How do you know when you are finally ready to surrender “for real?”
I was stuck in my addiction, drinking uncontrollably and struggling with drugs, and my friends and family were urging me to go to rehab.
This happened three times. The third time I happened to be ready for recovery, and it worked for me.
But what happened the first two times? How were they able to convince me to attend treatment if I wasn’t truly ready to change? What is going on with that? Why do people agree to go to rehab, but then fail to follow through with it?
I can tell you from direct experience that when an alcoholic or drug addict is struggling, they will reach a point that we can call “true surrender.” That is a point of mental and emotional desperation that completely overwhelms them to the point that they no longer care about anything, including themselves, and they become willing to go to rehab. That is the point in which they can make lasting changes in their life that actually stick.
However, on the way to that point of complete surrender, the addict or alcoholic may reach some “false surrender points,” just like I did.
I was coming off a particularly nasty bender and my family was urging me to get help. I felt so lousy from the physical effects of my hangover, and I also felt badly because of the consequences of my recent actions, and so I agreed to go to rehab. I did this twice without being in a state of “total and complete surrender.”
Now when I agreed to go to rehab at those times, I was hopeful that I could make a permanent change. I really did want for things to be different.
That is a key point: I was a struggling alcoholic and drug addict and I genuinely wanted for things to be different in my life. And yet, I went to rehab and relapsed, immediately going back to the chaos and misery of addiction.
Why is this? Isn’t the desire for things to be different enough?
No, it is not enough. In order to properly understand this you have to look at the various levels of denial that can occur.
An addict or alcoholic can break down to the point in which they realize that they have a serious problem with drugs or alcohol. They can finally admit to themselves that they have a serious problem with their drug of choice, and that it is probably ruining their life. Furthermore, they can admit to themselves and to other people that the cause of all of their problems in life is their addiction. And they can label themselves as a “real alcoholic” or a “real drug addict.”
Now someone who can do all of that can still be in denial! How?
Because even though they are admitting that they have a serious problem, they have not yet accepted the solution. This is the critical difference that it all comes down to when a person is willing to enter a rehab facility but they are not willing to actually change their life.
Going to a 28 day rehab program is really just a tiny drop in the bucket of recovery. I have been clean and sober now for over 16 years and the rehab visit at the beginning is but a distant memory now. After I went to rehab for 28 days I started going to AA and NA meetings, sometimes up to 3 of them per day. I started chairing an NA meeting once a week. I worked with a sponsor and we worked through the 12 steps and I attended monthly sponsorship meetings. I had a therapist and a counselor and I actively took advice and suggestions from those people. I went back to college at the suggestion of my sponsor and I went back to work at the suggestion of my therapist. I started working with other addicts and alcoholics in online recovery and I eventually started working at a rehab center as well. Today I continue to work with people in recovery, both online and in a local rehab, and recovery basically blankets my entire life. And I have been doing all of this for the last 16 years straight.
So compare all of that effort and all of the recovery activity to the 28 day rehab stay at the beginning of my recovery journey.
Was going to rehab important? Sure it was. I highly recommend that everyone who struggles should go to an inpatient program. Go do the 28 days.
But you also need to realize that arriving at 16 years of continuous sobriety was not done only with that 28 day stay. It took so much more than that, and it took continuous effort, and I had to keep following through.
The fact is that you do not really know if an addict has surrendered fully based on their willingness to go to rehab for 28 days.
Going to rehab for 28 days is a nice break for anyone really. It is a way to get a “time out” for your life. It is a vacation of sorts.
But the way to gauge real willingness has to go beyond that 28 day inpatient rehab visit. Anyone can go to rehab. Often times addicts or alcoholics who have been to treatment before will go back again and do another 28 days, and they will still end up relapsing. They have not yet surrendered and their results prove that very clearly.
It is not the initial willingness that proves your level of surrender, but it is the follow through that does so. If a struggling addict or alcoholic follows through with their treatment, if they keep following through, even long after they attend rehab, then they have a real shot at long term recovery. But if you are attempting to judge that person just on their willingness to attend rehab in the first place, then you are probably going to learn exactly what their true level of denial is.
You can be in denial that you have a disease, but you can also accept that disease and label yourself as an addict but still be in denial of the solution.
Now if it comes down to you and your own recovery, and you are wondering if you are “for real” this time, and whether you have an actual shot at changing your life, I would advise you like this:
Always accept treatment. Always go to rehab. Always try. Keep trying. Never stop trying to change for the better.
Sure, you may have some false positives like I did, where I went to rehab and I failed twice.
The third time I was pretty sure, because I was just so devastated and miserable. I no longer cared what happened. I was in a state of real surrender and true desperation.
But the first two attempts I could not have known that I wasn’t in that state yet, because I had never experienced that state of full surrender before.
So you should always try. You should always go to rehab, take every chance that you get at turning your life around and getting the help that you need.
There is no reason to hesitate. You have absolutely nothing to lose and you might gain the whole world by giving it another try.
Many addicts and alcoholics “finally get it.” And they had to try multiple times. But each try was worth it, because they eventually found an amazing new life in sobriety.