Taking Charge of Your Recovery

alcohol recovery

Take Charge of Your Recovery

There’s a paradox: recovery is insanely hard.  When something is insanely hard, the tendency is to back off, slack off, maybe quit a little.  But the paradox, of course, is that if you don’t work super hard at it, it will be impossible.  It’s something that requires your full attention and full effort.

I’ll tell you the difference between just thinking you’re going through recovery and really taking charge.

Albuquerque: Feeble Attempts

I did my heavy drinking in Albuquerque, NM in the 80’s.  I was running a heating and cooling business and had a girlfriend I’ll call Holly.  She was a substitute school teacher who made t-shirts on the side and always thought of making into a serious entrepreneurship.  I was doing work while drunk and then going home and really getting drunk, and getting such a tolerance that I didn’t necessarily know the difference between drunk and sober.

Holly left me a few times, and left me for the last time after I’d gone dry, about a month into recovery.  She basically felt that the sober me wasn’t enough of an improvement on drunk me.

At the time that we split up I was in AA.  Basically, I went to AA meetings, I talked to my sponsor every so often, I grit my teeth, hated life, and just said I was cold turkey.  I was depressed, irritable, confused, and scared.  I had my good days, since I was feeling better, was jogging, and felt good being two weeks sober, a month sober, two months sober, and so on.  But I was apart from a lot of friends, not having much fun at nights, without a girlfriend, and thinking “is this it?”  I didn’t know where I was headed, what being sober was supposed to feel like, etc.

I backslid a few times, and in fact had one stretch of drinking four nights in a row.  Yet I didn’t fall off the wagon. I got myself back together and got sober again.

I lived this way for a period of time, and I thought I was sober.  I was physically sober, but not emotionally.

Emotional and Mental Places

Around this time, an old buddy of mine got a hold of me through my sister and told me that he was looking for someone to help him with his house painting business…in Cincinnati.  This was not far from where I’d grown up in Ohio.  He didn’t think I’d be interested, and I initially wasn’t.  But I called him back the next day and told him I’d do it.

So I moved to Cincinnati, and while I was driving up there, I turned off the radio, stared at the road ahead, cleared my mind and made some plans.

After settling in in Ohio, I sat down one weekend afternoon, and wrote everything down.  I made a list of things I needed to do:

  • manage anger better
  • improve self-esteem
  • forgive old trespasses
  • call Holly and square things away, creating closure
  • visit my parents at least once a month
  • cook one square meal at least once a week
  • designate a time to clear my head each day
  • start reading two books a week/ learn everything there is no know about Native Americans, a particular interest of mine
  • keep jogging 4-5 times a week
  • start dating someone, but take it slow when you do


Now, I won’t bore you  with too many details and nitpicks, but some of these items, in turn, required their own plans.  There were also a few individual things I did like be sure to buy more exercise clothes to facilitate jogging; get an espresso machine and a good coffee maker and a bunch of gourmet coffees.  I mention these things just to show how many details are important.

It was all about planning my entire life around sobriety.  Self-esteem was necessary for sobriety.  Managing anger was important for sobriety.  All of it was important to facilitate my literal sobriety, but it all made up emotional sobriety.

The thing is, you’re not getting sober so you can be your old self, just a sober version.  I mean, there’s a difference, of course.  But the idea is not to have the same old personality problems and same hangups you had while drinking.

The only way to get the true change you need is to make a plan and to execute that plan.  Now, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t go through AA, that you shouldn’t seek professional help, etc.  I’m not saying you don’t need the support of friends and someone to lean on. You need most or all of these things to one degree or another.

There are many great things that professionals can help you with.  In addition to AA or similar programs, you can have success with faith-based programs, a therapist, or others.  One favored approach is Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which involves a person changing one’s way of being in general—the stuff I’ve been talking about all along (I put myself through my own Sam Lorden therapy).  There are many structured approaches, but they shouldn’t be crutches.

My particular problem with AA—though it was really a problem with myself—was that I thought if I was in AA that’s all I needed to do.  They gave me tasks and all that, but for me, having my mind on it all the time was the only thing that would work.  I don’t know if it’s a matter of designing one’s own program vs. subscribing to one.  It’s a matter of being as active and motivated as possible.

For me, customization was important because it allowed me to do exactly what I wanted to.  I didn’t feel the need to give a chance to suggestions to a well-meaning professional who couldn’t quite understand my issues.  I didn’t feel the need to negotiate generic principles and concepts and try to adapt them.  Instead, I troubleshot my own situation and come up with very clear ideas and strategies meant for particular ends.

Ultimately, I’d recommend some component of that sort of approach to your recovery, whether you go through a program or not.  Whatever regimen you might be given by anyone, you have to be in charge and you have to have your own set of rules and methods that you follow.  In fact, I’d recommend that you do what I did, which is to keep some of these things secret from friends and close confidantes.  I don’t mean that I jealously guard these topics in some weird way, just that I keep some of the things to myself.  These keeps me free of interference or second guessing or naysaying that may occur, while still allowing me to have the support of my girlfriend and others about the things I’m comfortable sharing.

The bottom line is that no one else really gets much of a vote in your sobriety, including wacky bloggers like me.  Take some advice, leave others, make it work for you.

Photo Credit Shelly Monroe on Flickr