Early recovery is a tenuous time at best for most everyone who is struggling to overcome alcoholism or drug addiction.
Because of the nature of addiction itself, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to living our lives, making decisions, and choosing our path each day in recovery.
Given that, it is critical that we figure out very quickly in early recovery exactly how to make healthy decisions rather to unhealthy ones.
But how can we go about doing this? How do we train ourselves to make healthier choices consistently?
Let’s take a closer look.
First of all, we need to look at a few key points when it comes to decision making in early recovery. The first key is that you must be consistent because a single “slip” erases all progress. If the alcoholic takes a single drink then it will wipe out whatever progress they may have made up until that point. The typical alcoholic, upon having this slip, will spiral out of control and be right back at their previous level of chaos very quickly.
The nature of addiction is such that a single drink or a single drug will set off a chain reaction of events. The alcoholic may slip up, take one drink, and then catch themselves and not go any further with it. This is what it appears to be on the surface, but the reality is that they have already planted the seed of a full blown relapse, and it is only a matter of time until their full addiction rears its head again. So they may take one innocent drink, stop for the next week, and think that they “got away with it.” The truth is that no one ever gets away with it if they are a true alcoholic or drug addict. The disease will lie dormant for a moment but it will rear its head when you are least expecting it.
So a single slip or any kind of relapse will reset our progress and possibly even land us in jail, in an institution, or dead. Given that, what is our best approach to decision making given that we are in early recovery and we want to give ourselves the best chance at recovery?
My first and most important suggestion to anyone who is in very early recovery, or even someone who is on the brink of surrender, is to go to inpatient treatment. I am referring to the 28 day inpatient style of addiction treatment. There are several reasons why this is the number one suggestion, and most of these reasons support the idea that going to rehab can help you to start making the right decisions.
For starters, you will have a therapist or a counselor assigned to you in rehab and that person can certainly help you to make decisions. Your peers in AA and NA meetings can help to give you guidance and insight when it comes to decisions. And it is likely that you will get a sponsor in AA or NA who can also help guide you in the decision making process.
However, none of these resources are going to amount to anything for you, nor will they provide any real value in your life unless you have the right attitude towards this decision making process in the first place.
Therefore, we need to examine exactly what this proper attitude is, and how it can help you.
When you get into early recovery you are going to hear people talk about the idea of “total and complete surrender.” They are telling you that you need to surrender and seek guidance from your higher power. Then they will tell you that your higher power can speak to you through other people, through the people you meet in the program, and through your sponsor, therapist, and mentors.
Therefore, you need to listen and be ready to learn. You need to be humble enough to hear the lessons that you so desperately need to learn about in order to make it in recovery.
If you get clean and sober and you feel as though you can figure out recovery on your own, then you are probably setting yourself up for failure.
When I first got into recovery myself I noticed that one of the more common problems that was leading my peers to relapse was some sort of self sabotage. In other words, I was seeing people make poor decisions that then compromised their ability to work a recovery program, avoid common triggers, and basically end up getting them into trouble.
I did not want to suffer this same outcome in my own recovery journey. But it almost seemed as if people needed a way to protect themselves from themselves. How do you avoid self sabotage?
So I decided in very early recovery that my policy would be this: For the first year of my sobriety, I would not make any of my own decisions. Period.
Instead, I would only trust other people–my sponsor, my peers in AA, my therapist, and my mentors–to advise me and give me guidance in terms of making life decisions.
I was no longer going to allow myself to even pretend to be in charge of my own life. It wasn’t working, and it hadn’t worked, and running on my own self will had only led me to misery. It was time to try something different, to listen to other people, to follow some advice and suggestions. So I made the commitment to myself that I would not make any of my own major decisions for the first year of my recovery.
By the time a few short weeks had passed I knew that I was on to something good. The reason that I knew this was because I was happier than I had been for quite a while, and my life was improving a tiny bit every day, and things were just progressively getting better and better in my life. And I felt as if I could not really take any credit for this, because all I was doing was following directions. I was listening to what people told me to do, and I was doing it. I was following advice and I was following directions, and things were getting a whole lot better.
It is not so much that you have to find the perfect guru to save you, to give you perfect advice, because that is not it.
Instead, just about any reasonable person, especially anyone in recovery, can give you sound advice and guidance. Your job is to get out of your own way to the extent that you can actually follow that advice. This is the secret to recovery–the application of knowledge, rather than the knowledge itself. There are no great shortcuts or secrets to sobriety. It is all in the application of simple principles. Therefore you need to get humble, follow advice, and get out of your own way, such that you give yourself a real chance at recovery. Good luck!