It should come as no surprise that some of the most critical concepts in addiction recovery are also the most misunderstood.
This is a problem for a lot of newcomers who struggle to maintain sobriety, simply because they do not fully understand what is required in order for them to remain clean and sober.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these misunderstood concepts.
The first concept that people get wrong is that of surrender. I can remember when I was struggling with my own addiction and everyone at treatment was talking about surrender. I was can remember trying to figure out how I was going to surrender and what that was going to look like or feel like.
At the time, I was imagining that this was a simple mental switch that I could flip in my head, where I would suddenly be in a state of surrender, and then I could start succeeding at recovery. But the truth was that this mental switch was not something that I could just choose to do on a whim–it had to be “flipped” based on my life circumstances.
In other words, I had to get really desperate and miserable in my addiction before I could be in this state of surrender where I was open to recovery concepts. I was trying to somehow force this state of surrender mentally, but it had to be something that happened naturally based on my life circumstances.
I could not choose to surrender; it had to happen on its own. But there was a point in my life when I was still in denial and I was trying to figure out how to mentally flip that surrender switch. It only happened later on after I had endured a lot more pain and misery and suffering at the hands of my addiction.
Before I had surrendered, nothing that I did seemed to make an impact on my recovery efforts. I was still stuck in addiction and nothing was working for me. I had not surrendered fully so I could not completely give myself over to a recovery program. I was hanging on to some bit of control that I wanted to maintain. I could not figure out how to let go completely.
Now another somewhat related concept to that of surrender is the concept of denial.
People often misunderstand denial because they erroneously believe that denial only has one level. But in fact there are multiple levels of denial and in order to really grasp recovery you have to get past at least the first two levels of it.
Most of us can easily grasp the first and most obvious level of denial. We know when someone is in blatant and outright denial, saying something like “I am not an alcoholic, and I do not have a drinking problem, I don’t know why everyone keeps saying that I do!” That person is in outright denial and they do not admit to having a problem whatsoever.
The second level of denial is more insidious than this. The second level has to do with the solution.
I learned about this second level myself when I finally admitted that I had a problem with alcohol and drugs, and that I was very definitely a real alcoholic.
So I finally reached this conclusion myself and I got very depressed and upset when I realized that I was not magically cured just because I admitted that I was a real alcoholic. I thought that was the whole secret? But it turns out that you can get past your denial of the problem and admit to your addiction, but still not be willing to embrace the solution.
And that was the exact place that I was stuck in for a few years. I knew that I was a real drug addict and a real alcoholic, and yet I was hopeless in the sense that I had sort of written off the idea of rehab and AA meetings, believing that they could never help me to recover. So I believed that I was going to be stuck as a miserable drunk forever because “nothing could help me.”
I was no longer in denial of the problem, but I was still in denial of the solution.
The way that surrender and denial tie in together is this: I had to finally surrender to a recovery program in order to move past my denial. I had to get past the idea that “AA cannot really help me” and just go back to rehab and give it another chance, and allow the solution to work in my life. I had to let go of everything for that to happen. I felt like I was in free fall, like I had stepped out of an airplane, because I really did not think that treatment could save me. But I had surrendered fully and I was willing to go along with anything at this point and see what happened.
Now the last concept that I want to touch on is that of complacency. A lot of people think that the number one threat in long term recovery is that of resentment and anger, but I think that is misguided. We can actually learn how to deal with our anger pretty effectively in recovery, but there is a sneaky threat that most of us never see coming, and that is complacency.
In order to overcome complacency we have to first define it. Getting complacent in our recovery means that we get into a routine, we get a bit lazy, and we stop making personal growth a priority. Complacency is a lack of forward motion in our lives.
In early recovery this is not a problem, because we are learning and growing very quickly. But eventually the “new factor” of recovery wears off, and we have to somehow self-motivate.
What we really need in order to overcome complacency is a strategy for living that keeps challenging us. This can be counter-intuitive to grasp at first because after we get settled into our recovery program it may almost seem as if we are “cured.” But the truth is that our disease of addiction is going to keep trying to find new ways to trip us up and get us to relapse, and therefore we need to keep striving for more personal growth and self improvement.
Basically we have to create a strategy and a design for living that encourages us to continuously be seeking self improvement. Failure to make forward progress means that we become stagnant, and if we are stagnant for too long then we start to backpedal and become complacent.
When we revert back to our default solution in life, that means relapse. In order to thrive in recovery we must keep innovating new solutions for ourselves. That means reaching out for help and experimenting with the suggestions that are given to us. It also means actively assessing our shortcomings and defects on a regular basis so that we can overcome any trouble areas in our lives that may eventually get us into trouble.