Is it possible to use advice in order to get clean and sober?
In my experience, and based on everything that I know about myself, taking advice from others is really the only way to get clean and sober. All other methods of getting sober, from what I have seen, always fail. Every time.
Taking advice and feedback from others is a huge part of recovery. Everyone who is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction should key into this idea, because it is so vital to your success.
If you don’t know how to take advice (and thus avoid the mistakes that others have made) then you don’t stand much of a chance at staying sober. You have to key into this simple idea in order to succeed.
That said, this is really hard to do. It is easy to pay lip service to the idea that we should listen to others, but then when it comes time to take a dose of this unpleasant medicine, we don’t want to do it! No one wants to be humble and take orders from other people. No one wants to admit that they don’t know how to live the best way. And yet this is the admission that we must make in order to move forward in our recovery.
How to get started in early recovery by taking advice from others
For starters, you need to surrender to your addiction. This is the baseline of success in early recovery.
I worked in a drug and alcohol treatment center, full time, for about five full years. Before that, I lived in a long term rehab for almost 2 full years. Through these two experiences I had the opportunity to watch a whole lot of people try to get clean and sober. I met over a thousand struggling addicts and alcoholics in that 7 years. And in many cases I was able to see how the people fared in their efforts to get sober. I was in a unique position to be able to see a lot of the end results.
What I learned from this is that there are basically two groups of people who enter into a rehab center and are trying to get sober. We can split all of those people at rehab into two very distinct groups. Those group divisions are:
1) People who have surrendered fully, and are truly humble, and
2) People who have not surrendered fully.
Period. That’s it. When you look at everyone who goes into rehab, when you look at everyone who is at an AA meeting, when you are sizing up a certain individual who may be trying to become sober, there is one obvious and very important red flag that you should be looking for. And that red flag is simply:
“Has this person truly surrendered, or not?”
The answer to this is quite deep actually. It seems simple on the surface, but there are at least two levels of denial that we are dealing with here, possibly more.
The two levels of denial are this:
1) I am not an alcoholic or drug addict and I do not think I have a problem (blatant denial of the problem).
2) I am probably alcoholic but I don’t think AA will work for me (or insert any other excuse here why treatment won’t work).
The second kind of denial is more insidious. It is trickier to deal with. Because now the person is admitting to the problem. But notice that they will not accept a solution. They are saying “yes, but….”
That is how denial works at this level. “Yes, but….”
“Yes, I am an alcoholic. But no, I don’t think AA meetings will work for me because….”
This almost sounds like it is not even denial. But it is. It is denial of the solution, not the problem.
If you want to get started in recovery, and you want to take advice from other people, then you need to take advice when it comes to solutions.
That is how you start to turn your life around in recovery. By focusing on the solution.
When I was stuck in my addiction it was because I would not embrace a new solution in my life. I knew full well that I had a serious problem. I knew that I was alcoholic. And I knew that I was beaten. But I could not accept AA as my solution, and I resisted it out of fear. I was scared. I was too afraid to get sober and face reality. So I was still in denial. Not of the problem, but of the solution.
If you want to turn your life around then you need to accept a new solution into your life.
Please note: That solution does not have to be perfect. There is no perfect solution from what I have learned, seen, and experienced. The 12 step program is one solution but it is not perfect. That said, it is better than nothing, and can certainly serve a purpose in getting you on the road to sobriety. Sobriety in AA sure beats drinking every day.
Discover the secret to discipline by implementing the 30 day trial in your life
So let’s talk about actually taking advice from others and then implementing it.
One idea that I like to use is that of commitments. When I talk about committing to something I almost always focus on a length of time. So when I quit smoking cigarettes my goal was to commit to 30 days with no nicotine at all. After that, if I chose to, I could go back to smoking.
Note that it is important to be honest with yourself about that option after the trial is over. Of course you are going to be pushing yourself a bit, testing yourself a bit. Maybe you want to jog 3 miles every day for 30 days straight. After that, you get the option of sitting on the couch every day and eating ice cream instead.
And while you are jogging you have to know that this option is real, that you really give yourself permission to do whatever you want after the 30 day trial is over. That is what makes it so powerful. Knowing that you can go crazy at the end should give you the strength to persevere.
I have used this technique for all sorts of things: Quitting smoking, getting into shape, building a business, and so on. It is a great way to sort of trick yourself into taking massive action.
When you do something every single day for 30 days in a row, magical things happen. I am not just saying to that to exaggerate. I really mean it–30 days of persistence can make some amazing things happen. And it is long enough to firmly establish a new habit in your life, in case you want to continue with it.
Maybe you will try meditation every day for 30 days. Maybe you will try walking for exercise every day. Maybe you will try writing in a journal or posting on the recovery forum every day.
Whatever you do, at the end of the 30 days you will have gained something very powerful. For one thing, you will have made a new habit, and hopefully it will be a powerful habit.
Second of all, you will have learned the art of discipline. That is, you will have learned how to make new habits, how to implement new actions, how to shape and sculpt your life the way you want it. This is really, really powerful stuff. If you learn how to do this consistently and you understand how to “trick yourself” into doing new things then your power is practically unlimited.
This happened to me after I successfully quit smoking finally. In order to finally reach that goal I also had to turn into a distance runner first, which was no easy task by itself. After achieving those goals I realized that I had a lot of power in my life, and that I could probably set and achieve even bigger and greater goals for myself. So I set out to do exactly that, and in the next few years I accomplished some pretty neat things (ran a marathon and built a successful business are the two main examples).
Just doing a 30 day trial of any positive action is enough to really open your eyes to a new level of power in your life. Once you realize that you have the discipline and the ability to make tough changes, you will be excited at all of the potential that lays ahead of you. I got really excited anyway when I realized that I could use this discipline in order to accomplish just about any goal that I care to set for myself.
Who do you trust and ask for help in addiction recovery?
Conventional wisdom would suggest that you go to AA or NA meetings, find someone that is living the sort of life that you want to be living, and to ask them for help and advice.
I do not necessarily think this is bad advice. I think modeling others through the sponsorship process can be very effective for certain people. That said, it may not be for everyone. At the very least, I think that we all need other people in our lives, we all need ways to connect with others, and we all need to be able to reach out and get feedback and advice.
You don’t necessarily have to do this in AA meetings, and you don’t necessarily have to do this with a traditional sponsor in AA or NA. But my question to you is that if you choose to go a different route, how exactly are you going to fulfill those needs? What will you model your life after in recovery? Who will you go to for advice, for feedback?
Those are not questions to try to get you to attend AA, those are genuine things that you should really ask yourself on a regular basis in your recovery journey. Who is your inspiration, where are you getting new ideas from, where can you get helpful feedback and advice, and so on. Those are things worth pondering. And it is insanely useful to have some sort of network to be able to reach out to for support, to be able to help you with advice and problem solving.
As I mentioned, it doesn’t have to be someone from AA or NA. You can reach out to many different kinds of people in recovery. It could be someone from a church community, it could be someone that is a professional counselor or therapist, or it could be someone who is not in recovery at all. But I do think there is something special to be gained from connecting with someone who is also a recovering alcoholic or drug addict. Such people can give special insight and advice that other people may lack. And there is something to be said for being able to relate to another person who has been through your exact sort of struggle, someone who knows the exact frustration that you are going through at the time. Therefore it might make sense to try to connect with other people in recovery. It is easy to find such people at the 12 step programs. Again, those may not be perfect solutions, but that is definitely one easy place to find help and support that you can identify with pretty readily.
What is the right question to ask? How do you prioritize?
The questions that you ask in recovery will change over time. If they do not change then it just means that you are not making any growth.
For example, the question during your first month of sobriety will probably be something like “How do I make it through today without taking a drink?”
That is a perfectly understandable question for someone who is in their first year of sobriety. It makes sense that they would be asking that question.
But after ten years in sobriety, they might be asking something like: “How can I manage this relationship in my life so that it stops driving me crazy?”
Or they might be asking: “How can I live a healthier life in recovery from a physical standpoint?”
Or possibly: “How can I take my recovery to the next level by reaching out and helping others? In what ways could I do that?”
So there are an unlimited number of directions that you might go in recovery. How does a recovering alcoholic prioritize these ideas? What is truly important to their sobriety and their happiness, and what is extraneous and just a distraction?
I would suggest that you start your efforts by looking carefully at all of the negativity in your life. This is how you prioritize.
If there are negative things in your life then you need to eliminate them first and foremost. There is an important reason for this.
Let’s say that you have a big resentment in your life and you also have the goal of helping someone else to recover. So maybe you want to sponsor someone but you also have this huge resentment. Which goal is more important?
Eliminating the resentment is far more important, and I will tell you why.
The reason is because the resentment holds you back from peace and happiness.
So you can set other goals that have nothing to do with eliminating the resentment, and you might have a long list of goals that all involve things that would normally make you feel happy. But even if you attack that list of goals and you achieve every single thing on that list you will still be miserable if you have not yet dealt with the resentment.
It is the fly in the soup analogy. You can hire the best chef in the world and he can make up the best and most tastiest bowl of soup ever made, but if it has a fly in it then it is no good.
It is the same with your life. If you have a sore spot of negativity, whether that is resentment, fear, anger, shame, guilt, self pity, or whatever–it doesn’t really matter how much happiness you think you can achieve outside of that. You can set goals all day long and you can find all sorts of happiness in your life, but that sore spot of negativity will always be there to drag you back down.
You will never be truly happy that way.
So, this should illustrate to you how you have to prioritize in recovery.
You have to get the fly out of your soup.
Don’t try to add any more happiness into your life before you get that fly out. Don’t try to add any more tasty ingredients into the soup until you get the fly out of there. Because it just won’t work. The only way to be happy again is to get rid of the fly, get the negativity out of your life.
And one of the keys to doing this is to ask for advice.
To seek out feedback.
Because most of us have had certain flies in our soup for so long that we no longer even notice them!
This is why working through the 12 steps of AA with a sponsor can be so eye opening for some people. They start to notice all of these flies that they never knew were floating in their soup before!
And then they do the work to remove those bits of negativity from their life, and what do you think they are left with after that?
What do you think remains after you eliminate all of the garbage, all of the fear, all of the anxiety and the hatred and the self pity? What do you think your life will be like when you get rid of all of that stuff finally?
I can tell you what it will be like.
It will be blissful. It will be amazing. You will know a new freedom that you did not even believe was possible.
And the amazing thing is that anyone can achieve this goal. It doesn’t require any special intelligence, you don’t have to be old and wise, you don’t even have to be particularly intelligent to reach this ideal state of being.
Instead, you just have to listen. You have to listen and obey.
That is such a horrible word, isn’t it? To obey someone? To listen and obey. It just leaves a bad taste in our mouth to even say it, right?
I don’t blame you. I feel the same way. I don’t want to listen to people. I never wanted to.
In all honesty, I think I am somewhat smart, and probably even smart enough to figure out my own path in sobriety.
But I wasn’t. And neither are you.
Alcoholism and drug addiction are just too tricky. The smarter you are, the harder it is to find the path to sobriety. The smarter you are, the longer you will hold out and the more pain and agony you will cause yourself.
Because the solution is so simple, yet so hard to implement. You just let go. You let go of your need to be smart, your need to be right, your need to understand exactly how it all works.
You just have to let go of all that stuff, and listen to others, and do what they tell you to do.
In doing so, you can build a new life for yourself in recovery. By letting go and listening to the direction of others, you can bypass all of the typical mistakes and sail right on through to a better life in sobriety.
Doing this is pure wisdom. It is wise to learn from the mistakes of others. But in order to do so, you have to get humble. You have to be humble enough to realize that you are not smarter than everyone else in the universe. You have to be humble enough to take direction from others. To take orders. To obey.
No one wants to do this. I did not want to do it.
So what is the secret?
The secret is that you just have to be miserable enough to become willing.
Once your misery hits a certain level in addiction, then you become willing to listen. To take advice. To obey others.
And that is when your life will turn around.
That is when you will realize that you can build a better life for yourself without even using your own ideas! Others have plotted a successful course before you. Take their advice. Borrow their wisdom. This is the smartest thing that you could ever do in your life–to borrow the experience and wisdom of others.