Monday, June 18, 2018

Never Mind The 12 Steps, Start With Three!

It seems like after telling the ugly truth about why I quit drinking, it might be time for a helpful ‘how to’ post. But I’ve been stalling - the problem I have with writing about this is that the more I learn about addiction and recovery, the more I realise there is no one way, and nothing is guaranteed. I’ve also been reluctant to write a post about ‘how to get sober’, considering that when I stopped drinking I just started smoking instead - I don’t have all the answers and am wary of sounding like I do. But I have been reading, listening and trying to learn as much as I can, and there are lots of tools, resources and things you can do that can make it easier and more likely to be successful. 

Most people have heard of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), one of a whole heap of recovery groups that help with all kinds of addictions. Collectively they are known as 12 Step Programmes, because, well, there are 12 steps, and you follow them progressively to help deal with your addiction, and perhaps most importantly, the reasons behind that addiction. When I stopped drinking I didn’t attend AA meetings, or any other kind of recovery programme, and I wish I had.  

I’ve recently learned a lot about the 12 step process after reading ‘Recovery’, Russell Brand’s brilliant book that breaks down each step and explains them in updated modern language (Step 1, ‘Admit you have a problem’, becomes, in classic Brand style, ‘Are you a bit fucked?’). The original AA programme was written in the 1930s, and has remained unchanged since then - for example, there’s a lot of chat about God that 10 years ago made me feel pretty uncomfortable, and decide that it wasn’t for me. I think a lot of people feel like this, and it’s a shame, because within the 12 step programme are a lot of tools that are pretty key to achieving long-lasting lucidity.  

But the good news is that you don’t need to attend meetings, stand in front of people and declare yourself an addict to be able to use them. Here’s three that I reckon are the most important: 

Having a goal 
In 12 step-speak, this is the old cliche of ‘one day at a time’. Cliches are cliches for a reason, and this is no different. It might sound corny, but it works because it’s zen as fuck - yesterday no longer exists, tomorrow will never come. All I have is today, and today I will not drink/use drugs etc. Forever is a long time, too long to comprehend and commit to. A day is a much more practical amount of time, and for some, to start with, maybe it’s an hour, or even a minute. 

After a while, a day will become manageable, and then your goal can get longer - a week, six months, a year. But having a goal, as long as it is achievable, will keep you motivated, because every time you reach it you will feel better about yourself. 

Accountability and support 
This is closely tied to having a goal - once you’ve set it, you need to tell people what you’re trying to do, and get their support. In 12 step programmes, this is provided by going to meetings, telling people how things are going and asking for help if you need it. I didn’t go to meetings, but when I stopped drinking I told people - my friends and family - that I didn’t want to drink any more. The more people who knew the less likely I was to drink around them, and with my best friend smacking down anyone who questioned why I’d quit (and there were plenty of them!) I had support in spades. 

When I stopped smoking I went to a few recovery groups. I found it really helpful and would have liked to keep going, but it’s hard on the road. Now that I’m travelling, it’s this blog that is keeping me accountable, and Ryan that supports me every day. 

Trust the people in your life who care about you and want to help, and find support wherever you can. You’re going to need it. 

Helping other people 
This is skipping straight ahead to the 12th step, but I don’t think you should let the fact that maybe you haven’t ‘completed’ all the previous ones keep you from doing this (it’s not a computer game after all!) Because I think it’s one of the best - it helps you focus on something outside of your own selfish woe-is-me pity party that we’re all throwing on some level or another. Or put another way, it’s Pulling Your Head Out Of Your Arse so you can look around you and see that there’s shit to be done. It doesn’t matter what it is. In the 12 step programme it’s helping other addicts with their recovery - being a sponsor or organising meetings. But it can be anything - you could volunteer at a homeless shelter, The Real Junk Food Project, or with refugees in Calais. You could visit the elderly, help your neighbour with their garden, offer to look after your friends’ kids for the evening. 

Putting yourself in the service of others is a vital step in finding the ‘higher power’ (what the 12 steps mean by ‘God’) that can make the road to recovery a life-changing one. But that’s some heavy shit, and is a post all of it’s own. For now, it’s enough to just try and break out of the selfish mindset of addiction and use your new-found time and energy to put something good into the world. 

Once you’ve started on this journey, there’s a few other things I can recommend to help you on a daily basis: 

One of the biggest triggers for people to use substances or repeat unhealthy behaviours is stress - when I smoked, it seems like I chose to smoke in the good times, and I needed to smoke in the bad. So, it would make sense that finding other ways of dealing with stress is important. 

For me, this has been yoga and meditation. For you it could be hiking or swimming (I feel that kick-boxing is in my imminent future - for the days when ‘om’-ing just isn’t gonna cut it.) Anything that takes you out of your constantly-whirring, over-thinking mind and into your body and the here-and-now. I can’t recommend this enough - it will change your life. 

And finally, learn, learn, learn. There are so many resources for people going through this process, and the more you learn and listen to other people’s stories, the more interested in recovery you will become. These are some of the things I’ve found useful: 
Apps - Headspace mediation app, sobriety counter apps 
Blogs - Sober Punks, this one! 

Nothing in life is guaranteed. But if you try these steps, I can (almost) guarantee that the journey will be easier than if you don’t. 

If you’ve got ideas, suggestions or something to share, please comment away! The more we talk about this, the more we share, the easier we can make this for people. 

Good luck! 


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