Yesterday we looked at some of the basic foundations of recovery, those being disruption and having a safe environment. Today we are going to look at the idea of asking for help and using the idea of community to help you through early recovery.
It is necessary to ask for help in early recovery because if you refuse to do so then this is a clear sign that you have not surrendered to your disease yet. People who refuse to ask for help are generally not willing to change, as they desperately need new information if they are going to overcome their pattern of addiction. Usually the addict or alcoholic has proven to themselves several times over that they cannot figure out sobriety on their own, therefore, they need new information. They cannot get this new information unless they become willing to ask for help and take advice from other people.
But how do we actually ask for help?
How to ask for help when you are stuck in addiction
Before you can actually ask for help and be sincere about it you have to hit bottom. This means that you must be at the lowest point of your addiction so far and you will probably feel like you have almost nothing left to live for. This is a point of desperation and despair and if you are still happy and joking around and laughing it up and having a good time then I can assure you that you are not at the point of total surrender. I do not mean to be negative or to be a big downer but this is the reality of recovery. We do not choose to recover when things are going well. We do not become willing to change our lives when we are still having fun.
So the way to ask for help is to hit bottom, become humble, and ask someone you trust for advice and direction. Just about anyone that you ask is going to steer you into the usual channels of “help.” This will be things such as:
* “Go to an AA or NA meeting.”
* “Go see a counselor or a therapist.”
* “Go to inpatient rehab.”
* “Seek treatment.”
* “Call a help line and ask them what to do.”
And so on. Most of these options will also be there to help steer you closer to the help that you ultimately need. For example, if you go see a therapist it is likely that they would assess your situation and then possibly recommend that you go to inpatient rehab. So just agreeing to go get one form of help does not necessarily close the door on all other types of help. Likewise, you may show up to a few 12 step meetings in such an altered state that they may start suggesting that you go to an inpatient detox first.
Therefore it does not necessarily have to be this big deal as far as what help you seek out in the beginning. This is just the start of your journey, and things can easily change and adjust over time. You are not locked into one decision that you make forever.
Some people get so worked up over the help that they pursue and they think that they have to get it just right if they are going to recover. So instead of taking action and pursuing ANY form of help, they stay stuck and paralyzed because they believe that they have to find just the right treatment, or just the right rehab, or just the right solution for their drug or alcohol problem. They have every excuse in the book as to why nothing will help them and they should not try anything:
“Counseling? I tried that before, and I already know what they are going to tell me.”
“Inpatient rehab? Been there, done that. It doesn’t work for me. I just get out and then relapse every time.”
“AA meetings? I have too much anxiety to go to AA.” (Or the classic line of BS: “Those meetings make me want to drink!”).
They have every excuse as to why nothing will help them to recover. The truth is, someone who is making these arguments is simply not ready to get clean and sober yet. They have not fully surrendered and they have not hit their bottom yet. Unfortunately they need to experience more pain and misery in their addiction before they become willing to take action.
See, it is not so much what action that they take, so long as it is based on total abstinence. This is the sticking point that so many addicts and alcoholics will struggle to get past. They know that all of this “help” that they might receive is all based on total abstinence. All of these programs, counseling, therapies, meetings–all of it is based on the idea that they have to stop drinking and using drugs entirely. Otherwise they will just continue to spiral out of control. Moderation programs don’t work so well with true addicts (if you find moderation working well for you, then go for it! You are not an addict and do not have a problem….).
The biggest problem in early recovery is simply in getting started. The addict believes that they have to get everything perfect if they are going to be successful in recovery, that they have to find just the right rehab, but this is not true.
The truth is, they just have to get one idea perfect, and everything else will fall into place. You could summarize it like this:
* Don’t use drugs or alcohol no matter what.
* Seek help so that you can start taking positive action.
This is really the whole mysterious recovery process in a nutshell. Total abstinence followed up by positive action. Truly there are no secrets that run any deeper than this. First you have to get detoxed, then you have to commit to total abstinence, then you have to start taking positive action in your life and making positive changes. Really that is the entire process of recovery and surrender from start to finish (why this would ever require 12 steps is beyond me, but whatever works for you is great!).
Asking for help when you are still stuck in active addiction really only requires willingness and follow through. First you have to be willing to ask for help, then you have to actually do it. Of course, once someone offers you some sort of help or suggestion, you have to follow through on that and actually take the advice. Don’t worry so much that people are going to steer you wrong, or that you will get the wrong sort of help, or that other people may not have your best interest in mind. Let go of all of that garbage that is holding you back, because none of it is valid or true. Shoot, even if you ask another addict or alcoholic what you should do about your problem, most of them will tell you in a heartfelt and serious moment that “even though they themselves are messed up, that you should seek help and try to get straight.” Seriously, I used to have all sorts of using addicts tell me that before I ever got clean. So stop worrying that people are going to steer you wrong–even the using addicts know the truth, and will tell you to get yourself to rehab!
This is not rocket science and it does not have to be, but most addicts make it out to be in their minds. They feel that if they try to recover that everything has to be perfectly lined up and in place in order for them to succeed. This is nonsense. Recovery can be (and is) an organic process that flows and unfolds as you experience it. The most important thing is your decision to change and your commitment to seeing it through. The details will take care of themselves and they are really not as important as you think they are.
For example, say that you ask for help and you end up at a certain rehab center. Maybe you are worried that you actually should have went to some other treatment center, where you would have received better help or something. Such thoughts are nonsense and do nothing to serve you. Stop worrying about everything and just do it. Just commit to recovery and ask for help and start going with the flow. The religious folks have a nice way of putting it: “God did not bring me this far along just to drop me on my head.” Which means that you have to have a little faith at some point, and realize that if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other that everything is going to work out. This is especially true if you can grab hold tight to the idea that your commitment to sobriety is now the most important thing in your life. If you can hang on to that idea then everything will work out in the end. Stop worrying about the details. Get the sobriety thing nailed down and let the details fall into place. Your life becomes about a thousand times easier when you are not abusing drugs or alcohol every day.
Learning how to trust in the process of recovery
It is understandable that you may not trust in the recovery process at first. This can be especially true if you are exposed to AA meetings or the 12 step program and find it to be strange in some ways. There are several things that might put someone off of the program right off the bat.
First there is the social aspect of meetings. A lot of people in addiction are self medicating due to anxiety, so for them, sitting in a meeting (or speaking in one) is almost unthinkable. Then there is the spiritual aspect and the higher power thing. People get all wrapped up in the labels and everyone tries to convince the newcomer that it is just spiritual, not religious, and no one is forcing God on them and so on. The 12 steps themselves sound like they were written about a thousand years ago.
Anyone who steps foot into their first 12 step meeting is going to feel awkward and like a bit of an outsider at first. The idea of going to inpatient rehab is scary to most people, whether they admit or not. It is sort of like volunteering to go to jail, at least in the mind of the addict. And there is this terrible feeling that goes along with it because the addict knows they will be deprived of their drug of choice. So in a way it feels bad to go to treatment, it is the feeling of giving up, of giving in, of surrender.
There are just so many negative feelings in early recovery that it can be tough for anyone who is trying to get started on a new life. It is not an easy or smooth transition.
So how can you learn to trust in this process, if there are so many negative feelings involved?
Knowing that this awesome new life awaits you on the other side is not enough. At least it was not enough for me. For one thing, I did not believe I would ever be happy again in recovery, or that I would ever have this awesome new life. I thought that I would be miserable forever without my drug of choice.
So what changed for me? What allowed me to break through these negative thoughts and embrace recovery anyway?
What changed is that I became miserable enough in my addiction. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Really, I had just had enough at some point, and I slowly realized that it was never going to get any better. I finally saw the truth of my addiction, that it was just going to be this endless cycle of trying to get high over and over again. I also saw the futility in it because I could never really get properly high and wasted unless I had first deprived myself for a few days without using much. So I realized that I could not get totally wasted, every single day, because if I did then this would just become my new “normal.” Getting high required more and more each time, and this had hard limits to it. So I realized at some point that I was trapped in a prison of my own making.
This realization did not happen overnight. It happened very slowly over time, and I think what really happened is that I just got sick of being so miserable.
This misery is how I was finally able to trust in the process of recovery.
Really, I just stopped caring. I stopped worrying so much about every little thing, and I just let go of everything. I even let go of my anxiety. I just let it all go. I was done with worrying.
This was how I was able to embrace recovery. It was a slow start, really, but at least I was willing to ask for help and go to rehab.
You only need a tiny bit of willingness to get started in recovery. But if you have no willingness at all, then you stay stuck in addiction.
I had become just a tiny bit willing to change my life. To ask for help, to go to rehab. Even though I had been before, even though I did not like 12 step meetings, even though I had every excuse in the book. I still got miserable enough to become just a tiny bit willing.
When do you get to be back in the driver’s seat?
In long term recovery, you will definitely be back in the “driver’s seat.”
This happens as a result of making positive changes over the long term. You may feel like you are not even in control of your own life in early recovery. This will change in long term recovery. You will one day realize that you can do pretty much anything that you want, so long as you focus on it and take daily action towards your goal. This is how my recovery has worked, at any rate. I have learned that if I set a goal and really want to achieve it, then it is simply a matter of being willing to pay the price of that goal. That means you have to put in the work. You have to make the effort if you want the rewards.
This is illustrated perfectly by addiction and recovery, and so you can use this lesson and the discipline that you gain to conquer other goals in your life.
In other words: You got clean and sober, right? You managed to overcome your addiction and find this stable new life in recovery, right? So you can do nearly anything you want, it is all just a matter of priority.
Again, this is evidenced by your recovery journey. They have a saying in traditional recovery: “The only thing that you have to change in recovery is EVERYTHING.” This means that in order to overcome your addiction, you have make a truly massive effort. It took a lot of work. It was probably the hardest thing you have ever done in your whole life.
As such, you now have a template for setting and achieving other amazing goals in your life. Personal growth will still be a challenge, but at least you know exactly how much effort is required. You have to try really hard! But, you also know what the results are like.
Do you have to embrace the 12 step community? Are there other programs you could use?
I am personally not a huge fan of 12 step recovery, but there are very few alternatives out there. For the purposes of early recovery, I would urge you not to sweat the details. I embraced 12 step recovery for the first year of my journey, but then I have since drifted away from it for the last decade.
There are probably other programs out there but I do not think it is worth seeking them out. There is not enough support in them as they are spread too thin. AA is everywhere even though it is not a perfect solution.
My advice is to not sweat the details and simply go along with the flow. If you go to rehab they will likely expose you to AA meetings. Just go along with it for now. When you are stable in recovery you will not have to depend on programs–you can depend on your own personal growth instead.
How to get through your first year of recovery without relapsing
Don’t use drugs or alcohol no matter what. Ask for help and take the advice you are given. Go with the flow. Stop resisting things. If they want you to go to meetings, then go to meetings. You can design your own recovery program later, when you are stable in recovery. During year one, just ask for help and do what you are told. This sounds bad but it will unlock incredible freedom down the road.
How to actually walk the walk in recovery rather than just sounding smart in 12 step meetings
Very simple, just do the following two things:
* Don’t use addictive drugs or alcohol no matter what.
* Take positive action every day.
Focus on these two things as your most important principles in life. Do not worry about sounding smart in AA meetings. Instead, worry about those two simple ideas. Push yourself to find and take positive action every day. Personal growth is your new goal. Live recovery rather than just talk about it. Live a good life rather than follow some program to the letter.
When you no longer need to depend on a recovery community
At some point you will be stable enough in recovery that you no longer need to do what others tell you to do. This is the freedom that comes later in your recovery, after you have found some stability and you have made tremendous growth. By now you should see that you can prevent relapse through personal growth just as well as by dependency on a community.