What does it take in order to work the best addiction recovery program that you possibly can?
When I first got into addiction treatment I was startled by the newcomers around me who relapsed, and I desperately wanted to avoid this outcome. In order to avoid relapse I figured that I had to work the absolute best recovery program that I possibly could.
So I went to inpatient treatment and I started attending AA meetings on a daily basis. One of the things that I noticed immediately was that the amount of information and suggestions that I was hearing was nearly overwhelming. There was no way that I could possibly implement and take every piece of advice that I heard because I was hearing so much advice every single day. I was in treatment, I was going to meetings, I was going to therapy, I had a sponsor–it was just an overwhelming amount of suggestions that were being thrown at me, over and over again.
In order to make sense of it all I had to prioritize the information, and I had to act on it.
So the first thing that I did was to start looking for trends in the information that I was hearing. If one person said it then it might be helpful, but if nearly everyone was saying something then it was probably important advice. So the more frequently I heard an idea the more likely I was to investigate it.
Second of all I looked to do some modeling in order to cut through some of the information. In AA and NA they refer to modeling as “sponsorship.” You find someone who is living the kind of life that you want and then you ask that person to sponsor you. Then you follow their direction and take their advice and they guide you through the steps of the program. This is a way to filter some of that information overload, because you can kind of let everything slide if you want to, knowing that you are going to follow the direction and advice of your sponsor. So if someone tells you something in an AA meeting and you are not sure if you agree with it, you don’t have to panic. You can simply defer to your sponsor and know that if you follow your sponsor’s direction then you are likely going to get the same sort of results that your sponsor got in recovery.
Now if you are jumping through all of the hoops in early recovery then it is pretty easy to work a solid program. You ask for help, you go to rehab, you follow up with counseling and AA meetings, get a sponsor, start following directions, and so on. Maybe they send you to IOP groups following your 28 day stay in rehab, or maybe they send you to do some individual counseling sessions. Either way, if you go through an inpatient rehab program, working a solid program is actually fairly well laid out for you. Simply do what is suggested, jump through the hoops, and you should be able to navigate early recovery. All you really have to do is surrender and ask for help in order to get this ball rolling.
However, maintaining sobriety in the long term is another story altogether. It is actually fairly simple to have 2 weeks sober and be doing all of the things that people are suggesting to you: Rehab, meetings, therapy, etc.
But what about when you have had a few months of sobriety under your belt, and you have to create your own success? What about when you have had a few years sober? What happens then? How do you keep working the best program possible when you are basically left to your own devices?
In my experience, addiction recovery is actually a long study in personal growth and self development. You have 2 basic choices in your life on a moment to moment basis: You can push yourself forward in terms of perosnal growth, or you can get lazy and lean closer to relapse. There is no middle ground, no way to float along and do nothing. The option of floating along will result in relapse. The only way to “maintain” and avoid relapse is to keep learning and keep pushing yourself forward into new growth experiences.
The reason that this is true is because of the nature of addiction and alcoholism. Even in recovery the disease seems to be looking for new ways to trip us up and get us to relapse. Therefore if you conquer your alcoholism and figure out how to remain sober, the disease is simply going to look for another “in,” another way that it can trip you up. I know one guy who had 15 years sober in AA and he injured his shoulder playing softball, only to end up on prescription painkillers, later to resort back to booze. He never saw it coming, which is why we need to stay “plugged in” to recovery, so that we keep learning and adapting to new threats to our recovery.
The moment that we believe that we have it all figured out is the moment that our disease is getting ready to pounce on us and try to destroy us. Therefore we need to stay humble and keep looking for the next lesson in life that is coming our way. We must always be learning more about ourselves; always be eager to peel back another layer of truth.
You may reach a point in which you do not see the next obvious step for yourself in terms of personal growth. If that is the case then you can try to acquire new knowledge. You might try reading about personal growth in books or online. Or you can talk with a sponsor or therapist and seek direction from that person. I took a lot of suggestions during the first few years of my recovery that I did not necessarily think had anything to do with sobriety. For example, my sponsor told me to go back to college and my therapist told me to start exercising. I did not think that either suggestion had anything to do with actually maintaining sobriety, but after taking both of those suggestions I could clearly see that I had been mistaken.
You don’t know what is going to be helpful to you in early recovery, so to some extent you need to choose a mentor and start following advice. After you actually test out their advice and put it into motion you will start to see what works for you and what does not. I can actually tell you a few suggestions that I was given that have fallen by the wayside, that I stopped following because they did not work out for me. That is fine though because I continued to take advice and suggestions from my mentors and I found other things that really helped me out a lot.
What you are really looking for is to fine tune the habits that will carry you forward into long term sobriety. Daily habits are powerful because you eventually do them automatically and they can have a huge impact on the quality of your life in recovery. Early recovery is all about testing out and developing new and positive habits. Good luck to you in your recovery!