Why is it even necessary to have momentum in alcoholism recovery? Why not just take our leisure time in sobriety and handle each challenge as it comes to us?
Why do we have to push ourselves in order to be successful in recovery?
I think the answer to this has to do with the continuum between relapse and successful sobriety.
Everyone is at a different point on this continuum. You are either leaning towards recovery, or you are leaning towards relapse. And there is no middle ground. People who thought they had found a safe middle ground later realized that they were complacent and in danger of relapse.
Without momentum you could revert back into your old self
Keep in mind that we are alcoholics and drug addicts. This condition is part of our identity.
Many people reject that idea. They hate the label and they don’t want to accept it. They don’t want to accept the fact that their addiction or their alcoholism defines them.
They argue that it is too negative, that it keeps them stuck. Or that it prevents them from taking positive action somehow.
I don’t understand that particular complaint, and it doesn’t make any sense to me.
In my own experience I had to reach a point where I accepted the label fully. I had to identify as a real alcoholic. A hopeless drunk. That was who I was. It was part of me. My addiction was a part of my most innermost self.
I am not talking about identifying as an alcoholic as a point of pride. I am not necessarily proud of my addiction. What I am saying is that the addiction is a part of me. Period. It is a part of who I am deep down inside and I really believe that it was with me since birth. I did not discover the drugs or alcohol until my late teens but I believe that the addiction was still there as a part of my identity.
Therefore I had to accept this at some point if I wanted to heal my life.
And there is a constant battle going on inside of me. There will always be a part of me that wants to go out and get rip-roaring drunk. There is always going to be a part of me that is tempted to get totally wasted on drugs and booze. That part of me will never die completely. I have been clean and sober for 13 years and that little devil of temptation can still pop up on my shoulder at any given moment. It is never gone completely.
And so there is this continuum.
One the one end of the spectrum you have the little devil (if you will) trying to get me to relapse. In fact it is just that part of me, that inner part of my being that is an addict through and through.
And on the other end of the spectrum you have the positive growth that I am making in my recovery. You have the progress, the healthy changes I have made, the success that I have built on previous successes.
So when I am working hard on my recovery and I am asking lots of questions and getting feedback and taking advice, I am at the positive end of this continuum and I am well protected from the threat of relapse.
Now this is a temporary condition.
And it is important for every person in recovery to realize that this is temporary.
Maybe you just hit some amazing goal in your recovery journey and you feel like you are on top of the world. The threat of relapse? Not a problem! You are nowhere near relapse because so many positive things are happening in your life right now. It is like you are invincible, bullet-proof. Things keep getting better and better.
This is temporary.
Life has it’s ups and it’s downs. The cycle will turn eventually. I am not saying that your whole world is going to crash and burn, but I am merely pointing out that if you manage to stay alive for a few more decades then you are going to go through some natural ups and downs in your life experience. It is simply the way things go. Everything cycles. We experience some good things and some not so good things.
Of course the long term trend in recovery is always positive. It always gets better and better in the long run.
But along the way there are bound to be some rocky parts. It is inevitable.
So part of the wisdom is in realizing that the highs are temporary and so are the lows.
And the second part of the wisdom is in realizing that we can minimize the lows by putting in a consistent effort. They might still happen but we can minimize their impact. We can learn from the negative stuff and we can grow.
Just look at how far the recovering alcoholic has come already. They have traded in an old set of problems for a new set of problems. In the past they would get smashed every night, miss work, ruin relationships, crash cars, end up in jail, and so on.
Now in recovery their problems are so much different. They still have problems of course, but just look at how much better their problems are today! Getting to daily meetings, managing relationships, seeking feedback and advice for self improvement, and so on. The recovering alcoholic still has problems, but they are so much better than what they used to be.
And this should become a source of gratitude.
But it is so easy to forget that we used to have far worse problems. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the drama of today. It is so easy to forget the past and complain about the present. And it is easy to fear the future, even though we know we can handle so much more now that we are sober.
How positive actions accumulate over time in sobriety
Every day we can build a better life for ourselves. Every single day is an opportunity for more growth in our lives.
The question is, are we taking advantage of this daily multiplier?
A year of sobriety goes by. Then five years of sobriety goes by. This is actually a lot of time when you are taking positive action every single day.
But the key is that you have to be consistent. If you want to build something amazing in five years then you have to take advantage of every single day that is offered to you.
This is the power of accumulation. This is the power of being consistent in your recovery efforts.
Take the person, for instance, who just got sober today and began their journey. Everything starts out very slowly. They are generally unhappy at this point. Life is a drag, whether they are sober or drinking, and so they finally get sick and tired of the chaos and give sobriety a chance. They check into rehab. They start going to AA meetings. They are sober and reality is crashing in all around them and they don’t really see the point of life just yet. Where is the fun? How do they have fun in recovery? Will they ever be happy again if they remain sober?
So then they are forced with a constant choice. To drink today or remain sober and see if it gets any better? Drink or sober? So they start trudging this long road of recovery and they start going through the motions. Each day is a battle at first. They don’t have a lot of hope for future happiness.
Now what happens over the next few months is pretty interesting. Because if you suddenly fast forward to about the six to nine month range, you will find that they are quite a bit happier. In fact, at that point, they are now happier sober than they were during their drinking days. Even to the point where they can fully realize this and admit that it is true–yes, they are happier now at nine months sober than they ever were in their drinking days. It’s a miracle!
And yet, when did that shift take place? What is the magic day when it occurred? Was it on day 143? Was it on day 195?
I noticed it somewhere around the six month point.
It was a revelation that smacked me in the face one day, almost made me fall down in amazement. If I knew how significant it really was from my current perspective, I should have broke into tears when I had this realization.
I was living in long term rehab at the time and I was about to go to bed for the night. And I realized at that moment that I had gone through the entire day without thinking about drinking or taking drugs. Not one single craving or thought of drinking. And this was at only six months sober! Today I have over 13 years of continuous sobriety.
That was a miracle. I had reached a point in my sobriety (fairly quickly I might add) in which I was at peace. Content. Happy. Not craving alcohol all day long. Not being miserable because I had chose sobriety. In fact I was at total peace.
What had happened in those six months that led to this moment?
What did I do specifically that led to this shift in my brain? Where I was no longer obsessed with alcohol and drugs and I was able to walk around like a real human being, happy and free again.
How did this happen?
Well, a couple of things:
1) It took about six months.
2) It took hard work and consistency. I worked hard on my recovery every single day.
3) It took massive support. I was living in rehab long term (though had freedom to work, come and go, etc.)
4) It took personal growth. Pushing myself. Getting advice from others, taking action.
5) Accumulation. It was consistent effort. That is the main point.
I watched so many people relapse in my early recovery journey. And the only thing that I could really determine from that was a lack of consistent effort. People who relapsed had simply dropped the ball. They stopped doing what they were supposed to do for their recovery. Meetings, sponsorship, counseling, treatment, whatever the case may be. They stopped following through.
If you want to change your life then you simply do it one day at a time. What they fail to mention is: “Don’t take days off!” You have to be consistent if you want to accumulate good results.
And this is what sobriety really is. It is an accumulation of a new lifestyle. Bit by bit. Day by day.
It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time.
The alcoholic gets sober and a week later they are unhappy. Where is the fun? they ask.
It takes time. No one wants to hear that answer, but that doesn’t make it untrue!
It takes time to heal in recovery.
I started having fun pretty quickly, if I am honest with myself. You would think that living in long term rehab is a real drag, right?
Wrong. It was a blast. It was like being in a dorm with eleven other guys who had a massive amount of life experience. I learned a lot.
And it was fun. It really was. But I had to make a leap of faith in order to get to the “fun” part.
Because during my first 30 days or so of sobriety I was not expecting to ever have “fun” again. I thought that the fun in my life was over forever. What a horrible thought, right? No more fun? No wonder it is so hard to get sober! We actually believe that the only way we can have fun again is to drink.
But of course that is not true.
And so there is an element of faith in all of this. Not necessarily faith in a higher power (though that can be extremely beneficial as well), but just faith in the sense that you have hope. “Faith that it will get better.” That is really a kind of hope.
But even though it is hope, it blends into faith as well. Because the alcoholic has to believe. They have to believe that they might have a better life, if they make this leap of faith. If they jump into this big unknown that is “sobriety.”
Having faith is necessary to make it through early recovery
Unfortunately, it takes time to achieve long term sobriety.
This is where faith comes in. This is why the 12 step program works so well for some people.
Without faith or hope, the alcoholic is doomed to just chase happiness in the bottle forever.
I can remember my own point of surrender, and what it was that motivated me to seek help.
It was not the hope for a better life.
It was the fact that I was so sick of being miserable.
This misery and chaos is what pushed me to finally face my fears and ask for help.
But after you start getting into recovery, some sort of shift is required.
Because you can’t just run away from the misery of addiction forever. That motivation quickly runs out.
Why? For the same reason that mothers who go through the massive pain of childbirth eventually conceive more children.
Because we forget the pain. Our brains are wired that way. We are programmed to let the painful memories fade out, while remembering the good times. (This is also why denial is so difficult to overcome in addiction as well).
So after about 30 or 60 days of sobriety, how painful are the consequences of your addiction?
They are getting weaker and weaker. They are no longer nearly as painful.
And that is a problem.
So you need an alternative way to motivate yourself. You need to find something to latch onto that can help you to take consistent action.
One way to do this is by adopting faith and hope. To believe in a better future.
Another way to do it is to take massive action based on the suggestions of others. If you can push your own ego to the side for a few weeks and really dig into taking positive action, the results from this effort can start to show you an immediate payoff.
This is why I tell people to focus on taking “massive action” in early recovery. If you take suggestions and put them into immediate action then your life will start to turn around very quickly.
The spiritual component can be based almost entirely in gratitude. You do not necessarily need to find a specific higher power right off the bat like most programs would have you believe. More important than that is in finding a reason to be grateful each and every day. If you are grateful then relapse becomes impossible. If you lack gratitude then relapse becomes more threatening.
So the process typically goes something like this:
1) Surrender. Sick and tired of the misery of addiction. Hope for escape from the chaos.
2) Ask for help. Take action. Take advice.
3) Hope and faith for a better life in recovery. Faith that you will one day be happy again, without alcohol.
4) Gratitude. Practicing gratitude daily. Appreciating the journey itself. Finding joy in the process of healing.
That was the process that unfolded before me. Notice that a specific higher power was not really critical to my success in early recovery. Rather, having a general faith and hope combined with massive action (living in long term rehab, group therapy, counseling, daily meetings, etc.) was what really helped me to succeed.
Later on my faith shifted. I became content, happy even. Focused more and more on gratitude. Started seeking more in terms of spiritual growth.
I know today that my alcoholism led me to misery, even if the intensity of those painful memories have faded. In place of that motivation is a new faith and hope that is based on gratitude and appreciation for the gifts that I have received in sobriety.
Our long term habits define what we become in the future
Who will you be in five years from now? What will become of your life?
Will you be happier in five years? More content? More at peace?
Will you be stronger in your recovery? More protected from relapse?
The answer to these questions is determined–for the most part–by your daily habits.
What you do each day will determine where you end up in the future.
Seems like such a simple concept that it is hardly worth mentioning, right?
But it is worth mentioning. And most people don’t even think very carefully about what their daily habits are that will shape their future.
Exercise. Seeking advice and feedback from others. Taking massive action in new and positive directions. Challenging yourself to make more positive changes.
These are the sort of things that can build a better life in recovery. But of course it all comes down to taking consistent action.
Are you willing to take consistent action in order to get the results that you want in life? This is the question that long term sobriety poses to us. And the kicker is that if you push yourself to achieve more growth, it also protects you from the threat of relapse (rather than letting yourself drift into complacency).
What about you, have you found momentum and positive action in your recovery journey? Or have you stalled temporarily? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!