Most of us know someone who is struggling with addiction issues. How to recover from an addiction is not an exact science. There are countless approaches, most with some success. There is an entire addiction recovery industry that exists to address the issue.
Why do some recover from addictions and some don’t? Over the past two years, I have been researching addiction recovery. After successfully recovering from a variety of addictions over the past 36 years, I began to ask this question. Here is some of what I have learned.
- Those who successfully recover want to recover.
- They recognize what is most important to them and realize what they want is out of reach while they are actively engaged in their addiction.
- Those who successfully recover believe that recovery is possible for them.
- They decide to recover no matter what and are committed to that decision, even if they temporarily falter.
- They regularly connect with others who support their recovery.
When I was 27 years old, I was afraid that my wife, Lori was about to leave me. I’d been afraid she would leave me ever since our first date. There was a lot I didn’t know on that first date at 19 years old.
- I didn’t know that I was codependently attached to Lori. I immediately placed all hope of being loved and cared for in her hands. My value as a human being depended on her approval, her acceptance and her appreciation.
- I didn’t know that my alcohol use was addictive.
- I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
- I didn’t know how to own my life; to take responsibility for my thoughts, feelings and actions.
- I didn’t know that there was another way to live.
- I didn’t know that I was giving away my personal power to the external circumstances of my life.
- I didn’t know what was really important to me.
It was 1982. I had managed to keep Lori at home, safe and hidden from the eyes of other men. But money was tight and getting tighter. My full-time job at the grocery store wasn’t enough to pay the rent, buy the groceries for our family of four, pay the utilities and gas for the car, and buy my beer and cigarettes. Lori got a job at a pizza restaurant and her boss was a recovering alcoholic who was in AA.
Her behavior began to change after a few weeks on the job. I suspected that she and her boss were having an affair. That’s just how my mind worked back then. She wasn’t having an affair. She was beginning to recover from her addiction to me. My insecurities hadn’t eased since our first date. The conversations she had with her boss and his wife about alcoholism recovery were changing her. She started going to Alanon and her boss invited me to an AA meeting.
I was scared. I didn’t want to lose my wife. I didn’t want a divorce. I didn’t want her to take my kids away from me. I had no idea that I had a problem with alcohol. Most of the people I hung out with drank at least as much as I did and had far bigger problems. At first, I went to AA to convince my wife to stay. But after I had gone to a few meetings I realized that I had been addicted to alcohol. There hadn’t been a single day for the previous 9 years that I hadn’t had a least a few beers.
I had only been sober a week before my motives for getting sober changed. I started feeling better. I began to imagine a life without drugs. The meetings really helped. I traded in my addiction to alcohol for an addiction to AA meetings. The people at the meetings showed me it was possible to get sober and stay sober. The meetings provided an opportunity to learn some new ways to think. I struggled with a lot of the concepts that AA taught, but having a place to go while I withdrew from the physical and mental effects of my addiction was a critical component of my early recovery.
A week turned into a month turned into a year. As the years stacked up, my hope that alcohol was the cause of all my problems diminished. Even though I was sober, I still struggled with life. I still felt victimized by circumstances. When I had been clean and sober for about 20 years, my recovery shifted into another gear. With help I found from a variety of resources, I began doing the work of emotional recovery. Since then, I have transformed. I no longer suffer at the hands of circumstances. I learned how to work with my mind and experience peace and clarity most of the time.
Why did I recover when so many who struggle with addictions don’t?
- I wanted to. I wanted to recover. Once I had a taste of sobriety, I wanted more of it.
- I found something more important than the object of my addiction. I recognized what was most important to me. At first, it was the security of my marriage and my family. Eventually, I saw that I could only hope to have, accomplish and experience the important things in life if I were clean and sober.
- I believed I could recover. Lori’s boss and my AA group showed me that recovery was possible. If they could do it, I could do it.
- I made a decision and I committed to recovery. I have been fortunate. Since I stopped drinking on November 15, 1982, I haven’t had a drink of alcohol nor used a non-prescribed mood-altering drug. 25 years ago, after smoking cigarettes for 20 years, I stopped that too.
- I’ve had great support. I have surrounded myself by others who are also committed to recovery from their addictions, and recovery of their mental and emotional health.
- I’ve invested in my own recovery. I’ve found help in books, 12-step programs, other recovery programs, therapists, personal transformational programs and professional training related to my own recovery.
I wrote this article because I am so grateful to those who have helped me along the way. And I wrote it because I want others to know that if I can recover, they can too.
If someone is struggling with addiction, will they recover if they do what I did? There are no guarantees. But it certainly won’t hurt them to try.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction and is ready to find recovery, I would be honored to have a confidential conversation about it. I believe recovery is possible for anyone who wants to recover.