I want to break this idea down into three separate phases that a typical addict or alcoholic is going to go through.
I think to some extent every struggling addict and alcoholic is going to at least touch on each of these three phases during their recovery journey.
This would essentially be the 3 different times during your addiction treatment journey in which you are trying to figure out treatment for yourself. This is the 3 different times when you are pondering, thinking, and trying to figure out what exactly you need to do next in your life journey.
So the first phase would be during outright denial–the addict or alcoholic is still abusing their drug of choice and they are facing more and more consequences and they realize that they need to do something different. They do not like the results that they are getting in life and they are starting to get sick and tired of it all.
Most alcoholics and addicts are fairly intelligent people. So there is a moment in which every addict thinks to themselves: “I should be able to figure this out. I am smarter than this. I should not be like other addicts or alcoholics who just drink themselves to death. I should be able to beat this. I’m better than this. I’m smarter than this.”
So this is the point in which the alcoholic who is drinking liquor every night switches to beer. Or the beer drinker goes from drinking a 12 pack every day to a 6 pack. Or the heroin addict decides to just use marijuana every day in an attempt to avoid their real drug of choice.
Of course, none of these efforts work at all. They all backfire because the person is addicted and their disease is going to come roaring back with a vengence every time they attempt to dampen or control it in these ways.
But the nature of denial is that we keep trying. The alcoholic believes that–even though they are miserable when they try to limit and control their alcohol intake–there is still a magic amount of booze that will keep them pleasantly buzzed without having them be out of control. And they believe that they can somehow learn to consistently drink just enough, every single day, in order to be “happy” without going overboard and losing total control.
If you or a loved one is at this stage of trying to “game” your addiction, of trying to figure out how to somehow control your drug or alcohol intake while still enjoying yourself, then you are stuck in denial and you need to move on to the next phase. Unfortunately the only way to really do that is to surrender completely and realize that you cannot figure out how to beat the game, and instead you just need to walk away from the game entirely. Stop playing the game.
This would be the second thing that you can do to figure out treatment for yourself: Surrender to it. There isn’t really much to figure out when you reach this phase, because the act of surrender does all of the heavy lifting for you. Simply work through your denial and agree to go to inpatient rehab. Call a treatment center and schedule an intake. The secret of treatment is to….go to treatment. That’s it really.
But you have to convince yourself that this is the right path forward. And the only way that this is going to happen is if you are thoroughly sick and tired of living your life in addiction. No one runs towards treatment and recovery as if it were some great reward–they don’t have this perspective because they are miserable in their addiction. No, people go to rehab because they are so incredibly miserable in their addiction that they have finally become willing to face their fear of sobriety, their fear of facing the world without their drug of choice.
Surrender is what happens when we finally break through denial. Surrender is what happens when we finally figure out that the good times are over forever, and that those good times are not coming back. But I am not sure that you can convince yourself (or anyone else) of this simply by using logic and reason. Instead, the struggling addict has to reach this conclusion on their own, they must feel it in their heart, they must realize that there is no more joy for them in using their drug of choice. Somehow they must realize this on a very deep level before they will agree to seek professional help for their problem.
Now the final piece of this puzzle is in “figuring out long term sobriety.” This is a little different than breaking through denial and finding the path to recovery in the early stages. This is more about beating complacency in the long run and finding a path of personal growth that is sustainable for the long haul.
One thing that we see happening to people in early recovery sometimes is that they will get comfortable in their recovery journey. Too comfortable. And when this happens they may stop growing, they may stop learning, they may stop pushing themselves to get to that next stage of their recovery journey.
This is a real problem. After the alcoholic or addict basically figures out how to live a clean and sober, they now have a new task in front of them: Figuring out how to hold on to that clean and sober life without going crazy. If they choose to “coast” for too long in terms of personal growth then they are going to find themselves in trouble eventually.
Recovery is personal growth. We have to keep pushing forward, lest we fall back into our addiction. What you may not realize is that this is as true for a person with 10 years sober as it is for a person with 10 months sober. In each case the recovering addict has to deliberately pursue personal improvement and holistic growth in their lives. Which is another way of saying that, as your disease of addiction continues to try to find new ways to make you relapse, you must continue to find new ways to build yourself up in recovery. You are like a boxer dancing around a ring, and your addiction is always going to be throwing another punch your way. If you want to dodge that next relapse then you need to keep dancing, you need to keep pursuing personal growth. Good luck to you on your journey!