How do you master your sobriety and truly adopt a “day at a time” approach to recovery?
In my experience this process begins in early recovery when you are open to taking suggestions.
I can remember being fairly early in recovery and being almost depressed, and yet I was forcing myself to get out of my own way and listen to the suggestions of others.
Somehow I knew that this was the secret of recovery, that I had to listen to other people and do what they told me to do. Because I knew that if I tried to follow my own ideas in recovery that I would just screw everything up and sabotage my own recovery efforts at some point. I had to find a way to “fool myself” into staying clean and sober, rather than taking back control of myself and screwing everything up again.
So I made an agreement with myself, which was really a decision, that I was not going to use my own ideas for while. I would instead listen to the people in AA and NA, I would listen to my sponsor, and I would listen to my therapist. And whenever I had an idea myself, I would not pursue that idea unless I ran it past one of these trusted parties first.
So I started living that way right at the beginning of my sobriety journey. And I was pretty depressed and unhappy when I started this process, but I also knew that if I let myself take control of my own life again that I would drink and relapse and become super miserable all over again. So I was taking a chance, to see if listening to others might pay off, because I knew for a fact that the alternative was for me to relapse and be miserable anyway.
After just a few short months I had a sudden realization: It was working. I suddenly realized one day that I was not, in fact, miserable any more. I was in fact pretty darn happy, and yet here I was, living a sober life, doing the things that I was supposed to be doing. Meaning that I was taking direction from my therapist, I was taking suggestions from my sponsor, and I was trying to listen and learn at AA meetings. I was actually working a program of recovery, and I was trying new things, and it was working.
In fact, I had the realization around that time that I was no longer craving drugs or booze either. So not only was I reasonably happy, but I was also free from the mental obsession to drink or use drugs. This was really a miracle, whether I wanted to admit it or not. And I was struck very suddenly that this was, in fact, sort of a miracle. Because I had been so sure when I first started out in recovery that this mental obsession to drink and take drugs would never, ever go away. And yet it did. And all I was doing was taking suggestions, doing what I was told to do, listening to my therapist, and so on.
So around this time I became profoundly grateful for this process that I was living, this process of recovery. And I had this realization that if I continued to do what was suggested to me, if I continued to take the advice of my therapist and my sponsor and my peers in AA, them my life would just continue to get better and better and better.
Sure, there was work involved. I had to listen and make a real effort. But I was doing that anyway, because it was actually about the same amount of effort to get drunk and high every day as it was to work a recovery program. Both paths involved some struggle, but neither one really had a vastly different amount of struggle. Both paths were challenging.
But now I could clearly see the difference between addiction and recovery: The path of addiction gave you short term bursts of “happiness” when you used or drank, followed by long periods of misery.
The recovery path also gave you short term bursts of happiness–peaks if you will–followed by contentment and something like real serenity. So you essentially traded in the misery for serenity. Both paths still had some highs and some lows, but the baseline of happiness with recovery was much higher than the baseline of happiness during active addiction.
I think this is what most people fully grasp when they finally break through their denial and reach the turning point–they realize that, during active addiction, they really are miserable for about 99 percent of their existence. And they have this moment of realization in which they say “Recovery has to be a better deal than all that misery that comes with addiction.”
So when I had this realization I was about 3 to 6 months sober, somewhere in there. And I actually got excited in the sense that I would wake up each day with this feeling of anticipation, that something amazing was going to be revealed to me, or I was going to discover something new in recovery that was delightful and happy and joyous.
This is how we should live in recovery–with an excitement and an anticipation of what the new day will bring to us. And along with this excitement comes the knowledge that you have to keep working a recovery program if you want to reap these benefits. This is really what I think of when I think of how to master your day in addiction recovery.
First you surrender and ask for help. Then you work a recovery program long enough to see the benefits kick in. Then you become excited to keep making an effort because you see that it is working.
It is this level of willingness and excitement that leads to the sort of life that we truly want in recovery. Not just a stagnant life in which we avoid alcohol and drugs, but an exciting life where we anticipate with enthusiasm the new things that we are going to learn and discover each day.
Thus, with the right attitude, addiction recovery becomes an adventure to be lived, to be experienced. And the price that we pay to get to this point is that we have to surrender fully and follow directions.
Every struggling addict and alcoholic has to start somewhere, they have to “pay their dues.” And for me that meant asking for help, following directions, and going to treatment. I had to be told what to do and I had to be okay with that for a while. And after I saw that this process was working, I was excited to embrace it even more thoroughly, to keep seeking advice and counsel, so that I could continue to grow in my recovery.
I think sometimes we want to get clean and sober and we want it all at once and we want to design our perfect life in recovery and be in full control of all this.
That is not how real recovery works. You must surrender first, you must let go completely, you must put your life in the hands of others. Once you do this you must keep living this life of discipline for a long time–several months or even years–before you can start to take back your own will and learn how to dream again. If you let yourself be in control during early recovery then your addiction will just take over and it will result in self sabotage. Mastering the day in early recovery means giving up control and following directions, while watching the benefits of that discipline start to come to life for you. Good luck!