After struggling for many years in trying to quit drinking myself, I thought it might be a good idea to compile some of the tips that have helped me to remain sober.
These are not exactly “go to AA and pay attention” kind of tips though. Some of these concepts only became apparent to me after a full decade of sobriety. In fact, some of the concepts I am still exploring as my personal growth continues to evolve in recovery. In other words, I am definitely still learning, and I realize that I do not know it all.
On the other hand, I really feel like I have something to offer people, something more than what you might get through the standard alcoholism recovery channels (such as AA, traditional alcohol treatment centers, etc.). The ideas that I talk about here are not usually discussed in mainstream recovery. You may find a bit of overlap, of course (for example, I strongly recommend a medical detox and residential treatment as the best starting point for recovery), but a lot my ideas diverge with mainstream ideas. Most people in traditional recovery, for example, push strongly for the concept of relying on a higher power. They push the concept of powerlessness. To some people, such concepts (and the language used) is a very helpful; for other people, it can be a limiting turn off. For me it is more the latter, which is why I explored other models of recovery that were not necessarily twelve step based.
It can be difficult to discuss such concepts without seeming like you are bashing traditional recovery (and AA). But this is not the intention at all. In fact, I still believe that such programs can be useful up to a certain point. That point is defined by the fact that if you want social support in your recovery, you would do well to simply go to AA meetings in order to get it. Sure, you can probably find it elsewhere, but it’s not worth the extra hassle. AA is everywhere, and the support that you get from the fellowship in AA is likely the same as the support that you can get from non-AA organizations. Don’t be so picky, in other words!
But part of my message is also that you do not want to rely on that social support forever. Not in the long term. Sure, if you have two weeks sober then by all means, go to 3 meetings per day. I did at one time. But after 18 months or so in recovery I was all but done going to meetings. The whole world told me that I was headed for certain relapse if I “drifted away from AA.” Pretty much every person who told me I was headed for relapse has since relapsed themselves (not that I keep close tabs or anything!). Meanwhile, I have found a new path for myself in recovery, one that does not create a dependency on daily meetings or a fellowship for success.
I think this is a critical distinction and an important concept for you to consider: If you are OK with dependency on daily meetings in recovery, then AA is a good path for you. By all means, use the program as it is suggested, go to meetings every day, and build yourself a new life in recovery. There is nothing wrong with that if that is really what works for you. Me, I noticed that it was not working so well, because I resented the meetings a great deal. I resented the fact that I “had” to go to them every day. I resented the fact that the same people seemed to keep droning on about the same things, over and over again. I paid far too close attention in the meetings. I listened to every single word. This is probably why I grew so sick of them. I was getting everything that I could out of the meetings, and after a certain point, this limit was then met. This is mostly because I pay very close attention and I give complete attention to every speaker. After a year of daily meetings this can become quite exhausting. Especially when the long winded talkers are always the people who seem to keep relapsing. Not to be rude or anything, but they have a saying in AA: “Stick with winners.” I wanted to hear more from the winners, for one thing.
For whatever reasons, AA was just not clicking with me. I wanted to stay sober on my own terms, without being dependent on this AA group thing, which felt awkward to me.
So what I did was to try to deconstruct successful recovery.
“Stick with the winners,” they said.
It is pretty easy to spot the winners in the AA meetings. Just pay attention, listen to what people share in the meetings, and watch things evolve for a few months. Some will relapse and others will have several years of sober time accumulated. The winners are the people who are not relapsing, and who seem to be happy and content in life.
So what I started to do was to pay attention to these “winners,” to talk to these people, and try to see what made them tick.
I was shocked to discover that most of these people did not really have the core of their recovery based just in AA principles. In fact, some of them had outside forces that played a major role in their recovery efforts, such as:
* Daily exercise.
* Meditation or religious lifestyles.
* Martial arts as part of a spiritual lifestyle.
* Creative arts as a major part of their therapy/recovery.
* Higher education, learning, or teaching as a major part of their life.
And so on. The true “winners” in AA seemed to have a very active life outside of AA as well. They were doing more than just the spiritual stuff that AA was suggesting. In fact, they were doing a lot more. It was really more of a holistic picture that I was getting when I talked to these various people in recovery.
And so my ideas about what actually kept people sober started to change. To evolve. I was discovering the “hidden” secrets of recovery.
It wasn’t just about the 12 steps of AA. I originally believed that those were some sort of magical formula for sobriety. But I learned that personal growth does not depend on specific programs, or AA, or the steps.
Growth is growth. If you are growing in recovery, you are immune to relapse. I have seen this proven time and time again.
In other words: It’s not the program, stupid! Recovery is much bigger and broader than AA. (Again, this is not bashing AA at all. It is merely the discovery that AA is but one path out of many, and may not necessarily be the best path for all people. Yet if you talk to most sources in the recovery community, they steer you to AA with great conviction, which might be a mistake in some cases).
So given that background, here are my best tips for quitting drinking that sort of deconstruct the things that really worked for me.
First tip: Surrender fully and disrupt completely
AA says that you must surrender in order to overcome alcoholism. They are 100 percent right in this.
Surrender is universal principle of recovery.
If someone overcome alcoholism 300 years ago, long before AA existed, that person had to surrender first to their disease. They had to surrender to the fact that they can not drink like a “normal” person does.
Surrender is universal, and is not specific to any recovery program. Anyone who overcomes an addiction must first surrender to the fact that they are addicted.
Now when we talk about disruption, what we are saying is that after you surrender to the fact that you are addicted, you must then disrupt your addiction fully and completely. In other words, you don’t quit drinking but then keep a tiny flask of wine hidden underneath your pillow. That doesn’t work (obvious to any struggling alcoholic, or their family/friends).
In order to overcome an addiction you must first surrender, then you must take action. The preferred action today is to go to a medical detox. This is how you disrupt your pattern of drinking. There are other ways to disrupt the pattern, for example, by going to jail. Or, by getting killed while doing something foolish when you are drunk. I highly recommend that you go to rehab instead in order to disrupt your pattern of drinking.
Rehab is simple. There is no alcohol there. Stay as long as you can. The longer you stay, the more you disrupt your pattern. Of course we all know that this is not a “cure,” but it definitely does, in fact, disrupt the pattern. Any alcoholic can go to a medical detox and thus disrupt their pattern of drinking. Whether they stay sober is another thing entirely, which is what the rest of this entire website seeks to address.
Nevertheless, the first tip (and perhaps the most important one) is that you must surrender and disrupt. Make a decision, then go to detox. Decide to change, then change. This is where it all begins. If you skip this part then you have nothing.
Second tip: Take advice and apply it in your life
I said that there was some overlap here with traditional recovery.
So here it is:
Go to rehab, then take their advice.
Actually do what they tell you to do.
Tough, isn’t it?
I know, because I went to rehab 3 times. Obviously the first two times I failed to follow the advice I am giving now.
The third time I went to treatment, I did everything that they told me to do, without question.
Worked out rather well, I must say. Total freedom. Sobriety. Contentment. Peace. Bliss, even.
Simple advice, but hard to do in the real world.
Simply go to treatment and then do what they tell you to do.
Who is “they” you ask?
The counselors. The therapists. Your sponsor in AA, if you get one. Your peers when you ask for advice, and everyone tells you to do the same thing.
That is who “they” refers to. Listen to those people. Take their advice. Ignore your own ideas for a while.
Trust me, this is really hard to do (and humbling), but the results will AMAZE you. Your life will get so good, so fast. You will be amazed and grateful that you took other people’s advice for once.
I admit, these tips aren’t glamorous. But they do work.
Third tip: Ignore your own ideas for the first year of recovery
This goes along with the tip above.
Simply ignore your own ideas during year one of your recovery.
Every time you get an idea, make sure you run it past several other people in recovery FIRST before you act on it.
You cannot trust yourself in early recovery.
Of course you can’t, your best ideas got you drunk and miserable. Admit it! Therefore, you need to put yourself on “probation” of sorts. Ignore your own ideas for a while. Trust others.
Best is to get multiple opinions on any important decisions. That way you get a consensus. When everyone tells you to do the same thing, they are probably right.
Fourth tip: Focus on fixing the negative stuff in your life as your main priority
This is tricky.
There are two types of actions you can take in early recovery.
You can fix the garbage in your life, the bad stuff, the bad habits, the character flaws.
Or you can work towards positive goals, things you want to achieve, things you want to accomplish, etc.
My advice here is very strong and specific:
Make a list of both types of goals. In AA language, the bad stuff and the negative stuff would be your “character defects.” I would expand that list though to include things in the external world such as “get a better job” and “get rid of a toxic relationship in your life” and so on.
Then, what I suggest is that you completely ignore the “positive goals” for the first year, and instead focus on your character defects and all of the negative stuff instead.
Focus entirely on fixing the bad stuff.
Because it works better.
It makes you happier.
It is way more effective than chasing your “positive” goals.
That is very counter intuitive, I know.
But it is absolutely true.
You will get more happiness from fixing the problems in your life than you will from chasing the rainbows and unicorns.
If you doubt this, then simply ignore my advice and test it yourself: Switch the order. Go chase your positive goals first, and put all of the negative stuff and the character defects on the back burner for now. See if you become happier, or more miserable.
I can already tell you what will happen: You will not become happy by chasing the unicorns and rainbows. You will not find happiness until you “do the work.”
That is, you need to do the hard work.
That is, you need to clean up the problems in your life, the negative stuff that holds you back.
Because if you go chase those rainbows and unicorns, even if you catch a few, you will still have the negative stuff in your life holding you back. And you will be unhappy.
Therefore, you must do the work, the hard work, first.
And fix your life.
After you fix your life, that is when chasing the positive goals starts to pay off huge.
Early recovery is the time for repair.
And perhaps the 12 steps of AA are really trying to tell you that. But it was never what I wanted to hear. Doesn’t matter though, because it is true! Fix the problems in your life first, and you will be happier for it. The rainbows and unicorns come later. (And I promise, they really do!)
Fifth tip: Push yourself to find new healthy habits to replace your old behavior patterns
This is an advanced concept of sorts that doesn’t get enough credit in a general sense.
I suppose in traditional recovery they are trying to teach this concept as well, but the part that turns me off is that they dictate what your new habits should be in life.
Here is the thing…You get clean and sober, and you are essentially trading in an old set of habits for a new set of habits.
Your old habits included drinking or taking drugs every day.
Your new habits in life have to be something else. In particular, it really helps if your new habits:
1) Give meaning or purpose to your life.
2) Increase your health or your happiness in the long run.
Or both, of course.
For example, one of the new habits in my life is daily exercise. I exercise every single day, and it gives a tremendous benefit to my recovery. It does so in ways that make it very difficult to quantify or define. But the bottom line is that I am much healthier for having this new habit, and I am also much happier.
When I was new to recovery and going to AA meetings, I new that I had to change my habits. I knew that I had to find a new way of life. I knew that I had to somehow build a new life for myself in recovery.
What I discovered over the last 12 years is that this new life in recovery does not necessarily have to revolve around a specific recovery program. I also found that the “winners” in AA really did not rely on AA as much as they let on in meetings. In fact, they had a huge amount of holistic recovery going on outside of the meetings and the program (religion, exercise, relationships, education, etc.).
One of the trends that I discovered is that long time members of AA tailored their message for the newcomer. This is confusing when you are transitioning from having 1 year sober to having, say 3 to 5 years sober. The “winners” in AA seem to be preaching a strong dependency on AA and on the meetings, but in their real life example they are not really dependent at all, themselves. Instead, they are tailoring their message to try to focus on the newcomer, the guy who just walked into AA for the first time.
Long term sobriety is about personal growth. This can start out in traditional recovery but it definitely does not have to end there (if you don’t want it to). Meaning that you can grow and evolve beyond the boundaries of AA, the boundaries that basically say “go to a meeting every day, work the steps, and don’t drink.”
What about you, what are your best tips for quitting drinking? Is there any overlap with my ideas presented here? Does traditional recovery work well for you, or have you found an alternative path that works well (like I have done)? Let us know in the comments or on the forum.