Recovery is all about personal growth.
You do not just want to get into recovery and make a modest effort, getting small gains in your life here and there. This is not a useful approach in trying to overcome addiction or alcoholism.
Because addiction is more powerful than that. If you make a modest effort in recovery then you are going to walk a very dangerous line.
Relapse prevention demands serious action
The biggest mistake that newcomers make in recovery is that they do not take enough action. They don’t attack recovery with the level of energy and enthusiasm that is truly necessary. Instead they think that they can basically coast through recovery without too much problem so long as they make a modest effort.
This becomes like a slap in the face to nearly everyone who tries to get clean and sober for the first time. Nearly everyone aims “too low” at first when they first try to get sober. This is only natural because most things in our lives are not nearly as challenging as recovery.
If you are anything like me then this means you will try a few times to “get recovery” and not put enough effort into it at first. I am guilty of believing that it would be much easier than it really is and therefore I figured that I could skate by with a minimum of effort. Indeed, life had taught me as much based on my previous experiences. In other words, recovery caught me totally off guard because–quite honestly–I never had to try this hard at anything before!
Because recovery demands such an intense effort you are bound to get some seriously amazing results. I think this is where the real payoff is with recovery–in just doing the work that will allow you to stay clean and sober, you are also doing the work that will transform your life and make it truly amazing.
In other words, you cannot just get into recovery, do the work to stay clean and sober, and NOT create an amazing new life for yourself. It’s gonna happen! So long as you are making the proper effort that is required to prevent relapse, your life is going to get incredibly amazing over the next few months/years. That is just how it goes because in order to remain clean and sober you are going to have to be making strides in your life and making personal growth.
Recovery can basically be broken down into two parts:
1) You arrest the disease of addiction and stop using drugs and alcohol (call this the detox phase if you like, or “early recovery”).
2) Long term sobriety–and you can label this “relapse prevention” if you like. Because ultimately that is your goal for the rest of your life: to prevent relapse.
My experience is that you have at least 3 challenges based on these two ideas: One, you need to go to detox and get dried out. Two, you need to do a whole lot of learning and transition into long term recovery. And three, you need to find a way to challenge yourself in the long run so that you can overcome complacency in long term recovery.
All three of these challenges demand action. All three of them demand that you make positive changes in your life. This is what recovery really is: a series of positive changes. And it all hinges on your commitment to positive growth on a daily basis. You can’t wake up one day and say “I don’t feel like doing this recovery thing any more, I think I will give up for a few days.” That results in disaster and so the only way that you can make it through the early days of your recovery journey are with a strong daily commitment to positive change and personal growth.
How to jump start your recovery and start taking massive action
The problem that most struggling addicts and alcoholics have is that they are trying to over think things. This is a problem when they are not yet surrendered to their disease because in doing so much thinking what they are really trying to do is figure out a way to have their cake and eat it too. Meaning that they realize they have a problem but they do not want to give up their drug of choice. So their brain goes to work to try to figure out how to control their addiction. This is when they start coming up with “rules” that they hope will be able to regulate their intake of drugs or alcohol. Of course these ideas never work because ultimately they are addicted and when they take drugs or alcohol they eventually lose control anyway.
What the struggling addict needs to realize is that there are two parts to this process, and they are simply over complicating it:
1) The thought.
2) The action.
The struggling addict is obsessed with figuring it all out on their own. They must let go of this. Their thoughts are what is tripping them up to begin with.
This was particularly hard for me to deal with because I honestly thought I was somewhat intelligent. Perhaps you are too or the struggling addict in your life may be quite smart. I am telling you now that it doesn’t matter and in fact any intelligence may be a liability at this stage. The reason is because we want to remove “the thought” completely and just proceed directly to “taking action.”
This is the secret of taking massive action in early recovery–you have to get out of your own way in order to do it.
What does that mean?
It means that if you are in charge of your own recovery then you don’t have a prayer. Just give up now because no one is able to handle both of those jobs (thoughts and action) in early recovery. It just doesn’t work that way.
If it did work that way, then we would not need rehab centers and detox units and AA meetings and an entire industry of people who try to help others get sober. None of that would be necessary because addicts and alcoholics could simply THINK their way into sobriety.
But guess what?
You can’t think your way into sobriety. I don’t care how smart you are. (I thought I was smart, and I could not do it!).
Instead, you need to “get out of your own way.”
How does one do this?
They do it by removing the need to think. The process is simple: You ask for help, and then take advice and direction from others.
This is the whole key to early recovery–you must put the “thinking” and the decisions into the hands of someone else.
This allows you to focus on ACTION, something that you were never able to do when you were trying to juggle both “thinking” and “action” at the same time.
If someone else does the thinking for you then they can tell you to “get out of your own way” and go get some help. Here, go check into this rehab center. Simple. Just do it.
When we are caught up in the grip of addiction, we cannot always see solutions like this. We are too busy trying to figure out how to have our cake and eat it too. We want to find a way to solve our addiction problem without having to give up our drug of choice. We may not even see rehab as a viable option at that time.
This is why we have to go through so much stress and chaos and drama in order to reach a point of total surrender. We have to hit bottom and be completely miserable before we become willing to hand the “thinking” over to someone else. And it is only at that time that we are able to “get out of our own way” and take real action.
We have to become so miserable in our addiction that we can temporarily give up on the idea that we might be able to have our cake and eat it too (still use our drug of choice but learn to control it better). We have to let go of that idea and the only way that we can do that is to allow someone else to make our decisions for us (at least temporarily).
So the way to launch yourself into massive action in early recovery is very counter-intuitive. You don’t do a lot of thinking and struggle to figure something out that requires lots of thought or creativity. Instead, you simply let go. This is surrender. You let go and allow yourself to ask for help, to ask for direction, and to be able to take real action–without your thoughts and ideas getting in the way. Because now you have decided that you will override your own ideas, and use someone else’s for a while. You have to trust others in early recovery if you want to take massive action. You can never do it all on your own because then you are trying to do too many things: Figure out WHAT to do and then also take action and do it. When you surrender and decide to let others make some decisions for you (go to rehab, go to treatment, go to meetings, etc.) then you allow yourself to focus on taking action. You remove the roadblock that was slowing you down in the past.
Your own thoughts are your greatest enemy in early recovery. You must learn to disregard them and trust other people instead. This is very difficult to do because our egos tend to get in the way. This is also why we have to hit bottom and suffer so deeply before we become willing to take this particular leap of faith (and put our lives into other people’s hands).
It is not that we have to suffer deeply for any particular reason, it is only that most of us will not give up control of our own life until we are at our wit’s end. If you can surrender earlier then you can avoid a whole lot of pain and misery. Trust others and you can have the key to taking massive action.
Aim high, hit high
When you are living in recovery I think it is important that you aim high in life.
There are several reasons for this. In particular I am talking about making personal growth in you recovery after you are basically sober and somewhat stable. It is at this time that the real challenge of recovery begins and you now have to create a better life for yourself.
The first reason that I think this is important is because of self esteem issues. Most people who are addicted have an underlying issue related to their self esteem. They likely do not feel good about themselves in general and this is part of why they self medicated for so long. This will be more true for some addicts but ultimately we can all benefit from an increase in healthy self esteem.
This is why you need to “aim high” in your recovery–so that you can accomplish things that make you feel genuinely good about yourself. In my opinion this is how you “build a moat” around your recovery when it comes to relapse prevention. Even if you are going through the motions and attending meetings and working the steps and talking with a sponsor, you are not really protected from relapse if you are still suffering from low self esteem. The best way to protect yourself from relapse is to raise the value of your recovery.
Think carefully about this for a moment because it is an important concept. Think about “the value of you recovery.” How important is your life to you today? Is it more important than it was when you were self medicating all the time? If it is not then you have a lot of work to do, in my opinion. You want your life in recovery to be valuable to you so that you are not willing to just throw it all away on a relapse.
Another way to look at it is in terms of “passion.” How passionate were you to use your drug of choice during addiction? We all remember having a certain amount of energy and enthusiasm for using our drug of choice. If we cannot capture at least that same amount of passion in our recovery then we will become bored and eventually return to our old ways. Recovery has to be exciting, rewarding, and fun if we are going to be able to resist the temptation of relapse.
This is why I suggest that you have to “aim high” in your recovery and try to accomplish big things. It is not enough to just kick your feet up and coast through recovery. This is a bad strategy because you are not “building a moat” around your recovery. The way to build the moat is to take massive action and try to improve your life by leaps and bounds. This requires serious effort and massive action on your part.
Now you may be wondering how to go about implementing this idea. Say that you are now past the “detox phase” of early recovery and you are somewhat stable now. What are you to do in order to accelerate your growth and start taking massive action?
To be honest the solution is the exact same thing that worked in the last stage–get out of your own way by handing the decisions over to someone else. I know that it is crushing to your ego in order to do this but the benefits that you get out of it are incredible.
This is the equivalent of getting a sponsor in early recovery and asking them what you need to do, then doing it. If you follow such a path then your life will improve rapidly. We cannot often see and identify our biggest stumbling blocks in life even when they are right in front of our face. But an outsider can often see our problems clearly and therefore they can advise us in how to overcome those problems quickly and easily.
It takes guts to do this. It takes guts to live this way. It is difficult to ask for advice from others and then follow that advice with immediate action. But this is the path to rapid growth in recovery. In living this way you eliminate the biggest bottleneck which is YOUR THINKING. It is not that your thinking is terrible but obviously it is not as efficient as an outsider’s perception when it comes to analyzing your own situation. We cannot prescribe actions for ourselves very well. If we outsource this task to other people then it frees us up to take massive action and create results quickly in our lives.
How to be “successfully unrealistic” in your recovery journey
After you have lived in recovery for a few years you have probably taken a ton of advice from other people and followed that advice up with massive action. At this point you start to realize what works well in your life and what does not. In living this way you learn from other’s advice and then you can start to make some decisions on your own.
Hopefully by now most of your major character flaws have been addressed. Hopefully at this point you are stable and strong in your recovery based on all of the action you have taken and personal growth that you have achieved.
In my opinion this is the time when you get to start dreaming a little….where you get to figure out what it is that you want in life. This has to come later in recovery because if you try this approach during early recovery you will just sabotage yourself. We all know what we want in early recovery and that is our drug of choice! Therefore we have to hand the reigns over to someone else for a while and let them make decisions for us and give us direction.
What I am suggesting here is that after you have a few years in recovery and become more stable that you can take the reigns back and start figuring out your own direction. I am not sure when this becomes a safe path for someone but obviously the results will speak for themselves. If the person ends up relapsing then they should have relied on other’s advice rather than their own at that point.
I got to this point myself around the 2 to 3 year mark in my recovery journey. I realized that I had to push myself to keep making positive changes if I was going to remain clean and sober. I also clearly saw the alternative: to let others keep making decisions for me in my recovery (sponsorship, asking for advice and feedback from peers, etc.).
It was also at this point in my journey that I realized that “a program” of recovery was really just window dressing, and that it was all about taking positive action.
It was around this time that I started to push myself to set some goals in my life. I wanted to achieve some things and I realized that I had to aim high. Therefore the goals that I set at the time were “unrealistic” to some extent. In other words, I was aiming higher than what I thought I could achieve (realistically).
The results of this approach have been outstanding. Because I aimed high in my recovery, I hit a few of these lofty goals and my life has been transformed all over again (for the better) in my recovery journey. But I had to be a bit unrealistic. (hint: this is why people run marathons!). I had to put myself out there and take some healthy risks. This is how I have grown in leaps and bounds in my recovery.