What traits do you need in order to really succeed in alcohol or drug addiction recovery?
The first thing that you need, without a doubt, is the trait of total and complete surrender. Without surrender there can be no recovery. This is because, as someone who was addicted to something, you have been fighting and struggling to gain control over your physical dependence for a long time.
So all you know at this point is the struggle to maintain some order of control over yourself. You are fighting for control and trying to limit your intake so that you do not experience consequences. But the problem is that this is a battle that you are never going to win–the power of addiction is just too strong. Real addiction will always progress and get worse and worse until it lands you in jail, in the hospital, or it outright kills you. If you try to assert control over your addiction then it is going to beat you in the end. The only way to move forward is to give up this fight for control by not even showing up to the battle–which is another way of saying that, because you cannot consume your drug of choice and maintain control of it, you should avoid the struggle completely by exercising complete abstinence from that substance.
While surrender is critical for recovery, there are other traits that you need as well. The big trifecta in early recovery are the traits of honesty, open mindedness, and willingness. If you stick around for a while and work a real program of recovery then you will discover that these 3 traits are very much related and interlocked, and you really cannot be lacking one of them while also maintaining the other two. You either have all 3 of them in your life or you basically have nothing. Another way to put this is that if you lack one of these 3 traits then you cannot really move forward in your recovery.
So you have to surrender and then you have to be honest and willing and keep an open mind. That seems like a lot to take on all at once, I know. But in the long run you are going to need even more than this. What else is critical for long term recovery from addiction?
In the long run, the game changes a little bit. Early recovery is all about surrender and then seeking support–sometimes it takes everything that you can possibly do to avoid relapse, including sitting in meetings all day, sponsorship, therapy, and treatment.
But in long term recovery you are more established and you have built a foundation of sobriety. It is no longer a huge struggle to make it through a single day without relapsing. Now having said that, it is still possible for you to relapse in long term sobriety, and this is obviously something that we would like to avoid. So what are the pitfalls in long term recovery, and what is the corresponding solution?
The biggest pitfall in long term recovery is that of complacency. The threat is that you will become complacent and get a bit lazy in your approach to life and before you realize what has happened you find yourself vulnerable to relapse. This complacency can set in even if you happen to be attending AA meetings every day, or going to other forms of treatment such as counseling or therapy. In other words, you cannot rely on treatment or meetings to save you from the threat of complacency–it can still happen in spite of those supports.
So what is the solution? Personal growth is the solution. In order for you to be successful in long term recovery you have to keep moving forward and making progress in your life.
Some of what qualifies as being relapse prevention is really just self esteem and positive action. In other words, if you are doing positive things in your life and you keep moving forward then you will be far less likely to throw everything away on a relapse.
Complacency can happen, regardless of what recovery program you may be using in your life, because you stop making progress and you stop improving yourself.
In order to keep recovering successfully the addict or alcoholic must continue to improve both themselves and their life situation. Failure to move forward means that they will feel as if they are sliding backwards. No one stands still in recovery–you either take positive action and strengthen your sobriety, or you freeze up and your recovery becomes weaker and you risk relapse.
Recovery is personal growth. Everything else builds on this one simple truth. You cannot just walk away from your substance of choice, you must instead build a life that is worth living. Otherwise, you will get complacent and throw it all away on a relapse eventually. The only insurance and protection against relapse is the fact that you want to keep living this new and amazing life that you have discovered in recovery. But how do you get this amazing new life?
You have to build it. You have to make it. You have to take positive action every single day so that your life keeps improving over time. Any time that you get complacent and you stop this process of personal growth, you are opening the door up for relapse to find its way back into your life.
Now another trait that is particularly helpful is if you are using holistic principles in your search for personal growth. What this means is that you are going to be considering your entire life in recovery, not just the substance abuse aspect. So you have areas of your life that you can improve such as physical health, mental well being, emotional stability, spirituality, social connections, and so on. Recovery is not limited to just the physical or spiritual aspect of your disease, and therefore the possibilities for personal growth in recovery are truly endless. Chances are good that you are neglecting one area of your overall health a bit more than the others. What is that area, and what could you do today in order to improve your life? If you don’t know the answer to this then it may be found by talking with a sponsor, a therapist, or your peers in recovery. They can help you see some of your “blocks” in life easier than you might be able to identify them yourself.
Finally, I would recommend that another successful trait to have in recovery is to be helpful to other people. Nothing will give you a bigger return on your effort than helping another addict or alcoholic to remain clean and sober. This is what they refer to as 12 step work in the AA or NA program–reaching out and being ready to help the newcomer to find their path to sobriety.
If you are teaching someone else how to live in recovery then it forces you to adhere to the principles as well. Your lesson to others serves as a reminder to yourself.
Hopefully you can adopt some or all of these traits and enjoy a life of freedom and joy in recovery. Good luck!