Drug and alcohol addiction and alcoholism are progressive, fatal illnesses that are classified as “diseases” by the medical and therapeutic communities. They are incurable. Drug and alcohol addiction, however, can be treated and suffers can ultimately recover.
In order to do so, there are several things that someone that suffers from substance abuse, substance use disorder or drug and alcohol addiction can do to support themselves in their recovery and set themselves up for the best possible outcome, that being a lifetime of recovery that includes both freedom from drugs and alcohol but also happiness and a freedom from the selfish, self-centered, fearful emotional and mental anguish of addiction.
Therefore, what can someone do that is trying to get clean and sober or just starting their journey of recovery to make sure they create a long term, sustainable recovery for themselves? Here are ten key things to do for anyone overcoming addiction in order to create a sustainable recovery from drugs and alcohol:
1. Seek the appropriate professional help.
The typically will mean detox or treatment and then the appropriate level of aftercare. Sometimes this could mean seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist. For some people, this simply means no professional help and just going to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). However, whatever the individual situation is, the first thing to do is to seek the appropriate help.
2. Put your recovery first.
This is often a platitude thrown around the rooms of AA or NA, with people saying “your recovery has to come first” or “if you put anything in front of your recovery, you’ll lose it”. Now, often these are just sayings people in recovery throw out like “turn it over” and “one day at a time” without necessarily using it in the proper context. However, for someone looking to get clean and sober or just getting into recovery, putting your recovery first is absolutely a necessity. What does this mean?
Well, it means if you need detox and treatment, you absolutely need to go to detox and treatment. Things like jobs, relationships, family vacations or fun outings with friends cannot be excuses to put off or postpone or evade going to treatment. For people out of treatment and in the rooms, that means looking at everything (every action, every thought, every behavior, every decision) through recovery-colored glasses and asking yourself “is this thought, decision or action going to support or hinder my recovery” and only doing things that will support and enhance your sobriety.
Relationships, friendships, jobs, money, school all need to be deciphered in a realm of recovery. And this also means first and foremost, doing the things that create and support recovery, whether that is treatment and therapy, the program and fellowships of AA or NA or just from a practical day-to-day perspective.
3. Listen to your treatment center or therapist.
Typically, your rehab, the staff and counselors at your rehab or your therapist know what’s better for you than you do. There is a reason every time you’ve gone for treatment those people repeat the same mantras over and over again. Meetings, sponsorship, home group. It’s because it is these things that have proven to work the best for the most amount of people for the longest amount of time.
Additionally, if your drug rehab or therapist thinks you need more treatment or additional continuing care, do what they say. If they think you need to go to a recovery house or a sober living environment, then do that. No one likes having to do these things but the purpose is to support and enhance your recovery. These places and people know better, so listen to what they have to say and follow their directions.
4. Get involved in a recovery fellowship.
For people with substance abuse issues, this means Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or some similar 12 Step fellowship. And “getting involved” does not just mean going to meetings. It means going to meetings, going to regular meetings regularly, getting a home group and a sponsor, making sure that sponsor is someone that will immediately start taking you through the 12 Steps, getting involved on some level in service work, and creating relationships with people in the rooms.
5. Become a productive member of society.
What does this mean? It means get a job and go to work. Or if you can’t find a job, get up and keep looking for one. Or volunteer. It means pay your bills. It means play the role that is your role to play to the best of your ability. Do you have legal issues? Get those legal issues taken care of as best you can. Do you owe people money? Do your best to pay those people back. Do you have a family? Then go be a father or a mother or a husband or a wife or a sister or a brother to that family. Show up for work, on time, and give that job everything you have to give. It means you don’t work harder for $100 an hour than you do for $10 an hour; it means you give the same effort because someone is paying you and you take pride in what it is you do.
6. Take time to examine your surroundings and make changes if and when necessary.
There is another platitude that gets thrown around in recovery circles a lot: “Change people, places and things”. The thought is that in order for someone to recover from drug addiction or alcoholism, they need to change people, places and things. Change your friends, change where you go and what you do, never be around drugs or alcohol. This is a bunch of crap. Every situation is individualize and everyone is different, but the bottom line is that a crackhead can get clean and sober in a crack house.
Yes, sometimes things like people, places and things need to change but that is not always the case. Do not suddenly drop all your friends because they drink. How selfish of you. Do not tell your parents they’re not allowed to drink around you. In recovery, we do not expect others to change their behaviors on our account. What needs to be done is to take an honest assessment of your situation and surroundings. Just moving away from Baltimore to Hawaii won’t get you clean and sober. It is never the outside circumstances that need to be changed but rather the inside perspective of the addict. So self-observation and discussion with others in recovery is important.
Does your current living situation support or discourage your recovery? If it supports it, then stay there. If not, then maybe a change is in order. Do your current friends support or discourage your recovery? Does your current job support or discourage your recovery? Does your relationship support or discourage your recovery? Every aspect needs to be honestly examined, discussed with people in recovery that you trust and then changes made when changes need to be made.
7. Find healthy hobbies or creative outlets.
You spent a lot of time drinking and getting high. You now have a lot of time to fill. Involvement in a 12 Step fellowship will get you connected with other people in recovery and you’ll find much happiness and joy from those relationships, but getting clean and sober allows you to have a chance to explore what you are and what you like to do. Things like sports, yoga, exercise, creative outlets like art, writing and music, adventurous trips to different parts of the world, going back to school to pursue interests and education and going to concerts and live shows are just some of the typical things that people get a chance to do once they’ve entered recovery that they weren’t able to do and enjoy during their active addiction.
8. Cultivate a health mind, body and spirit lifestyle.
This encompasses many different elements. It can include exercise, changing your diet and eating healthier, taking care of medical or physical issues, seeking outside therapeutic help for other mental or traumatic issues, reading and gaining insight, seeking or rededicating yourself to personal religious leanings, seeking new spiritual insights, prayer and meditation. All of these support an holistic approach to mind, body and spirit healing and growth and in turn support a sustainable recovery.
9. Be transparent.
One of the biggest barriers to getting clean and sober is the internal self-centeredness of drug addicts and alcoholics. Addicts and alcoholics are forever concerned with what others think of them, do they measure up, do other people like them and are they loved and accepted by others. Additionally, emotions and feelings such as fear, self-doubt, sadness, depression, anger and sometimes even happiness are never shared for fear of how others will see them or think about them. This type of thing must be abandoned in recovery.
Complete honesty and transparency with others is key to sustainable recovery because it is key in personal and spiritual growth. Share all your fears, your insecurities and your self-doubt. Share them with others in recovery, because those people have the same issues or have had them in the past. It is through this type of absolute transparency with others that addicts and alcoholics can learn to be okay with who they are, learn who they are and embrace themselves for both their strengths and weaknesses. Hiding these feelings and thoughts from others in recovery is a sure sign of inevitable unhappiness and therefore ultimately inevitable relapse.
10. “Rule 62”.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a story about a member in the 1940’s who attempted to promote AA by creating three separate corporations. This was outlined in 61 rules to create the operations and get them operating. Although this behavior and plan went against the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, the man was informed by Bill Wilson every AA group is autonomous and thus the man’s group had the right to go on with the plan as they saw fit. When they did and it ultimately has disastrous results, the man wrote to the New York office of AA that indeed “you were right and I was wrong.” Enclosed with that letter was a golf scorecard, on it was written “Rule 62: Don’t take yourself too damned seriously.” This rule applies to those entering recovery as well. Life can be difficult, bad things can happen.
Addiction and alcoholism is a sad, painful, lonely road to walk. When you enter recovery, understand you have been given the chance to live two lives in one lifetime. Learn to enjoy life, have fun, find passion, take risks and create experiences. But above all, don’t take yourself too damned seriously.
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