Yesterday we looked at how to use cautious optimism in order to enhance your recovery. Today we want to look at how we can conquer nearly any challenge that we might be facing in our journey.
The unsuspecting addict or alcoholic might believe that there is really only one challenge in recovery, that of physical abstinence. In reality the baseline of abstinence is just a starting point. If that is all that you seek to achieve then you recovery will likely be short lived. We thrive on growth and personal achievement in recovery because it helps to boost our self esteem. If you do not feel good about yourself then your chances of relapse are much greater. In short, you have to DO stuff in order to remain clean and sober. Just thinking nice thoughts about sobriety is not going to be enough to do the trick for most people. You must take action.
What kind of action? You must pursue personal growth. Your actions in recovery should be dictated by the response to: “How can I be a better person?” In my opinion this path of growth has to start with clearing away of all the negative things in your life, such as your addiction, your bad habits, your unhealthy behaviors, etc. After that process the next thing you will start to do is to figure out what you want in life, what you are good at doing, and how you can best help and serve other people. In other words, you will hopefully get to a point in your recovery where you decide to “become the person you were always meant to be.” In my experience every person in recovery has this unlimited growth potential that is based on the dreams that they never chased. You know, the dreams that got diverted after they found their drug of choice…..
Life in recovery is very much like life in general. What this means is that we are not necessarily special just because we are recovering from addiction or alcoholism–“normal” people have to face ups and downs as well. The idea that you will face new challenges during the remainder of your life is a given. This is true whether you are in recovery or not. But because we are in recovery these challenges hold special meaning for us. If we repeatedly fail such challenges in life then eventually we get discouraged and relapse. On the other hand such challenges are an opportunity to grow and get stronger in our recovery. If you face a new challenge in recovery and you persist and eventually conquer this challenge then it is likely that this will strengthen your sobriety in the long run. Every “win” that you get in recovery should lay another brick in the protective wall against relapse.
There will be times when you face a particularly difficult challenge in your life and when you come through that challenge and finally conquer it you will be in a complete state of flow. Everything will be right in your world because you had this great problem in your life and you were able to overcome it. In that moment you are not afraid of the future because you are willing to welcome future challenges. You can clearly see how you will have more challenges in your life but you do not care because overcoming this last challenge was so rewarding for you. Our mission is to cultivate this attitude as much as possible and to try to maintain this positive outlook regardless of our current challenge.
Of course there will also be times during your life when the chips are down and things are not going so well. Maybe you are facing a problem and that particular challenge continues to defeat you in various ways. No matter what you do, you cannot seem to overcome it. Thus instead of being excited about the challenge and how it will provide growth and positive feelings you start to feel miserable about the whole thing. I have experienced this myself both before my recovery (in struggling to get sober) and also during my recovery. For example, when I was clean and sober it took me several years before I was able to finally quit smoking cigarettes, and that was a difficult struggle that was wearing me down emotionally. I kept beating myself up as time went on because I was so sick of failing. At some point I had to change my entire approach and apply some of the ideas in this very article in order to finally conquer that particular challenge and succeed. As you can imagine that is the one the biggest “payoffs” that I have ever been granted in my recovery journey. Even though smoking was a self imposed prison, quitting successfully has definitely been one of the highlights of my recovery journey. Perhaps this was due to the difficultly level involved!
I do not necessarily have any magic tricks for you here but I do have a straightforward method that I have used in order to overcome my toughest challenges. I am not sure that this can work for just anyone because the key ingredient in most cases is the will and determination of the individual. It is like with recovery from addiction–can you force a person to recover? Not really. If they are dead set against getting sober then you have no chance at helping the person. It is much the same with facing these various challenges in your recovery. If you have the right attitude then it is likely that nothing can really stop you or screw you up. If you have the wrong attitude then it is likely that nothing can help you. Such it is with sobriety as well. Your own drive, motivation, and mindset will be the ultimate determining factor.
What most people do not realize is that your attitude and determination can be shaped.
That is what the strategies here attempt to address. You can shape your attitude when approaching a specific challenge. We can do so using the following ideas:
1) Maintaining your baseline.
5) Daily habits.
Let’s break this process down and see how we can use it to conquer a particularly difficult challenge in recovery.
Maintain sobriety and your baseline of success as your foundation for growth
The first part of shaping the proper attitude is to maintain your sobriety. This is your foundation of all growth and it is important to keep this at the forefront of your mind.
Here you are in recovery, you have essentially overcome drug and alcohol addiction and you are living clean and sober each day. Now you have come up against new challenges in your life and you are attempting to overcome those challenges in order to grow in your recovery.
Maybe you are facing a particularly difficult challenge such as quitting smoking (as I was once). Or you might be trying to get a college degree. Or get into shape. Or leave a relationship that is bad for you. Or whatever the challenge may be. Let’s just assume that it is one of your most difficult challenges that you have faced in recovery.
The first part of shaping the proper attitude comes from the baseline of sobriety.
What I mean by that is that you must keep in the forefront of your mind the gratitude that you have for your sobriety today. Realize that your sobriety is the most important thing in your life and that all future growth will flow from this gift of recovery.
Focus on the gift of recovery and the idea that any new growth will come from this foundation.
Your abstinence from drugs and alcohol is the foundation for all future growth. Embrace this idea and realize the truth in it.
Measure your success in life by counting another day sober. Truly this is important. Do not beat yourself up too much when you fall short on your other challenges. As they say in traditional recovery: “A sober day is a successful day.” Keep things in perspective here. Whatever challenge you may be facing in your recovery it cannot be as important as the challenge of maintaining sobriety. So keep this healthy perspective but use the baseline of sobriety to help push yourself to rise to this new challenge.
This is about perspective. Your sobriety comes first. This is your foundation. Make sure your attitude in recovery is built on this foundation.
Prioritize: Determining what you really want most in recovery
The next step in this process is to prioritize. When I was fairly early in my recovery journey I continued to smoke cigarettes for the first few years. This was a thorn in my side and I wanted to quit smoking very badly.
I was also chasing other goals at the time. For example, I was trying to find the perfect job/career, and I was also trying to finish up a college degree. And I was attempting to get into an exercise routine. I had all of these different goals in my life and I made different amounts of progress on each one.
Looking back it is easy to prioritize in retrospect. But going forward it can be difficult to know what the most important goals are in your life. In my opinion it can be helpful to ask other people at this point where you might be putting your energy and efforts.
In traditional recovery this role would be filled by a sponsor. You could talk with the sponsor and they would help you to evaluate your goals in recovery and help to give you guidance. Now traditionalists in AA and NA might object to this definition and say “no, the role of a sponsor in recovery is to guide you through the steps.” But my experience in recovery has been anything but traditional, and my sponsor (that I spoke with during the first few years) seemed to focus more on “practical life application” rather than going through the spiritual road map of the 12 steps. That was just my experience; yours may differ. At the very least, it is certainly possible to seek feedback from others as to what your current goals should be in life. If they have achieved success in recovery then they can probably advise you better than someone who has not achieved any success, no?
At some point in my recovery I had to prioritize for myself, without relying on other’s input. For example, at one time in my recovery my sponsor continued to smoke cigarettes. Later on he had quit doing so himself but he did not feel he had the authority to urge me to take action on this myself. I am not sure why not but I believe it is because he said “I hate being told what to do!” Therefore he led by example and simply made an open suggestion: “….you might try quitting at some point.”
I ignored this suggestion for the most part but later on I got sick and tired of battling with my own smoking addiction. I had finally had enough and therefore it was time for me to prioritize. I had a number of goals in my life but it was time to tackle this one to the exclusion of all others.
I am not sure how to illustrate this better than to say that I got angry. I got serious. I got fed up with smoking. And so I was finally willing to get serious, and prioritize.
And so I decided that this would be my number one goal in recovery, and that I would not move on to another goal until I had conquered this one. Thus, I had figured out what I wanted. I wanted to quit. And I wanted it really bad.
The power of focus
Just wanting a goal really bad is not enough.
Keeping in mind your baseline of abstinence, you need to assemble all of the power and concentration that you can muster in your life and focus on this one goal.
I drew on every resource that I could find.
Specifically, I decided to dedicate at least a full week to quitting smoking. This meant that I put in for a week off of work a month in advance. So now I had a quit day and I would not have the excuse of “stress from work” to trip me up and cause me to fail at quitting.
I had money put away and I had an opportunity to save a bit more money before I quit. That extra money was now “quitting resources” due to the power of focus. I would use this extra money to reward myself after going a full week without nicotine.
I gathered all of the information that I had learned about myself from previous quits. I knew that I was most vulnerable during the third day. I knew that I could accelerate the detox process by flushing my system by drinking lots of juices. I knew that I had to maintain a healthy blood sugar level during the quit by sipping on juices rather than by gorging on sweets.
I dedicated every resource in my life to this one single goal. This was the power of focus. I was not taking “no” for an answer this time.
I did not care what it cost, or how much money I spent. I would stop at nothing to reach this goal.
This is what sponsorship is all about in recovery. You find a success story and you simply model them. Monkey see, monkey do.
Nothing wrong with this approach and it is quite powerful for most challenges in recovery.
I used this technique in helping me to overcome my smoking challenge by modeling someone who had successfully quit before me. Of course the problem with something like this is that hundreds of people have quit and they may have all used a different path to success (none of which are necessarily easy).
But one person who seemed to match up closely with my values had managed to quit smoking via exercise. They worked out on a regular basis and they said that this new habit had been the key to their successful quit. For some reason this clicked with me and it also seemed to be confirmed by my experience. For example, while I was still a smoker, I always noticed that after an intense workout I did not feel the urge to smoke at all for a while. There was truth to this!
Therefore I modeled this person’s success and started exercising on a regular basis BEFORE I tried to quit smoking. This worked well for me and when I look back I can see that the signs were all there that this was the right path. Of course everyone may find a different path in how they meet a particular challenge but I just had to find the right model to follow to fit my own needs.
Daily habits of success
Staying off the cigarettes meant following new daily habits. For me this meant regular exercise, doing new things at work instead of taking a smoke break, and using nutrition as a way to help regulate my body’s sugar level.
Any major challenge or huge lifestyle change is likely going to be the same in this regard: you are going to need the discipline in order to implement a large number of changes that have to happen every single day. Consistency is going to be important and this is why focus is so critical. If you are not laser focused on achieving this goal then chances are good that your daily actions will not line up with success and allow you to follow through.
Your daily habits will define your long term success in meeting any major challenge.
This is pretty self explanatory. If you do not persist then you run the risk of falling short of meeting your goal. Sustained effort is critical.
There was a time when I was quitting smoking and I was in the third day and going through the worst of my withdrawal. I honestly did not care what happened and I thought that I would probably end up smoking. I believe at that time I laid down and just about starting crying and went to sleep. How pathetic! But I suppose in the end this was the defining moment of persistence. It all came down to that moment and instead of going to get a pack of cigarettes I laid down and slept through it. Somehow when I woke up it was just a little better, enough for me to see my way through the rest of the storm. After that I was through the worst of it and it got easier and easier.
I don’t know how to tell people how to get through this major squeeze point because I do not know how I did it myself. I really thought I was going to go relapse and I am blessed that I was able to hold on to my goal. They talk about this phenomenon in traditional recovery as well: Sometimes it is all you can do to just hold on for dear life. Your world may be collapsing but don’t you go relapse over it. Just hold on for all you are worth. That is exactly what I had to do in order to make it through that particular challenge of mine in quitting smoking.
Evaluating your next goal
If you go through the process outlined here and you conquer a goal then you need to pause and reflect on what you have accomplished.
This should eventually lead you to look forward to the next possible challenge in your life. Figure out what you want and then determine how you should go about pursuing it.
Then focus all of your energy on one single goal and put all of your energy into it. If you fail to conquer a goal then you are not focused enough, or you lack information (consider modeling and feedback from others).