I am the poster child for substance use disorders. That is the new and improved name for “alcoholic and drug addict” (DSM-5). For years, I’d battled an addiction to prescription drugs and couldn’t find a path to freedom. I was physically dependent on drugs and psychologically addicted to the effects drugs created. It was hell… Addiction is the worst job on earth! You are on call 24/7, never get a day off, there are no vacations… no holidays. Addiction does not care if you are sick or if you have plans… none of these are in your “employment contract.” Ask anyone who’s been there!
An estimated $780,000 was invested in my recovery. I’ve been detoxed, prayed over, rehabbed, saved, baptized, exorcised, new aged and given up on. Finally, something clicked, and I want to share it with you. I’d like to take credit for my recovery, but I’m not that smart of a guy. Fortunately, I met a guy who has it together, and I learned from him. His name is Manny Rodriguez, founder of La Fuente Hollywood Treatment Center.
A recent article I read reminded me of Manny and the key to my recovery. There are only four things needed to regain your life … Manny said it… I believed it and today, I’m clean and sober.
This is my summation of Manny Rodriguez’s message of hope and the Mayo article that supports it.
I hope it helps you ….
The prognosis of substance use disorders is the same for everyone… you will live with it, or you will die from it. There are no exceptions. Think of addiction the same way you see Type II diabetes. You can live a very long life with diabetes, you can be productive, successful, and enjoy everything life has to offer, or you can lose your vision, kidney functions, limbs and eventually lapse into a coma and die. It’s your decision… live with it or die from it. Understanding the disease and how to live with it is the key to a longer life.
The most common approach to recovery is natural recovery. Natural recovery is a recovery that occurs without treatment or support groups (NIAAA, 2012). When people recognize the cost of their addiction exceeds the benefits, and correct this, they become the “heroes” of addiction recovery. We don’t hear about these folks too often… because doing it without help doesn’t always work However, we can learn a great deal from them. Specifically, the four key ingredients in any successful recovery process. These are humility, motivation, sustained effort and the restoration of meaning and purpose.
Four key ingredients to recovery from addiction
At the most basic level, recovery is about humility. Some people independently solve their addiction problem (natural recovery). Others ask for help. In both cases, it is a humbling experience to face the reality of dependency. This humility extends to treatment professionals as well. To quote the famous French surgeon, Ambroise Pare (c. 1510-1590), “I bandaged him, and God healed him.” Treatment professionals can point the way. However, each person’s recovery is ultimately a personal triumph and victory.
Professional treatment for addiction is the path of last resort. Think about it for a moment. At its most basic level, treatment involves asking for help. Ordinarily, we don’t ask for help until faced with the realization we need some! An analogy might make this more sensible. Suppose you want to drive your car to an unfamiliar location. Perhaps you never visited this destination before. Do you immediately drive to a gas station and ask for directions? Or, do you first attempt to navigate there on your own?
Until we realize we are lost, we do not consider pulling over and asking for directions. Of course, different people will arrive at this conclusion more quickly than others. Some people are fiercely independent. The notion of asking for help is akin to admitting defeat. Other people are more prone to pull over and ask for directions at the first hint of trouble. The same is true with recovery from addiction. By the time people come in for treatment, they have usually attempted to recover on their own. They’ve reached their individual tolerance level for “being lost” and decided they could use some “navigational” help.
Treatment is a type of navigational help. Let’s continue with the previous example. When we pull over and ask for directions, we don’t expect someone to jump into our car and drive us to our destination! Sure, we’ve asked for help. Hopefully, we received some helpful directions. Nonetheless, we still have to drive ourselves to the desired location. This is true of addictions recovery. Ultimately, everyone must drive themselves down the road to recovery. Therefore, even with “navigational help,” recovery still involves natural recovery.
But wait, you say. Does natural recovery mean that people addicted to heroin or alcohol stopped on their own? Is there more of these “natural recovery” folks than people who complete addictions treatment? Yes and Yes. Heroin use is a classic example. Many Vietnam veterans were addicted to heroin when they returned home. Public health officials were concerned about this. What if they didn’t seek treatment? Would there be a devastating surge in heroin use? None of these outcomes occurred. Most heroin-using veterans simply quit on their own. How did they do it? The short answer is natural recovery. Of course, not all veterans fully recovered. Some developed other addictions when they gave up heroin. Others only partially gave up heroin.
Smoking is a more familiar example. If you have been around since the 1960s or 1970s, your experience will confirm the following facts. Tens of millions of Americans have quit smoking. Very few of them sought treatment or attended a support group. How many rehabs are you aware of for quitting smoking? If quitting smoking were easy, these results would not surprise us. Most people recognize that quitting smoking is quite difficult. Almost everyone who quits smoking does this without specialized help or treatment. It may take a handful of serious attempts to succeed finally.
A similar result has been found for alcohol. There are individuals who stopped or reduced their alcohol use have done so on their own. Unless you are a student of addictions research, you might not know there are so many of these successful quitters and moderators. Indeed, it would be quite unusual to hear someone say, “I used to have a really bad drinking problem. You might have even called me an alcoholic. But you know, I just cleaned up my act on my own. Now I don’t think about it much anymore.” It’s quite sensible that someone wouldn’t advertise these facts about themselves. Unfortunately, this silence means most people are unaware of the ways people recover from addiction without help.
A second crucial ingredient is motivation. During interviews with others in recovering, a common theme was found. The need to change finally became important enough. In other words, the benefits of change outweighed the costs of remaining addicted. This realization provided sufficient motivation to make needed changes. People who succeeded in natural recovery were able to evaluate the costs and benefits of their addiction accurately. Not all individuals appear to be able to do so. This is where treatment can be very helpful. Treatment can help people take an honest, hard look at their situation. This helps them to evaluate the costs and benefits more accurately. This will then provide the motivation to make needed changes.
- Sustained effort
The third key ingredient to successful recovery is a sustained effort. Whether you recover on your own or with treatment, recovery requires a sustained effort. Sustained effort is needed to persevere through the initial periods of discomfort. This lesson is clear from smokers who quit. People who successfully quit smoking spend a substantial amount of time preparing to change. They experience varying degrees of discomfort getting through the transitional period from smoker to smoke-free. Many people who do not succeed in their first recovery effort under-estimated how much effort it would involve.
- Restore meaning and purpose to life
Finally, it is necessary to restore meaning and purpose to your life. At some point, it will become evident that your world revolved around your addiction. To succeed in recovery, something else must fill that void. At the onset, build your recovery around things that give your life meaning and purpose. This might mean spending more time with your kids. Whatever it is, begin to recognize and enjoy the benefits of your freedom from addiction.
We know these four ingredients are common ingredients of successful recovery. However, we also know there is no single, correct path to recovery. Expect to find your road to recovery. Seek information and input. Then consider carefully what makes the most sense for you. Go ahead, try it. If it doesn’t work, try something different. A common expression is very fitting. “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” Realize that very few people are successful with just one attempt. Assume that there are many different roads to recovery just as there are many different people. Never give up. This is your life… your chance… find what works and hold on for an amazing adventure!
Manny Rodriguez is a very insightful man… he’s taken his message to those still suffering in addiction, and it works!
Thank you, Manny!
This is my journey… this is my life!
Rob Cantrell, MBA, MA, LAADC, ICAADC, PhD Candidate