Helping Addicts Keep their Priorities Straight in Recovery

Helping Addicts Keep their Priorities Straight in Recovery


I have noticed a tendency among recovering addicts at times to seriously confuse their priorities. This happens in a couple of different ways.

One way is when someone is working a program of recovery (such as the 12 step program) and they somehow shift responsibility on to the program itself. They put so much faith in the program itself that when it comes time to just say “no” to a drink or a drug, their program fails them because they have gotten so far away from the core decision to change their life. I’m not sure of the exact mechanism here because I’ve only watched the phenomenon in other people; I have not experienced it myself. It’s almost like they are putting their recovery program above physical abstinence to drugs and alcohol.

Another way that I have seen people screw up their priorities is when they put spiritual matters in front of physical abstinence. This is a tricky subject here because many people get offended if you tell them that their Higher power should not come first in their life, and that physical abstinence is more important. What you need to realize here is that not picking up the drink or the drug is a spiritual matter. Another way that I have seen this happen is when someone develops too much spiritual pride in their life….eventually that person tends to end up relapsing. I have seen this happen over and over again through the years….sometimes the people who seem to have the most spiritual program end up being the ones who relapse.

When I first got in to recovery I was extremely focused on “stage one recovery” and this included things such as sponsorship and going to meetings every day and so on. I was reluctant to move beyond this stage of recovery but eventually my sponsor encouraged me to do so. This, too, was a shift in priorities….from settling for mere abstinence in recovery to transitioning to holistic living and new growth experiences. These new growth experiences fell outside of “stage one recovery” and included things such as going back to school and starting to exercise.

This might seem like a contradiction in priorities because on the one hand, I am emphasizing how important physical abstinence is, and on the other hand, I am emphasizing that we need to move beyond that eventually and start to grow in new areas. How are we to know what to focus on?

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You can keep your priorities straight by being mindful and paying attention to your own internal compass. Priority number one is always physical abstinence from drugs and alcohol. This will never change. The key is to stay mindful of how that decision is making you feel. Every day you must decide not to use drugs and alcohol. Now, how are you handling that decision? In the beginning, I had to do different things in order to maintain sobriety than what I have to do today.

If you have only been sober for a week, then you might have to be in a treatment center, or living in a halfway house, or attending 3 AA meetings each and every day, or whatever. Your actions need to be in line with your priorities (which is not to drink or drug). But as you progress in recovery, the actions needed to maintain sobriety will inevitably change. Fighting complacency becomes increasingly important, second only to physical abstinence. This shift in priorities will require you to branch out how you approach recovery and how you are attempting to grow.

There is no right or wrong way to do this, just stay mindful and pay attention to your own attitude. If you are bored and idle and restless and your growth has stagnated, then you need to be mindful enough to pick up on that and make the necessary changes. Maybe you need to challenge yourself, or go on a diet, change your workout routine, go back to a meeting, or reconnect with recovering addicts somehow. This is what I mean when I talk about mindfulness–it is a sensitivity to your own needs based on how you are feeling about your life. If you are so frustrated with things that you are about to relapse then you need to have the awareness necessary to recognize this and pull yourself out of it.

Use mindfulness to help guide you in your recovery. Keep your priorities straight. For me, that means physical abstinence is always number one. Everything else follows from that.


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