The key factor in truly changing who you are as a person in long term recovery is if you are willing to test new ideas and experiment with your life based on the suggestions of other people.
In other words, you need to take advice. Over and over again.
Most people do not realize that recovery is a long, drawn out process. It does not happen in just 28 short days or less. It happens over the rest of your lifetime. And even if a person goes into treatment and they successfully transition out into the real world and they are maintaining sobriety, there is still a lot of work to be done yet.
This is because the biggest threat in long term recovery is that of complacency. The biggest problem that recovering addicts and alcoholics face in the long run is that they might get lazy and complacent in terms of their personal growth.
We always have a choice in life, at any given moment: We can coast along and maintain, changing nothing. Or, we can challenge something about ourselves and seek to change it. When we seek to change for the better this is the process of personal growth. When you improve yourself through this process then you have, in essence, reinvented who you are as a person.
When we make a temporary change then we really haven’t changed at all, because we quickly go back to our old ways. However, if we establish a new habit, then the new change becomes a part of our lifestyle, and this really defines who we are as a person. You are what you do every day. You are a product of your actions, and therefore you are defined by your habits. This was certainly true for all of us in our active addiction–our daily behavior defined the person that we were becoming, and obviously it wasn’t good because of all the crazy behavior we engaged in due to our drug of choice.
In recovery, the key factor is that we trade out our bad habits for healthier habits.
The extension of this idea is that, instead of just changing out our drinking or drug use for AA or NA meetings, we also trade out other unhealthy behaviors for more positive habits.
Now here is the key: We have to do this. It cannot just end when we trade out our substance abuse for group therapy. Sure, that may be the foundation, and a necessary step. But recovery is about much more than just not using drugs or alcohol. We have to reinvent ourselves, continuously, or we will eventually fall back into our old patterns of behavior.
So how do we do this? We listen and we learn and we take advice from people who are successful in recovery.
The process can begin most easily if we attend inpatient treatment. Going to a 28 day program is one of the best choices that you can make in early recovery. There you will get a chance to at least get a solid month of abstinence, and you will also get introduced to a support system that will be able to help you in your early recovery. Actually you will probably encounter multiple supports, such as AA meetings, counseling, therapy, IOP groups, and so on. It is up to the newcomer to tap into these support systems and take advantage of them so that they can sustain their recovery after they walk out of that 28 day program.
The question you need to ask yourself is: What happens on day 29? Sure, you checked into a rehab facility and you are going the 28 day program in the safety of a controlled environment, but what happens on day 29? You need to have a really good answer to this question.
Luckily, while you are in inpatient treatment, the therapy staff and the peers there will be helping you to form a good answer to this question–of what happens on day 29. On that day you need to be set up to attend meetings, to go to follow up therapy or counseling, to be in IOP groups, and so on. If you drop the ball on all of those things then your recovery is in jeopardy.
It is at those follow up support systems that you can really start to learn about recovery “in the real world.” Truth be told, it is pretty darn easy to be in rehab and make it to day 28. But what happens on day 29 when you leave treatment is a whole new ball game, and you have to be prepared for it. You do this by following through with all of the support systems you learned about in rehab.
My sponsor and my therapist made about a half dozen crucial suggestions to me over the course of my early recovery. I took those suggestions and I turned them into positive lifestyle habits. Suggestions such as “Go back to college” and “quit the cigarettes” and “get into shape physically.”
I actually took a lot more suggestions and advice than just these–but some of the suggestions that I took turned out to be life changing for me, because they had such a powerful and positive impact.
But the thing is, you really don’t know exactly which suggestions are going to be life changing for you. For example, there are some people who got into early recovery and started doing yoga after someone suggested it to them. Now yoga has become the pillar of their recovery program and it is essentially their main solution for recovery. It works for them and it helps them to maintain sobriety–good for them.
Will yoga work well for every single person in recovery? Probably not. And so we need to explore, we need to experiment, and in order to do that in a safe and efficient manner, we should take advice from our mentors, our therapist, our sponsor, and the peers in recovery who have the kind of life that we want to live.
So the key factor, the real skill that you want to adopt and practice in your recovery journey is this idea of taking advice, of experimenting in your life, of letting others dictate a suggestion to you and actually putting some effort into the idea.
We need direction and new ideas in order to thrive in recovery. Some of those ideas are going to come from outside of ourselves. We need to learn to trust in other people so that we can take their advice and apply the lessons that they are teaching to us.
Some of these suggestions will turn into duds–we will try a few things that don’t really work out for us. That’s fine. Stop looking for the perfect idea and just do what you are told to do for a while, see if it helps. This is the only way to really test out recovery tactics and strategies–you must live them for yourself. Only then will you know if it is a habit that is worth adding to your lifestyle. Good luck!