How to Let Go in Addiction Recovery
Ever wondered what it means to let go in addiction recovery? The concept of letting go is often talked about in recovery circles, but the meaning is often poorly defined.
What can you let go of? How can do you do it? And why? Our article will fill you in, so you will have a good understanding of these questions and more, so you will be able to let go more effectively in the future.
Exactly what it means to let go in addiction recovery
When we cling on to thoughts and feelings, they weigh us down and have us feeling sub-par. Holding on to old ideas can stop us from moving forward with our lives.
Practicing letting go releases us from these thoughts, feelings and ideas. This allows us to concentrate on what is happening in the present moment.
Letting go could be as simple as letting go of our plans when the weather changes. It can be as complicated as deciding what areas of our life we need to make sacrifices in, when we are torn between the needs of our family, friends, career, or communities.
It is about acceptance of what is happening. We let go of doubt, worry and fear about situations, persons and outcomes. Letting go means deciding not to ruminate on things that you cannot control. Instead, you choose to focus on what you can control.
Letting go is not something that you do just the once. A happy life means letting go over and over, on a daily basis. This may sound like a chore, and it may be tricky at first, but getting good at it will make your life much better, and it will get easier to do overtime.
Why letting go is important in addiction recovery
People recovering from substance use disorder often have a hard time letting go. Experiences in their life may have led to them feeling a need to stay in control as a defense mechanism. This proves stressful and ultimately impossible, as it is impossible to control everything and everyone. Think about someone standing by the edge of a fast-running stream, trying to push the water back the other way with their hands.
An inability to let go can ultimately lead to relapse, as the pressure of attempting to control things gets so great. For people in addiction recovery, letting go may truly be a matter of life or death.
Methods of letting go
Here are a few methods that you can use to help you let go in addiction recovery.
Meditation is one of the best tools that we can use for letting go. Which ever method you use - chakra meditation, mantra meditation, breath meditation - you will slowly increase your ability to let go. When you are in meditation, you sit with uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, which can help to release them. You also train your brain to stay in the present moment, and away from ruminating on the past and future.
When we experience trauma, it can get stuck in our bodies or minds and cause us difficulty in our lives. There may be some traumas that you have had that affect you on a daily basis. Going to therapy can help you to let go of these old traumas and allow you to experience life without the distorting lens of trauma.
12 step programs
12 step programs help you to “clear away the wreckage of the past” and live a better life. The program was designed for people with addiction problems, who can get stuck due to their past actions, events that happened, and the way they feel about themselves and others. The inventories help these people to unburden themselves of resentments and guilt, two emotions that can stop us from letting go and taking part in life wholeheartedly.
The serenity prayer - a popular prayer in 12 step fellowships - encourages us to let go. It reads:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.
This first part of this simple prayer asks for God to grant us acceptance, which is one of the keys to letting go in the 12 step program. It further asks for courage to change the things that are in our control, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Buddhism tells us that we have to let go of attachment to experience true happiness. This is easier said than done, and everyone is likely to have some attachments unless you are a Buddhist monk who spends hours meditating each day!
Even though the goal of eliminating attachments is unattainable for most, practicing this can still increase our levels of satisfaction from life.
Examples of things that we can release attachment to include:
- Lots of money
- A beautiful partner
- A nice car
- A state of mind
- The way things used to be
- A plan you have for the future
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything — anger, anxiety, or possessions — we cannot be free.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
6 of the most important things to let go of in addiction recovery
Comparing yourself to others
How long do you spend doing this each day? Comparing your bank balance, level of attractiveness, popularity, intelligence, clean time or anything else for that matter is counterproductive to recovery. There will always be someone who looks like they have a better life. Social media means that we now usually see people’s lives through a distorted lens that makes their lives better. Spend less time concentrating on what others have and what they are doing, and you are sure to be happier.
Being a victim
Avoiding victim mentality is crucial to recovery. No one denies that people who have been through addiction have struggled, but the truth is that constantly holding a “pity party” will just bring more unhappiness. Instead, practice gratitude. Over time you may see that there are things in life to be grateful for.
Many people in addiction recovery are perfectionists. Holding on to the idea that you need to be perfect or the best at everything you do means causing yourself a great deal of stress and setting yourself up for failure. There is no harm at wanting to do things well, but it is important to know when you have done enough and can sit back and reward yourself for the effort you have made. Watching how you speak to yourself when you make mistakes can be a big key to reducing perfectionism.
What people think about you
We can find ourselves bending over backwards trying to constantly please others so they think we are good people, or spend our lives trying to achieve accolades or more money so that we will gain acceptance. Doing this can make us miserable. Ideally, we should work towards goals that satisfy us and make us happy, and forget about changing who we are for the sake of others.
Waiting for the right moment
Many people spend years waiting for the right time to get sober and dying without ever attempting. Others take so long finding the right time to start a business that they never try. While there can be better times than others to start something, there are too many variables involved in most decisions for there to be a perfect time. Make sure that you plan what you are going to do if planning is required, but know that often, the right moment to do something is now.
What it means to let go in addiction recovery according to David Hawkins
David Hawkins was a philosopher and scientist who devoted much of his life to teaching about spiritual practice. He wrote a book called “Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender”. In this book he talks how to gain higher levels of consciousness by letting go.
The technique that he talks about in the book is easy to do. It simply involves being aware of a feeling, allowing the feeling to come up, staying with it and not distracting yourself from it, and then letting it runs its course without changing it or doing anything about it. Hawkins said that by doing this it was possible to let out the energy behind it, effectively releasing it.
Books to help you know what it means to let go in addiction recovery
- The subtle art of not giving a f*uck. The title of this book is a bit of a misnomer. Rather than telling us not to care about anything, Mark Manson asks us to instead just pick a few crucial things to care about. He states that as there are so many ways that we can discover that we don’t match up to other people and that we are not good enough, we can make ourselves miserable. There are a million other tips in this book to help you to not give a f*ck about things so much, and learn how to let go.
- Letting go: the pathway of surrender. David Hawkins book goes into concepts that some will consider woo-woo. If you can engage with the content, you might find some ideas that are truly life-changing.
- The gifts of imperfection. Brene Brown lets us know that we can love ourselves for who we are and to let go of the idea that we are not “good enough”.
- The power of now. Eckhart Tolle explains how not accepting how things are drives pain, and gives us insights into how to live in the present moment.
- Letting go of anger. We all feel anger sometimes, but we express it in different ways. This book, by Patricia and Ronald Potter-Efron, tells us that there are 11 distinct anger styles, helps us to understand which we are, and teaches us the best ways that we can express our anger. Dealing with anger is crucial in recovery, as unchecked, it can lead lead to relapse.
Letting go of the outcome of someones addiction
If you are around someone who is in addiction, it can be difficult to let go. You might have a deal that you let them use or drink under certain conditions. You may try to control them to get them to go to recovery meetings or rehab. The reality is that you cannot control people, and doing so always backfires.
You could get your loved one to commit to only using on weekends. However, if someone has a real addiction problem, these commitments are meaningless. The desire to use or drink will win every time. You may get someone to agree to going to rehab, but the same applies. When the time comes, people with addiction often make excuses not to go.
One of the most challenging things we can do in life is accepting these truths. Doing this doesn’t mean you have stopped caring, and it doesn’t mean that you will not help them if they ask. It does mean setting boundaries and realising that sometimes the only thing you can do is wait for them to be ready.
You may even find that practicing letting go in these situations makes you more effective when your loved one needs help.
Speaking with an expert or someone who has plenty of time in recovery from addiction may help you to clarify where to help and where to let go. You can also go to meetings such as al-anon, where people who are worried about someone with an alcohol or drugs problem can go and support each other.
What it means to let go in addiction recovery for true freedom from self
There are many different things that we can let go of and ways to let go in addiction recovery. Doing this helps us to feel greater levels of freedom and happiness, which has the knock-on effect of reducing the chance of relapse.
Letting go is a skill that has to be practiced over and over. Do not worry if you are not good at it to start with. Feel free to let go of the need to be good at letting go!
Author - Gilly
Learning to take back control of our thoughts in addiction recovery