It should come as no surprise that anyone who is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction is basically stuck due to their bad habits.
What is a substance abuse problem if it is not bad habits? In active addiction, we are defined by our habits, no question about it.
The same is true in addiction recovery. The only difference is that we trade out those bad, destructive habits for healthier habits.
It’s true–addiction treatment is really about adopting new and healthy habits that actually work for us.
This is what brings us to the idea of a “daily practice.” If you do the same things every day then there is special power in that routine, because now it comes automatic. If you wake up every day and do some seated meditation, then go for a walk, then go to an AA meeting–and you never, ever miss a single day of this routine, then there is certain power that comes from that. The habits give you so much strength compared to someone who has to wake up every day and decide if they are going to exercise, if they are going to meditate, and if they “have time” for an AA meeting. I put the “have time” in quotation marks because we all have the same 24 hours each day; choosing an AA meeting over watching television is simply indicating what your priorities really are, not how much time you have.
Let’s go back to the beginning, though. When the struggling addict or alcoholic first gets into addiction treatment, they are typically what we would all refer to as being a “total mess.” What this label means is that they are full of bad habits and they are not in practice for any good habits whatsoever.
So fair enough–we are starting from scratch with most people in addiction recovery. We slide into the recovery scene being a hot mess, and we have to start rebuilding our lives from the ground up.
No problem, I say.
You can start this process most efficiently by going to inpatient treatment as your starting point. This is going to do at least 2 critical things when it comes to habits: One, it will help you to eliminate the most destructive habits that you have already, which is essentially the chemical abuse of drugs or alcohol. So you go through a medically supervised detoxification process and you come out being–at least physically–clean and sober.
But it doesn’t stop there, as you can probably guess. Just walking out of a detox center being chemical free does not insure that all of your problems are solved forever. No, in order to rebuild a healthy life of sobriety, in order to build an amazing new life of recovery that will last for the long haul, you are going to have to put in some real work.
That means doing more than just eliminating the bad habits. You must also establish some healthy ones.
Inpatient treatment has a limited amount of time to try to help the struggling alcoholics and addicts who come to seek refuge with them. In order to best help such people, rehab centers focus on the kinds of habits and activities that give the absolute best return on your efforts.
What does this mean? It means that rehabs are going to focus on a few basic elements: Detoxifying your body, introducing you to a support system such as AA, and giving you one on one counseling with a therapist to target your specific issues. Also, they are going to expose you to group support and group therapy in most cases.
All of these things can translate into long term habits in some form or another. After rehab, you can continue to take care of your body, keeping it clean, and giving it proper nutrition while eliminating other chemicals such as nicotine or cigarettes as well.
After treatment, you may follow up with therapy or counseling on a weekly basis.
You may also attend group therapy or IOP (intensive outpatient) groups to follow up after rehab.
You will hopefully find a support group that will be able to sustain your recovery in the long run, such as attending AA or NA meetings on a regular basis.
All of these can become habits that endure for a long time, possibly even for the rest of your life.
The power comes from the consistency, in my opinion. If you leave inpatient treatment and you go to a handful of AA meetings spread out over the next two months, how effective do you think that is really going to be? I can tell you from my own experience that if all you do is to “dip your toe into the pool of recovery” then you are going to get poor results. Instead, you must dive in head first, which would equate to doing 90 AA meetings in the first 90 days following an inpatient treatment program. Go through detox, go through a 28 day residential rehab, and follow up with intense aftercare.
Why? You are establishing habits. You are training your body, mind, and your behavior to do something different.
Overcoming an addiction requires a truly monumental effort. Keep in mind how ingrained your addiction habits really were. Your drug of choice was your answer for nearly every situation. That is a whole lot of inertia to overcome. When you are early in recovery, you are going to be tempted to relapse all the time, because nearly every situation used to call for getting drunk or high. That is a lot of inertia to have to overcome.
So start by going to inpatient treatment, and pick up the positive habits that they are suggesting for you while you are there. Go to meetings, go to therapy, do the work that they are putting in front of you. The extent to which you ignore the aftercare recommendations of a treatment center correlates to the speed at which you relapse. Follow through, do what they tell you, and you will remain clean and sober. Ignore the suggestions and you will quickly revert back to your old solutions.
After you focus heavily on these foundation habits in early recovery such as therapy, meetings, and groups, you will then start to expand your search for positive habits in a more holistic direction. For example, at some point I think most people in addiction recovery are going to want to take better care of their body physically. Get into shape, seek proper nutrition, adjust your sleep hygeine–that sort of thing. You may also need to create new habits in other areas of your life, such as emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.
The foundation starts with “recovery focused” habits such as meetings and therapy. Eventually you will expand these habits to include other things that address your overall health–physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Taking care of yourself in all of these different areas becomes an insurance policy against relapse, because you will build more and more self esteem as you take better and better care of yourself. Good luck!