* Why it takes years for people to overcome alcoholism
* All that matters is action, while mental conviction is almost useless
* Examples of massive action in early recovery
* Convincing them to take massive action
* Finding balance in long term sobriety
I have already written a bit about how to quit drinking alcohol, but I think I have gained new insight since then based on my experiences and observations of others in recovery. I get to watch a lot of people attempt to get sober, and so in my mind I am constantly refining what works and what does not.
This is a numbers game. Of course I would like to see every individual stay sober, but that has never turned out to be reality. What can we learn from the failures? If we are not extracting this knowledge then we are not learning anything new about recovery.
So here is one of the big “secrets” that I have learned about quitting drinking: it takes massive action.
Photo by aspearing
Why it takes years for people to overcome alcoholism
Our experience in life teaches us to take moderate action, rather than taking massive action. There is a huge difference there. We have been trained to put forth only the effort that is normally necessary in order to accomplish something, and that level of effort is almost always moderate. For example, learning to cook a new meal does not take a massive amount of effort. In fact you can put in an hour or so of effort and probably become decent at making a new recipe.
Addiction and recovery does not work that way. If you put forth a modest, average effort in recovery then you will end up relapsing for sure. Learning how to live a new life without drinking alcohol is a huge undertaking. Everyone underestimates how difficult it will be at first. They overestimate their ability to tackle the challenge. They also estimate that they will be strong enough to do so without much outside help. And, they also estimate that they have sufficient knowledge on how to quit drinking on their own.
Nearly every person makes all of these assumptions when they first attempt to quit drinking alcohol, because they have been trained their whole life to do so based on previous experiences. But beating an addiction is different. We have to change our entire approach in order to be successful at quitting alcohol. In fact, in early recovery, we have to organize our entire life around our effort to quit. It is not a modest effort we need to make but a massive effort. And everyone underestimates this at first. Therefore, the alcoholic will tend to struggle for years and years before they learn the level of action that it takes in order to overcome their drinking.
All that matters is action, while mental conviction is almost useless
There is sort of a mixed message in recovery from alcoholism. Many people will share at meetings and such that “you have to want this for yourself,” and that “recovery is not for people who need it, it is for people who want it.” The emphasis is on conviction. They are basically saying that the secret to success in recovery is that you have to “want it more than anything else.” I do not necessarily disagree with this idea but I think it misleads people in early recovery. We can want something all day long but until we take real action it is not going to materialize. They make the mistake of equating wishful thinking with real willingness and action.
In fact, the level of conviction is not even that important. This is evidenced by the fact that some younger people who were forced into recovery found success in spite of the fact that they did not want to get sober initially. What mattered was the actions that they took, which in turn changed their perception.
It still holds true that you are not going to force most people to get sober, and that they pretty much have to find their own motivation in the long run. But what is important to realize here is that the “wanting it” part of quitting drinking is much less important than the “taking action” part of recovery.
It is all about willingness and applied action. Wishful thinking and hoping that your life changes somehow will not get you anywhere in recovery. Positive changes come only through hard work and real effort. Mental conviction does not really help this process. It only leads to a false sense of accomplishment and security, when in fact people tend to substitute their conviction for real action. It is a form of laziness. We tell ourselves that we want to be sober more than anything in the world, while avoiding the footwork that will help us to grow in recovery.
Examples of massive action in early recovery
So what actually constitutes “massive action?” These examples are just that….examples. There is no one path through recovery and my point is that if you are geared up to take big action and do it consistently during early recovery then you will do well.
I would go so far as to argue that it almost does not matter what action you take….as long as it is massive, positive action. In other words, things that you can do that actually further your health and well being in recovery. I would look in particular for things that:
1) Raise your self esteem and help you feel better about yourself as a person.
2) Actually contribute to your health in some way (think beyond just physical health here too).
3) Allow you to network with others in recovery and, in particular, find unique ways to help others to recover.
These are all good characteristics of proper action in recovery. I will not fault the 12 step programs because they have a solid framework and a lot of opportunity in which you could base a lot of this recovery action. It is not a necessary path as some believe but you can certainly use AA or NA as a shortcut to taking massive action. For example, many people suggest going to 90 meetings in your first 90 days of recovery and this is obviously a bit commitment. Is it a guarantee of sobriety? Of course not, but it is one piece of positive action that could certainly help people. As I said there are other ways and other paths and the 12 step program is just one of many. Heavy involvement in these programs is a shortcut to massive action.
Another example of massive action in recovery is to attend long term treatment. Again, is this some sort of magic bullet? Nope. But it is a shortcut to big action in your life if that is what you are seeking. Long term rehab will give you the structure and the basic outline for a successful life in recovery. Again, notice that it involves a huge commitment, just like other forms of massive action in recovery do. If you want awesome results then you have to put in a ton of work, and that requires a big commitment on your part.
A casual intention to change your life or form new habits is meaningless in the face of alcoholism. You need massive action, and for most people that will require a big commitment to change. In my own experience, I found it necessary to use long term treatment as a tool to help me achieve this level of change. I do not know if I could have consistently taken the necessary amount of action, and done the footwork required, to stay sober without having the added structure and support that came from being in long term treatment.
In other words, I needed help in order to succeed in early recovery. I needed structure and accountability in order to move forward and take the necessary action in my life.
If you happen to be more self motivated than I am, then perhaps you will need less help than I did in early recovery. If you can create your own positive action every day in early recovery, without reverting back to your old thought patterns that got you in trouble in the first place, then maybe you can be the driver of your own program of change in recovery. If you find that you cannot do this on your own then it makes sense to ask for help.
Even with guidance from others it is all about personal responsibility and taking the necessary action. You will not depend on others for long. Eventually your passion for creating a new life for yourself will drive you forward in recovery. New purpose will give way to action and instead of putting forth effort and doing “footwork” you will simply be living a great life. This is creative recovery in action–the reward for rediscovering the purposeful life you can have in recovery.
Convincing them to take massive action
I had an interesting discussion with a reader the other day about whether or not it was possible to convince someone to quit drinking and live the creative life in recovery. Can we convince someone to dive in head first and take the necessary action in order to find this new life in recovery?
My thought is that no, we cannot do that. If you are dealing with someone who is curious about recovery, or they are thinking about getting sober, then by all means, encourage them to seek help. My suggestion is to encourage them to go to rehab, actually. There are certainly worse paths then this and I think anyone who is stuck in a cycle of addiction can probably benefit from most any rehab facility, regardless of the details or what type of program they offer.
But can you actually convince someone to take massive action? I don’t think that you can. Likewise, if someone is in heavy denial about their drug or alcohol use, your arguments based on logic (or emotion for that matter) are not going to pierce through that denial. The mental shift has to come from within that person. They have to make the leap of faith on their own. It must come from within.
So what can you do? Two things. One is to lead by example. Create passion and purpose in your own life, and find meaning in helping others without being destroyed by addiction. Two, you can offer to direct the person to help if they become willing (i.e., find them a rehab), and be careful not to enable them further in their disease.
The crucial point in recovery comes when the individual decides that they are going to pursue sobriety at any cost. It is a decision followed up with massive action. I don’t think you can inspire this in others directly. It will come in its own time.
Finding balance in long term sobriety
So you quit drinking and took massive action. Maybe you went to rehab, or maybe you attend meetings every day, or maybe you found some other path of inspiration. Now that you are sober, what are you going to do with the rest of your life? How are you going to sustain the massive action that got you sober to begin with?
Finding balance in long term recovery will come naturally to those who are seeking the creative life in recovery. You do not have to actively seek balance if you follow the general principles of sound recovery:
1) Your health – physical and mental health, emotional balance, spiritual growth, exercise, nutrition, quitting smoking, and so on. Take good care of yourself and make it into a lifelong goal and a lifelong habit. Make it a priority.
2) Personal growth – you set goals and achieve them. You have purpose in your life and seek to help others. This raises self esteem and protects your sobriety.
3) Networking – you reach out and help others. You help yourself first as evidenced by the first two principles.
Long term balance in recovery comes from the drive for personal growth. Your goal is to avoid complacency and continuously challenge yourself. Networking becomes a bit less important as you keep the focus on personal growth and your usefulness to others.
If you emphasize your own personal growth then you can help others in a more deep and meaningful way. Your greatest service to others in recovery will be a product of your own personal growth and development.