The key skill in early alcoholism and drug addiction treatment is this:
* Testing out advice and suggestions.
That’s it. That is the entire key to successful recovery.
Everything else is pretty much secondary to this fundamental concept.
Let’s break it down a bit further though, just to be crystal clear.
We all know what it is like to be stuck in denial. Most recovering alcoholics and addicts know what it is like to be in several different stages of denial.
For example, you might outright deny that you have any problem with drugs or alcohol whatsoever. That’s blatant denial, right?
But what about when you have admitted that you have a real problem, but you still don’t believe that rehab or AA could possibly help you? And so you just keep on drinking. What kind of denial is that?
That kind of denial is “denial of the solution.” You admit that you have serious problems…..you’re just not willing to do anything about them. So you stay stuck in your addiction and continue to self medicate, arguing that “rehab doesn’t work for me” or “I don’t like AA meetings” and a huge list of excuses that is a mile long.
Denial is all about denying the solution. If someone tells you to call a rehab, go to inpatient treatment, and then follow up with meetings and therapy and a huge support system–you either do it, or you deny that it would, could, or should help you in any way. You either deny the solution or you accept it.
And so it is with everything that happens in your life during early recovery. You are relearning how to live your life as a clean and sober person.
This means that you have lots and lots of lessons to learn. And if you refuse to learn any of those lessons then you are still stuck in denial and you still have reservations about recovery.
If you accept those lessons to be learned and you humbly attempt to learn them, then you are in an excellent position to do well in recovery.
Part of the problem is that when most of us get into addiction treatment, we don’t want to follow orders or obey suggestions from treatment professionals. We think that we somehow know better, even though our own results in life (we are miserable from our addiction) have proven that we do not know any better.
Therefore the correct level of surrender is best expressed by this sentiment: “I don’t know what the solution for happiness and recovery is, but I am confident that my own ideas have failed me. I am sick and tired of my addiction, I am sick and tired of my life, and I have no idea how to be happy. Please show me.”
This is the level of open mindedness and willingness that is necessary for early recovery. Anything less just results in more denial and eventual relapse. You sort of have to wipe the slate clean when you come into recovery and admit that all of your own ideas about how to live a good life and be happy are flawed. Your best thinking resulted in complete chaos and misery, and here you are in AA or rehab, hoping to find a solution.
At this point your goal is simple: Listen and learn, and then start putting the advice into action.
We like to think that we can predict the results of a suggestion. So if someone tells me to write out a gratitude list every day for the next 30 days, I can sit back and imagine what that will be like, and I can believe that I already know the benefits of doing it, and therefore I really don’t have to do this “homework” every day.
But the reality turns out to be different than this: When I actually sit there and force myself to come up with reasons that I am grateful, what I am really doing is training my brain. And after forcing my brain to “sweat” for a month while coming up with new ideas for why I am grateful, I am really building my “gratitude muscle.” And the result of this is that my brain is much quicker and more able to find reasons to see something positive in a situation, rather than focusing on the negative.
So this is not a benefit that I could have predicted or appreciated while I was just listening to someone make the suggestion, telling me to write out these gratitude lists, and then doing a quick “thought experiment” and deciding that it really would not benefit me that much. Instead, I had to actually do the exercise, and write out the gratitude lists, in order to realize the full benefits of it.
In other words, the suggestions that you hear from your therapist, from your sponsor, from your peers in AA meetings–those suggestions cannot just be thought experiments. You cannot just nod politely and then go home and watch cartoons all day long and expect to somehow absorb a better life in recovery just by listening at AA meetings. You have to actually roll up your sleeves and take the advice and put it into motion.
This is the skill.
Actually experimenting in your life based on the suggestions of your mentors–that is what will produce your success in recovery.
You can read books too, but most of your real breakthroughs are going to come from verbal suggestions–people telling you what they did and what worked for them. You need to get out there and go to rehab, go to AA meetings, go to therapy and counseling–generally dive head first into any form of recovery or treatment that you can find.
And then you need to start following suggestions and testing them out in your own life.
I can remember when I was in early recovery, I made a firm commitment to myself to “get out of my own way” and start taking suggestions from other people instead. I made a commitment to actually test out the advice I was given rather than dismissing it out of hand.
The results of this blew me away in just a few short weeks. I could not believe how much better my life was getting, and in such a short period of time.
At some point, when I was busy taking suggestions and advice and not really paying attention to anything else, my life and my recovery sort of “turned a corner.” Instead of being depressed that I was clean and sober now (how do you have fun in recovery without drugs or alcohol, right?), suddenly I was enjoying my life, I was laughing and connecting with new friends in recovery, and my life just kept getting better and better. I had no idea how or why this happened, and it truly baffled me. All I was doing was following directions. All I did was to go to rehab, ask for help, and start taking orders from people.
For some reason I did not believe that anyone else on this planet could possibly know what would make me happy. I did not think that following the advice of others could lead me to peace and happiness.
I was wrong. And that is how I know that this will work for you too–or anyone for that matter. Surrender to your disease, yes…but then surrender to a new solution. Surrender to rehab, to recovery programs, to therapists and counselors whose only job is to help you.
The real skill that you need is modeling–do what others did in order to find success in recovery, and you will find success too. Good luck!