The Path of Addiction Recovery


ShortcutIt is part of our culture, our daily practices, perhaps even our DNA: the desire to do things faster, easier, and with minimal sacrifice. Let’s face it. We want shortcuts.

While finding a quicker route to the grocery store can help us save time and even gas money, when we try to take shortcuts to self-improvement, we often end up spending more and gaining less. One sad example of this is in addiction. The desire to find the quick fix is the prime reason why addicts too frequently find themselves in relapse. They believe they can overcome their addiction in 7, 30 or 120 days. In other words, they want a shortcut.

A recent study found that 56% of people who went to a treatment program for addiction did not engage in any type of aftercare or on-going support program. Other studies have shown that addicts who do not seek support relapse very quickly – perhaps as many as 90% within the first 90 days after treatment. Even those most willing to give up their addiction have a hard time accepting that addiction has no “cure.”

In my experience, families often suffer the same misconception. When addicts undergo positive changes during the early weeks of treatment, families rejoice to see a “return of the person they loved.” Too often, they assume the changes will be permanent and thus fail to provide strong support for the on-going work required of recovery. Consequently, they are devastated when relapse occurs and addiction again raises its ugly head.

The harsh reality is that recovery from addiction takes hard work and a lifelong commitment. It is a process, not a destination. The addict or alcoholic must keep striving to manage or overcome the emotions, tendencies, and triggers that invite relapse. Recovery is like trying to walk up the down escalator. If you stop, even for a short time, you are quickly in the basement again.

St. Joseph Institute makes every effort to help addicts find and join a good post-treatment recovery program, whether in the form of support groups, counseling, a sponsor, or sober fun. The only post-treatment choice that does not work is the one in which nothing changes, in which the addict picks up life where he or she left off, hoping that permanent recovery has been achieved. The addicted person and his or her family and friends will all be in a better place when they accept that addiction is a chronic disease – and that recovery does not come with shortcuts.

stopstartIt’s time for change. Each year the statistics for addiction and its impact on individuals, families, businesses, and communities are released, piling on those from the previous year.  Sadly, the numbers keep getting worse: more people die, more accidents occur, more people go to jail, and too few seek help.

Let’s make this year different. You don’t need to change the world – just yourself. Here’s a list of five things to stop and five things to start.

  1. Stop ignoring the hurt that your using brings to others. On average, every addict adversely affects the lives of four other people. Children, spouses, families, and friends are all impacted. Your high creates their low.
  2. Stop denying that you have a chronic disease that can kill you. The science is too overwhelming to dismiss. Drugs and alcohol change the way the brain works. You stop thinking clearly, and you act without considering the consequences. There may not be a cure, but there are answers that will let you win.
  3. Stop minimizing the impact of using on your health, work, relationships, finances, and happiness. The only person an addict fools is himself. The people around you can see the deterioration and know the lies.
  4. Stop pretending that you can “quit on your own”. If it were that easy you would have done it long ago, or after the 99th time you said you would stop. Addicts need help.
  5. Stop making excuses to avoid treatment. The dog, the job, the niece’s wedding, all become reasons for putting off the day when you stop being in active addiction and become a person in recovery.
  6. Start listening to people who understand addiction and know how to get clean. There are ways to overcome addiction that have proven successful for millions. Those who fail are most often those who try to do it “my way.”
  7. Start asking others for help. As an addict, you can’t trust your own thoughts and ideas; your brain gets you into trouble. Rely on others to help you get into a solid recovery program and turn your life around.
  8. Start acknowledging your emotions, hurts, sadness, boredom, and all the other reasons why you self-medicate. Professional help is available to heal your bruised and broken parts.
  9. Start appreciating life and see all the reasons you have to be grateful. A life without using can quickly become a life filled with joys – both large and small.
  10. Start living in recovery. Accept treatment, get detoxed, and start enjoying life by learning ways to prevent your drug of choice from influencing your brain and hijacking your thoughts, your sense of purpose, and your happiness.

Take a step forward today and allow your life to change. Don’t be an addiction statistic next year. Instead, be a person in recovery experiencing all that life has to offer.

Be GratefulThe people in the room have seen addiction destroy their careers, relationships and many of their dreams.  They often feel anger, frustration and a sense of hopelessness.  No one disagrees that “addiction sucks.”  So when I ask the question “do you think that you could be a grateful addict,” there are always members of the group that look at me as if I’m from another planet, am just plain stupid, or obviously have not been listening to what anyone has said.  And then the discussion begins.

No one wants to deny the destructive nature of addiction.  It rips through families like a tornado in Kansas.  The pain is real, the despair is real, the anger and resentments are real.  Why then should anyone be grateful?

The reason, I suggest, is not because of what addiction has done to your life in the past, but what recovery can do for your future.  Too many people sleepwalk through life — they don’t work at making life better, they don’t actively seek happiness, they don’t address problems.  Instead they accept what is, and spend years, perhaps decades, bitching about almost everything.

Recovery requires — no demands – that you work at making your life better.  Each day you must begin with a determination to look for goodness and meaning and purpose.  You must be ready to fight against every event, every thought, and every disappointment that threatens to pull you back into the black hole called addiction.  It’s a lot of work, but it provides great rewards.

gratefulThink about the changes that must be made to live a strong recovery.  You need to learn how to manage stress.  Your relationships need to improve; with better communication, conflict resolution and more genuine intimacy.  Questions about life’s meaning and purpose need to be addressed.  Resentments must be abandoned, forgiveness offered, emotions managed and love found and shared.  In short, recovery demands that life be lived better, more richly, and with greater passion.

As the discussion ends, I usually have some converts.  The puzzled looks have been exchanged for acknowledgement — not without some reservations — that it is possible to be a grateful addict.  While addiction is not something to be wished for, it can become the reason why people seek something far better.  If life gains meaning, and becomes richer and happier in recovery, the feelings of gratitude become real.

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