I can tell you specifically what is behind my own recovery, and I would consider myself to be a “successfully recovering sober person” today.
Here is what I did in order to achieve success in sobriety:
First, I surrendered completely to the fact that I could not figure out my own life. I think this is an important distinction, because some people believe that they only need to surrender to the fact that they have a disease.
But just admitting that I was alcoholic was not enough. That admission alone did not help me to turn my life around. Sure, it was necessary–but it also fell way short of the mark that is needed to affect any sort of real change in life. Just admitting to the problem is not the same thing as embracing a solution.
So I had to surrender on several different levels. And ultimately I had to surrender to the fact that I needed professional help, which meant that I needed someone else to tell me what to do and how to live my life.
This is a lot of pride to have to swallow, to admit that you do not know how to live your life successfully. To admit that you do not know the path to happiness. This requires a great deal of humility. But I had finally been beaten up enough by my addiction that I was ready to humbly ask for help.
So I finally did ask for help and I was referred to treatment. So I went to rehab willingly at this point and I was open to the ideas that people were giving me at the time.
In the past I had reached a point of “partial surrender” in which I went to rehab but I really was not open to the ideas that I was hearing there. I was listening, sure. But I wasn’t really adopting a recovery program and working it into my life at the time. I had not surrendered fully yet.
I was lucky in that my family was very supportive of me in my recovery. I do not know how my life and my recovery would have turned out if I did not have this family support. If you have the support of your family when it comes to recovery then that is a huge blessing. I know many people in recovery today and some of them do not have supportive families. In fact, some of them have downright toxic family members who seek to drag them back into addiction.
If you do not have a supportive family then you can build your own by joining a fellowship of recovery. For example, there are many recovering alcoholics and drug addicts in both AA and NA who have adopted those fellowships as their families, and they really do lean on and garner support from those fellowships as if they were real family. Social support is critical for early recovery success, so if you do not have a strong group of supportive peers or family then you need to build one from an existing fellowship. Don’t make the mistake of believing that you can figure it all out on your own, or that you are strong enough to recover by yourself. You need help and support in order to succeed in recovery.
I went to treatment and I would argue that, while inpatient rehab is not a sure-fire “cure” for the struggling alcoholic or drug addict, it is by far the best possible thing that they could do for themselves.
In other words, most of the people that I know who are working a successful program of recovery today went to inpatient rehab at some point. Not every single one of them, but nearly every one.
Another trend that I notice among those who are living a successful life of sobriety is that they are actively learning from a mentor, a therapist, or a sponsor. In other words, they are not working a passive recovery program by any means–instead they are actually taking advice and suggestions from a real human being who is showing them how to live sober. This is an important distinction to be made because I see a lot of people who believe that their recovery from addiction can be largely passive, that they are hoping to avoid drugs and alcohol and just sort of let the rest of their life fall into place.
In my experience, real recovery does not work this way. If it were as easy as just eliminating the drugs and the alcohol then people would not struggle nearly as much. But the truth is that people tend to struggle quite a bit with recovery because it is very difficult to build the sort of life that can overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
The thing that you need to do is to build a life that can sustain sobriety. This means that you need to work on all sorts of different levels and areas of your life: Fixing relationships, regulating your emotions, overcoming mental obsessions, working through resentments and self pity, processing toxic shame and guilt, and so on. And really those are just some of the more obvious examples of what needs to be done in order to rebuild your life. The truth is that you need to be willing to do a lot of work throughout early recovery so that you can have a chance at maintaining your sobriety. The rewards of recovery are quite good but you also have to work hard to get them. Be willing to do this level of work, and to sustain it over the long haul.
I believe that one of the key concepts that many people gloss over in early recovery is the idea of positive momentum.
So it is not just enough to take a small positive action, or to declare that you experienced a “small win” today. You have to then build on that small win and use it as motivation to get your next “win” in life.
Sobriety often starts from ground zero, when you have no real hope or prospects for the future. From there, you somehow have to give yourself enough of a chance to experience a tiny win in life so that you have something to build upon. Once you make it through a full day without a craving, or you go to a meeting and you feel good about sharing, then you need to build on that “win” by creating more positive action to follow it up with. Once you get into the positive flow of this kind of momentum then you can use the energy to start setting your own goals for recovery and self improvement.
If recovery has an end game then it is this: Achieving enough small “wins” in early recovery so that you build up the confidence to start chasing after some bigger wins, setting bigger goals, and having a grander vision for yourself and for your life. I believe that this is the level of success that we should all be striving to hit in our daily recovery–positive action building momentum and turning into more positive goals for ourselves. This is how you build a better life for yourself in recovery. Good luck!