The number one thing that you need to realize when it comes to teaching an old alcoholic new tricks would be this:
The alcoholic has to want to learn.
That’s it in a nutshell. Without the willingness to learn, without the total and complete commitment which comes from real surrender, there can be no progress in addiction recovery.
The key is in surrender. That is what produces the deep commitment and the willingness to adopt a recovery program.
So ideally, the first “trick” that needs to be learned is that the addict or alcoholic must surrender completely. Unfortunately I do not believe that this is something that we can just decide for ourselves on a whim, instead it must be learned through experience, through hard knocks, through the painful process that is addiction unfolding slowly in our lives over time.
It is only after a certain threshold of pain is fully realized within an alcoholic they will become open to sobriety, to treatment, and to really changing their life in a profound way.
Any given alcoholic has either reached this threshold of pain, or they have not. There is no grey area between these two extremes. There is no third possibility in which an alcoholic might be “sort of” in a state of surrender. There is no time in which a person might be on the fence in terms of surrender and recovery. It is either all in, or they are all out. This is actually due to the nature of addiction itself–it is a condition of extremes. We alcoholics are defined by the fact that we cannot moderate, we cannot be in the grey area, we cannot be on the fence. That is what alcoholism is–a condition of absolutes.
So once the struggling alcoholic has acquired the knowledge of surrender, once they have truly given up the struggle for control and they agree to get help, then they need to actually go get professional help.
I would recommend that anyone who is serious about changing their life to go to inpatient treatment. This is the single best decision that you can make in regards to your future sobriety. There are many alternatives to inpatient rehab but none of those alternatives offer you the same level of care as going to a 28 day inpatient program.
The reason for this is because most of those alternative services–things such as counseling, therapy, AA meetings, IOP, peer support, recovery coaching, etc.–are included when you go to an inpatient rehab. The solution is all encompassing, which gives you a better chance at finding the resources and tools that will actually work for you in recovery.
Every alcoholic who is struggling to get clean and sober is actually looking to adopt a new set of habits. Their old habits were what used to work for them, and that was typically to self medicate their problems by consuming alcohol or other drugs. Today they have realized that this old solution is flawed and it basically stopped working for them so well, and it is now time to move on.
In order to move on they need new solutions. They need a new way to live their life, a new way to cope with reality, a new way to function and be able to be comfortable in their own skin, especially while being clean and sober. This requires a new set of skills and a new level of support from healthy people.
So going to inpatient treatment is how you give yourself an advantage in setting this new lifestyle up for yourself. First of all you go through a medical detox and get your body actually clean and sober from the substances. This is necessary so that you can start to learn how to function without chemicals clouding your thinking.
Second of all you start to interact with your peers and learn how to solve problems and disagreements without resorting to your drug of choice. This is when you begin to learn new coping skills. You may have to go through some discomfort that you used to medicate with your drug of choice, but now you have to learn how to process new emotions and deal with them directly. Nobody enjoys this process because it is difficult and it is uncomfortable.
When you are going through a growth experience it feels awkward, scary, and annoying at best. Then later you can look back at that growth experience, realize that you emerged stronger and healthier as a result of that growth, and know that it was for the best. But while you are actually stuck going through the growth it is no fun at all, and nobody likes it.
Essentially you must make a strong commitment at the beginning of your recovery journey that you are going to accept this discomfort that is coming along with the personal growth, and you are going to fight through the storm and you are going to emerge stronger as a result. But you must prepare yourself and know in advance that recovery is going to have some challenges, and those challenges are not always going to be fun and exciting. Sometimes they are going to be tedious and difficult, to the extent that they may push you closer to relapse.
The way that we deal with these challenges and the discomfort of personal growth is to seek out support. If we share our struggle with others in recovery then they can tell us their own story so that we know we are not crazy. This is why it is so powerful to go to a place like an AA meeting, hear someone’s experience, and realize that they were right where we are at now, and they succeeded. So we can get hope from others and use it to maintain our course in sobriety.
We can also get direct advice from people who have already walked our path before, and they can help us to avoid the major pitfalls. They can tell us what to work on in order to achieve the greatest personal growth in the shortest amount of time. We aren’t looking for shortcuts necessarily; we are just trying to be effective in our personal growth. Taking advice from those who have gone before you, from those who have succeeded in sobriety, is the best way to do this.
You can go see a therapist, a counselor, or sit in an AA meeting–and you can listen and learn from another human being. But you do not really internalize those lessons until you go apply that knowledge in your own life and see if it works for you or not.
This is the standard of learning that you need to use in your recovery journey. Think of “the 30 day trial” as being your method of experimenting. If someone suggests that you meditate, then do so every day for the next 30 days. If someone suggests that you write in a journal, then do that every day for 30 days straight.
If you test everything in your life in this way, you will get a very good indication of whether or not that suggestion is really going to work for you or not. If it does work, then you have established it as a new habit, and you can simply continue with it and reap the benefits. If not, you drop it and move on to the next suggestion.
In this way you can learn the strongest methods (for you) of maintaining your own sobriety. Different techniques work for different people, so it pays off to experiment. Take suggestions, put them into action, and then learn from the feedback loop after the next 30 day trial goes through. This is a powerful way to adopt the right principles in life that will help you succeed and stay sober. Good luck!