Winning the game of sobriety is all about stacking up enough advantages in your favor.
If you do a few things correctly, but you have a whole mountain of triggers and urges facing you every single day, then you are probably going to relapse.
Likewise, if you manage to avoid most daily triggers but you really aren’t doing much of anything to actively pursue any kind of quality recovery in your life, then you likely to relapse as well.
In other to truly thrive in sobriety, everything has to come together in one massive effort.
And that effort has to come from you. But fear not, this is very doable–I don’t want you to get overwhelmed. As long as you have a simple but firm attitude about taking positive steps every day, you can definitely manage your sobriety effectively. I have done it, others like me have done it, and you can definitely do it as well. Do not let yourself become overwhelmed. You got this!
Now let’s get started looking at the various advantages that you want to build for yourself.
To begin: Advantage number one is something called “total and complete surrender.” This is really a prerequisite for sobriety. Without surrender all you really have is hopeful thinking, and you are not really dabbling in recovery at all just yet. In order to surrender completely you must acknowledge that you have a serious problem and that you do not know the solution.
This second bit is important: If you think that you could figure out your alcoholism if you only wanted to, then you are still fooling yourself. The key is that you have to admit that you are baffled, stumped, and that you need direction. That is the gold standard of surrender. If you have not yet reached this point yet then I honestly do not believe that you can go on to stack these other advantages and build a recovery yet. The reason for this is because secretly, deep down, you think you are smarter than your addiction, and therefore you will not listen to the people who try to help you and you will sabotage your own recovery efforts. I know this to be true because I have attempted sobriety twice in this state of mind: I was in half surrender–I knew that I had a problem, but I did not believe that a program like rehab or AA could “fix” me. So I failed twice in my early struggles because I was not in “total and complete surrender.”
So that is advantage number one.
Advantage number two is that you go to inpatient treatment. For me, this represented a bit stigma and I did not want to be associated with people who “had to lock themselves up in rehab just to get control of themselves.” I honestly do not know how I finally got past this stigma other than I hit rock bottom and no longer really cared about myself and became completely hopeless. At that point I agreed to go to rehab and I realized that the people there did not deserve the stigma that I was placing on them, myself included. They were just sick like me, trying to overcome an addiction that had them on the ropes.
Going to inpatient treatment may seem like a really big deal to you, and it may seem like a huge commitment to check in for 28 days and “miss so much of your real life on the outside.” I can assure you that I felt this way as well, why would I want to sacrifice and miss those 28 days of my life? That was insane, I thought.
The truth was that the 28 days was the single best investment that I have ever made in my life, and if I had a time machine I would go back and whack myself in the head and scream in my ear “Go to rehab you fool! Just go!” Since I last went to inpatient treatment I have not had a drink or a drug for over 17 years continuous, and my life gets a little bit better every single day now.
Speaking of stacking advantages, I want to point out that when you are in recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction, every time you shift your lifestyle and form a new positive habit, those positive gains that you make are permanent. When you were struggling in active addiction, nothing good was ever permanent, and things just continued to get worse and worse in your life. Nothing good ever stuck because your disease destroyed all the good stuff and all you did was self medicate and isolate more and more.
In recovery, you will reach this tipping point during the first year of sobriety in which you will suddenly have this massive revelation: You will realize that all of the good stuff that keeps showing up in your life today is not going away. So the improved relationships, the improvement in your health and your sleep and your emotional states, your improvement in processing your thoughts and emotions, your prayers and meditations and your exercise and your fitness and even your finances–you will realize that all of this stuff just keeps getting better and better, and that this trend is set to continue indefinitely.
I can remember having this revelation and realizing that I could start setting my own goals and achieving pretty much anything that I wanted, because I had so much more control and power now that I was living in recovery. It is not just being sober for a day, but it is living sober and working on continuous self improvement and stringing together a whole bunch of these advantages together combined with the passage of time. I was impressed at one year sober, and I was completely amazed at 10 years sober. Today at 17 years sober I continue to be amazed at just how blessed my life is now in recovery. It just keeps getting better and better.
Suggestions number one and two: Surrender and go to rehab.
Suggestion number three is to follow through with all of the aftercare recommendations that they have for you when you leave treatment, and get into IOP or counseling sessions with a therapist. I think this is a huge part of many people’s recovery that is vitally important. Not everyone needs a trained therapist in order to recover successfully, but then again, not every person needs AA or inpatient rehab either. We can find outlier examples of nearly anything if we look hard enough. So my suggestion to you is that you take every advantage that you can get, and going to see a therapist on a regular basis is one of those advantages.
Now you might argue that you have a sponsor in AA or NA, and therefore you don’t really need a therapist. I would argue back that having both is just fine, and that you will benefit from having multiple points of perspective in your life. I can remember when I had both a therapist and a sponsor in AA, and each one of them made suggestions that were critical to my success, but they did not both make the same exact suggestions. So I witnessed evidence first hand that having both a sponsor and a therapist in early recovery gave me a ton of extra value in my recovery.
I would argue that another advantage that would help you to maintain sobriety is to start writing in a daily journal. This helped me tremendously because it allowed me to sort out my emotions on a day to day basis and get them out on paper. To some extent, this allowed me to see if my thought process was crazy or not, because I could see it on paper. Writing allowed me to empty out some of the anxiety that was building up in my mind and it gave me some relief.
In a similar way, I believe that physical exercise did the same thing for me. Vigorous exercise cleansed me emotionally in a way that is difficult to describe to others. Basically, if I was having a difficult day or if I was frustrated emotionally, going for an intense run would basically “mute” those emotions to some degree for me, in much the same way that my drug of choice used to do.