Recovery: How We Get There and Stay There
Recovery, whether you're a newcomer or have been clean and sober for some time, is all about change. We don't get well looking at things the same we've always looked at things, thinking the same way we've always thought of things and definitely not doing the same things we've always done. When I came into recovery, there was a lot of tearing off I needed to do. I needed to strip multitudes of layers off—anger, resentment, lies, self-centeredness, selfishness and heaps of denial—that that kept me stuck in the same place over and over again: drunk and miserable.
I had to exfoliate the filth of my own warped perspective and dark emotional landscape. The only way I could do that was to take a different approach to how I looked at myself. One thing I learned was that it was going to require effort. If I wanted true change and a solid sobriety, there were some things that were going to be asked of me. What I found is that it came down to one simple word (or acronym): HOW. Honesty. Willingness. Open-mindedness. These (seemingly) simple principles opened my eyes to a new way of thinking, feeling and and being in the world. And regardless of your method of getting and staying sober, being honest, willing and open-minded will ensure solid footing for your new way of living.
I was a master manipulator when I was active I my alcoholism. I lied even when telling the truth served me better! I was so used to telling lies and tall tales, that it became second nature. Like all alcoholics and addicts, I lied to cover up my consumption and lifestyle. Eventually living an unauthentic life took over and I never truly knew who I was anymore. The lies had ensconced themselves right into my being. I could no longer differentiate between true and false.
The first thing I needed to do in my recovery was to be brutally honest with myself. I had to remove the poisonous filters from my mind and for the first time in my life, see myself as I truly was, warts and all. I had to admit and accept that I was an alcoholic. I had to realize the damage I had done to myself and others. I had to fully comprehend that I had a lot of work to do. I could no longer live in denial if I wanted to change. Once I was able to push ego aside and lay the cards of my life down, I was then able to see what I was working with. I could finally get down to brass tacks.
Even today I need to be honest in all my dealings—from being truthful to those in my life, in deed and word, and to being honest with myself. I need to check my motives, check my intentions. I need to make sure I don't drift into little white lies and then promoting them to bigger lies like I used to do. It's a daily thing that keeps me from sliding into old thinking.
The one thing I learned at my stay in treatment was that if you were there because you wanted your partner, the courts, your boss, your family or anyone else to get off your back, you were going to pick up again. Ambivalence and being half-hearted did nothing but delay the inevitable. Recovery—successful, lasting and happy recovery—requires full and complete engagement. Half-measures avail us nothing, as 12 step literature reminds us. I had to put as much effort into my recovery as I did into my drinking—if not more.
I was great at starting things in my life, but poor at following through. I had great intentions when I first got something off the ground, but once I saw that sustained effort was required, and the buzz of the newness of things wore off, I bailed. When it came to my recovery, I was initially thrilled to be off of the alcohol, and all the things it brought—good sleep, a clear mind, etc. but once the sort of “pink cloud” started to fade, the reality dawned—it required consistent work. That is where other people in recovery were invaluable. They made sure I kept my eye on the prize and helped me work through the times when I wanted to give up, when I wanted to slink back to my old ways.
Willingness is nothing without honesty or a plan of action. I had to be willing to do things which scared me, which took me out of my comfort zone. I had to put my faith into things that I was unsure of. I took suggestions and direction with full force. I went to all lengths to get and stay sober—I had been kicked out of my house and was unemployed, but recovery was my first priority. I had legal troubles and all sorts of messes to clean up, but recovery came first. It was my willingness to take care of my sobriety first which ensured all other parts of my life started to heal.
Today I need to be reminded of this when I feel like coasting or when I don't “feel like” doing things, especially things that nurture my spiritual side, or that has to do with recovery in general. Being complacent in one of the biggest reasons that many people return to their old ways of being. We can't rest on our laurels!
The most difficult thing I had to realize early on in my recovery is that I was often wrong. It was excruciating to admit I didn't have all the answers to life. I thought I did. I was constantly reminded that my best thinking got me to detox and treatment. What a shot to the ego! So much of my denial and sense of self-righteousness came from a narrow and rigid mindset. I had to be right all the time. I dodged responsibility for my actions and played the blame game like a champ. Clearly all my problems were because of other people's incompetence or their lack of intelligence.
Recovery has taught me that I need a whole whack of humility and open-mindedness to make and keep any meaningful progress in my healing. I had to realize early on that was okay not have all the answers, and that asking for help was not a sign of weakness, but of strength. Being open to all suggestions was life-saving for me. I had to realize that it wasn't all about me, and that there were many ways of doing things.
Keeping an open mind is as important to me now as it was in early recovery. It keeps my ego in check, it allows me to investigate things I never would have on my own, it helps me when I am stuck in my own head and someone offers a way out. Staying open to new things is like keeping a window cracked open and allowing fresh cool air to keep the room from being stagnant. My horizons open up and I am less inclined to find fault in others or get back into ego-centric thinking.
HOW is a vital start to anyone's journey, and I know that when I am applying these principles in all my affairs, I am in a good position to grow and learn. And recovery is more than just putting down the bottle or drug—it's all about growth and change.
Paul Silva is a writer, podcaster, and blogger. Paul has been sober for approximately five years and has contributed guest posts to many blogs and sites such as Transformation is Real and Waking Up The Ghost. Paul is very active in the online recovery community, through his Twitter and Facebook accounts. He also guest edits a weekly recovery ezine “TGIF” for Renascent and is a also contributor, having several of his articles published in “Road To Recovery: The 12 Steps.” He is currently writing a book on spirituality and recovery. Paul is a professional chef, runs whenever he can, and is a chocolate enthusiast. He lives in Toronto with his wife and two boys.