Explain the process of recovery from alcoholism.

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Jul 18th, 2015

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 Families of recovered patients were functioning as well as families of controls. Families of relapsed patients showed less cohesion, expressiveness and recreational orientation, and lower agreement about their family environment than matched families of recovered patients and of community controls, and reported more family arguments than families of recovered patients. They also showed altered role functioning, the nonalcoholic spouse performing more household tasks and the alcoholic partner performing fewer. Family functioning was affected by the adequacy of the alcoholic partner's adaptation, and by life events, stressors and spouse's level of dysfunction.

These 10 universal truths are:

  1. Abstinence is the foundation for recovery.
  2. Personal growth must become a priority.
  3. An emphasis on learning is important.
  4. What got you clean and sober will not keep you clean and sober.
  5. Addiction, and recovery, are complex.
  6. Action beats thinking every time.
  7. Helping others in recovery is critical.
  8. Complacency is deadlier than resentment.
  9. The strongest form of relapse prevention is building real self esteem.
  10. The key to success is in taking massive action.

Abstinence is the foundation for recovery

Within the recovery community, this pretty much goes without saying. Those who try to moderate or learn how to control their drug and alcohol intake will either walk away from recovery successfully, or they will come crawling back with their tail between their legs facing utter defeat at the hands of their disease.

In other words, the need for abstinence is what defines addiction. If you can manage and control your life just fine without complete and total abstinence from drugs and alcohol, then you don’t really have a problem to begin with. Go live your life in peace and be thankful that you are not an addict.

If, on the other hand, you find that you cannot find long term success in your life while continuing to drink or use drugs, then it might be time to make a decision. Real addicts and alcoholics suffer major consequences and lose a lot of ground when they relapse–no matter how innocent or minor a slip it may have been.

Addiction recovery is a pass/fail proposition. Relapse means that you are back to square one, and often times much worse off than before.

Personal growth must become a priority

There are different programs of recovery that are available to recovering addicts and alcoholics. It should come as no surprise that most any of these programs have at least some emphasis on personal growth and development. This is a fundamental aspect of success in recovery, that the person is striving to become a better person, rather than to simply coast through life without seeking improvement.

Success in recovery is a holistic path. It can be no other way. This is because every part of our life is affected by addiction: our physical body, our mental acuity, our social relationships, our spirituality, and so on. There is no portion of our overall being that is left untouched by the disease. Therefore, success in overcoming addiction must address every area of our life.

Some people mistakenly focus too heavily on spiritual growth at the expense of other areas of their life. Addiction plagued our whole being, and our recovery solution must encompass our whole self as well. Recovery is more than just spiritual….it is holistic. Personal growth will happen on many different levels.

Those who relapse in recovery can look back at their journey and say “Yes, at some point I stopped growing as a person. I let myself revert back to my old ways without pushing myself to improve instead.” Thus, personal growth is fundamental to success in recovery. It has to be present in order to prevent relapse in the long run.

An emphasis on learning is important

When we first get clean and sober, what do we actually know about living a sober life, being relatively happy, and maintaining sobriety?

Not a darn thing.

In fact, we have to learn practically everything about how to live any sort of normal life, all over again. Our old way of coping with life through addiction was not working for us. And the enormity of it all is that addiction affected nearly every aspect of our lives, remember. It is not like we just have to learn how to sit in a restaurant without ordering a beer. The task at hand is so much deeper than that…so much more complex.

We have to learn how to live again. Period.

And so the emphasis in early recovery is on learning–most learning through experiences. It really does not do a whole lot of good to be told what to do…rather, we have to get out there and experience recovery first hand. Instead of just reading recovery literature, we need to practice the ideas we hear about in recovery. Instead of just going to meetings and listening, we need to actually work with others in recovery and reach out and help them.

And of course, in order to do all of this learning that is required in recovery, we have to be both willing to shelve our ego momentarily, and we also have to summon the energy to follow through with these directions. It takes a strange mix of courage and surrender in order to let go of our old ideas and yet be willing to put a massive effort into this new life.

But eventually we come to accept that learning is part of the process of recovery, and even a negative experience can turn into something halfway positive, so long as we can extract a lesson from it.

What got you clean and sober will not keep you clean and sober

The rate of relapse in recovery is relatively scary, and disappointing. Without arguing too much over the exact statistics, let’s just say that addicts and alcoholics can still relapse after a year or two in recovery, and some actually do. Why is it that people would fail, after having obviously found success in early recovery?

While no one is immune to relapse, statistics indicate that most people who make it past 5 years in recovery have a pretty decent chance of going “all the way.” Under 5 years, and it remains a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to relapse and success, and this is largely due to the fact that some people simply refuse to grow in their recovery. They get stuck in the tactics that helped them through their first 90 days of recovery, and never evolve and push themselves to that next level.

When you get the chance to observe hundreds of people in recovery you start to see this pattern emerge: what got you sober will not keep you sober. You have to change, you have to grow, you have to evolve. This is said in traditional recovery circles in so many words: “You are either working on recovery or you are working on a relapse.” And if you are working on recovery, then this necessitates change. You have to keep changing in order to grow in recovery. If you are just trying to hang on and maintain the status quo in your life, then things will go south quickly.

We cannot tread water in recovery and expect to stay afloat for very long. We have to push ourselves harder than that, seeking new positive learning experiences from which we can grow. Anything else is risking a slide back into relapse through idle stagnation.

Addiction, and recovery, are complex

There is a tendency for people to want recovery to be simple. This is only natural after the chaos and complexity that alcoholism has thrust upon their lives. They want a magic solution, something that can quickly and cleanly take away the disease of addiction, leaving recovery neatly in its place.

This is not a realistic viewpoint. Why not? Because alcoholism, and therefore recovery, are necessarily complex. We do not just become alcoholic overnight, nor does it just affect one tiny part of our lives. The truth is that alcoholism affects every part of our life, and as such, needs to be addressed with an holistic solution. One popular recovery program cites that over 60 percent of their successful members seek additional help outside of the program.

Think further about this complexity: most recovery programs are designed in an attempt to address several different aspects of a whole person. For example, the social aspect of our lives is addressed when we connect with others in recovery. There is a strong emotional component in WFS, and other recovery programs try to deal with our emotional recovery as well. Obviously the physical aspect is addressed in some fashion as we are taught to maintain abstinence, but some go further in this area and encourage exercise and fitness as a positive aspect of holistic recovery.

And of course there is the spiritual element, which is often focused on to the exclusion of all other aspects of recovery. This is clearly a mistake, because as we can see, there are many dimensions to addiction and recovery that go beyond the spiritual. As much as we would like for recovery to be simple, or to just be about spiritual healing, the reality is that we need a more holistic and comprehensive approach to overcome alcoholism.

Action beats thinking every time

It is easy to get confused in early recovery, because obviously we need to change our ideas about how to live our life. What we have been doing has not been working, and so we need to change and try something different. We know that we need change in our lives and we know that this is going to require new ideas, new attitudes, and a new mindset.

Yet the path to “get there” is not filled with deep thinking….it is filled with action. If we could recover from alcoholism by simply sitting around and thinking all day, then recovery would be a whole lot easier. The tricky part is that we can fool ourselves into believing that our deep thoughts about recovery are equivalent to taking real action. We can delude ourselves into thinking that our lack of action is fine, so long as we truly want to change and sincerely wish that our life was different.

But it doesn’t work this way. We need action to create real change.

For example, say that you are going to use affirmations in order to try to recover from alcoholism. Without the necessary action, this will amount to wishful thinking that does not really change who you are at a deep level. With the appropriate action, you would instead do the work of self exploration and self discovery, finding out the critical parts of your emotional makeup that really need work. You may talk about these issues with others in recovery. Then you would design a regiment that is specific to helping you to overcome your specific emotional issues.

This sounds like a lot of work because it is a lot of work. You are not just engaging in wishful thinking, but instead taking real action to create a new life for yourself, and then adjusting yourself mentally and emotionally to receive this new life. All thoughts and affirmations that you engage in are accompanied by real action and follow through. It takes effort and work to maintain these new attitudes and new thoughts into every aspect of your life.

Helping others in recovery is critical

One of the universal concepts that we find in recovery over and over again is that those who help others to recover are far more likely to succeed themselves. It is a natural occurrence that anyone who is teaching someone else how to achieve sobriety will have a tendency to stay sharp at doing so themselves.

But the idea of helping others with recovery goes far beyond that even. Really what is happening is this: the person who reaches out and helps the struggling alcoholic will get an immeasurable boost to their own self esteem. This comes from genuinely making a difference in the life of another, on a deep level that only a recovering alcoholic can understand. We know that this form of helping someone is precious, because we once struggled through early recovery and received this help ourselves. It was important to us in early recovery and so we see it as being meaningful work when we assist others.

Not only do we “sharpen our saw” when we work with other alcoholics, but we also boost our self esteem in a very natural and powerful way. Having this increased self esteem makes the chances of relapse go down drastically, so it makes sense to stay open to helping other alcoholics.

Complacency is deadlier than resentment

We are told in traditional recovery programs, at times, that resentment is the biggest threat to our continued sobriety. We have found this to be false over the long run, when we observe a large group of recovering alcoholics and question them following a relapse.

The thing that trips most of them up is not resentment. It is complacency. They get lazy and stop growing in their recovery.

The solution to this is to focus more on personal growth than we do on practicing acceptance. The key is to keep pushing ourselves to grow over time, and to keep learning new things.

One way to allow this to happen naturally is to take an holistic approach to recovery. For example, we could achieve growth in any of the following areas of our life:

* Emotional
* Physical – fitness, quitting smoking, healthier diet.
* Social
* Mental – education, new learning experiences.
* Spiritual

And so on. Why limit ourselves to one dimension of growth in recovery? Instead of just focusing on spiritual or emotional growth, we need to stay open to any growth opportunity, especially in long term sobriety.

Having more areas in which we can grow and push ourselves helps to insure that we do not become complacent.

The strongest form of relapse prevention is building real self esteem

Some recovery programs engage in a slew of relapse prevention tactics–a whole bunch of tips and tricks that are designed to bail the alcoholic out of tricky situations where they might be tempted to take a drink.

This is a poor solution, and one that does not scale well at all.

Imagine how complex life really is, and the different situations that a recovering alcoholic will eventually encounter. Just about any tempting situation that you can imagine will eventually occur, given enough time. The question is not if an alcoholic will be seriously tested, the question is when. Therefore, trying to prepare in advance for such situations and formulate specific reactions ahead of time is just about worthless. Life is too random for most relapse prevention tactics to be very helpful.

So what is the solution? Strength in recovery, achieved through real self esteem.

If you value yourself, if you have learned to love yourself and to love your life, then turning down a drink becomes much, much easier….regardless of the surrounding circumstances. Women for Sobriety understands this perfectly, and therefore puts a strong emphasis on building genuine self esteem into their program.

Understand, though, that having healthy self esteem is a fundamental quality to long term sobriety. Alcoholics in other programs who achieve long term success will naturally have to build real self esteem as well. It is inseparable from success when it comes to overcoming alcoholism.

The key to success is in taking massive action

In the end, it is all about action. We can almost predict the people who will succeed in recovery by examining how much real action that they take in their life.

Alcoholism is not a trivial problem to overcome. No one has ever put forth a small effort in recovery and somehow become lucky enough to get great results. No one accidentally stays sober for dozens of years and creates an awesome new life for themselves based on pure luck.

No, all of it takes work. Recovery takes serious effort. There are not shortcuts. None whatsoever. Every bit of growth and success in recovery is paid for with raw grit and fierce determination.

We can fool ourselves by comparing recovery with other ventures in life, believing that modest effort will get us modest results. This is not the case in fighting alcoholism. A modest effort will lead to relapse, every time. The only path to success is one of massive action, where the recovering alcoholic dedicates their entire life to the recovery journey. Full and total commitment is necessary.

Ask any recovering alcoholic who has several years of sobriety if this is true. Ask them if they had to take massive action in early recovery. Ask them if they had to change everything. Ask them if was really hard to do. In fact, ask them if it was the hardest thing they have ever done in their life.

In almost all cases, the answer will be “yes.”

But then, ask them if it was worth it. You will get a smile and a “heck yes!”

Patrick Meninga is a recovering alcoholic who authors a website over at The Spiritual River where he writes aboutaddiction recovery.

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