When I first began working in the addiction field, sobriety almost seemed like this mathematical formula. We had withdrawal timelines, psychiatric diagnoses, length of treatment episodes, and insurance authorizations. It seemed like a perfect equation for explaining the calamity taking our unsuspecting country by a proverbial storm.
But, I’m a therapist, not a mathematician, and the emotional undertaking of addiction far surpasses any black-and-white statistics. Addiction wrecks the spirits of beautiful men and women; it shatters families; it takes and takes and takes, until it takes your life.
It’s a horrific and gut-wrenching disease, and we don’t nearly give those who seek sobriety enough credit. Those who choose this path choose to fight, often against all odds, and often with limited tools and resources. It’s an admirable journey, one of the most conscious and intentional journeys I believe a person can take.
What’s The First Ingredient to Sobriety?
It’s not about the treatment center or the drug of choice or even the mental health status. It’s not about money or intelligence or location, either. It’s about hope, and I define hope as the marriage of willingness with faith
If fear is the weapon destroying souls to addiction, hope is the force propelling recovery.
I think the Serenity Prayer captures everything we need to know about hope. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Hope doesn’t mean believing in sunshine and rainbows and complete happiness. Instead, it means embracing the balancing act of knowing when to change a situation and knowing when to accept it. It means trusting the process, no matter how unlikely or unhelpful the process seems. Hope helps us achieves peace – and don’t we all just want peace?
As Alcoholics Anonymous denotes, you live life on life’s terms, which means you embrace trusting that, even if you can’t predict how it all unravels and unfolds, you trust it’s going to be okay.
Hope entails optimism, which entails letting go of expectations and control. Hope entails surrendering. Surrendering opens the door to freedom, the highest and purest form of freedom, the kind that cannot be bought or experienced from anywhere else except from within.
How to Hold Onto Hope
Hope is a choice, and it’s as simple (and complicated) as allowing yourself to absorb the circumstances life places on your path fully.
While it doesn’t mean liking all of those circumstances, it does mean that you can accept them without destroying yourself or others in the process. Despite the distress or fear, you take peace in accepting that life works out in the ways it must.
In active addiction, the world casts a dark shadow, and you cope with every feeling by numbing it. When you first start to experience emotions in early sobriety, they seem amplified and intolerable. They seem like they want to swallow you whole.
But, having hope means that you accept the emotions – the ones that feel good, the ones that feel bad, and the ones that feel completely foreign. You trust that they will pass, as all feelings will pass, and you learn how to cope with life’s undeniable ambiguity.
Cravings still come- some louder than others- and your addiction will continue to manipulate, trick, and lie to you during your sobriety. Your addiction will tell you that you can’t do this, that you’re not strong enough, good enough, deserving enough, and you’ll get close to believing it. You’ll feel empowered one moment, and defeated the next, and people will label this as normal.
This is where the work counts- it’s that thin barrier defining your survival. You either trust that the storm passes, or you allow the emotions to topple you.
With that said, there isn’t one single way to foster hope. For some, it comes in the form of prayer. For others, it’s reflecting on gratitude. And, some find it in meetings or therapy or service work helping others. I find that I feel most hopeful when in nature, when I allow the world to encapsulate me with all its beauty and wonder. In nature, I can regroup and ground myself.
Remember, hope is a choice. You can choose to accept and trust the unknown, or you can choose an ironclad gripping of control. One of those paths moves you towards freedom, and the other keeps you in fear.