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Take What You Need and Leave the Rest

At the heart of the most solid, long-term recovery, is the act of surrendering.

Most recovering addicts who succeed and avoid relapse, come to understand that their familiar way of doing things is not working anymore. To survive, they had to stop their lives, become humbled by their own misguided influences, and listen to those who have gone before them.

But ask a group of people who are successful in their recovery just how they do it, and you’ll get answers as varied as they are. The motto, “take what you need and leave the rest,” is a familiar and well-loved saying to most who look for flexibility and tailor their programs to fit their needs and lifestyle.

When thinking about her moment of surrender, she said, “I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired. I felt like my soul was being crushed.

I had many, many ‘day ones’ because I kept thinking that I needed to get myself under control. But the compulsion to drink was too strong.-Anne S.

“I had many, many ‘day ones’ because I kept thinking that I needed to get myself under control. But the compulsion to drink was too strong. The day I quit was the day my husband went to treatment. I had to say out loud, ‘I needed to quit (drinking) too. It’s killing me.’”

Anne, the mother of two school-aged children, dove head first into the blogosphere and found other women, much like herself, talking online, very openly about their own struggles with and successes over addiction. Inspired by their words and her much-improved life after a few weeks of sobriety, she decided to share what she was learning with others who were searching for help.

Anne’s own prescription for staying sober is assorted. “I’m big on psychotherapy, yoga and online support,” she said, noting that her blog helps her stay sober because it creates a community of readers.

Anne reads a lot of AA literature, “The Woman’s Way Through the 12 Steps,” and has attended AA meetings occasionally. “I get a lot more support online. But my husband likes to attend meetings,” she said.

  • Kelly F., 29, a blogger from Florida, writes She shared that for a while into her sobriety, she didn’t have much of a program.

Kelly said that she spent a lot time researching sobriety by reading blogs and websites such as,, and “I tried AA online, but the reception was not that great,” she said of her early experience with virtual meetings.

Kelly admits that in the beginning, she thought AA was cult-like. But, since then, she has been able to relax into the notion of a “higher power” and continues to attend a face-to-face, 12-step study program. To ensure her continued recovery, she is adamant about her self-care program and says that sleeping enough, eating well and exercise are tied into how grounded she feels.

She, too, feels connected to her readers and hears from them 5 to 10 times a week.

Ultimately, there is no one way to set up your recovery program. It’s possible to go to the recovery buffet, and take precisely what YOU need, and leave the rest alone.

  • Shelley J., 43, a professional in Denver, has been in recovery for over a year. “I don’t let ‘perfect be the enemy of good’ when it comes to AA,” she said. “For example, I have a friend in AA who thinks that meetings held at recovery clubs are ‘less than’ meetings held in other places. I just smile, nod and go to meetings as I see fit.”
  • Kerry C., 41, sober for 15 months, is a nurse and the mother of two. “When I started out on this journey, I really thought that I had to do AA in order to have any recovery ‘cred,’” she said. “But I’ve listened to a bazillion recovery tapes and have found a ton of wisdom in the program. Not everything resonates but that’s OK. I take what I need. Turns out that I have a strong recovery by doing what works for me.”
  • Sarah J., 37, is the mother of three girls and a part time hair stylist in Milwaukee. New to recovery, Sarah feels that her recovery program is a work in progress. “I have to be confident in my willingness to learn and listen,” she said. “The hardest part for me is ‘leaving the rest’ because I’m trying to figure out just who I am as a sober person.” Sarah feels that all of those years of drinking and drugging have taken a toll, leaving her self-confidence shattered. “Learning this peaceful way does not come easily to me.”

Recovery does not come in a one-size-fits-all package. There are no hard and fast rules to working a strong program unless your situation is life and death. If that’s the case, you need to bow to the professionals. But even then, when your situation improves, you have to make choices. Recovery takes time, some self-refection, the ability to hear exactly what it is that you need, and the wish for a better life.

Recovery takes time, some self-refection, the ability to hear exactly what it is that you need, and the wish for a better life.-Polly E. Drew

Anne S. said that when she was drinking, she wanted to be seen as sharp and intense but sometimes she wondered if that came across as blunt or even mean. Now well into recovery, she echoed the same message that all who where interviewed for this piece said to me over and over: remaining open to helping yourself and others in a variety of ways is key.

Anne S. wrote to her readers: “The day I recognized that holding out a hand was much more powerful than pointing a finger, everything changed.”

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