When I was still struggling with drug and alcohol addiction I believed that there were only two possibilities: One was that I would never be able to get clean and sober and enjoy any kind of normal life, the other possibility was that there must be some perfect formula for treatment that–if I could only discover that secret–would lead me to a successful life of happy recovery.
What I eventually learned is that both of these extremes were wrong. Those were not the only two choices. There was a third choice, which was really this:
Surrender completely, ask for help, start taking direction and advice.
That’s it. That was the whole secret of successful recovery from addiction.
There was not some secret technique that I had to discover that would magically fix everything. There was not some perfect treatment program that was expertly tailored to my specific needs.
Instead, I just had to be willing to surrender and to take advice. I had to be humble enough to ask for help. I had to give recovery–and treatment–a real chance.
Now I had been to rehab twice in the past and it had not worked out for me. This was because I had not been in a state of total and complete surrender when I attended those past rehabs. The third time that I made an effort I was in a state of real surrender, and therefore I was able to humbly ask for help and really mean it. I was able to take direction and follow advice. This was different from the past when I was still stuck in denial.
You see, denial is not only about denying the problem. It can also be about denying the solution. “Poor me, I am alcoholic or addicted, and nothing works for me. Boo hoo.” This is silly and it is how I felt about myself for a long time–I was cursed with addiction and yet no solution could possibly help me. I was different, I was unique, I was special.
Only I really wasn’t. I am just like every other addict or alcoholic who is struggling to find recovery. I had to get humble and get desperate and start asking for help and following some real advice. But when you are stuck in denial you are not willing to do that. You are willing to do only certain things for your recovery, because you are not ready to truly recover just yet. That is still a form of denial–you are just denying the solution rather than denial of the problem. Sure, I am an alcoholic…..but AA or rehab just doesn’t work for me, sorry.
So finding the correct path in addiction treatment is really less about finding the right program or the right meeting or the right rehab, and it is more about finding the right attitude.
The attitude that is so critical is one of willingness. In order to do well in early addiction treatment the struggling alcoholic must be willing and humble and honest. If you are lacking any of those elements then you will probably not succeed in addiction treatment, at least not in the long run. It will be very difficult to turn your life around in any kind of meaningful way if you are still stuck in denial or are holding on to any kind of reservations.
The correct path in addiction recovery is not always going to feel like it is “right,” because at times it is going to feel like a struggle, at times it is going to feel as if you are lost and without direction, and at times you are going to question if you are really doing the right thing.
Personal growth is the path that leads to success in addiction recovery. If you are not on a path of personal growth then really you are just treading water and you are not really recovering.
Now sometimes when we make progress in our lives we feel fantastic about it and we get excited and everything is great. Other times when we are going through a really difficult life lesson of pain and struggle and growth it really doesn’t feel all that great. Sometimes when we are facing our greatest challenges and when we are struggling the most is when we are actually making the biggest gains in our life.
So there will be periods of your addiction recovery that feel like a struggle, and that does not necessarily mean that you are on the wrong path. But in order to know this you need to have mentors, therapists, sponsors, and peers who you can talk with as you make your way through sobriety. This is why you go to treatment, this is why you go to IOP groups and therapy, and this is why you connect with people in AA and NA meetings. You need to know that you are not crazy and that you are doing the right thing when you are pushing yourself to learn and to grow in recovery.
My method that I discovered that allowed me to find success in recovery was this: I started listening and taking advice from people who were already successful in sobriety. I also started listening and taking advice from professional therapists and counselors who were trained to help me.
It was that decision–that I was going to ignore my own ideas and start listening to my mentors–that allowed my life to transform so drastically.
I can remember when I made this leap of faith and I was worried that it might lead me to be miserable. After all, I was making a deliberate choice to ignore my own “happiness” and instead to follow the advice that was given to me by others. How did they know what I needed in order to be happy? They couldn’t possibly know, right?
But I took their advice anyway because my way had not been working for me, and I needed to change. So I took this leap of faith and I started taking suggestions.
After taking these suggestions for a while I got to the point where I was suddenly living this pretty decent life in recovery. For whatever reason, I was no longer miserable, I was no longer living in fear, and I no longer felt the urge to self medicate every day. At this point I was honestly amazed and astounded that the program was working for me, because I never thought that following the advice of others could lead me to happiness.
This was the big secret, it seemed: Simply do what the therapists and sponsors and peers tell you to do, and your life will get better. Try to run your own show and it will all fall apart and turn into misery and chaos.
And that was how I discovered my own successful path in recovery. Not by doing everything that was suggested to me, but by testing everything that was suggested to me. This is how open mindedness has to work in recovery–you cannot just listen politely and nod your head but then not take any action. Instead, you have to actually put the suggestion into action and see how the idea works for your particular situation.
This is how I found the strategies and techniques that help me to stay clean and sober today. I had to be humble and open minded enough to take some advice and apply it. Then I simply kept the ideas that worked well for me and moved on to the next suggestion.
Good luck to you in your recovery journey….I hope these techniques can work for you too.