Addiction is a behavioral disease, not a cognitive one. This is a fancy way of saying that you cannot recover from addiction by thinking your way out of it. You need to change your behavior if you want to get well. Moods, thoughts and emotions are very poor way of assessing the progress of your recovery. Recovering addicts and alcoholics are known to have labile moods that change quickly from one moment to the next… especially in early recovery.
Your commitment to recovery should be measured instead by counting how many things you are doing to get better. Ask yourself, how many meetings am I going to? Am I making all my appointments? Am I making it to work on time? Do I go to all my Intensive Outpatient classes? Does my daily routine have structure? If you are fulfilling your responsibilities, your recovery is probably going well. If you are not, you probably need to reassess your commitment to stay sober. Failing to fulfill your obligations is a red flag that you are falling back into addictive behavior.
One of the hardest parts about early recovery is that you have to do things that you do not initially want to do. Going to meetings seems like a chore and making your bed every morning is a nuisance. You cannot see the point in these things now, but later you will grow to appreciate them. Some old-timers say that the key to success in early recovery is doing the opposite of what you want to do. You tried your way, and where did it get you? In jail, in the- hospital, maybe even homeless? It’s time to a different way of life. If you had your way, you would never work, never leave the house and have an unlimited amount of drugs and alcohol within arm’s reach. Perhaps your way is not the right way.
Doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good immediately. As addicts and alcoholics, we are used to instant gratification. We want what we want, and we want it now. There is a fragile period in early recovery where we are doing the right thing, but we are not doing it enthusiastically. We are going to meetings because it is something other people say we should be doing, but not because we want to be doing it. We are calling our sponsors and making our appointments with our therapists only reluctantly. It is difficult to admit, but doing things we do not feel like doing is how to get clean and sober. If we did what we felt like doing, we would end up broke, back on the streets, back in jail, or in a mental hospital. We feel like going back out and getting loaded. This is when we discover we have to ignore these negative feelings.
During early recovery, it’s difficult to learn to ignore our emotions. Emotions are what challenge us. We cannot cope with them. That’s why we drank and drugged in the first place: to escape the things we can’t handle. This is where many recovering addicts and alcoholics emphasize the need for prayer and meditation. When our emotions overwhelm us, we need a way to shift our attention away from the bad thoughts. This is what prayer and meditation can do for us. It doesn’t matter whether or a not a deity actually exists… the actual act of praying and meditating takes us “out of ourselves” so we aren’t dwelling on negative emotions.
There will come a point, as you progress in your recovery, when you will begin to enjoy the things you previously viewed as chores. You’ll make your bed on your own every morning. You’ll go to meetings on your own volition and participate enthusiastically. At this point, you’ll feel like doing the things you need to do to get sober, because you’re realizing that all the hard work is paying off and improving your life, in a much more satisfying and constructive way than drugs and alcohol ever did. Drugs and alcohol take things from your life. Recovery adds new things. Recovery doesn’t give you instant gratification… but the gratification it does provide is far more long-lasting and healthier. During the lag between doing the right thing, and experiencing the effects of it, you need to reach out and ask for help, and find something new to occupy your time. You can’t do this alone. You need a strong support system. You need a daily routine and obligations. This is what I mean when I say that you need to change your behavior.
My own sponsor frequently tells me, “I don’t have a drinking problem anymore, I have a thinking problem.” Addiction has been hypothesized to be a symptom of underlying mental or emotional problems. The addict or alcoholic uses drugs and drinks alcohol when he can’t cope with what’s going on in his mind. When the drugs and alcohol are gone, he has to seek relief elsewhere. This relief is learned through time with prayer, meditation, and a strong support system from others in recovery. Reach out and talk to other people with more sobriety. Ask them what they did to get clean. There are people and programs who are more than happy to help you.
Early recovery is tough, but the good news is that it gets better. How your recovery is now is not how it will be in one, two or three months. It’s always growing, changing and adapting, just like your new, clear mind that you are in the process of rewiring. Recovery is an adventure, and I urge you to give it your all to see what new exciting places it will take you next.