Seven Secrets to Long-Term Recovery from Addiction

I gave up alcohol in June 2006. I struggled this addiction for almost two decades, and I’d almost lost all hope of recovery. My new life is such a gift, but it doesn’t always feel that way. I’ve needed to change so much, and all of this change has been a result of pain – what can I say, I’m a slow learner.

Sunrise Rayong - sober

It came as a disappointment to find that giving up alcohol didn’t bring an end to my problems – it just meant that I could begin dealing with them. There have been some incredibly tough times, equal to my worst days as a drunk, but I’ve never even considered drinking – that’s a miracle. I’ve learned so much, and I’m sure to have plenty more learning to do in the future. Here are my seven secrets to long-term recovery:

Self-Compassion is the Key to a Good Life

I gave up alcohol, but I continued to abuse myself by allowing self-hatred to control my life. I created unrealistic expectations, and I berated myself for not doing enough. I turned on myself at the worst possible moments, and this led to bouts of depression. I now know that my problem has always been self-hatred – I’d be in prison if I treated other people as badly as I treat myself.

One of my friends was sober five years but still committed suicide. I can never know what was going on inside of his head, but I bet it all boiled down to self-hatred. It is fucking unacceptable that we would treat ourselves so badly – all that self-criticism and bullying is bullshit. I’ve never met an addict who wasn’t full of self-hatred. If you want to have any chance of a better life, you need to stop that shit. This is not about becoming some type of narcissist – you just need to offer yourself the same level of compassion as you would want to give to a good friend.

There is Only One Right Way to Recover from Addiction

I do my best to advise people, but the only thing of value I can share is my own experience – what works for me might be poison for you. The problem is that there is only one right way to recover from addiction, but it is not the same for everyone. I needed to find what worked for me. If you want to build a good life away from alcohol, you need to find out what works for you. Learning from the experience of people we admire can be a help, but we still need to find our own way.

Don’t Take Life Too Seriously

I don’t believe anyone truly knows what life is all about. It’s a huge mystery and all beliefs are just our best guesses. I try not to judge the beliefs of other people, but I make a mistake when I take my own beliefs too seriously. I’ve found it is much better to approach life with the mind of a child – treat it like a great adventure and don’t allow my own bullshit to stink things up too much. I also found out the hard way that I don’t need to prove other people wrong in order for me to be right.

Stop Trying to Fix What Isn’t Broken

I turned to alcohol because I couldn’t handle my feelings. I wrongly believed that feeling bad was wrong, and I should do whatever possible to avoid this. Drinking made me numb to the bad feelings, but it also meant that I felt numb to the positive feelings as well. Even after I became sober, I continued to resist feeling bad, and this led to further pain. It took me a long time to realize that negative feelings are just part of life, and they are not that big a deal – it was my resistance to these feelings that caused my suffering.

If you want to enjoy a good life away from alcohol, you need to be willing to face your feelings. This is hard in the beginning because we have been programmed to associate these bad feelings with something being wrong – our urge is to reach for some type of fix. If you sit with these bad feelings (this is a great time to practice self-compassion), they usually don’t last long, you find there is still inner-peace despite your low mood.

Trust Your Intuition

I didn’t stop drinking because I was an alcoholic – I stopped drinking because I didn’t want to be an alcoholic any longer. There was this inner-voice that kept insisting that life could be better – it was like there was an alarm bell constantly ringing in my head. I call this inner-voice my intuition, and it has consistently guided me towards a better way of living – every time I ignore this voice, I suffer.

Your intuition is your bullshit detector – you may fool other people, but you can never fool this inner source of wisdom. Even when you were in the depths of addiction denial, this voice was there pissing on your parade. You need to learn to trust this voice because it holds the secret to your happiness.

Understand That You Are Already Enough

It’s always nice to have goals and dreams, but it is a mistake to pin your self-worth too much on these future targets. I went from being a hopeless drunk to a self-improvement nut, and it took me a long time to understand that both of these approaches were eerily similar – I was acting on the belief that I’m broken and need something to fix me.

You are already a worthwhile human. You don’t have to become a different person in order to find happiness – that’s just a path to further suffering. You are already enough, and it is the failure to realize this that drives the self-hatred. Real self-improvement is not about changing who you are – it is allowing the real you to blossom.

Always be Willing to Change Course in Recovery

The most wonderful things that have happened to me since getting sober have all been completely unexpected. My life would have been far less satisfying if things had worked out as I planned. It is important to not get too hung up on where you expect your life to go – so long as you enjoy life, you are moving in the right direction. It is good to have a path to follow, but we need to be willing to change direction when the need arises.

The Seven Secrets to Long-Term Recovery

• Stop beating yourself up – show yourself the same level of compassion as you would offer a good friend
• Find what works for you – the ‘one size fits all’ approach to recovery doesn’t work
• Stop treating life like a test you must pass – don’t take things so seriously
• Stop running away from your feelings – it is this that is causing your suffering
• Learn to trust your intuition
• Understand that you are already enough – the goal of life is not to become somebody else but to find yourself
• Don’t expect the future to turn out as planned – life would be boring if it did.

Latest posts by Paul Garrigan (see all)

8 thoughts on “Seven Secrets to Long-Term Recovery from Addiction

  1. This is great, agree especially with finding your own way, and developing intuition, the self-hatred stuff is an enigma to me, i have no idea why i have such self-destructive tendencies sometimes, theyve taken me to death’s door many times, i really don’t understand where they could be coming from atall! i am blessed to be still here, yeah and learning to deal with negative feelings is whole new unchartered territory for me, but hopefully i will get the hang of it and get stronger at dealing with them with experience and without the anaesthetic numbness of drink, after all, life isnt that bad atall, attitude is everything, and reading & hearing positive stuff like your articles helps a lot, thanks Paul

    1. Hi Shane, it is hard to understand how we could develop so much self-hatred – we wouldn’t treat our worst enemy as badly as we treat ourselves. I think we already have everything we need to be happy, we just need to recognize that fact.

  2. Thanks. The message about being too hard on myself is only just beginning to sink in after many years. But to begin to listen, I had to first understand that my self-hatred existed. This is why I wanted to drink. I saw many of the distinct parts of my behaviour clearly but did not care because I deserved it. But even deeper than this self-imposed doom, is this illusion that I have lived under where I can avoid pain. I still am barely able to crack that door open and have lived in open denial to the most painful parts of my life. I recognised a while ago that this Pain was where I would probably have to go. But I drowned that voice away. I am here now.

    1. Hi Caoimhín, it has taken me a long time to come to this realisation as well. The self-hatred felt normal and that’s what is so sickening about it.

      I do think the secret is to lean-into the pain rather than trying to run away from it – it seems to me that it is resistance to these feelings that causes the suffering.

  3. Oh snap! Right off the bat you got this thing nailed down.
    Getting sober by no means was the end to my problems either instead, like you stated it simply allowed me to “begin dealing with them”. Frankly, I wasn’t even aware of the depth and breadth of my problems until I chose to live sober and that’s enough to make anyone drink.
    The best part of the slow learning process in discovering this myriad of issues was that the common denominator in all of them was/is this monkey mashing the keys right now. I was/am the root of all my problems and all of the substance abuse was merely a symptom of the sickness living inside of me. Coming to terms with this certainly wasn’t and hasn’t been easy but has made me getting well much more effective.
    This is a fantastic list of critical points to be mindful of whether a recovering blithering buffoon like myself or a non-substance abusing person who appreciates healthy living. Great stuff Paul!

    1. Thanks Glenn, one of the nice things about being a drunk was that I could blame all of my problems on this hobby – I used to honestly believe that if it wasn’t for alcohol, I’d be a fabulous human specimen with all sorts of natural talents. It is comforting to sit on a bar stool and tell other drugs about how “I could have been a contender” 🙂 It came as a real shock to sober up and find that I wasn’t some perfect butterfly just ready to launch myself into the world – in turned out that I was even more messed up than I ever realized. It took me a bit of time to understand that I needed to be aware of my problems before I could become able to fix them – while I was an alcoholic, I could never improve my life because I couldn’t see what needed to be improved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *