In order to get clean and sober you have to do certain things.
Sobriety does not just fall into your lap because you wish that your life was different. For any real addict or alcoholic, there is actual work involved wtih the process of transforming your life.
But that work cannot just be ordered from someone who is unwilling to comply. Instead, we all know today that any struggling addict or alcoholic has to actually want to change their life. They have to want it for themselves on a very deep level if they are going to overcome a real addiction.
That willingness has to come from surrender.
So the first milestone in a struggling addict’s journey to sobriety is the moment when they surrender to the fact that they are, in fact, a very real alcoholic or drug addict.
I can remember when I was much younger and less experienced in my own journey, and I can remember seeing others who were alcoholic, and I wondered to myself “Why don’t they just stop drinking?” I had not yet experimented with drugs and booze myself so I had no idea what an addiction was like. But back when I was still a “normie” I believed that any addict or alcoholic should, in theory, just be able to walk away from their substance of choice and get on with their life.
Little did I know….
Years later, I picked up my first drug (which was marijuana by the way) and I was instantly–and quite definitively–off to the races. I later picked up alcohol as well and that caught on for me too. Without even giving my own permission about the matter, I had suddenly become an addict and an alcoholic. It caught me completely off guard.
So for a while I was in outright denial of the fact that I might have a problem. I figured that I was smart enough to lock it down, to cut back if and when I really needed to do so. And that worked for a while. But eventually my disease spun me further and further out of control, and I started to have blackouts while drinking and going through all kinds of chaos.
At some point my family convinced me to attend rehab, which I did. Now here is the key point, though: I had only surrendered to the fact that I was a real alcoholic. I went to rehab and I said “yeah, I guess I am a real drunk with a real problem, I am addicted, I know that I have a serious problem with it. Yes, I admit that.”
However, I left rehab that time and I drank again and went back to drugs. What was going on? Had I not broken through my denial? Had I not admitted to my problem?
Yes, I had surrendered. Partially.
But in order to really turn your life around you must also pass this second, and perhaps more important milestone, which is to surrender to a new solution in your life.
In other words, it is not enough to simply admit–and even to accept fully–that you have alcoholism or drug addiction. That is not enough. You can accept that label all day long, you can go shout it from the hilltops that you are a real alcoholic, but so long as you are not yet accepting a solution into your life, you will remain stuck. You will keep spinning your wheels and dancing between addiction and “being half sober.”
The second milestone, therefore, is to surrender completely to a new solution. To say to the world “yes, I know that I need serious help, and I am ready to do whatever it takes in order to turn this around.”
This is quite different than a simple admission of your disease. I would say that I was admitting that I had a problem with alcoholism and drug addiction for years before I finally made that final leap past my denial and realized that I needed real help.
One of the problems with most addicts and alcoholics is that they are not, in general, stupid people. They are actually fairly intelligent, which works agaisnt their ability to surrender. In order to really succeed they have to essentially “give up” and ask someone else how to live their life. This is not something that comes easily to most people. Therefore we have to bang our heads into the wall for quite some time before we reach the point at which we become willing to humble ourselves to the point necessary.
What does this look like, when a struggling alcoholic has finally broken through their denial and they are accepting of a new solution?
It looks like the person asks for help, and they actually mean it.
Sometimes an alcoholic can ask for help and they are still trying to manipulate their situation so that they can continue to self medicate. This is not really asking for help–they are just trying to keep their addiction fueled. They want to stay on the hamster wheel that is their addiction, rather than find a real solution.
Asking for help from a place of genuine humility means that the person is going to do whatever they can in order to succeed in recovery. Being truly humble means that you are no longer trying to figure out sobriety on your own, but instead you are ready to listen to others tell you what to do.
Being in a state of true surrender means that you are willing to accept someone else’s solution as your own. It means being ready to learn and willing to listen.
And it means being not just willing to do these things, but to be downright desperate for change. To be willing to do anything, whatever it takes. That is the level of willingness that is required to succeed in recovery.
So the third milestone is the moment that you realize that you must go “all in” on recovery. The moment that you realize that you must follow through and do whatever is necessary.
I can remember when I had a few months of recovery in, and I had surrendered fully and I was working a real program. And I can remember being amazed that things really were getting better for me, and that I was starting to see improvements in both my life situation and in my own personal growth. I was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, which really meant that I was realizing that I could actually be happy in sobriety. Somehow, this recovery thing was working for me, through none of my own talent or effort, but simply because I was following directions and doing what I was told.
And that was the secret, for me at least. I was doing the work. I was following directions. I was doing what I was told to do, and my life was getting better and better.
I wanted for this to continue, and so I can remember having this moment of insight in which I realized that I just had to maintain the course, to stay humble, to keep learning, and to keep following directions. The only way I could really mess it up was if I suddenly decided that I was a super genius who no longer needed the advice of others. That would be the only way I could somehow meet my downfall and relapse. But if I kept doing what was working for me, if I kept listening to my therapist, my sponsor, and my peers at AA meetings–then things would continue to get better and better.
I can remember having that revelation, and feeling grateful that I had finally found the path. It was strange that the path involved letting go, it involved surrender. But that was how I found success in my recovery journey.