The Skills in Sobriety that Matter Most

The Skills in Sobriety that Matter Most


In order to succeed in addiction treatment and excel in long term sobriety, the typical alcoholic or drug addict is going to need a certain set of skills.

Most of these will need to be practiced and developed over time. We don’t all show up to recovery having all of the knowledge and skills that are necessary for recovery (duh!).

Keep in mind that some of these skills are more vital during the first 30 days of your recovery, while other skills will come into play more in the long run, such as after a few years of recovery. So let’s dive into them now, roughly in the order that you are going to encounter and need such skills.

In early recovery the most vital “skill” that you need is that of surrender, and everything that surrender entails. What this means is that the entry card into the world of real recovery is basically controlled by whether or not a person has reached “full surrender” or not.

Partial surrender would be when an alcoholic admits that, yes, they have a problem with booze. However, they go on to argue that “rehab doesn’t work for me, I tried it once” and also “I hate going to AA meetings, they just make me want to drink.” Both of those statements and rationalizations are, in fact, ridiculous. Such a person making these claims is in partial denial–they admit they have a problem, but the argue that no viable solution exists. Therefore they are in a state of “half surrender.” Such a person cannot recover while in this state, though they may eventually experience more pain and consequences, hit a deeper bottom, and come to “full surrender.” At that time they would be willing to ask for help, and to do whatever is suggested to them (such as rehab and AA meetings).

I put the word “skill” in quotation marks above because I do not believe that you can actively develop this “skill” of surrender, of breaking through denial. It just happens on its own, after the individual has gone through a sufficient amount of chaos, misery, pain, and suffering a the hands of their addiction. If they are not yet in a state of “full surrender” then they will not get there until they go back out and endure some more misery and chaos. It is pain that motivates the addict to seek change. The alcoholic does not one day say “I’d like to be sober and have a nicer life, I think I will change today!” Instead, they find themselves in a huddled mass on their kitchen floor in the middle of the night, spouse left them, job lost, car wrecked–and they just want it all to go away. That is the kind of mindset and experience that leads to what we are referring to as “full surrender.” Hitting bottom is the key that seems to unlock this door for successful recovering alcoholics and addicts.

So let us assume that the struggling addict or alcoholic has reached this bottom and surrendered fully. The next skill we could refer to as “asking for help.” Again, this all pivots on the quality of their surrender. If they do not want to ask for help then it just means that they have not reached “full surrender” yet. More misery and chaos might get them there eventually.

So they ask for help and they go to inpatient treatment, probably followed by counseling, therapy, IOP, and daily AA meetings. This is the standard course of treatment that is going to be recommended to any serious addict or alcoholic these days. If you are in a state of full surrender and you take this treatment seriously, it will turn your life around, allow you to stay clean and sober, rebuild positive relationships in your life, and actually lead you to real freedom and even joy. Yes, it does work–but only if you are super desperate and want recovery more than anything in the world.

Therefore, once you land in rehab, the key still becomes listening. Now when I say “listening” what I really mean is a lot more than just sitting there and hearing people talk. What I actually mean when I say “listening” is the idea that you will take advice and suggestions from people and you will turn those ideas into action.

This, really, is the essence of addiction recovery. People tell you what to do and how to live your life, and then you actually go do those things and make serious changes. Without the action and the experimentation on your part, nothing good is going to happen.

Let give you an example: When I was in my first year of sobriety, it was suggested to me that I go to AA meetings every day, that I get a sponsor and work through the 12 steps, that I write in a journal every day, that I start doing physical exercise, that I try seated meditation, that I read recovery literature, and that I chair an AA meeting for newcomers that were in detox.

I took all of those suggestions and put them into action and then they turned into habits.

The truth is that I actually had more than just that suggested to me, and I actually tried some other things as well that are not listed here. But the things I just listed were the things that I turned into regular habits, and therefore these are the things that made a huge impact on my recovery.

What I am telling you is this: You do not have to write in a journal every day, or exercise, or do anything that I just listed above–necessarily. But what you do have to do is to figure out how to be open minded and willing enough to start taking suggestions such as these and actually testing them out in your life, such that you discover for yourself the things that are going to carry you through your recovery.

It is possible for two people in recovery to have completely different lives, and completely different recovery programs. One may meditate while the other may jog. One may go to AA while the other may do online recovery forums. One may go to Smart recovery while the other may go to Refuge Recovery. AA and NA. The differences could go on and on.

Perhaps the skill that you most need in recovery is in simply having a learning mindset–having the willingness and the open mindedness to learn, to listen, and to implement new ideas. If you are no longer willing to do that then your recovery is in jeopardy.

Even in long term sobriety, we have a lingering threat that will never be fully vanquished, which is that of complacency. In order to overcome complacency we must stay in “personal growth mode.” We have to keep pushing ourselves to grow, to learn, to improve. So all of the fundamental ideas from early recovery still apply–we need to stay humble and continue to learn and to grow, even after decades of sobriety. I am sitting on over 17 years of continuous sobriety and I am still learning new things in my recovery, and I continue to search for suggestions that might improve my life.

Good luck to you in your recovery!