One of the keys to sobriety is momentum.
You have to have momentum in recovery.
This is my personal philosophy. I have not generally heard other people talk about the concept of momentum or “velocity” when it comes to recovery from addiction or alcoholism.
So this is just what I have observed in my own life and in my own experience.
There is a certain tipping point when it comes to positive action in recovery. Too little action and you just can’t make it up that hill.
And it seems like it is impossible to know just how much effort is required, just how much willingness it takes, just how hard you have to push yourself.
Picture a newly recovering alcoholic who has a few weeks sober. Maybe they just got out of treatment and they come home from rehab and they start going to AA meetings.
They have to make an effort in order to remain clean and sober. If they put forth zero effort after returning home from rehab, they are guaranteed to relapse. It is certain. There is no hope for long term sobriety if they are not making at least some effort.
So the question is, how much effort is enough?
And the second question is, how important is it to be consistent?
If you take positive action for one day, or for one week, then that is obviously helpful in keeping you sober.
But if you take positive action and you continue to do so over several months or even years, now you are actually building something.
Because what happens if you look at longer timeline is that your consistent actions start to multiply the benefits. So not only do you get rewarded for the effort you are putting forth, but because you continue to put forth this positive effort, your results start to multiply on themselves. One success can lead to another in an unexpected way.
Let me give you an example. When I was fairly early in my recovery I really wanted to quit smoking cigarettes. I was hooked on them and I just could not seem to shake the habit.
So I tried and I failed a few times to quit. It was getting annoying.
So finally what happened is that I realized if I were to be free of nicotine, I was going to have to replace that “buzz” that it was giving me. I was going to have to do more than just walk away from cigarettes and expect my life to magically adjust to being a non smoker. Instead, I had to come up with a strategy and a plan to successfully give up smoking in a way that did not lead to relapse again.
I figured out (through the help and suggestions of other people) that exercise was a key component that I was missing out on.
So before I tried to quit smoking again, I started jogging. Isn’t that crazy? I was still a smoker and yet I was also starting to jog on a regular basis.
But it was working. I was still able to run even though I was a smoker. And I started to notice that after a I finished a run, I did not crave a cigarette for several hours. It was obvious that it was helping me.
So in the end I built up to six miles of running every day and after that I was able to finally walk away from the cigarettes (I even did it cold turkey at that point, even though the Nicotine patches and medications had failed for me in the past).
More time went by and I was officially an ex-smoker now. And I was also a runner. I went on to run 3 marathons and I continue to exercise on a daily basis over a decade later.
In addition to this, I feel like there was another benefit from this experience, and it also had to do with the concept of momentum.
It may seem like it is unrelated but it absolutely is a factor.
After I started running and then quit smoking, I successfully started a business.
This was a really big deal to me.
And I never thought that I could do it, or be successful at it.
But after I was able to quit smoking I had this revelation.
The revelation was that I could do anything.
Seriously, it was so incredibly difficult to quit smoking that I was really astounded when I finally pulled it off. I said to myself “Wow, that was really hard to quit smoking. So hard that I had to become a distance runner in order to pull it off. If I can muster up the discipline to do these things, what else can I accomplish? Probably a lot!”
And this was my attitude. I was seriously amazed that I had somehow pulled this discipline out of thin air. I am not normally super motivated or anything. I am not a high level achiever.
But this was momentum. It built on itself.
I had the goal of quitting smoking.
In order to accomplish that goal I had to start exercising.
And then finally I used the discipline that I had accumulated in order to go chase another goal (starting a business).
It probably seems unrelated to someone who is just casually watching my life from the outside.
But to me it was like knocking down three targets right in a row. Bam, bam, bam. Start exercising, quit smoking, start a business.
I could not have done any one of these things without doing the thing before it. I could never have quit smoking without first becoming a regular jogger. I tried so many times to quit smoking using other methods (gum, patch, Chantix, etc.) and nothing worked. I had to do it the “hard way.” I had to build the discipline instead.
When I look back to my addiction to alcohol and other drugs, I think a similar lesson can be found in that as well.
I couldn’t take the easy way out. There was no easy way out. I had to face my fears head on, I had to start listening to advice, and I had to do the work. I had to put in the time. Heck, I lived in long term rehab for 20 months in the beginning! I was not taking shortcuts at that point.
In the past I tried to take many shortcuts. And of course it never worked.
The shortcuts are just a way to avoid building discipline.
So when I talk about “momentum” in recovery what I am really getting at is the idea that you have to do the work, and in doing so you will build discipline. You will build strength. By taking positive action and doing the work consistently you will naturally build momentum, things will improve in your life, and then those benefits will start to multiply even more.
Your success will build on itself if you lay the proper foundation.
But how do we go about doing that?
How to start building a foundation in your early recovery
The key to building a foundation in early recovery is to take massive action.
There are different programs out there for recovery.
There are different rehabs you could go to.
There are different solutions for addiction.
I am not pushing you towards one solution or the other (though I tend to recommend inpatient treatment as it seems to be a strong starting point for most people).
So while no single program has a monopoly on sobriety, the key similarity is always action.
Action as in: “Go big or go home.”
If you want to get sober using just AA meetings, you can probably do that.
But don’t just show up to one AA meeting each week and expect to be magically cured. Sobriety doesn’t work that way.
No, if you want to use AA as your one and only tool in recovery, then you need to dive into that solution head first and take massive action. You need to hit meetings every day, you need to be honest with yourself and share in those meetings, and you need to dig into the literature and start working the steps. You need to get a sponsor and use that sponsor. You need to take massive action and dedicate your life to the program.
Does this mean that AA is the one and only solution?
No. It is one solution of many. And it will work for you, if you work it (as they like to say!).
Other solutions can work equally as well. But you have to work them. You have to dedicate your life to recovery. You have to take massive action. Which is just another way of saying that you have to take positive action on a consistent basis.
If you are not consistent in your recovery efforts then it does not matter which program you choose or which rehab center you attend.
Think about that for a moment.
No matter which rehab you go to (and how exclusive or reputable it is) does not matter in the least if your recovery efforts are not consistent.
Which program you go to (AA or anything else) does not matter one bit if your efforts are not consistent.
So when I say that you need to take “massive action” what I am really saying is that you have to be ultra consistent. You don’t get any days off. You must dedicate your life to sobriety.
Many people talk about this in traditional recovery. They are absolutely right. If you try to “fit the program around your life” then you are heading for relapse. Instead, you have to push the reset switch on your whole life, get a clean slate, and then dedicate your life to recovery. In the spaces that are left over within that framework you can plug things back into it like your family, your friends, your schooling, your job, and so on. But without the intense focus on recovery you will eventually lose all of those other things anyway when your relapse. So you must prioritize your life to take consistent action.
Why is momentum important for sobriety?
Momentum is an important concept for sobriety. You are either working on your recovery or you are working on a relapse. Sit through several AA meetings and you will hear this phrase over and over again. You don’t get to stand still in recovery. Things are either getting better or they are getting worse. And if you are not sure then they are definitely getting worse.
This is a hard truth for many people to swallow. Most of us would rather take it easy, do less work, and barely squeak by without having to put forth too much effort.
Success in recovery doesn’t work that way. You are either making positive progress or you are headed for trouble. No in between.
Alcoholics are just wired that way. If we could walk the middle road then we would not be alcoholics to begin with!
So this is a clue about the nature of recovery. It can’t be stagnant. We can’t be idle and expect for things to work out well.
In order to successful in recovery you have to keep pushing yourself to improve yourself and your life. You have to keep reinventing yourself. And with each reinvention you become something more positive.
The alternative to this is stagnation. Every alcoholic is, at their core, always going to be an alcoholic. The disease lives inside and it never goes away entirely. Therefore if you stop moving forward and taking positive action then this beast inside will resurface.
The only way to prevent relapse is to constantly be reinventing yourself.
We do this by taking care of ourselves, by taking positive action, by seeking positive changes in our lives. That is how you reinvent yourself.
What happens when you lose momentum in your recovery efforts
When you lose momentum then complacency starts to set in. You feel comfortable doing nothing positive. This is the beginning of the end. This is the long, slow slide towards relapse.
We don’t want complacency.
Personal growth is the key to sobriety. Reinventing yourself is the prescription for success.
How do we keep pushing ourselves towards personal growth?
There are lots of ways.
One way is to look at the negativity in your life. Prioritize it and then eliminate it. I did this myself with cigarette smoking and my lack of exercise. I also did it with certain relationships from early recovery. And I did it on an internal level when I realized that I was swamped in self pity. I had to take action to target these problems and then eliminate them from my life.
In some cases I had to ask for help in order to do these things. And that is another way to seek personal growth is to ask for help, ask for feedback, ask for advice.
Find people in recovery that you trust and ask them what you need to be focusing on. What’s next? What is your next big goal?
Well, talk it out. Talk to your sponsor, talk to a therapist, talk to people that you trust in recovery.
This will help you to prioritize.
I am a big believer in focus.
Look at it this way:
You have plenty of time in recovery. You are sober now and you have time to work on yourself.
So first you need to prioritize. What is your biggest problem right now?
At one time for me it was definitely “smoking cigarettes.”
At another time in my sobriety it was “self pity.”
So in each case I focused in on one problem, and then I dedicated my life in recovery to fixing that one problem. So let’s eliminate this self pity stuff because it isn’t helping me at all.
So I went and did that. I talked to my sponsor. He had some suggestions but I needed more. So I read about it online. Then I talked with some other people in recovery. And I gathered this information and then I developed a plan for how I would eliminate the problem (zero tolerance policy + gratitude, for those interested).
So you are in recovery and you have time. You have the rest of your life. But it is also time to get to work. So prioritize your problems and then attack them one at a time. Dedicate your life to this task.
If you work through the 12 steps of AA with a sponsor it is roughly the same concept as I am describing here. You evaluate, you find the problems, you focus on them and you eliminate them. The 12 steps can walk you through this process as well.
So this is a continuous process. Find a problem in your life and eliminate it. Look on the inside at your fears, guilt, anger, shame, and so on. But also look on the outside at your relationships, your living situation, your job, and so on. Find the major problems and start fixing them. This is “doing the work” in recovery. If you just stop drinking then you are not necessarily in recovery unless you are also “doing the work” as well. Once you start “doing the work” then you start to experience amazing benefits in sobriety and then those benefits start to build on themselves. This is when it gets really good and you will feel like you are blessed beyond measure every day.
And if you stop doing this work, then the benefits slowly dry up. It happens too slowly for you to notice. This is complacency. It sets in slowly and then years later you suddenly drink again. Except that it wasn’t actually sudden, it just seemed sudden. Because the complacency crept up on you so slowly that you did not even notice it.
The solution is to notice it right now, today. Realize that complacency is already a threat in your life and it will always be a threat. Therefore you must adopt a strategy for living that can overcome this sneaky trap. And the only way to do that is to find a strategy for continuous reinvention of the self. Keep growing. Keep pushing. Find the positive action that you need to take next.
And you might need help with this. I know I do. Otherwise I get stuck. I get too comfortable. And if there is no one to challenge me or to say “OK, what’s next?” then I will get lazy. I can’t let myself get lazy or it will eventually lead to relapse.
We don’t want to be lazy in recovery. Instead we want to be taking action. Building positive momentum. Reinventing ourselves on a regular basis.
This doesn’t mean that you have to become a rock climber and start a campaign to end world hunger. This is about personal growth. Every day that you take care of yourself is a victory. But we have to keep challenging ourselves to dig deeper, to learn more, to ask “what should I be doing for my recovery today?”
And get feedback from others. Bounce ideas around. Keep yourself alive. Keep yourself in motion, try new things, see what works for your sobriety. I did not start exercising until I was past the one year point in my sobriety. And I did not start seriously writing about my recovery (and keeping a journal) until later as well. I continue to learn new things about myself and find new ways to reinvent myself. It is process that keeps unfolding over time.
What about you, have you found momentum to be important in your recovery? How have you built momentum for yourself? Do you have an example? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!