Successful Sobriety Revolves Around Fundamental Principles

Successful Sobriety Revolves Around Fundamental Principles

Is AA a moral solution to a disease?

Successful recovery is based on certain fundamental principles.

This is debatable though. In fact, this is just my opinion based on my own experiences and my own observations.

I believe it to be true though. There are certain principles of recovery that every struggling alcoholic and drug addict must go through if they are to get clean and sober. The 12 steps of AA hint at this idea but I do not believe that they really embody all of the fundamental concepts (some of them, but not all of them….again, this is just my opinion of course).

For example, the concept of surrender is embodied by the first step of AA, and I definitely believe that this is fundamental to sobriety. I do not believe that anyone can really get sober and turn their life around without first surrendering to their disease.

But there are other fundamental concepts that apply to recovery. And I believe that it is important to explore and understand some of these concepts so that we know what our foundation in recovery is based on.

In other words, sobriety should not be based on gimmicks or tricks. Instead it should be based on strong fundamental principles that will work when applied to any program of recovery.

Some people who got sober via a specific program of recovery believe that their particular program that they were introduced to is magical in its power. That it is the “one true program of recovery that can help people” and all of the other recovery programs are completely false and useless. Truly, if you have been exposed to various recovery programs then you will definitely notice people who have this strong attitude.

And of course it is complete nonsense.

Here is why.

A variety of recovery programs hints at the underlying fundamental principles which must exist

People recover in different ways.

There are of course many alcoholics who get clean and sober in AA. No one would dispute this I don’t think. AA is the most popular recovery program along with its derivatives such as NA.

But there are other programs of recovery as well. For example, religious based recovery programs are everywhere and are quite popular, even though they are outnumbered by the 12 step meetings. But there are tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands even?) who get sober by means of religion. Some go to a specific religious based program of recovery, while others just start embracing a religious community and attending services. Both avenues are valid alternatives to traditional recovery programs.

Then there are even more remote programs of recovery, such as behavioral based approaches or even fitness based programs of recovery. There are hundreds of people in the world who stay sober and clean from drugs based on a fitness oriented approach that involves competing in race events. Such people are not using the 12 step program or any sort of religion in order to stay sober. They are using fitness as their vehicle for sobriety.

I point out a few of these various recovery programs in order to make a simple point: They exist, and they are working for hundreds (or thousands) of people out there.

There are many different programs of recovery, and some of them are a better fit for a specific individual compared to others. But it would be hard to deny that any of them are not working for at least some of the participants simply based on the sobriety of the members. If it works then it works! No arguing with results.

So the next time you hear someone in a specific recovery program try to convince themselves and others that they have “found the one true path to sobriety,” just shake your head slowly and pray that they wake up to reality some day. There is no one true path, there are many paths. This can be observed fairly easily just by doing a bit of quick research online. Different recovery programs exist and many of them have hundreds or even thousands of members. Therefore it is ignorant to stand up and declare that your program is the only true program that can actually produce meaningful sobriety. Anyone who believes that is dead wrong. There are alternatives.

And because there are alternatives in which real alcoholics find real sobriety, you have to stop and consider the fact for a moment that they might be on to something.

Realize for a moment that it is fear that controls people into believing that they have the only true path to sobriety. Fear is what is producing this ignorance.

People are afraid that if there are more ways to get sober then they are wasting their time. They are afraid if someone else finds a better path to sobriety then it will somehow invalidate their own path that they are on. They are afraid of being disproved. Their sobriety is threatened when other people find a different way to recover. They see it as a threat and they become afraid. These are the people who declare that their program is the only possible way that anyone could possibly get sober.

Now that we have established that there are multiple recovery programs out there that actually work for various people, we can also assume that there are some common threads among those recovery programs.

In other words, all recovery programs must share some fundamental principles. They cannot all be completely unique in how they work, can they?

I have thought about this stuff quite a bit. Here is what I have surmised.

The most universal concept of all: Surrender

Surrender is fairly universal.

Surrender is fundamental. And perhaps it is the most fundamental principle in recovery among all other principles.

If an alcoholic is struggling to control their drinking, can they ever find recovery?

No, it is impossible. Read the sentence again: “If the alcoholic is struggling to control their drinking….”

The fact that they are trying to control it means that they are continuing to drink alcohol. Period. The struggle for control is really just a struggle, period. They continue to drink. End of story. How can you recover if you continue to drink?

I suppose the secret of hope of the alcoholic is that they can somehow learn to control their drinking and suddenly have no consequences in their life as a result. Poof, as if by magic, suddenly all of the bad parts of alcoholism will fade away and their life will become magically happy all the time. Or rather, that is the hope of the alcoholic who is stuck in denial.

Because denial is universal and fundamental, so too is surrender. Because the antidote for denial is surrender. That is the only way to break through denial is for the alcoholic to give up, to stop struggling, to stop trying to control it. They must surrender. This is the only way to overcome a serious addiction.

Addiction, by definition, is progressive and incurable. It doesn’t just fade away magically. If it does, then guess what? It wasn’t a real addiction! Maybe it was “problem drinking” or something like that. But if it suddenly disappears and it is easy to control it and no consequences ever happen again, then it was never a real addiction to begin with. This is by definition. Alcoholism is permanent and it gets worse over time. It doesn’t just fade away because someone wishes for it to do so.

Therefore the only solution, the only antidote to denial is for the alcoholic to surrender. They have to stop fighting the fight and give up entirely.

Surrender is where the alcoholic throws up their hands and says “I don’t know what I am doing any more, please show me how to live.” And they are serious about it and they are willing to listen. That is true surrender.

If the person is not yet at that point then they are not at a point of true surrender. Many alcoholics will come close to this point but they are still trying to manipulate the situation instead. So that is not real surrender.

Here is an experiment for you:

Go to an AA meeting and afterwards go up to people and ask them how long they have been sober. Then ask them if they surrendered to their disease in the beginning. Of course they will all say yes. Then go to any other recovery programs that you can find. Ask them to describe their early days of sobriety (don’t use the term “surrender” because they may not speak that lingo if you know what I mean). But by talking with people in other recovery programs you will see that they, too, had to surrender. They had to stop struggling at some point and ask for help.

Surrender is fundamental.

Personal growth is fundamental to recovery

What do recovering alcoholics and drug addicts do after they have been clean and sober for years or even decades?

I will tell you what they do: They live their life and they continue to grow and make progress.

The alternative to this is to relapse.

It only took me a year or two in recovery to figure this out based on watching my peers. I quickly came to the conclusion that there were only two types of people in addiction recovery:

1) People who relapsed or who were heading for relapse.
2) People who were working on recovery, taking positive action, seeking personal growth.

Now that might seem obvious to see it written out like that. But what about the third option that is not listed there:

3) People who are making half of an effort, sort of recovering, coasting for a while, not really growing but not really regressing either.

That is a trick question! Because if you have ever watched someone who is coasting along in recovery, what happens to them?

I can tell you what happens. They either catch their error and get back to work on taking positive action, or they relapse. Most of the time they relapse.

This is complacency. If you are coasting in recovery then you will eventually relapse.

And this illustrates another fundamental concept in recovery:

Personal growth.

If you hang out at enough AA meetings you will eventually hear someone say the phrase:

“You are either working on recovery or you are working on a relapse.”

They say this over and over again because there is real truth to the statement. It is either or.

Another way to say it is this:

“Recovery is pass/fail.”

You cannot get a C plus in recovery. You cannot get a B minus in recovery. Those grades do not really exist. There are only two grades that an alcoholic or a drug addict can get in recovery, and those grades are an A plus or a failing grade. Recovery is pass/fail.

Why? Because that is just how it is. If you go to any recovery program for long enough you will see the truth of this. Anyone who is coasting with a “C average” for too long will eventually relapse. Or they will recognize their mistake and get to work on taking positive action again. But either way they cannot coast forever in sobriety. It doesn’t work. Recovery is pass/fail.

So what does this have to do with personal growth?


There is only one real direction in recovery. There is only one state you can achieve: Positive progress.

You are either moving forward, or you aren’t. Recovery is pass/fail.

And so this is the fundamental principles of personal growth. If you are not working to improve yourself and your life, then you are coasting. And if you coast for too long in recovery then eventually you will relapse. It really is that simple.

Now you can find this fundamental principle in just about any program in the world.

You can go to AA and you will find people who are taking positive action. And those people are achieving personal growth and they are feeling good about themselves and they are grateful. So they do not relapse.

And you can find this in religious programs. And you can find it in behavioral based programs or fitness based programs. If people are taking positive action and they are working hard to improve themselves and their lives then they are protected from relapse.

Obviously this is a temporary state. You are protected from relapse only to the extent that you keep pushing yourself to improve and take positive action.

So this speaks to the idea that you have to keep reinventing yourself in recovery in order to achieve long term sobriety. In other words, you can’t just set one goal for yourself, achieve it, and then kick your feet up and relax for a while. Instead, you have to keep pushing, keep setting new goals, keep reinventing yourself.

Personal growth is fundamental to recovery. Combine this principle with that of surrender and you can describe at least 90 percent of recovery programs that exist in the world. Really, what else is there? You surrender and stop struggling to control your drinking. So you abstain. Then you start taking positive action to pursue personal growth in some capacity. You stop drinking, surrender to a new way of life, then you push yourself to improve every day. This is recovery, regardless of what program or labels you want to put on it. You can find this path of personal growth in the 12 steps of AA, and you can find this path in various religious programs. And you can find other alternatives as well. But essentially recovery boils down to the fundamentals: Surrender + growth. You stop drinking, ask for help, embrace a new way of life, and push yourself to make positive changes.

The inability to overcome your own problems when stuck in denial must be a fundamental concept as well

Part of what defines addiction is denial. Being stuck in alcoholism or drug addiction and not being able to overcome the problem without outside help would seem to be part of what defines addiction itself.

If you can stop easily on your own, is that really an addiction? I don’t think it is.

There are two types of denial: Those who don’t even know or admit that they are in denial, and those who do realize it.

I was stuck in denial for many years and I fully understood that I was in denial. I knew it and I admitted it. But I was still powerless to fix it or overcome it.

And the reason that I was stuck for so long was fear. I was afraid to face my life sober. I was afraid to ask for help and to face my life without the crutch of alcohol. I did not believe that I could ever be happy again if I was unable to self medicate.

So how did I break through this denial?

Pain. I finally had enough pain and misery in my life that I no longer cared about the fear.

I was so afraid to get sober, but at some point I was so miserable that I no longer cared about this fear. I was completely defeated. And so I became willing to ask for help and to do whatever they told me to do.

And I think this process of getting through denial is fundamental to recovery. There is a process here that everyone has to go through.

And another process in early recovery is the destruction of the ego. You have to be willing in early recovery to listen to other people. To really listen to them and to take their advice and ignore your own ideas. This is the abandonment of the ego. It feels like a form of death or suicide almost, but in fact it is the birth of a new life in recovery. I can remember making this decision for myself in early recovery that I was not going to follow my own ideas any more. I was only going to listen to advice from others instead. And so I started to live that way and, unbelievably, I started to become happier as a result.

Focus on the similarities rather than the differences

If you want to find the fundamental principles of recovery for yourself, start to talk to different people who have discovered sobriety. Talk with people who have been sober for a considerable length of time. Find out what helps them to stay sober, find out what their daily routine is, find out how their recovery works. Listen to what they say but also watch what their actions are as well.

If you do this then you will start to see some common threads in people’s recovery journeys, just like I have discovered. And in seeing these similarities you will start to see what is truly important in recovery and what is just “noise.” Believe it or not there is an awful lot of extra noise when it comes to addiction recovery. This is not necessarily because people are wrong when giving advice, but rather, because each of us needs a slightly different and unique approach in order to find our ideal path in recovery. So you have to give yourself a chance and get feedback and advice from many different people before you can start to make decisions for yourself in recovery. Find what works for you and then practice it on a daily basis. This is how to become stronger in your recovery journey. Adopt the fundamental principles and make them your own.

What about you, have you found any principles in recovery that you consider to be fundamental and universal? If so, what are they? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!