I have a few key suggestions for anyone who is early in addiction recovery or sobriety and is looking to avoid making poor decisions for themselves.
The first suggestion and perhaps the most important one is to go to rehab and follow through with their directions for you.
This is very simple. As a recovering alcoholic myself, I tried to make this complicated at one time. In fact, I ended up going to inpatient rehab a total of 3 times in my life. The first two times I checked into rehab I did not do a good job of following through, and I failed to follow the advice that I was given. The third time that I went to rehab I completely surrendered and I did whatever was asked of me and I took all of the suggestions very seriously.
I used to have a million and one excuses as to why checking into rehab was a bad idea for me, but those excuses were all garbage. What I was really doing was simply being afraid. I was afraid to go to rehab and be without alcohol and other drugs. I was afraid to face life, and myself, completely clean and sober. I was afraid to find out who I had really become in life, and I knew that I would be facing “the real me” if I went to treatment. So I was afraid of treatment and I was leery of going.
The best decision that I ever made in my entire life was when I finally decided, at the point of rock bottom, to give rehab one more try.
Because you see, I had already been to treatment twice before. So I knew what they were going to say. I had listened and paid attention the first two times, and I had learned what the lessons were, but I was not really prepared to accept the teaching at that time. I was stubborn because I had not been in a state of “real surrender” yet. So when I left treatment those first two attempts I was not serious about working a program of recovery. I thought that I could figure out my own path in recovery, and not rely on the help or input of other people. That was a bad decision.
It should be noted, however, that making that poor decision to not accept advice and guidance from my peers in recovery, was really based on the fact that I had not yet surrendered. Could I choose to surrender? I don’t think that I could. I think I had to live my way into that state of surrender, through misery and chaos in my addiction. Over time the addiction wore me down to the point that I finally reached a bottom, and I could not imagine myself going on any longer, in any state. That was my turning point in which I finally surrendered.
The big turning point for me was checking into a 28 day inpatient treatment program. Even though I had been to rehab twice before, this time it was different because I was in a state of total and complete surrender. If you are not yet in a state of total surrender then I would recommend that you try to get more and more honest with yourself by writing down your thoughts, feelings, and emotions every day. If you keep a written journal and you do it consistently then this will help you to work through your denial.
Now my second major suggestion after advising that you go to rehab is that you make an agreement with yourself. This agreement is essentially how you will bring the act of surrender to life and give it real meaning. The agreement should be something like this: “I will not allow myself to think about the good old days of drinking or taking drugs, and I will also not allow myself to make any of my own major decisions for the first year of my recovery.” This is an agreement that you make with yourself, and only you need to know about it. So you vow not to make any of your own decisions without consulting someone else first for advice. And you vow to “cut yourself off” if you suddenly realize that you are day dreaming about getting drunk or high.
I call this “having a zero tolerance policy” with yourself when it comes to both mental cravings and making decisions.
I believe this is especially important in early recovery for a couple of reasons. One, your go to solution for nearly anything and everything in life is to get drunk or high. So what you really need to do in early recovery is to practice using new solutions in your life–things that may not be first nature to you. So in order to access and discover those new solutions you are going to have to get advice and input from other people. If you only trust your own decisions in the first year of recovery then you are almost certain to relapse. You must outsource your decision making to a therapist, a sponsor, and to your trusted peers in AA or NA. You have to figure out how to tap into the knowledge of other people in a recovery program so that you can benefit from their wisdom and guidance. If you try to do it all by yourself then you are going to relapse and fail.
I mentioned the idea of writing in a journal earlier for the purpose of breaking through denial. I also believe that writing about your life and your recovery can be a useful tool during your early recovery program because it will allow you to “see” some of the pitfalls that you would have missed if you had not written anything down. This is because as you write about yourself and your life you are actually refining and clarifying your thinking and your thought process. So you have more realizations and you make more connections if you write on a regular basis in your recovery. This will, of course, improve your decision making quite a bit as you increase your awareness.
My advice to most people is to go to rehab and to follow up with therapy and AA if possible. None of those things, by themselves, have the power to make or break your recovery necessarily. But all of them put together, especially over the first year or two, definitely have the power to help you to build a strong foundation for living a healthy life and making healthy decisions.
If you can check in with a therapist once or twice a week then that is a huge asset to your recovery. If you can check in at an AA meeting and you have people who are interested in your well being and holding you accountable then that is a huge win as well. Having people around you that can sort of “check your thinking” is super important in the first year of recovery, because we are still learning how to think all over again–especially in a healthy and positive way. We already know how to think negatively thanks to our addiction, and we already know how to engage in self destructive patterns. But in order to live a healthy life in recovery we have to engage in a learning process; we have to admit that we need help and therefore we become vulnerable in order to get the help that we need. You cannot keep your pride intact and not make yourself vulnerable and still be able to recover fully. You have to take a risk in order to make this particular leap of faith and have it work out for you. That said, this is a leap of faith that is well worth taking. Good luck!