We probably don’t associate our recovery with the idea of planning very often. But if you think about it, any successful recovery requires planning. At the most basic level, we need to think about what we are going to do before we do it, and this certainly applies to overcoming addiction. As I’ve said before, people don’t slip and fall and accidentally stay sober for 10 years. Anyone in recovery will tell you that it takes hard work. And that requires planning.
A Design for Living
The idea of planning for a successful recovery is endorsed through the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous. 3 times in the text it mentions “a design for living” that really works. Not only are the twelve steps an actionable plan of recovery, but seasoned AA members will tell a newcomer that there are several things that they need to do that go beyond working the twelve steps. This includes things such as reading the Big Book, getting a sponsor, attending meetings, and so on.
Isn’t this Planning Thing Getting a Bit Overwhelming?
Yes, it is. Indeed, it can get very overwhelming during early recovery. There is a saying around the tables of Alcoholics Anonymous: “There’s only one thing you have to change in recovery: Everything!” This really sums it up nicely and cuts right to the heart of the matter: Successful recovery really is about turning your whole life around. It starts as an inside job–working on ourselves–but this affects a lot of external changes as well.
So what can be done about this overwhelming mountain of tasks that we must take on in order to stay sober? Here are three viable options that might be of help to you:
1. Automation through Long term Treatment – This is the route that I took, and I highly recommend it to others because it worked so well for me. Living in a long term treatment center made a lot of critical recovery processes automatic for me. For example, in order to live in this particular long term treatment center, I had to go to 90 meetings in 90 days. I also had to get a sponsor and start working the steps with him. These things were forced upon me as a condition for living there, and this worked out really well for me. In addition, the therapist there encouraged me to get a job, and also to go back to college and finish up a degree. Simply being in long term treatment and abiding by their guidelines will go a long ways in getting you started on your recovery.
2. Simplify the Planning Process through the Guidance of a Sponsor – Using a sponsor to help guide you through the steps is an important part of recovery, but a sponsor can go further than that in helping you. For example, my sponsor was the motivating factor in getting me to go back to school. Remember, we’re not usually thinking very clearly yet in early recovery, so relying on a sponsor to help us with decisions can be particularly useful.
3. Simply Ignore the Planning Process and Fully Immerse Yourself in AA – Not necessarily recommended, although this has worked for some people. Certainly if you go this route you will want to consider getting a sponsor.
Notice that there are actually three levels of planning here, each one with a different amount of reliance on someone else to do the planning for you. This is a critical distinction. Most of us are not thinking clearly in early recovery, nor do we always know what is best for us. As the saying goes, “our best thinking got us here,” meaning that our best thinking totally screwed up our life. So letting someone else have a hand in planning our recovery path is not necessarily a bad thing. We need help in order to learn how to live. That is the nature of recovery. So good luck to everyone in planning your recovery. Simple rule of thumb: if things don’t work out as you’d like, then next time, ask for more help.
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