03 Nov 3 Biggest Things You Can Do For Yourself In Recovery
Wouldn’t it be great if there was an easy way to overcome your addictions – to alcohol, drugs, compulsive gambling, eating disorders, whatever? Maybe some magic pill that would make all the insane cravings and compulsive behavior go away for good? With all the advances in scientific research, new medications, and addiction treatment approaches, certainly someone must have a handle on how to achieve successful recovery by now. What we need is something that works for everyone.
Sorry, folks. There is not one single method, approach, strategy or magic pill that will work for each and every addict. It doesn’t matter what you’re addicted to, or how long you’ve been engaged in your self-destructive behavior. Addiction also is indiscriminate as to race, gender, nationality, religion, sexual preference or any other descriptor. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that people who succeed in recovery – and really succeed, not just quit doing drugs, alcohol, compulsive gambling or other addictive behavior – do practice similar strategies and follow some basic principles. The fact is that virtually none of these individuals in recovery automatically knew what to do. They may have stumbled on what worked for them through trial and error, following one or many relapses, going through multiple therapists, branching out and attending numerous 12-step groups or some other search for a way to stop feeling bad and get on with their lives.
What are these strategies and how do you develop them?
A recovering addict by the name of Patrick has created a website called Spiritual River which is devoted to helping addicts in recovery. According to Patrick, addicts who have been involved in traditional therapy may come to a point where elimination and deprivation of the addictive behavior just doesn’t work anymore. They feel a void that can’t be filled simply by attending 12-step meetings, staying away from bars or friends they used to drink, do drugs, have sex, or gamble with. Even if they didn’t relapse, their lives were miserable. Clearly something was missing, something major. Patrick espouses several reasons why this is so, but the major ingredient missing appears to be hope.
Why Is Hope So Important In Recovery?
This article is about the 3 biggest things you can do for yourself in recovery. We’ll get to that. First, however, it’s important to discuss why hope is such a critical factor in successful recovery. What does hope mean to you? Think about that for a moment. When did you last feel hope, or hopeful? Not hope that you can stay away from your drug of choice (alcohol, drugs, gambling, sexual addiction, etc.), but hope about today and all your tomorrows.
The concept of hope in recovery is all-encompassing. When you have hope, it means you are focused on positive outcomes. Hope is based upon the belief that you can achieve specific tangibles that you lay out for yourself. It is not a vague feeling that somehow everything will be okay at some point in the future. Hope involves work. But it doesn’t grow out of deprivation and a void.
In fact, the three principles that Patrick touts in his creation approach to addiction treatment – striving for personal growth, increasing self-esteem and self-worth, and networking with and reaching out to help others – all have at their core hope. It is through hope that the profound and empowering changes in can occur in our spirituality, beliefs, lifestyle and future.
Addiction treatment programs, and the therapists and counselors specializing in addiction treatment, include relapse prevention as part of the curriculum or treatment plan. How to deal with urges, cravings, people, situations and places after a client leaves treatment has to be addressed. In fact, it is a crucial part of the treatment program and serves as a transition to recovery.
Many addition treatment approaches include attendance at and participation in 12-step groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, and Workaholics Anonymous. While Patrick at Spiritual River says that 12-step meetings are important early in recovery, and less so for some individuals later on, most counselors and therapists say that 12-step meetings are the support network that provides the glue and the foundation for those in recovery – however long they’ve been in recovery.
We’re not debating here how long one should attend 12-step meetings. The fact is that they serve a useful purpose. They are a network – the groups refer to themselves as fellowships – of individuals who are themselves recovering addicts, and who are dedicated to helping others in recovery. They know what it’s like to wrestle with the temptations to go back to the drug of choice. They’ve felt the shame, guilt, sadness and hopelessness that their addiction brought about. In essence, they are perhaps the only ones who truly do understand what it’s like to be an addict.
So, while some recovering addicts may attend 12-step meetings early in their recovery, the concept and the practice of networking and having a support system is vital. So, too, is reaching out to help others.
When you reach out, you are looking beyond yourself and your immediate concerns, plans, circumstance or desires. You are listening to and giving support to another individual. This person doesn’t have to be another addict. Reaching out extends far beyond any 12-step allies, sponsors or buddies. In a sense, reaching out involves a new way of thinking: it’s an outward-looking, as opposed to an inward-looking, mindset.
Seeking to help another involves creating possibilities that may prove viable solutions. The act of creation is, in itself, empowering, both for the creator and for the recipient. Thus, reaching out is one of the most important things you can do for yourself in recovery.
If something’s out of kilter in our bodies or our minds, nothing works the way it’s supposed to. You see someone acting out, having a tantrum or exploding in a stream of profanity and you know immediately that there’s a problem. What isn’t obvious is what caused the problem, or what would solve it. It’s just obvious that things aren’t right. Something in that person’s life is out of balance.
When we’re in recovery, we are confronted every day with stresses, temptations, triggers and fears. Some of these are minor, and some are nearly impossible to overlook. Doing our program, keeping to our schedule, dragging out all our coping mechanisms, calling our 12-step buddies, we’re often guilty of not taking appropriate care of our physical well-being. In other words, we’re focused so intently on not doing something that we fail to do what’s important to keep healthy – to keep ourselves in balance.
Balance, in this respect, refers to everything in our lives. We need to keep ourselves in good health, which entails getting regular exercise, eating nutritious meals, and attending to any underlying medical conditions. It’s also important to carve out time for leisure time, to enjoy hobbies, play sports, meet with friends, or take a trip or participate in activities with our spouse, significant other and/or family. It means not obsessing over things left undone, overworking or overcompensating in one area of our lives to the detriment of another. The phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is appropriate here. Too much of anything in repetition and without break is not conducive to balance.
Striving for balance in our lives isn’t easy, especially after the emotional, financial, social, legal and physical train wreck that we’ve brought about through our addiction. But, just like putting one foot in front of the other, the more you do, the farther you’ll be able to go. At first, you may need to write down a schedule that includes “Time off for Play” or tape reminders to go to the gym, pick up your spouse for dinner, or turn off the TV and play games with the children. After a while, however, it will become easier. You will find that you look forward to your break, and come away more refreshed and energized than if you plowed through each day in an interminable state of just getting by. Life is about living. And living successfully in recovery is all about maintaining a healthy balance.
You’ve seen people who look old beyond their years, individuals who have no spark of life in their eyes, and who seem to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. Who wants to be around such a person? What’s missing from their lives? It could be a lot of things, and it’s not for us to say what caused their misery or sadness. But we can take a lesson from our own stint of self-destructive past behavior. We need to look for ways to grow.
Personal growth can be spiritual, seeking communion with a higher power or the power within us. It can be striving to learn new things, get an advanced degree or finish an interrupted degree, take a class, discover a hobby. We can grow personally through travel to foreign lands or taking a cross-country trip with the family.
How can you begin your quest for personal growth? This is as easy as sitting down and creating a vision for your future. Where do you want to be 5, 10 or more years from now? What does that vision look like? Make a list of two sets of goals: short-term and long-term. Write down your goals, and make them in increments: 6 months, 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years and so on. Next, list the things you may need to do in order to achieve those goals. Do you need special training? Does your vision involve relocating, getting married, having children, changing jobs, or retiring? What steps do you need to take in order to achieve the next phase in your short- and long-term goals?
In your quest for personal growth, be sure to include your spouse, significant other and family members. In your striving for healthy balance, reaching out and personal growth, it makes sense to include others.
How Long Will Recovery Take?
You may as well ask yourself how long life will take, since recovery is about the rest of your life. Look upon your recovery as a gift, one which you greet each day with optimism, hope and a flexible plan for the future. Be open to new opportunities, new challenges and discoveries. That’s what makes life in recovery so exciting. One day you will look back on your early days in recovery as a distant past. You will learn and do and see so much if you keep the three most important things you can do for yourself in recovery in mind.
When you put these strategies into action, you will find that you have created for yourself the ultimate in life satisfaction. You will have hope and be hopeful. Hope, in the end, is all about possibilities. Go forward in your recovery and create your own future.
Another interesting related topic: Imaging Your Future after Rehab
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