Most of us who get a taste of the good life in sobriety do not want to screw it all up and relapse.
So how exactly do we go about handling our recovery with care? How do we insure that we not screw up and go back to our old life of misery and chaos?
How do we make sure that we stay the course in recovery and maintain our sobriety?
I have a number of suggestions for you based on two things: One, what was worked for me personally in my 17 plus years of continuous sobriety. But also two, what I see working for others who are on the path of recovery. I happen to work in the field of substance abuse treatment and I continue to try to help people to recover on a regular basis. So I am constantly observing and watching people struggle to overcome addiction, to find a new path in life, to turn things around for themselves.
So here is what I have learned, and here is what I see working for myself and others.
For starters I think it is super important to begin your recovery journey with a strong foundation. Now there are exceptions to this that you can find out in the world, where a struggling alcoholic may have overcome their addiction without really using a strong foundation at all–they just sort of found their way into recovery without too much outside help, and they were lucky enough to figure it all out on their own somehow.
This doesn’t seem to work for most people, including those who consider themselves to be very intelligent people. For the most part it seems as if the typical addict or alcoholic cannot really outsmart their disease. In order to get clean and sober successfully you must humble yourself a great deal, and that means asking for help. The more help that you seek out the greater your foundation will be in early recovery.
What I am really suggesting with all of this “foundation talk” is that the struggling alcoholic go to inpatient treatment at the beginning of their sobriety journey. My recommendation is that they call a treatment center, make an appointment, and go through a 28 day program in order to get their recovery started out in the right direction.
As I mentioned, there are exceptions to this idea. People have sobered up without going to a 28 day program–sure. That has happened before. However, I am in the field of substance abuse treatment and I see people struggling to get sober every day and I get to see a lot of what is working for folks and what is not. So what I am telling you is that, given the opportunity, any struggling addict or alcoholic should opt to go to rehab if they can hook that up for themselves. Skipping treatment just makes the journey harder and more challenging. Part of giving yourself every possible advantage means that you will seek out inpatient treatment and be willing to attend it. That is really the best way to get started in recovery.
Now another very important principle as far as taking care of your sobriety has to do with follow through. When a person is at inpatient treatment it is very easy for that person to remain sober, because they are in controlled environment. When they actually leave rehab and go back out into the freedom of the real world, that is when the real test of their sobriety begins. So at that time they need to be pushing themselves to follow through with any meetings, therapy, treatment, or suggestions that were made to them while they were in professional treatment services.
In other words, you have to do the work. You can’t just go through a 28 day program and then say “I’m cured!” and move on with your life. It doesn’t work that way. You have to be “in this” recovery thing for good now. It has to become your life, it has to become your priority, and you need to complete dedicate yourself to working on your recovery every single day.
When I was stuck in denial, this all sounded like a whole lot of extra work and effort. I wondered “but how long do I have to dedicate my life to recovery?” The answer is: Forever. Just assume that you will always have to focus hard on remaining clean and sober, on pushing yourself towards self improvement, and so on.
This is what I am really suggesting: Just go “all in” when it comes to recovery. Assume that you are going to have to dedicate all of your effort and energy to personal growth for the remainder of your life, and then act accordingly.
Once you start to live your new life of sobriety and you start to reap the rewards of doing so, you will not regret this “all in” decision that you are making. Once you see just how good your life can become in sobriety, you will not regret the decision to dedicate your life to the cause.
Now in order to truly be “careful” with your sobriety you have to make sure that you are not becoming complacent. This is the main long term danger in addiction recovery–that you get lazy at some point and think that you have the disease beat for good.
So in order to avoid complacency you need to somehow stay motivated to keep on learning, to keep on growing, and to keep on pushing yourself towards next level personal growth. The key is that you have a growth oriented mindset and that you stay open to new possibilities.
One way to do this is to have a therapist, a recovery coach, a sponsor in AA, or some sort of mentor that is helping to keep you accountable. What you really want is for someone to be guiding you through the process of personal growth, through the process of becoming a better and better person.
Why is this important? Why do we need to have a mentor to help hold us accountable in our recovery journey?
The reason that this is so critical is because of the tendency in addiction recovery for self sabotage. We can be our own worst enemy in recovery, and it is very easy for us to talk ourselves into a really stupid idea. This is not because we are stupid people but because our addiction is so powerful. Therefore it makes sense to reach out for help in the form of added accountability through a mentor, a sponsor, a therapist, a coach, or whatever the case may be. Having this extra level of professional guidance in your life can make the difference between success and failure, between sobriety and relapse.
If you really want to work a strong recovery then you need to accept the idea that you are going to need some help in your journey. This starts with the idea of going to inpatient treatment, but it should not stop there. Follow up with IOP, with counseling, with therapy, and with heavy recovery program involvement (such as AA). This is how you truly care for your recovery in a way that is empowering. Good luck!