How do you go about getting unstuck in your alcoholism recovery journey? It’s not an easy question and a lot of addicts and alcoholics struggle with some type of complacency in their lives at some point. In fact, most of us–if we are lucky to live long enough and enjoy many years of sobriety–will almost certainly struggle with complacency on multiple occasions.
So the question is, when you are feeling stuck in your recovery journey, how do you get unstuck? What actions do you take in order to break free and start living again?
In order to better understand this problem, let’s take a look at the classic problem that many newly recovering addicts and alcoholics face in early recovery: The dreaded pink cloud syndrome.
What happens after the pink cloud bursts in early recovery?
What exactly is the pink cloud in early recovery?
The pink cloud is the idea that most recovering addicts and alcoholics go through this “honeymoon phase” (if you will) where everything in life is suddenly rosy. They are newly sober, they are just starting to feel better physically, and good things are happening. So they start feeling good and they might even start feeling a little too good. This is known as “pink cloud” syndrome. It is like they are floating along on a pink cloud and everything is perfect in their life now that they are sober and finally “getting it.”
Well, we all know what happens to clouds eventually…..they burst.
And so this is the inherent trap that lies within every pink cloud syndrome. Eventually the bubble will burst and life will take a turn. It is not a question of “if,” it is only a question of “when.” Or so goes the reasoning in traditional recovery, as people are always warning others about this pink cloud phenomenon.
So traditional it is understood that every newcomers in recovery will have to go through this boom and bust cycle when it comes to their happiness. They will get sober, be a bit down at first, then suddenly things will be looking up and they might even experience this pink cloud syndrome, and then later on that will inevitably burst and real life will come crashing down around them again.
This is the first and most classic example of getting “stuck” in early recovery–right after that initial pink cloud bursts and you are once again down on yourself and struggling to make sense of it all. It is, unfortunately, at these times when many people find it easy to rationalize or justify a relapse.
Now if you go to plenty of AA meetings then people will advise you on what you need to do in order to get past this pink cloud. There are, of course, no easy solutions. All of the solutions are “hard” and therefore they require real work and effort.
As you may suspect, this is my answer as well. But the application of that effort and the technique could still vary a great deal, and for me it is all about the details.
If you are getting an advice from an AA meeting, they will likely advise you with the usual suggestions, and there is nothing necessarily wrong with that: Go to more meetings, work with your sponsor, call people in recovery and talk with them, write in the steps, and so on. Nothing wrong with the fundamentals if that is what is working for you. And even if it is not working for you, it probably would if you simply grind it out and force yourself to do the work. Positive action fixes a lot of things, even if we are doing it grudgingly. I never use to believe that, but I do now. I have learned better. If you lead with the body, in most cases the mind will follow. Or as they say in AA sometimes: “You can’t think your way into good living, but you can live your way into good thinking.” I had to take action first and then later on my mind caught up after it was forced to realize the good results I was getting in life.
So if you go to AA meetings and you feel like you are “stuck” in recovery after the pink cloud bursts (or any other time for that matter) they will likely encourage you to tackle the fundamentals again and double down on what has worked for you in the past. If this works for you, that is great…..go do it. Dive in and embrace AA and all of its suggestions.
Do not do what I tell you to do, instead, do what works for you. Sobriety and serenity are the barometers of your success. If you can get that by following certain suggestions, by all means–do it. Get unstuck however you can.
The following is simply what has worked for me in terms of getting unstuck. But you need to find what works for you. There may be some overlap, maybe not.
The daily practice and how to develop it further
I have been stuck at several different points in my addiction recovery journey.
And I have been stuck for different reasons.
Sometimes I am just complacent in a general way, not doing much, not helping anyone, not reaching out. Isolated.
Other times I have just ended a long relationship with a significant other, and I feel like there is not anything of purpose or meaning going on in my life at that time. It is like rebuilding from scratch in a way.
At other times I have experienced loss, from a family member or a loved one. Again, I felt like life had little meaning, no purpose, I was angry, upset, emotional, and so on.
In all of these cases I felt stuck. In all of them I had to find a way to get through it, to get back to living right again.
How do you do that?
The way I do it is to engage in what I call “the daily practice.”
Let’s say you just went through something traumatic and you are devastated in some way. Or perhaps it is more subtle and you are becoming more and more isolated and complacent in your recovery. Either way, you feel stuck, and you feel powerless to fix it. You don’t know what to do.
In cases like this you need to take an active role in shaping your life each day. That is, your daily practice.
If you do certain things each day then we are talking about habits. Your daily habits. Your daily practice.
These are powerful because they happen every single day, over and over again. Therefore you should pay very close attention to your habits because they will shape who you become in the future.
Think about this carefully because it contains “a secret” of recovery. What you do every single day is slowly shaping who you become in the future.
When I had two weeks sober I did not like the person that I was at the time. But after two years in sobriety I was starting to like who I had become and I was starting to enjoy my life again.
How did this happen? Was it based on luck? Did I make one single decision that changed the outcome of my life?
No, it was not any one thing. It was a whole bunch of things. And it was consistent action. I had to make positive changes in my life and then persist in those changes. Over time, this made me into a different person. My life actually changed in very significant ways every year or so. I was learning, growing, evolving…..because I was taking positive action on a consistent basis.
This is “the secret” if there is such a thing in recovery: That you get to decide the person that you become based on your daily habits. What you do every day determines what your future life is like. This may sound obvious when we say it to ourselves but how many of us really live it as a truth? How many of us really take care of ourselves in the way that we want to?
And so this is what it call comes down to: Self love.
Are you loving yourself today, taking care of yourself today? And are you doing this physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and socially? Are you loving yourself and taking positive action in all of these different areas? Because that is how you get unstuck.
Of course when you are truly stuck in life you don’t really want to hear this message. You don’t want to hear that the solution is to “love yourself” and to “take care of yourself every day” and that you need to “find positive habits and establish a daily practice.” No one wants to hear that and no one wants to do it. Because it’s hard work. It takes effort and energy and brain power. You have to think. You have to be humble and reach out to others and ask for advice and guidance. No one wants to do these things.
No one wants to do it, and so they generally don’t. That is, they don’t do it until they have exhausted all of their other options, and decided that nothing else really works. For example, simply following your own ideas and ignoring conventional wisdom is a popular choice. I tried that myself for many years. In the end I had to decide that it wasn’t working. I was miserable and I was tired of living in fear and so I wanted to give something else a chance to work in my life. So I had to get humble and open myself up to new direction, to new suggestions.
You don’t get unstuck by sitting still and doing nothing. It requires action. Positive action. You have to decide, to initiate, to move. It takes energy to get unstuck.
Doing 12 step work (carrying the message) is a great way to get unstuck in recovery
One of the most positive things that you can do in your recovery is to help other people.
Now if you want to get really specific then you could focus on helping other struggling alcoholics and drug addicts to recover. This is particularly powerful and this is a huge part of the AA solution. First you get help from others and then later you give that help back to the newcomer. This is powerful because it really does work. You can’t teach something unless you are living it. So when you attempt to teach someone else to be sober you suddenly have to face yourself in the mirror. And at that point you either find a hypocrite who is not living up to their own teaching, or you will summon the strength to take an honest look at your own life and your own recovery and realize that you have some work to do yourself.
Every sponsor in AA and NA that I have talked with agrees with this idea. They all speak of how they get a lot of benefit out of helping the newcomer in recovery. They all talk about how they think they probably learn more from it then the newcomer does! This is an amazing insight and it is something that you should take advantage of. If you want to help yourself in recovery then help others.
If you want to get unstuck in recovery, then find someone else who is struggling (or stuck) and help them to get through it.
This is a very powerful strategy because it forces you to engage with the fundamentals in order to be true to yourself. You cannot teach someone else how to recover and preach the fundamentals to them without realizing that this is the solution that you yourself are also seeking. So in teaching others you refresh the material for yourself. It seems like an obvious “trick” but it is also a very necessary trick at times. We have to fool ourselves into working our own recovery.
Positive action yields positive results. It doesn’t get much more basic than that, but sometimes we all need this reminder. Or we need to work with someone who is truly struggling so that we can kick our own lives back into high gear. Either way, working with others really works. It’s a great strategy. Use it.
Also, don’t feel like you have to go to AA meetings in order to use this idea. I find much the same benefits by doing things and helping people outside of traditional recovery programs. The forum here at Spiritual River is one such outlet where people are helping each other to recover every day. It doesn’t have to be sponsorship or AA meetings necessarily. There are alternatives.
Feedback from others and taking suggestions in order to experiment in your life
Here is another suggestion if you are stuck in life:
Go get some advice from someone you trust.
Then, take the advice and act on it. Don’t just listen politely and nod your head, actually take the advice and run with it. Experiment.
This is a shortcut to wisdom. This is another one of these “secrets” of recovery, if there is such a thing.
Like the other secrets, no one really wants to learn this, or use it! It doesn’t flatter our ego to listen to other people and let them make decisions for us. It doesn’t serve our ego to take advice from others. Our ego doesn’t like that one bit.
And yet this is the shortcut to wisdom. This is like taking the easy path in recovery. Yes, there really is such a thing, the easy way in recovery, if you are willing to make the super hard decision to put your faith in something other than yourself.
And that, of course, is the hard part. Having the faith in something outside of yourself.
Find people you trust in recovery. A counselor, a therapist, a sponsor, people at the AA meetings who seem to have their life together. Ask these people what you should be doing each day. Ask these people to give you advice about your life. Ask them what they did in their first few years of sobriety in order to get through, to keep themselves busy, to find meaning and purpose. Keep asking these questions and keep listening to the advice. You will hear suggestions. You will hear of actions that were taken by these people.
Now the shortcut to wisdom is not that you ask and listen, but that you then act on it.
Put the advice into action. Do experiments.
It’s all one big experiment for you. Here you are in sobriety, on a search for meaning and purpose and peace and happiness. Will you find it? Or will you return to the misery and chaos of addiction? No one knows the future for sure, but if you are lucky enough to be sober today, then it is time to count your blessings and start taking positive action. Ask for advice and then put the idea into motion. I did this in several different ways in my journey. At one point someone told me to meditate. So I did that for a few months and I was meditating every day and then I watched to see how this impacted my life. I did the same thing with many other experiments too. I tried exercise, I tried daily prayer, I tried quitting smoking, I tried going back to college. I took suggestions and I ran with them.
Some of these things “stuck.” Some of them got left behind after I decided that they were not really serving me well.
But the things that got left behind were not mistakes. I gave them a fair trial and an honest evaluation. One great example of this is meditation. I no longer do seated meditation because I replaced with with long distance running. I later learned that some monks in the world do the exact same thing–they favor distance running over seated meditation because they feel it works better in terms of meditation quality.
So if you take suggestions from others then you are always in a state of curiosity, always willing to learn something, always looking for that next step in your personal growth. This is an excellent way to live in addiction recovery because then you are always in a state of preventing relapse. When you are learning and growing and challenging yourself to improve your life then you are generally pretty well protected from relapse. When you get stuck it means you have lost this path and for whatever reason you lack the motivation to keep doing these positive things, these learning experiments.
So we have to have ways to kick start this again, to get back into positive action, to start learning about ourselves again.
Dealing with the negative stuff in order to gain freedom for yourself in sobriety
If you feel stuck in life then you have something negative going on that is holding you back.
Your natural state is happiness, freedom, contentment. This is the blank slate that is your life.
When you are stuck you are lacking freedom, something is in the way. Fear, anxiety, anger, resentment, self pity, shame, guilt. One of those or a similar derivative is clogging up your happiness. It is in the way.
The way to peace and freedom in sobriety is through eliminating the negative.
This is counter-intuitive.
This is also why you have to “do the work” in recovery, get honest with yourself, and figure out what the negative garbage inside of you is all about.
After you identify the negativity, you must do the work to eliminate it.
This doesn’t make you happy, it allows you to become happy. Naturally. Because then you are back to the blank slate, to the peace and contentment.
When the newcomer is on the pink cloud syndrome, what is bothering them?
And you can get back to that. You can always get back to that. But it takes work. It takes persistence. It takes vigilance.