What are the required steps for an alcoholic or a recovering drug addict to start feeling better in recovery?
I’m not just talking about physically here….I am talking about the total package. I’m talking about feeling good emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally, and socially. I’m talking about feeling grateful instead of selfish. I’m talking about feeling good about yourself, about your life, about your future.
In other words, how do you start feeling better after you sober up?
Of course it involves a transition. You don’t just magically feel better the day that you stop drinking or taking drugs. If it were that easy then getting clean and sober would not be such a challenge for so many people.
No, the truth is that you have to go through a pretty rough transitional period.
Of course it is tough to give up your drug of choice. It is uncomfortable, at least for a while.
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. If you can stick it out for a few weeks, or perhaps a few months in some cases, then you will begin to see your life transform into something amazing. Because if you are willing to put in the work that is required in recovery then you will find that the old fear, the misery, the chaos of addiction will begin to slip away from you. And what you will be left with at that point is peace and contentment.
It is not that being sober makes you happy necessarily….but being clean and sober gives you peace. It restores your sanity. It gives you the opportunity to build a better life, one in which happiness can then naturally occur.
But it takes work.
And in early recovery, you are starting from scratch. You are starting from ground zero. You are completely miserable, and quitting drinking or quitting drugs will make you even more miserable, at least temporarily. So that is a very low bottom to be starting from. So this is why you must build a foundation in early recovery.
Baseline for recovery
The baseline for recovery is total and complete abstinence from all mood and mind altering substances. In order to achieve that, you are going to have to embrace total and complete surrender.
So how does this work in the real world?
The alcoholic or drug addict in question must first hit bottom. They must reach a point where they are completely miserable and very much sick and tired of their addiction. Once they reach this point they can then ask for help and begin to transform their life.
The baseline for recovery is total abstinence, and this is perhaps best accomplished in a controlled environment. Checking into a treatment facility is one such controlled environment. There is no threat of relapse while you are in rehab, essentially. Any alcoholic or drug addict can check into rehab and easily rack up 28 days clean and sober. This is the whole point of rehab: One, that you are in a protected environment so that you can get some clean time under your belt, and two: So that you can learn some tools about how to avoid relapse and start to live a sober life.
So there are probably multiple ways for a struggling alcoholic or addict to achieve this baseline in early recovery, this baseline where you stop drinking and taking drugs and you are then able to rebuild your life. There may be many ways to achieve this, but I really only know of one method that works for nearly anyone, and that is to check into an inpatient treatment facility.
Now when I say “this works for nearly anyone” what I mean is that anyone can check into rehab and get 28 days sober. Anyone can do that. It doesn’t matter how desperately addicted they are to alcohol or other drugs. No matter how bad your addiction is, you can easily get a month sober in treatment.
What I am not saying is that anyone can go to treatment and be permanently cured for life. That is not realistic and we are not anywhere near that point in substance abuse treatment right now. Anyone who accumulates clean time can easily relapse, and often times this is the ultimate outcome.
That is why going to treatment is not a total and complete solution for addiction, it merely establishes a baseline. It gets you started on the right foot. It does not cure you in the long run; you have to do that for yourself. And how do you cure yourself in the long run? You do so by doing the work. It says in the big book of AA that we are never really cured, and that all we have is a daily reprieve from alcoholism contingent on our spiritual condition. That is quite true in my experience. No one is ever fully cured, and therefore the solution is to do the work of recovery. We are not saints, so that work that we have to do in order to maintain our spiritual condition is ongoing. It is a lifetime struggle. And so the real work of recovery never ends.
But if you don’t establish a baseline then you can’t even get started. Going to rehab is the quick and easy way to establish a baseline.
Doing the work that no one wants to do
So you want to feel great in sobriety? You have to do the work. Peace, contentment, and personal growth have a price that you must pay. And that price is paid with hard work and dedicated action.
You are probably thinking “well maybe the work they are talking about will be fun.” Sure, some of it is. But in recovery, you also have to face your greatest fears, so that you can live a life of freedom. “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” I can’t remember who said that, but it certainly applies to sobriety and the journey to a life of peace and freedom. If you want to be happy and truly alive in sobriety then you are going to have to put in some serious effort, and that means doing the work, being uncomfortable, facing your fears, getting honest with yourself, and so on.
Let me give you an example from my own recovery experience. I was early in recovery and I had a couple of months sober. I was living in long term rehab at the time, a place that I ended up staying at for 20 months. I was establishing my baseline for recovery, and I was starting to do the work.
I realized that I often engaged in self pity. I further realized that this was how I justified my drinking, was to feel sorry for myself. So I had to make a decision. This was one of my trusted coping skills that had served me well during my years in addiction. I had to make a decision to eliminate it. That was not easy. This is an example of “doing the work.” So I went to my sponsor at the time and I asked him how to overcome self pity. And he told me that I needed to become grateful, that if I were grateful every day then it would be impossible to feel sorry for myself. I realized that he was right. So I started practicing gratitude and writing out gratitude lists every day. Doing the work.
Now that particular example involves a character defect. The work that you do in recovery will probably be slightly different. Maybe you will have a resentment against someone in your past that helps to fuel your addiction and give you an excuse to drink. So you may have to learn to forgive others, and to forgive yourself. That is a process and it will probably involve asking for help from a therapist, a sponsor, or someone you trust. Again, this is all part of doing the work.
Maybe you will need to establish a new routine in your life. Many people in early recovery make a commitment to do 90 AA meetings in the first 90 days. This is a pretty significant lifestyle change. And, it’s work. It takes some real effort to make 90 in 90 without missing any days. That kind of commitment helps to rebuild your life in recovery.
And ultimately we all have to get honest with ourselves in recovery. For example, it took a long time in my life before I was willing to admit that I was the problem, that I was creating drama in my own mind, that I was looking for excuses to feel sorry for myself. The world wasn’t out to get me, and I was not really a victim. But in my addiction I wanted to believe that I was a victim, I used that as an excuse. So in recovery I had to get honest about this with myself. And that’s tough. It is difficult to let down your shields, to see the real you, to figure out what needs to change.
And sometimes you have to listen to others in order to do this. You have to get honest with others, maybe spill your guts to a sponsor in AA, and hear them tell you that you are not a terrible person, that you deserve to be happy, and that you have a few things that you should probably work on in order to achieve that happiness. It’s about being realistic, finding some humility, and accepting that we are deserving of happiness in recovery. But in order to make it there we have to do the work.
Holistic health and feeling good all around
I have known a lot of people in alcoholism and addiction recovery who were not very healthy. In the end, many of these unhealthy people relapsed.
Recovery is about abstaining from drugs and alcohol, but it is also about building a healthy life for yourself. It is more than just abstinence from your drug of choice.
I had a close friend in early recovery who died of lifestyle disease. He was sober in recovery but he was still smoking, was overweight, and he wasn’t very active. In the end, these lifestyle choices killed him quite young. When that happened, it made me think for a long time about what was really important in this life. It’s not just about sobriety. Instead, it is a total package of holistic health.
Think about it: What is the decision to get sober really about? It’s a decision for life. It is a choice for life. You want to live.
Every alcoholic and drug addict who finally surrenders is on the brink of total destruction. Their addiction is out of control. Their behavior is risky and sometimes deadly. They stand at the turning point. To continue on in addiction comes with the knowledge that you might die soon as a result. This is the turning point. And so when we finally surrender and choose recovery, we are essentially choosing life. Recovery and addiction are really a choice for life or death. If you are active in addiction then you are spinning the chamber on Russian roulette, and I think we all know this. To choose recovery we are really making the choice that we want to live.
And so when we make that choice for life, we don’t just put down the booze and the drugs. That is just the baseline, remember? Every day in your sobriety you have to ask yourself:
“How can I become healthier in my sobriety today? What can I do to improve myself and my life today?”
The answer to this daily question will involve your holistic health. Meaning that you are not a one dimensional person, you have many aspects to your health, including:
And others as well (such as financial health, for example). So if you are lacking in one of these areas then it could eventually lead you to problems in your recovery. If you neglect your health in one of these aspects for too long then it can even lead you to relapse.
The key here is that if you are neglecting one of these areas in your life then you will feel bad as a result.
And if you are feeling bad in that area then you are not feeling good about yourself.
So in order to “feel good about yourself in recovery” you really have to cover all of the bases. You have to do the work that is required in all of these different areas of your life so that you are not being tripped up.
For example, my close friend in early recovery was taking care of himself spiritually, and he was involved in AA. He was clean and sober. But his lifestyle choices were seriously compromising his physical health, and this led to his early demise. That is not the way of recovery. In real sobriety, you take care of yourself and your entire person. You take care of yourself in all 5 of those areas listed above. It’s a total package.
If you are upset in life then you are not happy and you are not at peace. You have to figure out the various ways that you can neglect your own health in each of those 5 areas, and make sure that you are taking care of yourself every day.
Your holistic health becomes a daily practice in recovery. If you are doing the work and taking care of yourself in all of the right ways then it will lead you to long term peace and contentment. It’s not about being happy necessarily, it is about finding peace and being healthy. If you can do that, then happiness will find you.
Transitioning into long term sobriety
There is a difference between early recovery and long term sobriety.
In early recovery you are listening to others and taking advice. You are taking direction and trying new things. And in doing so, you are learning how to live a new life in recovery.
In long term sobriety you are well established. You have learned how to live a sober life again. You are stable in your sobriety on a day to day basis. And yet, relapse is still possible for anyone. So how do we transition into long term sobriety, and what does that really mean for someone anyway?
In my opinion, the transition into long term sobriety is about a couple of ideas. One idea is that of the daily practice. In early recovery you are taking suggestions such as “go to an AA meeting every day.” That suggestion may or may not become part of your daily practice.
In long term sobriety, you have figured out what works for you and what does not. Therefore you are living the daily practice. You no longer have to wonder what will keep you clean and sober, because now you are living it.
You cannot just force this transition. The way to achieve long term sobriety is to embrace your recovery and take advice from others. People will make suggestions to you in early recovery and it is your job to put those ideas into action. So go to 90 meetings in 90 days. Try it out, even if you don’t think it will help. Get a sponsor in AA and work through the 12 steps. Get a therapist or a counselor and do what they tell you to do.
No one wants to do the work if they can avoid it. No one wants to take orders from someone else. No one wants to hand over control of their life.
I am telling you now: Hand it over. Turn it over. Give up control of your life for a year. For one year, get out of your own way. Go to treatment and establish this baseline of total abstinence. Find a counselor, find a therapist, go to AA and find a sponsor. Then start doing what they tell you to do. Take advice, take direction. This is how you will transition into long term sobriety, this is how you will become someone who is sober for years and decades.
This is what I did. I went to rehab, I went to long term treatment, and I got out of my own way. I took advice from others and I ignored my own ideas for the first year. I simply did what I was told to do, which included going to meetings, working the steps, writing in a journal, getting some exercise, chairing an NA meeting once a week, and so on. I followed all sorts of advice. Some of it stuck, some of it didn’t. But at one point I looked back and realized that I was living in long term sobriety, I had made that transition when I wasn’t even looking, and I had essentially “made it.” Today I have over 14 years of continuous sobriety and counting. Life just keeps getting better and better.
Feeling good about personal growth and beating complacency
The final trap of addiction is complacency.
If I pat myself on the back too much here, I could become complacent. Just because you have “X” number of years in sobriety doesn’t make you immune to relapse.
So the solution is to take action. Every day. The solution is the daily practice. To find ways to challenge yourself to keep growing, to keep moving forward. Even after years or decades of sobriety.
Find your baseline of recovery and ask for help. Start doing the work and take advice from others. Never stop pushing yourself to learn more about yourself. Never stop learning, never stop growing as a person. These are the simple steps to a better life in recovery.
What about you, have you found the path to a better life? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!