How do you convince yourself to get motivated for recovery and sobriety? How can a person who is stuck in addiction and struggling on a daily basis figure out how to dive into recovery and have the enthusiasm that is necessary to really make lasting changes?
What we are essentially talking about is two things: First, how does a struggling alcoholic break through denial, such that they can seek help? And two, how can a person who is in early recovery really dig into the program in such a way that they can ensure their own success? Motivation to get sober, and motivation to stay sober. How are these two forms of motivation acquired and retained?
Let’s talk about busting through denial first.
So the alcoholic is still drinking, still self medicating with booze and possibly other drugs, and they are stuck in the cycle of addiction. They want out, and they have wanted for their life to be different for a long time. Maybe they can even admit out loud that they are alcoholic. But something is still holding them back, because instead of picking up the phone and calling a rehab center they go buy another bottle every day and continue to self medicate.
So how do we go from being stuck at that level of denial to become willing to go to rehab?
I can best speak on this from my own experience, because I know what I was thinking and what I was telling myself when I was stuck in that place of denial myself. And what I was saying to myself internally were things such as:
“Why can’t people just understand that I have to drink alcohol and abuse drugs in order to be happy? That without self medicating I am going to be so miserable that it might drive me to suicide?”
“I feel sorry for people who don’t get high and party, because they are missing out on all the fun.”
“If other people had my problems, or if they had suffered the injustice that I had, they would drink and take drugs too.”
“Everyone else parties and gets drunk or high, everyone has some kind of outlet for themselves, some vice. I like to party and get drunk and high.”
As you can tell from these snippets, I was in denial because all of those statements contain things that are simply not true. “Everyone” does not abuse drugs or alcohol like an addict does. People who are sober are not actually missing out on all the fun, the exact reverse of this is more the case because the real addict is just stuck in isolation while self medicating, and they are the ones who are missing out. And so on. All of it is based on lies that we tell ourselves, and this is what defines our denial.
So how do we wake up from this dream, and realize the truth?
I think that before the struggling addict is going to even have a chance at working through their denial they have to suffer a certain amount of pain and consequences. So if you happen to be the friend or the family member of the struggling alcoholic, then your best bet is to get yourself to an Al-anon meeting so that you can learn how to set healthy boundaries. You cannot deny an alcoholic of their pain. In other words, if they are about to do something stupid because they are drunk and you are rescuing them from that consequence, then how are they ever going to learn any better?
Most alcoholics are in a self destructive mode and they are actually seeking out pain through their substance abuse. If you try to deny them of that pain then you are only slowing down the process for them and prolonging their addiction. Let them experience the pain that they are seeking so that it can help bring them out of denial quicker.
In other words, the alcoholic will seek help in sobriety once they have finally had enough pain. If you are rescuing them and reducing their consequences then you are prolonging this process of working through denial.
I finally surrendered when I had finally had enough misery and pain in my life and I was willing to face the fear of being totally clean and sober. I became willing to face the fear of going to rehab and being un-medicated because I was so sick and tired of being miserable. I just wanted everything to go away. I wanted the universe to collapse into nothingness and take me with it. And on top of all that misery, I was afraid as well. Not that I would admit to being afraid, but I was afraid. And every night I would medicate my fear away into numbness by drinking and taking drugs. That was the only way that I knew to live, to keep self medicating, to chase away my fear and anxiety.
My suggestion if you are still in denial is to start writing in a journal. Write down today’s date and then write down how happy you are in life and what you are feeling today. Then do it again tomorrow. Force yourself to keep writing down your feelings in a daily journal. If you are struggling with denial this exercise will help you to work through it.
Because you are forcing yourself to realize the truth when you put it down on the page. If you keep writing down your feelings then eventually your brain will be forced to realize the truth about your life and how miserable you are in spite of the drinking or drug use. Write it down every day and you force your mind to realize the denial you are in. At some point your brain will say “Going to rehab and AA and embracing sobriety may not be perfect, but it has to be better than this crap I am living through right now.” That is the moment of awakening. You cannot reach that moment if you are oblivious to the misery your addiction is causing you. So start writing it down every day, and wake up your brain.
Second of all, once you make the leap into recovery and you have attended a 28 day program and you are living in early recovery, you still need motivation in order to do the work. You still need to find motivation to go to meetings, to work the steps, to go see your therapist and be honest with them, and to explore healthy options for living like exercise, meditation, nutrition, and so on.
So where does this motivation come from in early recovery?
In my experience you have to gut it out for a while. Which is why it is important to make a commitment with yourself. To say to yourself “I am going to follow advice and directions for one full year, then I will re-evaluate my life.”
Then you keep your head down for one year and do what the sponsors, therapists, mentors, peers in AA, and so on, tell you to do. You simply follow through and keep doing the next right thing and then one day you will realize that you have made the leap into freedom. And suddenly you will be overcome with gratitude because you will realize that your success is now building on itself, and you no longer need to fake it, because you want to keep working your program of recovery because it is bringing you real joy. And that is the real miracle! Good luck.