Shortcuts in Recovery (and why they should generally be avoided)

By Elizabeth Rosselle

I met so many awesome and inspiring individuals when I was new to recovery—people who really seemed to have it all together. And, the thing with people in recovery is that, generally speaking, they really do have it all together. Good recovery doesn’t usually involve a lot of smoke and mirrors. What we don’t immediately get to witness, however, is everyone’s entire recovery journey. 

I distinctly remember the people with long-term sobriety that I really looked up to in my early recovery days. And, I wanted what they had, like, immediately. I wanted their serenity, their ability to feel comfortable in their skin, their successes, their soundness of mind, their healthy relationships, and the list goes on. And, of course, I didn’t want to do all the hard work to get it. Thankfully, I stuck around long enough to discover that wasn’t how it worked. 

Recovery takes time, and if anyone tells you there’s a shortcut to feeling amazing and having a perfect life the minute you put down the drink and the drugs, take it with a grain of salt. The reason why we tend to drink or use in the first place is to feel good and numb out. And, the thing is, there are perfectly healthy ways to feel good that certainly don’t include drugs and alcohol. They involve things like a balanced diet, exercise, meditation, spending time outdoors, and being of service to others. Alcohol and drugs were shortcuts to feeling good, but they had negative consequences over the long term. 

Furthermore, if you try and shortcut your recovery, you’re probably not going to get the relief you desire. When your whole modus operandi pre-sobriety was to dodge your feelings and escape reality as many of us do, then there’s a lot of undoing to be done. And, it also becomes time to finally learn how to do life without shortcuts. 

I know that for me, personally, I had to learn how to weave the twelve steps into every aspect of my life before things started getting really good. I got sober through a twelve-step program and, twelve years later, I still live and breathe these amazing steps, but there are other programs out there as well. The sobriety journey is different for everyone, but generally speaking, some work is required if you want to achieve real serenity in life after leaving active addiction or alcoholism behind. It doesn’t matter if you’re in AA, NA, or some other recovery program. To really turn your life around, you’re probably going to have to do some real work on yourself. 

If you’re accustomed to taking lots of shortcuts in life (I know I was), then here are five solid keys to breaking the shortcut habit:

CONTRARY ACTION. Okay, the idea of contrary action kind of applies to the whole list for many of us. If you’re not used to living your life with purpose, honesty, humility, and faith (and, no, this faith doesn’t need to be religious), then a good trick is to start acting your way into right thinking. It basically means to fake it ‘til you make it. This might sound a little counter-intuitive to the idea of adopting more honesty and humility, but if you’re not accustomed to living with good values, then it’s going to feel weird at first. Good recovery, however, usually involves stepping out of your comfort zone a bit. So, arm yourself with this idea and be prepared to do the inner work that will bring you relief. Before you know it, you’ll start intuitively knowing how to show up in the world sober. 

CONNECTING WITH SOMETHING GREATER THAN YOU (even if it’s a recovery group). Placing our faith in something greater than us is one of the cornerstones of recovery programs like AA, but it’s also something that turns a lot of people off. This is especially true for many people in early recovery, and it keeps a lot of people away from twelve-step programs. And, if you happen to be one of those people, that’s okay. As long as you find a program that works for you. A good thing to keep in mind, however, is that believing in God or a higher power is not a requirement for twelve-step membership. The only requirement is a desire to stop drinking, using, or engaging in whatever compulsive behavior you were engaging in before you decided to sober up. It can be helpful in early recovery to simply have a fellowship of sober members to lean on—let that be the thing that’s greater than you if that feels more comfortable. And, this doesn’t have to be a twelve-step group, it can be any sober group. Nevertheless, if you’re working toward ditching old behavior (e.g., taking shortcuts), then it’s important to have something to turn it over to. If it’s simply the accountability of a group of sober compadres, that’s totally cool. It’s your recovery, but just remember that most true-blue addicts and alcoholics have a nearly zero percent chance of kicking their addiction on their own. There’s power in numbers and, for many of us, there’s power in a higher power, whatever that looks like. Figure out what that ‘entity’ is for you, and start connecting with it. 

HONESTY. Getting sober invariably starts with honesty. We must get honest with ourselves about the fact that we have a problem in the first place. And, usually, we’ve been not only lying to ourselves, but we’ve been lying to everyone around us. Sound familiar? Maybe you’re used to lying about how much you drank or used to avoid people questioning you. And, perhaps you lied about who you were because you were just plain uncomfortable in your skin. Most addicts and alcoholics lie for various reasons. Think of it as the disease itself doing whatever it takes to keep itself active and alive. And, once again, a certain level of contrary action needs to be taken by most of us in order to get honest. That step usually begins with us admitting we need help in the first place, and honesty can then become standard practice throughout our lives. Being honest can feel really weird in early recovery, but it’s actually one of the most empowering aspects of it. Because it means we get to just be—no more trying to keep track of our lies, no more covering up truths, and no more avoiding letting people get to know us for who we are. Living in the light is so much easier. 

HUMILITY. Living a peaceful and serene life in recovery requires a level of humility and ego deflation. It allows us to ask for help and admit that we have a problem in the first place. It’s all part of taking contrary action, being honest with ourselves and others, and acknowledging that we’re not the center of the universe. It also helps us to be grateful for what we have, which enables us to enjoy life and be in the present moment. Finally, it helps keep us right-sized, allowing us to find joy, peace, validation, and fulfillment inside of ourselves rather than seeking it from outside sources. 

SERVICE (helping others). Being of service is probably the best way to get out of your head and out of your own way. And, it’s arguably the most non-negotiable aspect of recovery. Addiction, at the end of the day, is a selfish disease that generally stems from a preoccupation with our feelings. We feel good, so we drink or use. We feel sad, so we drink or use. We feel uncomfortable, so we drink or use. We want to feel better, so we drink or use. We feel rejected, so we drink or use. Does this sound about right? Well, the best way to combat our self-obsession is to help others. Maybe this means going and volunteering at a homeless shelter, but it might just be reaching out to another fellow in recovery to see how they’re doing. The point is, our own heads as addicts or alcoholics tend to be pretty messy. And, talk to just about anyone with good long-term recovery and they’ll likely tell you that the best way to get that monkey mind to shut up is to help somebody. Contrary action? Perhaps. But, it works and it’s bound to brighten your day (as well as someone else’s). 

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The next time you find yourself obsessing over finding a shortcut to happiness, refer back to this list and get into action. Over time, you’ll probably discover that while the shortcuts didn’t appear, the happiness and serenity that you were seeking all along did come. And it stayed. Recovery isn’t always linear, but you will undoubtedly get out of it what you put into it. And, what you’ll usually find is that your life will be so much better than you ever dreamt it could be.  

Kembali Recovery Center can Help

If you or someone you love is struggling to get sober or stay clean, Kembali Recovery Center can help. Contact us today to learn more about our program in Bali. Remember, you never have to do this alone.

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