How can a struggling alcoholic or drug addict stop using drugs permanently? It is an important question because the pain of dealing with an addiction over time can build up and become overwhelming. So it is only natural for people to seek a “permanent” solution.
If you can quit drinking or using drugs permanently then you have essentially cured your addiction.
Is this even possible?
Is there a cure for drug or alcohol addiction?
At the present time it is not really possible to “cure” alcoholism or addiction. There are some people out there that claim that you actually can cure an addiction, but I suppose it depends a bit on how you define your terms.
For example, there is a treatment center that claims that it can cure addicts and alcoholics. The treatment center uses basic therapy techniques and also has 12 step meetings. Of the people who attend there, many of them go on to stay clean and sober for many years. At which point, some of them will inevitably relapse. This has already happened many times over from this rehab center that claims it can “cure” people. So what of their claim after someone has relapsed? It makes no sense at all. Obviously the person was not cured. They still suffer from the disease and they have relapsed back into total chaos and misery. They are not cured.
And so it will go, regardless of which rehab center you attend or how you get clean and sober. No alcoholic or drug addict is ever fully “cured.”
As they say in AA, “what we have is a daily reprieve.” This is a very important point because it gets right to the truth of the matter and exposes the fact that no cure can ever really exist.
It will likely always be this way, even if they develop new medications that help with addiction or help you to fight off cravings. It will not matter, because in the end you will always have the freedom and the choice to choose to go back to the madness of addiction if you want. That choice will always be there, every single day of your life. And so we are never fully cured, no matter what happens. All we have is our daily decision to stay clean and sober, today.
This is also why the cliche “just for today” is so pervasive. Again, it speaks to the truth of recovery and relapse. All we ever have is today. No alcoholic is promised a sober tomorrow. The world could change, things could happen, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. If you are sober in this moment, today, then that is what you have. You have sobriety now. We can never bank on it in the future because it is a day at a time thing. If you could get sober for a whole decade at a time then that would be a “cure.” But no cure exists, so we can’t just get sober for a year or a month at a time. We can only do it one day at a time. Tomorrow is never promised to us.
Now given all of this, you may think that there is no way to possibly achieve long term sobriety. That is not true. You can still achieve long term sobriety and build a successful new life for yourself, but it is an ongoing process rather than an event.
People who talk about a cure for addiction are looking at it in terms of events. They want to transform tomorrow and be sober forever. It doesn’t work like that. Instead, achieving “permanent” sobriety is more of a process, one that unfolds slowly over the rest of your life. And it is going to require a consistent effort in order to make it last.
You can still achieve long term sobriety, and in retrospect, it may even be “permanent” in that your sobriety may last until the day you die. But you won’t know that going forward, and because of that, you will always have to work at it. This is not a bad thing though. Because you keep working at it, your life will continue to improve.
Rebuilding your life from the ground up for successful sobriety
The key to success in long term sobriety is to build a new life for yourself that you are excited to be living.
If you are bored in recovery then that is dangerous and could lead you to relapse.
Recovery is about taking action. You have to do things in order to recover. You have to change your life in order to break free.
“What do I have to change?” you might ask.
You have to change everything. They say this in traditional recovery programs all the time: “The only thing that you have to change is everything.” It is an often repeated cliche because it gets at the truth. Anyone who has become clean and sober can look back and see that they went through massive amounts of change.
My theory is that you have to make two types of changes in recovery:
1) Internal changes.
2) External changes.
What are the internal changes? Things like overcoming resentment, self pity, and guilt or shame. This is the internal work that you have to do in order to be able to live within your own mind in recovery. If you work through the 12 steps with a sponsor then you will be addressing these sorts of issues.
When I first got clean and sober I realized pretty quickly that I was feeling sorry for myself all the time. I was a self pity junkie. Why was I doing that? For some reason, it felt good. I liked to wallow in self pity. It was a defense mechanism of sorts. I don’t know why I did it, but it was obviously not helping me. It was a way that I used to justify my drug and alcohol use. When I sobered up, the mechanism was still there, but I was no longer using it to justify my drinking, because I had quit. But the self pity was still showing up each day.
After I realized this, I had to make a decision. I realized that if I continued to engage in self pity that it would only serve to make me miserable. It was a way to hold myself back, a way to justify not taking any action, and a way to justify drinking if I ever decided to relapse. Self pity was not helping me in any way. So I decided to eliminate it.
How was I going to do that? I had to do some work.
First of all, I had to talk to people in recovery–people who were healthier than I was. This meant talking to people with more sober time than I had, and also to my sponsor. I had to get ideas for how they were able to overcome things like resentment, shame, guilt, and self pity. So I learned some ideas from them, and I also got some suggestions.
One thing that I learned was that gratitude was the exact opposite of self pity. You can’t be wallowing in self pity while also being grateful. It is impossible because they completely cancel out. The gratitude overrides the self pity. Therefore I had a big part of my solution.
My sponsor urged me to write out a gratitude list. This was a good start. And I had to push myself to write out a list every single day, to dig every day to find things I was grateful for. Because if I did not do this exercise then I would start to take all of the little victories in my life for granted. And there were miracles all around me if I just would take the time to recognize them.
The other part of doing this “work” was that I had to make an agreement with my own brain. The agreement was this: When I noticed that I was engaging in self pity, I would immediately stop and redirect myself. This was a practice. I had to keep doing this, and catching myself, and sort of retraining my brain.
Now some people might say “but I can’t do this!” What they really mean is that they don’t want to do this. Anyone can do it. You simply decide to do it, and then you start watching your thoughts. Take a step back away from your mind and watch what your brain is doing throughout the day. If you see it engaging in self pity, you jump in and say “no you don’t. We aren’t doing that any more.”
If you are really bad at “watching your thoughts” then you need to slow yourself down each day. A few minutes of quiet meditation will allow you to become much more conscious of your own thoughts. You don’t have to be a guru in order to get benefit from this. There is no way to do it wrong other than to not try it at all. You can raise your awareness and learn how to watch your thoughts just by making a simple decision.
So that is how I was “doing the work” internally in early recovery. I had to get my mind straight, because it was normally used to doing things in order to justify drinking and using drugs. That did not go away automatically when I got sober, so I had to do some work in order to clean up those old thought patterns. Like I said, if you don’t know how to go through this process yourself, then you need to ask for help. Find someone who is living a healthy life in recovery and see if they can help you to work through these internal problems. They may even have to help you identify what is really going on inside and holding you back (guilt, shame, anger, resentment, fear, self pity, etc.).
Now what about changing your life in an external way?
If you go to AA meetings you will hear people mention that you have to “change people, places, and things” in your life in order to recover.
This is a really important concept! The 12 steps of AA don’t really seem to address this directly, but I think it is a critical concept of recovery.
In other words, not only do you have to do the internal work in order to stay sober, but you also have to change your life on the outside, too.
That might mean leaving your job if it is super stressful and turns out to be a big trigger for your drinking.
Or it might mean leaving a toxic relationship that is stealing your sanity and leading you back to addiction.
In order to do these things you have to get honest with yourself and really evaluate things in your life. Again, you may benefit a great deal from having outside help on this, such as from a sponsor or your peers in recovery. Sometimes we need advice from others in order to see the best path forward in our lives.
Keep in mind too that most of this type of work in recovery has to do with eliminating negative things.
Your life is not a problem. You are not really lacking for anything when it comes to happiness. You don’t have to climb a certain mountain in order to experience joy. What you need to do is to eliminate all of the garbage and negativity in your life. Once you get back to a clean slate, your life will become so much better.
Our “happiness” in recovery is really defined by a lack of misery. We tend to sabotage our own peace, joy, and contentment because of the negative things in our lives like stress, bad relationships, fear, resentment, and so on. It is not for lack of positive things in our life that we are unhappy, but it is the presence of negativity.
In order to be happy in recovery, we have to eliminate the negative stuff. Both internally and externally. In terms of creating happiness, you will get much more “bang for your buck” if you are focusing on eliminating negative things rather than chasing positive things. That may seem a little counter-intuitive but I have found it to be true over and over again.
Prioritize. What is holding you back in life? What is the source of your fear, pain, anxiety, or negativity? Whatever those things are, work hard to eliminate them. Then evaluate again and repeat the process. Keep doing this over and over again until you have eliminated the negative stuff from your life entirely. This is the path to peace and contentment in recovery. It is also the path to relapse prevention.
Living your life in such a way that you prevent relapse in the long run
If you want to be “permanently sober” then you need to adopt a process that creates success in recovery.
My belief is that recovery is one big exercise in relapse prevention. You go to rehab, you go through detox, then eventually you get spit back out into the real world and you have to stay sober. Because you went through treatment, you are already clean and sober. Now you just have to stay that way. So how can you do this? How can you prevent relapse?
It is a lifelong process. The way that you live your life will dictate your success in recovery.
First of all is the disruption phase when you go to treatment and you actually get detoxed. You flush your system of drugs and alcohol and you get a baseline of recovery. You are clean and sober, just for today.
Then you have to start doing the work. You have to eliminate all of that negativity in your life that came along for the ride with your addiction. If you are swamped in negativity then your recovery will never last. The bad stuff will drag you back into relapse. Therefore you have an immediate job in early recovery. You must do the work. You must eliminate the negative stuff. Both internal and external.
Finally you must adopt a process for daily living. And you will never be perfect at this process as it will be something that you strive for. And it will be something that evolves over time as you continue to learn more and more about yourself. Therefore we call this process of living your daily practice. You are taking positive action every day in order to recover. You are engaged in this positive process every day that helps you to prevent relapse.
For some people, the daily practice consists of “going to an AA meeting every day and not drinking alcohol in between the meetings.” Not bad, if this works for you. I have nothing against such a practice personally.
But I found that practice to be lacking for my own life, and I needed more. I needed more action in my life if I was going to remain sober. So I had to expand my daily practice to go beyond “AA meeting maintenance.”
What should your daily practice consist of?
Unfortunately I cannot tell you exactly what your daily practice should consist of. I can give you a general idea though:
1) Physical – your daily practice should focus on your physical health and well being. Exercise, nutrition, not putting chemicals into your body, etc.
2) Emotional – your daily efforts should seek emotional stability, and also seek to minimize stress and negative emotions.
3) Social – you should make an effort to reach out and connect with others. There are many benefits in recovery to doing so (the entire basis of AA meetings, etc.).
4) Spiritual – this can be entirely focused on gratitude. Everyone in recovery should practice gratitude daily.
5) Mental – I recommend writing in a journal every day to catalog your thoughts, but also to “dump” your mental reserves in order to free up brain power. Also you should be open to new ideas from other people that can help you on your path in recovery. You don’t have to be smart or even sharp necessarily, it is more about a willingness to explore new ideas and to listen.
If you are not doing these things on a daily basis then your recovery is probably lacking in some area. In fact, if you completely neglect even one of these areas then it is very possible that you could relapse if you are not careful.
Engaging in all of these areas of the daily practice will help to insure your continued sobriety. This is relapse prevention in action.
Achieving stability and personal growth in long term sobriety
If you are actively doing the daily practice then your life will start to improve drastically over time.
Do these things every day for a month and your life will get better. Do them every day for ten years and your life will be absolutely amazing.
There is also a synergy that happens when you do the daily practice. It is impossible to predict the positive connections that will occur when you are working on all of these various things in your recovery.
For example, when I started exercising on a daily basis, I found that the distance running that I was doing was also a powerful form of meditation. I never would have predicted that when someone suggested that I “get fit” or “work out.” I had to actually take action and adopt a new practice every day in order to realize the full benefits of doing so.
Not only that but many of these areas of the daily practice will enhance each other in ways that you cannot predict. The results of this are overwhelmingly positive.
Is this a path to “permanent sobriety?” Not necessarily. But it is a process that works. So, engage the daily practice, and enjoy your life. Sobriety will follow.
Do you feel that you have found “permanent sobriety” in your own recovery? Why or why not? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!