Here is something that might shock you about addiction and recovery:
You do not actually get to design your own treatment plan. Not really. Not at first, anyway.
One of the latest trends in the field of substance abuse treatment is the idea of “person centered planning.” So the idea is that we as treatment professionals do not want to dictate what needs to happen, but instead we want to ask the struggling alcoholic or drug addict: “What is it that YOU need in order to be successful?” And then design a treatment plan around what that client thinks they need.
However, I found a slightly different path in early recovery to actually represent reality.
Which means that, in spite of the fact that the world wanted me to be involved in planning my new course in recovery, I honestly was not up to the task.
Not because I wasn’t smart enough to do so, but the exact opposite: I was too smart for my own good. Which is another way of saying, if you give a recovering alcoholic or drug addict too much room to think for themselves, they will just “think their way into the next relapse.”
This is just another way of saying that addiction involves an element of self sabotage, and therefore if a struggling addict or alcoholic is going to attempt to recover from their disease, they need to have a plan in place to deal with the element of self sabotage.
When the AA program talks about “turning it over” and relinquishing self will, what they are really talking about is the fact that you need to let other people tell you what to do, simply so that you do not screw up your own chance at sobriety.
Left to our own devices, most addicts and alcoholics will talk ourselves back into our drug of choice at some point. The tendency is towards self sabotage. This is part of the disease.
When I tried to get clean and sober, I actually made 3 distinct attempts in my life. The first two times I was not quite in a state of what we would call “total and complete surrender.” Which means that I was not ready to listen to someone who was telling me exactly what to do and how to live. I was not yet willing to surrender everything and to simply go to rehab and follow up with aftercare and go to every meeting and every appointment that was suggested to me. Some small part of me was still clinging to denial. Some small part of me was trying to retain a bit of control, to think that I was still in charge, that I could still alter my own path and chase after my own happiness. Little did I realize at that time that I no longer knew how to find happiness, and that I would not find any real happiness ever again until I surrendered completely and let other people show me the way.
So the first two attempts at my own recovery failed because I was still clinging to some amount of self control. I wanted to drive the bus, rather than to let go completely and allow others to show me this new way of life.
The third time that I surrendered was different.
I knew when I surrendered the third time that things would be quite different, because I was truly done fighting. I had finally had enough, and I was serious this time. I had reached the end of the road and I did not quite have the guts or the enthusiasm to “off myself,” but I did not really want to keep living the way that I had, and I just wanted the whole world to go away somehow. I was finished. Really, really done this time.
I was in such a thorough and complete state of surrender that I did not even try to convince my family or friends that I was done, because I had cried wolf so many times before. So I just asked for help and agreed to go to rehab and then go along with everything. I knew that things were different this time. I was ready to change.
So what happened is that I went to treatment with the proper mindset of “real surrender,” and therefore I was willing to listen to advice and actually take suggestions this time.
And I realized very quickly that the people in early recovery who were cocky about their program–those people often failed and relapsed. And so I became very much aware of the idea of self sabotage, and I realized that anyone who believed that they had recovery “all figured out” was in fact setting themselves up to relapse.
And so I created my highest value by watching other people get cocky and fail. My highest value in recovery was going to be the idea that I could not trust myself or my own decisions whatsoever. Instead, I would ask for help and advice every single time, I would only live by the suggestions of other people, and I would keep doing as I was told for the first year of my recovery.
I made this agreement with myself that for the first year of recovery I would only follow advice from other people while never taking my own advice. Period.
So I stuck to that and I began to take advice and suggestions. And what happened is that long before the first year was over I could see that I was becoming happier and happier in my sobriety, through no fault of my own, simply because I was listening and taking suggestions. All of these things that people were telling me to do were not things that I would think could lead to happiness. They told me to go to AA, they told me to exercise, they told me to quit cigarettes, go back to school, get a job, and so on.
So I did all of those things and I continued to take suggestions and eventually I was able to look back and realize that my life was so much better today in recovery. Not because of my own ideas, but because I had listened and obeyed and did what I was told to do.
And really what had happened is that people were not telling me to chase after happiness, but instead they were showing me how to build a healthy lifestyle with positive habits. So they instructed me to do things that were actually a lot of hard work, but that had a long term payoff once you integrated the new change into your lifestyle.
Exercise is a good example. If you are out of shape then someone telling to you to go jog 4 miles is not something that puts a smile on your face. It is torture to build yourself up and get back into good physical shape. But then look at your life and your lifestyle 3 years down the road if you actually adopted a lifestyle that is filled with physical fitness and vigorous workouts every day. Your new life that worked so hard to build is full of energy, happiness, and vitality. But obviously the person had to put in an intense amount of effort to “get there.”
And so it is with all of the different areas of your recovery in life. Your relationships are much the same way: You may have to put in some real effort if you want to have a happy and stable emotional life when it comes to all of your various relationships. So we do not always naturally try to do these things for ourselves because it is uncomfortable, but the end result is that this is the kind of “work” that leads to happiness in long term sobriety.
Which is why you need someone to tell you what to do, rather than to design your own recovery plan.
At least at first.
So ask for help, and then follow directions. Good luck!