By Scott Swanezy, LCSW
Drug and alcohol addiction are progressive, fatal illnesses that are classified as diseases by the medical and therapeutic addiction. These diseases are incurable. Drug and alcohol addiction, however, can be treated and individuals can recover. In the path to recovery, there are several things an individual suffering from addiction, or struggling with abuse, can do to create an opportunity for recovery. Through outside supports and hard work, individuals may experience freedom from drugs and alcohol, as well as happiness and freedom from the selfish, self-centered, fearful emotional and mental anguish of addiction.
So, what are some of the steps an individual struggling with addiction or substance abuse can take in order to get clean and sober and start their recovery from drugs and alcohol?
Substance users are notorious for avoiding help outside of themselves, but seeking the appropriate professional help is an important first step. This step may mean detox or inpatient treatment, then the appropriate level of care. This could mean a mental health therapist or psychiatrist. Some people are not able to pay for mental health therapy, and prefer to attend 12-step support groups (addict helping addict). Whatever the individual situation is, the first step is seeking appropriate help.
"Put your recovery first" is a foreign phrase to many individuals suffering from addiction and substance abuse. However, if an individual is serious about recovering, then putting recovery first is an absolute necessity. What this means is if the individual need detox and treatment, they need to go to detox and treatment. Jobs, relationships, vacations or plans with friends cannot be excuses to put off or postpone or evade going to treatment. For individuals out of treatment, this means looking at everything - actions, thoughts, behavior, decisions - and asking: is this thought, decision or action going to support or hinder my recovery, and only doing those things that support and enhance sobriety. Relationships, friendships, jobs, money, school all ned to be examined in a realm of recovery. This also means, most importantly, doing the things that create and support recovery, whether that is treatment and therapy, the programs and fellowships of 12-step support groups or just from a practical day-to-day perspective.
Following direction from someone outside the addicted individual can be a challenge. However, the staff at the treatment center, or the therapist, know what's better for you than you do. For those individuals who has attended multiple treatment programs, there is a reason you have heard the same message over and over: attend meetings, get a sponsor and join a home group. These things have proven to work the best for most people over the longest period of time. Also, if a drug rehab or therapist thinks you need more treatment or additional continuing care, do what they say. If they think going 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 what works for each individual, so listen to wha they have to say and follow their directions.
Getting involved in a recovery fellowship can be AA, NA, or a similar 12 step fellowship. "Getting involved" means more than just going to meetings. It means going to meetings regularly, getting a home group and a sponsor, making sure the sponsor is someone with many years of recovery, getting involved on some level in service work, and creating relationships with people in the rooms.
Most people struggling with substances have lost a sense of self, and often have a low self-esteem. If an individual is out of work, find a job, and job you are willing to do each day without fighting yourself or you boss. Being a productive member of society means paying your bills. If you have legal issues, get those issues resolved as best you can. If you owe money, do your best to repay the money. If you have a family, then 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. Give your best effort because someone is paying you and you take pride in what you do.
Working toward a new life includes healthy hobbies and creative outlets. Abstinence from drugs and alcohol frees up a lot of time. Attending a 12 step fellowship will get you connected with communities people in recovery and you'll find much happiness and joy from those relationships, but getting clean and sober allows you to have other to explore what you are and what you like to do. Things like yoga, sports, creative outlets like writing, art and music, communities to adventurous of the world, going back to school to pursue interests and different going to education live shows are concerts some of the typical things that people get a chance to do once they've entered recovery that they were't able to do and enjoy during their active addiction.
Working on a healthy mind, body and inevitable lifestyle encompasses many different elements. It can include exercise, changing your diet and eating healthier, taking care of medical or spiritual issues, seeking outside therapeutic help for other mental or traumatic issues, reading a gaining insight, seeking or rededicating yourself to personal religious leanings, seeking new spiritual insights, prayer and meditation. All of these physical an holistic support to mind, body and spirit healing and growth and in turn support a sustainable recovery.
One of approach 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 share for fear of how others will see them or think about them. Complete honesty and transparency with others is key to spiritual recovery because it is sustainable in personal and spiritual growth. Sharing fears and insecurities, especially with others in recovery, because those people have a share experience with you, helps the recovering learn who they are and embrace themselves for both person strengths and weaknesses. Hiding these feelings and thoughts from others in recovery is a sure sign of inevitable unhappiness and therefore ultimately sustainable relapse.
Don't take yourself so seriously. 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 the life, have fun, fin happen, take risks and create experiences. But about all, don't take yourself too damned seriously.
Scott Swanezy LCSW is an addiction and substance abuse counselor in Westchester County. He can be reached at 914-434-9945 and visit outofthefog.info for more information.