.”
This is the right attitude for success in long term sobriety. You must dedicate yourself to taking daily action. You must dedicate your life to the solution.
Because the problem is actually larger than life. The problem of addiction is so massive and so unique because it affects every area of our lives. It infiltrates every aspect of our being. So we can’t just put down the booze and expect for our life to magically turn around and be better all of a sudden. Instead we have to work for it. We have to put down the booze as a starting point and then build a foundation. And that foundation takes a lot of work, a lot of effort, a lot of asking for help and asking questions. We have to be willing to learn from other people, to accept their wisdom and apply it to our own life.
The sheer scale of the problem is like nothing most of us have ever dealt with before. In order to tackle our addiction and overcome it we are going to have to make the sort of effort that we have never had to make before. We must try harder and commit more deeply than we have ever had to in the past. This is the first secret to beating an addiction: You have to dedicate your life to the solution and try harder than you have ever tried in your life. Anything less than this will result in relapse.
Do not let this discourage you though. Long term sobriety may seem like it is out of reach, but with the right approach any alcoholic can turn their life around. You just need to be realistic about the scope of the problem…this is not something that you can fix by attending a single one hour meeting or counseling session for one day each week. It takes real dedication and a strong commitment, probably more intense than anything you have ever experienced before. But once you understand the depth of commitment that is requires your chances of success will skyrocket.
What about you, have you been able to make this extreme commitment to change and take massive action in your life? How has that worked out for your recovery? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!