Can You Trick Yourself into Staying Clean and Sober?

Can You Trick Yourself into Staying Clean and Sober?


Is it possible for a struggling alcoholic or drug addict to trick themselves into getting clean and sober?

In a way, yes, you can “trick” yourself into sobriety. However, in order to do so, a couple of key elements have to be in place.

One is that you must be willing to get really honest with yourself so that you can break through your denial.

Two is that you must be willing to take advice and direction from other people. This is, I believe, part of what “tricking yourself” is all about.

The problem with most alcoholics and drug addicts is that we are not actually stupid people–we are just stuck, we are addicted, and we are caught in a trap. But we are not actually lacking intelligence.

This makes it very difficult for the struggling alcoholic or addict to relinquish self will, which is really a necessary step in the recovery process. This is what “surrender” truly means–it means that you let go completely and you let someone else dictate your life for you, at least for a while.

But smart people don’t want to do this. Even reasonably competent people of average intelligence do not want to let go of their self control. Why would they? After all, each of us knows exactly what we need in order to be happy, right?

This is part of the denial that kept me stuck for so long: I believed that I alone held the secret to my own happiness, and that no one else in the world could possibly know my mind, and therefore they could not possibly know what I needed in order to be happy in this world.

Well, I was wrong. But in order to learn that I was wrong, I first had to play a trick on myself. And the trick that ultimately worked for me was this:

I hit bottom, first of all. Or rather, I felt like I was at “rock bottom” because I had no more will to really live. At all. I was totally and completely “done” with everything and with everyone. I was sick of my life and I was sick of who I had become and I just wanted the entire world to vanish in a wisp of smoke. I wanted to not exist. But even more, I wanted for existence to not exist.

So that was my bottom and apparently I had just the tiniest shred of hope left in me because I opted to go to rehab.

Allow me to explain that just a bit further. I did not jump and click my heels together and say “I can’t wait to go to rehab and get my life turned around!”

Instead, I just barely agreed to give rehab another chance with the full expectation that I would find nothing but misery and depression as I went through the detoxification process. I had no hope that my life would get better. I had no real faith or hope that things would work out well for me. I honestly thought that the likely outcome would be a nearly fatal depression of some sort, or a return to addiction again, which would be no better than a “nearly fatal depression.”

In other words, I almost did not even try. I had been to rehab twice before this, and I was just completely miserable. This is what rock bottom actually looks like. This is the prerequisite for success in recovery.

So the first part of the “trick” was in being at rock bottom, and being willing to try something new. Or rather, I had been to rehab before, but I had to be willing to give it another try, another chance.

Now the second part of the trick came during the early recovery process. I went to treatment and I started attending AA and NA meetings as part of my program. I was seeing a therapist as well and I was going to meetings every day and I was talking with lots of people who were in recovery, about my recovery, each and every day.

I was disturbed by the number of peers that I had who were relapsing at the time. It seemed that a lot of people talked a good game, but then something would happen and they would inevitably relapse. I did not want this to happen for myself.

Therefore, I made a plan. This was the agreement that I made with myself. It seemed that everyone who was screwing up was doing so because of some sort of self sabotage. Their own thinking and their own decision making was defeating them. How could I avoid this outcome?

The agreement that I made was with myself, and for myself. It was this:

“I will not make any of my own decisions for the first year of recovery. I will only listen to the advice and suggestions of others in recovery, rather than to listen to my own ideas.”

That was it. That was the “trick” that I used to avoid relapse for the first year of recovery.

And looking back at it now, I realize today that the “trick” I had used was essentially an application of the third step of AA. The third step being “Made a decision to turn our will and our life over to the care of our higher power.”

This is really what I had done–I had removed myself from the decision making process by outsourcing that responsibility to other people.

And I can remember thinking to myself at the time: “I don’t necessarily believe that this is going to lead me to happiness, but I know for sure if I follow my own advice I will end up miserable.”

So I was willing to take a risk, to take a chance, to see if turning my will and my life over the care of others would lead me to happiness.

And it worked.

It worked so well that after a few weeks of living this way I was happy to double my efforts in terms of asking for advice and direction from other people. I knew that this was the secret that I had been missing out on all along as I struggled. All I had to do was to let go completely and let other people to make my important decisions for me.

I had been so nervous that this would cause me to even more miserable than I was during my addiction, but that changed when I hit “rock bottom.” After reaching my ultimate point of misery, there was nothing left to risk by going to rehab–I was already at “peak misery.” It could not get any worse for me, it could only get better. And that was when I decided to try again, to become willing, to take a leap of faith.

It feels like a risk to go to rehab and walk away from our drug of choice, because we are clinging to the memory we had of when the drugs or the booze actually made us happy. But the truth is that we have been miserable for a long time, and our drug of choice stopped being fun a long time ago. The key is to realize your denial, and then take the leap of faith into recovery, into the unknown, and into a better and happier life.