If you want to build a strong recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction then I have a few suggestions for you.
What I can share with you are the things that have worked well for me on my journey of 17 plus years into addiction recovery.
I have also observed, in watching my peers, a lot of what hasn’t ultimately worked.
When I was first getting clean and sober, for example, I believed that going to AA each and every day was likely going to be the key to a lifetime of strong recovery. I later figured out–mostly by watching some of my peers in AA who relapsed–that daily AA meetings were not necessarily the key to lifelong sobriety. Initially I thought that meetings were key, but later I revised this thinking when I watched some pretty interesting results unfold before me.
Which is not to say that I think meetings are bad or anything, only that I discovered for myself that they were not the ultimate answer. And if you listen to the people in AA who have been there for significant periods of time, they will essentially tell you the same thing: “the solution is in the steps. Get out there and do the work.”
Indeed, it is possible to go to AA meetings every single day and still relapse.
What, then, is the solution?
In order to discover what the real key to a strong recovery was, I started to do something interesting. Instead of listening to the “winners” at AA meetings, I started watching what they actually did in their life instead.
Because honestly, it is pretty easy for anyone–in AA or otherwise–to get up on their soapbox and stroke their own ego when they are sharing about their recovery. In other words, telling the newcomer in AA what to do to stay sober, and what you actually did to stay sober, are often two completely different things. It is easy to let our ego take over when we are “preaching.”
The truth is that if you actually watch the successful people in AA and NA then you will start to notice some common themes. And so I started picking up on those, observing those themes, and instead of listening to their verbal advice, I started mimicking their actions. This was what actually got me the results that I wanted in life. Not doing what they said, but doing what they did. There is a difference, oftentimes.
And what were those things? What were the themes that I discovered among the “winners” in AA?
One of the themes was that of exercise and physical fitness.
Now I can hear the objections now, and I can hear you picking out exceptions to this, and I hear your objection.
I had the same objection myself at one time. I argued that there were also plenty of examples of people who were successful in recovery who were not into fitness and exercise. Why should I focus on physical fitness when the solution is spiritual, right? That was what I told myself during the first year of my sobriety.
But later on, a therapist convinced me that I had to try, that I was missing out on some pretty significant gains in my recovery journey by not exercising regularly.
And so after many years of struggle to establish the habit, I was finally able to get into shape. And honestly, my therapist was right–I had been missing out on a huge part of recovery. Getting physically fit completely transformed my sobriety and improved it in a profound way. Just the emotional boost and mental clarity that I got from daily exercise was worth the price of admission, and there were other benefits on top of those.
But I could not see those things from my limited perspective in early recovery. I kept hearing and seeing the theme of fitness pop up among those who were successful in recovery, but I sort of ignored it for as long as I could. Eventually, for some reason, I finally heard the message, and I got into shape. And doing so completely transformed my world for the better.
Now another theme that you will hear over and over again is that of meditation. Not only is this a common theme among the people you will encounter in recovery, but it is actually designed right into most recovery programs, such as AA. Step eleven says that we “sought through prayer and meditation…” So there are strong suggestions that we should meditate.
But again, this is not something that clicked for me right away. I had to play with it, I had to experiment, and I had to keep hearing and seeing the “winners” in recovery who were talking about meditation before I would finally jump into it. But now that I have I can clearly see the benefits of doing so, and I would not think to go without it on a pretty regular basis.
Now in order to truly build a stronger recovery you cannot afford to be passive in your approach to sobriety.
What does this mean? It means that if you just go to AA meetings and sit and listen, then you go live your life and you are not really engaging with recovery principles in a meaningful way outside of the meetings, then you are not going to thrive in recovery.
Instead, you must push yourself to find the opportunities for real growth in your life. You must problem solve. You must seek new solutions.
Addiction was about using our drug of choice over and over again as our only real solution in life. It worked for a while, until it didn’t. Then we were miserable.
Now that we are in recovery, we have discarded our old solution that did not work any more, and we must find new solutions.
For what? For everything. Life is going to keep throwing new and unique problems at you to deal with. That’s just life. It keeps churning out new obstacles and challenges for you.
Your job is to keep finding new solutions for those challenges. If you stop doing this, if you become too passive in your approach, then eventually the obstacles will overwhelm you and drive you back to your drug of choice.
The only way to avoid this kind of burnout is to keep learning, to keep improving yourself, and to keep improving your life. That is the only way to maintain long term sobriety, because life is just going to keep throwing new challenges at you.
We can either meet those challenges head on and problem solve, or we can shrink back into the cowardice of addiction. That is the only real choice you make going into long term sobriety: Do you want to face your problems and recover, or do you want to run from your problems and relapse?
Today, you get to choose. Choose wisely!