Let me start by saying that even when I had about 90 days of successful addiction recovery under my belt, long term sobriety was still a mystery to me.
I wanted to know what my life was going to look like after I had “made it” in recovery. I wanted to know what my day to day life would consist of once I was firmly established in long term recovery.
My suggestion, if I could go back in time and make suggestions to myself, would be that I should stop worrying about what long term sobriety is really like, and just focus on personal growth and self improvement on a daily basis.
This is because at some point you go through a transition in which you stop relying so much on social support to remain clean and sober and instead you begin to push yourself towards personal growth.
Addiction treatment can be thought of in 2 phases: The very early phase in which you are basically relying on daily meetings, sponsorship, therapy, and lots of social support. That is the first phase of recovery and in order to avoid relapse most of us have to completely immerse ourselves in that type of social support. I can remember going to up to 3 meetings per day, seeing a therapist, talking with a sponsor, and so on. Getting through your early recovery can require a great deal of support.
Now when you are going through this phase of early recovery, you might believe that long term sobriety is going to look very similar to this. Or that you in long term recovery you will just be doing more of the same–more meetings, more sponsorship, more therapy, and so on.
But I do not believe that this is realistic for people. I think what happens for most people in recovery is what happened to me, which is that I transitioned into a life of personal growth and holistic health. I transitioned from learning about how to live sober, to just living sober.
However, I do not think that you need to be too deliberate about seeking this path. What you need to do instead is to focus on self improvement and personal growth. So instead of asking “what should my life in recovery look like on a day to day basis now that I am entering long term recovery?” you should instead ask yourself “What advice and suggestions can I take today in order to improve my life?”
What we are really looking to do in addiction recovery is to upgrade our habits. Your habits are what make your life great or miserable in the long run. Your habits are what will eventually drive you to success or failure in recovery. Therefore you should seek to find healthy habits to adopt, to find the habits that work best for you.
During early sobriety what you most want to do is to listen to other people and take their advice. This is how you will discover the healthy habits that work best for you and are able to sustain you in long term recovery.
If you take a look at all of the people who are living clean and sober today, all of the recovering addicts and alcoholics in the world who are successful, you will find that their daily habits vary from person to person.
So one recovering addict might work with people in recovery at a rehab center, go jogging regularly, and write in a journal. On the other hand, you may find another recovering alcoholic who attends AA meetings and sponsors newcomers there on a regular basis–but that person never writes in a journal nor do they engage in much physical exercise.
How can both of these people be successful in recovery? The fact is that there is more than one path, especially when it comes to long term sobriety. And this is why long term recovery felt like a bit of a mystery to me at first–I was getting conflicting opinions and suggestions from a variety of people, so I did not have a clear vision of what long term recovery would look like for me.
Well, the solution to this problem was that I had to trust in the process and find my own path. Keep in mind though that “finding my own path” really meant “listening to advice and testing it out for myself.” In other words, I still did not use my own ideas necessarily, and I relied on the suggestions of other people to direct me in my recovery journey.
So my therapist would make a suggestion to me, and I would try to put their idea into practice in my life, and then later I might reject the idea because it did not really click with me. Or my sponsor would make a suggestion to me and I would entertain that idea for a while, maybe put it into action eventually, and I might find that it worked really well for me. So then whatever was suggested I adopted as a new habit, and it became part of my lifestyle.
This is the best way to explore your recovery and “upgrade” your life. This is the best way to transition from short term recovery into long term sobriety–you have to keep testing out new habits and seeing if they enhance your lifestyle.
I can remember being in very early recovery and feeling fairly depressed because I believed that I would never be free from the cravings and the desire to get drunk and high, even though I was choosing to be sober. But I knew that I was sick and tired of being miserable, and I knew that if I went back to drinking and drug use that I would go right back to the misery and the chaos, so I decided to give recovery a chance.
I knew that if I allowed myself to use my own ideas and my own desires that I would somehow relapse and screw up my own recovery. So what I did was to effectively work the 3rd step of AA, and I “turned it over.” I got out of my own way and I instead listened to the advice of others.
At first I was not happy doing this. I felt like I was compromising myself and I was just living according to the whims of others and I was not confident that I would ever find happiness this way. I had let go of self will and I was allowing others to tell me what to do.
At first, nothing. But slowly, it started working. Very slowly I realized that my life was getting better and better, and that I was actually becoming happy at times. And then I had a day in which I never even had a single craving for drugs or alcohol. I found this to be miraculous, because I used to think it was impossible that I could be clean and sober and have no obsessive thoughts of drinking or drug use.
Somehow, just by listening to the advice of other people, I had transformed my life from being this newcomer in recovery to living a clean and sober and happy life. I realized that all I really had to do was to let go completely and get out of my own way. Total surrender was the key that allowed me to take advice and start living the good life. Eventually, I realized that I was a living example of success in recovery, and I was no longer a “newcomer.” Life is good today!