I can remember when I first got into early addiction treatment and I was struggling to find my path in early sobriety.
I went to a treatment center and then I started attending AA and NA meetings. I was listening to my peers give me advice in the meetings, and I was also talking with a therapist and a sponsor on the side. Of course being in treatment for 28 days, I also got a lot of information from that as well.
And in fact, I was getting so much information in those early days and weeks of my recovery that it was honestly a bit overwhelming. I realized fairly early that while I could certainly take suggestions from people and put their ideas into action, I could never possibly take every single idea that I heard and use it in a meaningful way–there was simply too much information coming in and too many ideas to test out.
Therefore I needed a way to prioritize this information overload, and I also needed a way to sort through the ideas and start testing them out.
What my brain was searching for was to distill all of this information into the concise and relevant stuff that would actually keep me clean and sober. Most things in life follow Pareto’s principle, which means that roughly 80 percent of the results come from about 20 percent of the effort–the key is in knowing what that 20 percent is, and focusing on that. So what I was really doing was seeking to optimize my recovery, and to optimize my life–in such a way that I would be able to make a modest effort in sobriety and be assured that I would not relapse. I wanted to succeed and I did not want to have to scramble around and work on every single recovery idea, every single day, for the rest of my life. I wanted to find what truly worked for me, figure that stuff out, and simply practice those principles.
And so I began this intellectual search for the “true drivers of success” in my own recovery.
Here is how I approached this, which was quite lucky I believe: I dove in head first and I tried to do it all. I went to inpatient treatment and I got a therapist, I did the 28 days, I started attending AA and outpatient therapy and counseling. I got a sponsor and I started working through the steps. I got suggestions to meditate, to exercise, to write in a daily journal, to read recovery literature, to explore spirituality, and so on.
I tried really hard to dedicate my entire life to this stuff. I tried really hard to push myself to give every suggestion and every opportunity a chance to work in my life.
One of the things that I did in order to prioritize was to listen to my therapist and my AA sponsor for pointed advice and direction. So in doing this I was able to start focusing in on just a few pieces of helpful advice rather than trying to focus on the huge onslaught of information overload that I was getting from the daily meetings.
Modeling a sponsor is a good idea–find someone who has the kind of life that you want to be living yourself, and then model their behavior. This is sponsorship. Ask them what they did in order to build their life in recovery, then do those things yourself. This is the shortcut you may be seeking–it’s still a lot of work, but at least you can drown out some of the information overload, because now you know what it is that you want in life, and you know how to get there.
So we could walk into an AA meeting in some random city in the world and we could ask that meeting “what things truly work for recovery?” And you would get a variety of answers, but certainly you would hear people who would advocate and vouch for the AA approach to sobriety, and some of them might even insist that the 12 step program is the only thing that truly works for anyone (not true, but understandable that some people think this way).
We could also walk into a support group that is not 12 step based and get another variety of answers as to “what really works for recovery.” We could go to religious based programs of recovery and hear some more feedback.
If you do this and actually talk to people from various programs then you will start to hear some recurring themes. For example, if you look at a number of different recovery programs, you will likely see that they all mention the idea of social support, as typified by an AA meeting, of where one addict can get support from another in order to remain sober. You might also notice that most programs talk about meditation and working with the mind in various ways, to include things such as changing our self talk to be more positive.
So in studying all potential recovery programs you will start to pick up on these themes, and those are really “nuggets of truth,” because those common factors obviously work for various people in a variety of programs.
And in my own recovery journey I was learning this from a different angle–I wasn’t necessarily studying various recovery programs, but I was seeking advice and feedback from various individuals in recovery, and I was also simply observing their lives to watch how they lived.
One of the themes that I don’t feel gets a lot of press time in meetings and such is that of physical exercise. This has been a huge boost in my own recovery program and it was something that I only stumbled on after over a year in recovery. I did not realize the full potential of how much fitness could help my recovery because people really did not talk about it too much at traditional recovery support groups. I had to discover it on my own.
And this is my message to you today: Go test out various ideas in your recovery journey and then find the things that work best FOR YOU.
This is a key idea that really changed my whole world in recovery. Once I realized that I could test ideas and keep the best ones, I became more and more willing to take on new advice and try different things. If I heard more than one person toting an idea (such as seated meditation, for example) then I became more and more likely to give that idea a try in my life. Living this way has allowed me to discover more and more tactics for my recovery that actually help me, because the ideas that I find lacking simply fall by the wayside. What is important though is that I keep seeking the next level, looking for new ways to optimize and improve my life.
The journey in recovery continues to evolve because your life is going to change and present you with new challenges. As such, you need to keep testing out new ideas and learning new things, because your specific challenges are going to keep changing and evolving. Complacency happens when we assume that we are already equipped to handle future challenges, not realizing that we need to keep learning, growing, and improving ourselves in order to “keep up” with our dormant addiction. Good luck in your journey!