What are some addictions rehab solutions that work best for alcoholism and addiction recovery?
And what are the best practices in long term sobriety in order to stay clean and sober?
I have studies these concepts for a long time because I wanted to know what actually make successful people in recovery stay clean and sober.
At first, I could not really separate out what was causing some people to relapse while others stayed sober for the long run. Of course, it is easy to point fingers in retrospect, but I noticed that it was extremely difficult for me to predict who was going to “make it” in early recovery. As more and more time went on in my early recovery journey I started to suspect that I knew less and less about how recovery really worked. What I was being told was one thing: “Go to meetings, don’t drink, get a sponsor, work the steps.” But what I was seeing happen in front of my eyes was a whole lot of relapse. And sometimes the people who I never would have suspected to “make it” in recovery seemed to be doing just fine. Meanwhile, some of the people that I looked up to in my early recovery ended up relapsing. What was going on? I had some digging to do.
So for many years in my early recovery I started paying very close attention to what was actually keeping people clean and sober. I quickly learned that what people said in meetings actually counted for very little compared to:
1) What their daily actions were in their everyday life outside of meetings, and
2) What results they were getting in the long run.
Those two variables proved to be most interesting and I found that most of the traditional wisdom could be thrown out of the window when you got right down to it. More on this in a bit.
But first, let me explain what I deduced to be most important about early recovery.
After all, this is the first real test of recovery, and this is where most people stumble and fall down, before they even have a chance to really get started in sobriety. The relapse rates for zero to 30 days sober are incredibly high, and are rather depressing. So what does it take to make it through early sobriety? I failed at it at least twice in my life (after attending treatment) and I succeeded at it once. But following that I also worked in a rehab center for 5 plus years so I got a chance to observe a whole lot of recovering alcoholics as they struggled to find sobriety. This proved to be very eye opening for me in several ways.
Decision, disruption, action
Early recovery can be broken into 3 basic parts:
The decision is the precursor to recovery.
Without a decision, nothing positive can happen. No change can be made in a person’s life.
Really what we are talking about here is a massive decision that is on par with “total surrender.” So we are not just talking about the casual idea of dropping into treatment for a while in order to see what it is like. Instead, we are talking about a serious decision that involves surrendering your entire life to the control of someone (or something) else. It is not a decision to be taken lightly. This is about breaking through denial. Denial that has likely lasted for years or even decades.
So the person makes the decision that they want to find a different way to live. This usually comes either from:
1) An event that has heavy consequences for the person.
2) A realization that they are truly miserable in their addiction.
These might actually be one and the same. Consequences have a way of making us miserable. And misery is (unfortunately) what motivates alcoholics and drug addicts to finally change. Without misery they are not going to change their life, period. It just won’t happen. The lure of their drug of choice is far too powerful for them to want to disrupt their pattern unless they are completely sick and tired of being miserable. They have to reach a breaking point. Thus they reach a decision that they really do want to change. Everyone else in their life has seen the necessity of this change for a long time, and now they are finally waking up to it themselves. They have seen the light. They don’t know what they want but they know that they are sick and tired of being miserable due to their addiction.
At this point they need some form of disruption. If you are drinking alcohol every single day or if you go on really long binges then you need a serious form of disruption in order to break free from your pattern. This is true from both a medical standpoint (withdrawal and detox can be dangerous) but also from a psychological standpoint as well.
This is typically where rehab comes into play. Going to detox and residential treatment is the ultimate form of disruption. What you are doing is to disrupt your pattern of drinking or using drugs. What you are also doing is to start to live a different way of life so that you do not just immediately resort to your drug of choice when life throws you a curve ball. This process starts with your first day of detox and continues on for the rest of your life. Every day is about finding new solutions and doing something different. The old way doesn’t work any more. Time to try something new.
There are probably other ways to seek out disruption but they are not going to be as effective or as safe as inpatient rehab. Therefore I would suggest that if you are serious about recovery then you should drop all resistance to the idea of inpatient treatment, do yourself a favor, and JUST GO. There are worse things that could happen in life than going to a 28 day program and getting clean and sober as a result. This is not brainwashing or anything. Once you are in rehab you can get yourself cleaned up and detoxed and then make a decision for yourself with a clear mind. Anyone can always go back to drinking or using drugs if they don’t like the way sobriety turns out for them. In fact, people do exactly that all the time. So do not be afraid that they are taking your freedom away if you check into rehab. They are, in fact, giving you your freedom back because when you get sober and then walk out of rehab you will have the power of choice in your life. You will be able to choose to go back to the bottle or you can choose to take action and start working on recovery. But this is real freedom and you will look back one day in sobriety and realize that you were trapped in a prison of your own making when you were drinking or using drugs.
Which brings us to the final concept of early recovery: Taking action!
You need to take action in order to make something positive happen.
I would recommend that you take massive action. This means that you are willing to do more than just go to a meeting or two. This means that you are willing to commit your whole life to recovery in order to get sober.
Let me tell you a little secret about rehab.
Nearly everyone relapses their first time. Why? Because they do not try hard enough. In fact, they do not try even 25% of what they need to be doing when they first go to treatment.
Most people are so far off in how much effort that they need to make that it is pathetic.
So what happens? They relapse, of course.
And they go back out to their addiction and they endure more pain and chaos.
After they have had enough pain and misery, they finally come back to treatment for another crack at it.
And this time they try harder. They dedicate more and more of their time and effort to the idea of recovery. Maybe it is enough this time, maybe not.
Most people don’t actually get sober on the first time around. They relapse and then come back to rehab later and then they make it work the second time or third time around. They need to fail a few times in order to finally “get it” and realize that this requires real dedication and a 100 percent effort. And it is at that point that people will realize that they have never really had to try this hard before in their life. Ever. At anything.
So you need to take action, and you need to take massive action. You can’t just say “oh yeah, I will go to rehab and hit some meetings and things will work out.” That is the wrong attitude entirely. You are bound to relapse if you think it will be even a tiny bit easy. Recovery just takes serious effort and that is all there is to it. Most people have to try and fail a few times before they realize just how hard it is they have to try.
Supportive environment post-treatment
Early recovery is all about disruption and surrender. You go to rehab and you take action. Things are changing. Positive changes are happening. You are on the right track.
Now, how do you keep it going?
How do you prevent yourself from walking out of rehab and walking right into a relapse? (As so many people end up doing?)
The next key to recovery has to do with support.
This is why AA meetings are a global phenomenon.
This is also why so many people base the bulk of their recovery on sitting in daily AA meetings. They do it because the support that they get from the meetings makes a huge difference.
If there is one thing that is sure to screw you up in early recovery, it is leaving rehab and then going off and isolating somewhere.
I was lucky enough in my own journey that I did not have this option. Instead I went to long term rehab and I was living in pretty close quarters with 11 other guys. As per the terms of the program I was in I had to attend meetings and group therapy on a regular basis.
This support made a huge difference for me. It would have been very easy to go somewhere else after short term rehab and avoid all of this support, but I knew that I had to take massive action. I was nowhere near ready to just go back to my old life and try to make sobriety work out without making some serious changes. I needed all the support that I could get in early recovery.
Learning how to break free from dependency
At some point I was going to meetings every day and I started to realize that something was wrong. There are going to be a lot of people that disagree with me on this but I have to say it anyway as it is my own personal truth.
I started to see a lot of people in the meetings relapse.
And I started to question who was staying sober and how they were able to do it. And I wanted to know exactly what I needed to do in order to stay sober myself.
And it just seemed more and more clear to me that going to meetings every day was not the free ticket to permanent sobriety that I thought it was. Because I kept seeing evidence that it was not necessarily working out that way for everyone. Many people who attended more meetings than I did ended up relapsing. And yet I had a few friends in recovery (and a grand sponsor) who did not seem to hit all that many meetings each week. So I started to question the conventional wisdom about how “meeting makers make it” and how we should all go to a meeting every single day of our lives in order to insure sobriety. I was starting to see mounting evidence that this might not be so true.
What happened over the next few months was that I basically stopped going to meetings. I did not do this in order to risk my sobriety, I did it in order to learn what it really took for me to stay clean and sober. My mindset had made a permanent shift and I now saw the daily meetings as a crutch; as a dependency. I did not want to get stuck in that sort of dependency.
I actually heard people say “these daily AA meetings are like my medicine, and if I don’t get to them then I will get sick and relapse.” And so I heard people say that and I thought to myself “well if you are dependent on the meetings in order to maintain your sobriety then what in the heck are you doing outside of the meetings? What kind of quality sobriety do you really have if you depend on meetings?” But I never said that out loud because it seemed like people would get mad or offended if I did.
So instead of asking such questions I simply left the meetings slowly over time and started focusing on taking positive action. I figured that the 12 step program led to certain outcomes (personal growth) and that I could probably achieve those outcomes without using the steps or the meetings.
I was right. Over the next ten years I continue to make progress and take positive action in my recovery, without depending on steps, sponsors, or daily meetings in order to do it. All it took was a conscious decision to improve my life and my life situation. Every day was a new opportunity in which to make new growth in my life. And because I was so scared of relapse at first (when I left AA) I pushed myself to take action each and every day. I did not want to get lazy and fall back into my old habits.
Why personal growth is the only thing that can fuel success in long term sobriety
Really what I learned by leaving AA in the second year of my sobriety was that the real secret to success is personal growth.
There is a zen parable about the “finger pointing at the moon.” The teacher points at the moon and the student says “That is the moon.” Then the teacher corrects the student saying “no, that is just a finger pointing at the moon! Big difference!”
Silly, right? But it’s not so silly because there is an important application there.
AA and the 12 step program is a finger pointing at the “moon” that is recovery.
But AA itself is not recovery. It only points to recovery.
Don’t confuse the recovery program with recovery itself. This new life that you get to create and build over time. This new life of sobriety that you get to accumulate each day as you take positive action. Don’t confuse your awesome new life with AA (or with any recovery program, for that matter). The recovery program is just the finger that points at the moon, but it is not the moon itself. Always keep that in mind so that you never lose sight of what is really important. And what is important? Creating a new life of personal growth in recovery. Learning and experiencing new things while improving your life and helping other people along the way. Loving yourself and learning to love others. AA can point to these things, but it is not the same thing as these things itself.
In the end, I found a path in recovery that has kept me clean and sober and joyous for (at this time) over 12 years and counting. My methods are not based on AA but the end results are likely very similar. All roads of positive action point to the same moon. If AA works for you then use it. If not, try something else. But do take action.
What you must be doing on a daily basis in order to remain clean and sober
In order to remain clean and sober you must engage in a daily practice.
The best practices for sobriety amount to “holistic health” and personal growth.
What exactly does this mean? It means that you should:
* Establish a baseline of sobriety after making a decision and then following through with some form of disruption.
* Get out of rehab and start finding support in your life. Dependency on AA in the long run may be bad, but going to meetings every day after rehab is certainly better than doing nothing. Support is good in early recovery. Use it.
* In long term recovery you become a product of your habits. What you do every day will dictate who you become in the long run. Therefore if you want to be healthy and happy then you need to form healthy habits. This can be challenging for people in recovery. For example, many recovering alcoholics are cigarettes smokers. If you want to be happy then this probably needs to change at some point. This is also true of other behaviors that may be hurting you or sabotaging your happiness.
* Every day is an opportunity to improve your daily health. Go down the list and see if you have taken care of yourself today in terms of fitness, nutrition, sleep, emotional stability, relationships, spiritual fitness, and so on. Don’t just stop at spirituality and focus only on your relationship with a higher power. This is probably one of the biggest mistakes that people make in early recovery and it costs them dearly in long term sobriety.
* Learn to proactively fight against complacency by pushing yourself to keep growing and learning in recovery. If you stand still for too long in recovery then you are in danger of relapse. The only way to stay sober in the long run is to keep moving forward and keep pushing yourself to learn and to grow.