EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is the paper Martin presented at the 4th Asian Recovery Symposium for the Con­­current Workshop IV: Recovery Tools held at the Legend Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on November 10, 2009.

Some people in recovery think that it is enough to simply be sober. But is it really enough to simply maintain abstinence for many years? There are recovering dependents who attain sobriety but whose quality of life is that of a “dry drunk”. These are former druggies or alcoholics who go through the grieving process of losing their substance dependence but never get past the anger stage.The drink or drug has been their friend for many years. It was something they always counted upon. It was always there ready for the good times, the celebrations, the parties, as well as the sad, mad, and lonely times, too. But when finally this “old friend” let them down and it was time to let it go, some were able to begin the process of grieving from the denial stage to anger to bargaining and acceptance. But some, despite having abstained, remained stuck in their anger, bitterness, and resentment at having to change their lives. Thus, the adage: They haven’t had a “drink” or “drug” in years, but they have also never had a “sober” day.

It is important to know about the Dry Drunk Syndrome and how it can deteriorate one’s recovery process. One must be aware so that one does not fall into the trap of living this type of lifestyle. In fact, one must be very concerned about finding ways to improve the quality of their life in recovery. Truly, there is more to recovery than meets the eye.

In my 18 years of forming my own recovery, I have come to know that there are ways a person can achieve a new “high” in life by improving the quality of life in recovery. Likewise, in my long experience in running a TC, I have discovered that if we improve the ways in which we invite people into an enhanced life of recovery, chances are people in recovery would be motivated to take recovery as an opportunity to celebrate life to its fullest.

Today, I am challenged to share a checklist that can serve as a guide in developing a qualitative lifestyle in recovery — one that maximizes the growth potential of people in recovery. In the process of “Championing” one’s sobriety, one lives in a state of recovery wherein a person has been able to: a) complete the grieving process; b) resolve deep-set anger and resentment issues; c) achieve full acceptance of the dependency problem, and d) become open to new challenges.

The following are 10 ways one can keep recovery alive:

1. Maintain A Structured Lifestyle — One must bear in mind that in achieving success in recovery, it is important to shape one’s environment around a doable routine. This requires that a person proactively constructs a new structure or “nest” built around a family-life consciousness. Get comfortable with routine. In so doing, one must accept that part of recovery means: a) Making new (positive) friends, b) Preserving the family status quo, c) Readiness to change one’s home (if necessary), and d) Having a steady job (or studies).

2. Be Purpose Driven — Live a life that is principle-centered, where your day-to-day decisions are always based on the “greater good”. One must be ready to handle assigned tasks and be there for others in the family. Steadfast adherence to the “ground rules” of recovery is paramount. Being part of a greater cause such as joining civic or religious groups also bolsters recovery. Being punctual is a stamp of a responsible person. During recovery, there must be a willingness to live independently and pay one’s own rent, bills, groceries, etc.

3. Be Committed to an Exercise Regimen — Engaging in sports, recreation or wellness activities regularly is important. Having achieved a state of independence and freedom after treatment, people in recovery have a tendency to disregard the importance of committing to an exercise routine. Usually, they engage in exercise or sports only when they feel like. A healthy physical condition leads to healthy thoughts, therefore healthy feelings.

4. Create a Self-regulating Lifestyle — It is important that one build life around a lifestyle that in some ways prevents you from abusing privileges. I call it “creating your own Frankenstein” where in the end, the “Frankenstein” takes control of you … thus preventing you from being “too free” to do just anything you feel like doing. This is particularly crucial for those who have been blessed with lots of wealth. In following the principles of Continuing Care, establish systems or agreements (usually by involving other members of the family and counselor) that will set control measures on your life. Learn to accept these as a necessary part of a successful recovery. One must still earn the right to luxuries and creature comforts.

5. Set Short & Long Term Goals — Short term goals keep you occupied and help prevent unhealthy thought processes and boredom. They keep the imagination working and condition the mind to cope with multiple activities. Long term goals become a person’s guiding light towards success. They can serve as a motivation towards one’s continued pursuit of sobriety. “It may take time, but at least I am doing something about it now.” Long term goals can also help sustain excitement in recovery most especially when the “good feelings” of recovery begin to wear off.

6. Keep on Making Things Right — Always be peace-seeking with the desire to make things right. Remember, you now have the power to be aware, to reflect, to understand, to be proactive and to forgive. Come clean whenever possible and make it a point to make amends with people whom you care about. If you have wronged a person, be peace-seeking and try to make things right. Believe me when I say that it gives a great high to have serenity as there is no price for peace!

7. Be in Constant Search for Spiritual Guidance — When we surrendered to our dependency, we accepted being powerless over drugs and alcohol and realized that there is a greater power in charge of our lives. Whenever we achieve great things, it is okay to be proud about one’s achievements but equally important to ultimately recognize them as blessings (and sometimes miracles). Living a life of commitment with our Higher Being means conceiving a reciprocal or give and take relationship. It is essential that one learn to make a pact of goodness towards others in exchange for the blessings that come your way. The practice of prayer may well be an invitation for the intervention of the Spirit but is not by itself being spiritual. However, sharing openly the inspiration that helped you recover is an act of humility, therefore an act of spirituality. Taking the path of self-denial improves your connection with the Higher Power.

8. Maintain a Support Group — People who have been in recovery for a long period of time may sometimes feel that they don’t need support groups anymore. That’s because a long period of recovery (five years onwards) tends to make one feel fully healed. It is important to remember one’s roots. Continued patronage of support groups promotes personal humility that is vital to any recovering dependent. It helps support the objectives of a regulated lifestyle, which is crucial in preventing relapse. Committing to an Aftercare group supports your sense of responsibility towards self and others.

9. Learn to Reinvent Yourself — People often think that maintaining an open mind and being proactive is an end goal in recovery. Discovering how to be proactive is quite liberating. But in fact, it is a step shy from achieving self-actualization. Kurt Goldstein defined self-actualization as a driving life force that will ultimately lead to maximizing one’s abilities and determine the path of one’s life. Abraham Maslow explicitly defines self-actualization to be “the desire for self-fulfillment”, namely the tendency of the individual to become actualized in what one is capable of becoming — the full realization of one’s potential.

You’ve been sober but you still don’t like to try new things. Try out new sports and hobbies like learning how to dance, or new occupation. Move from being a “shadow” to being a leader. Reinventing one’s self takes acting proactively to the next level. More than just modifying one’s behavior, it is the act of building an entirely new person. People who have reinvented themselves are characterized by certain behaviors: a) They embrace reality and facts rather than deny truth; b) They are spontaneous; c) They are interested in solving problems, and d) They are accepting of themselves and others and are less judgmental of the world.

By allowing the process of self-discovery or self-peeling, one is able to unfold new energies and talents that lead a person to achieve the unbelievable or unimaginable. I have observed that people who have learned to reinvent themselves have developed a very strong deterrent towards relapse.

10. Maintain Passion & Excitement — Learn to maintain an excited disposition in everything you do, in every day of your recovery. Put passion in everything that you do. Do things with “Pride in Quality”. In all my years of recovery, I have always placed urgency in the things I did. It was a way to fend against boredom, which as we know is a very powerful precursor to relapse. By being excited and passionate every day, one is almost in a “crisis mode”. Normally, people who are in crisis mode have a way of bringing out the best in themselves.

To me, learning how to “champion” one’s sobriety is the ultimate goal in the life of a recovering individual. The ability to do so is a gift endowed by God to individuals who have experienced failure in their lives. JK Rowling rose from the mire of poverty and became world-famous as the author of the best-selling series on Harry Potter. In her speech at the Harvard commencement exercises in 2008, she said: “On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure.” With humor and poise, she went on to speak of the failures she had to overcome before she achieved her success, and she extolled the power of imagination to help make things right.

People must learn to view failures as an added bonus to being able to achieve greatness. So, if you’re a person a few years into your recovery and I have managed to inspire you with this article, try taking your recovery to the next level. You’ll be surprised at how much potential you actually have within you. Take that risk with God in your heart and soar to heights you’ve never before dreamed of. One thing I can I promise you, it is going to be a fantastic high!

President, SELF
November 2009