Is it Necessary to Set and Achieve Goals for Success in Addiction...

Is it Necessary to Set and Achieve Goals for Success in Addiction Recovery?


Someone pointed out to me recently that my approach to recovery is very much in line with goal-oriented living. “Basically” this person argued, “you suggest that people get clean and sober in a detox or a rehab facility, and then they work their recovery by setting goals for themselves. That is pretty much it, no?”

I would have to agree that this is the basic essence of creative recovery. I advocate the idea that anyone can create a new life for themselves in recovery through purposeful living and goal setting. Once a newcomer has the basics down of abstinence from chemicals, they have to start pushing themselves to grow as a person in order to maintain their sobriety. This can be done by setting and achieving personal goals.

My theory of creative recovery goes on to say that you should have no shortage of areas in your life to work on. Goals can be made in all sorts of categories, such as fitness, nutrition, emotional health, spiritual growth, relationships, and so on. Thus the idea that recovery should be an exercise in holistic growth. One main criticism I have of traditional recovery is that it tends to be focused on spiritual growth at the expense of other areas.

For me, the holistic approach has proven to be incredibly useful. I honestly do not know where I would be at today if I never started exercising. And now nutrition is threatening to transform my life for the better. Recovery keeps getting better when I expand my horizons, rather than when I focus on traditional recovery tactics (step work, meetings, sponsorship, etc.).

In fact, I can look back at my early recovery and see that I coasted for quite a while by just clinging to some traditional recovery roles that I thought I was supposed to follow, rather than to start pushing myself to really live and to grow. At the time, people in my life were pushing me to go back to college, and they were also pushing me to exercise. I did not want to do either because I thought at the time that I needed to “get this recovery stuff figured out.”

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Little did I realize, they were pushing me to make real growth in my recovery. I could not see at the time that making meetings every day and learning to talk the 12 step lingo was not my ultimate salvation. In fact, I was terrified that daily meetings were my only way to stay clean and sober. Terrified, because I did not like speaking in meetings very much, though I occasionally forced myself to do it.

So I came to this point in my early recovery where I said to myself: “OK….I can either go to these meetings every day, and sort of follow their agenda for me, or I can do my own thing, and start actually living my life in recovery.”

So I rejected the typical life of “go to daily meetings” plan. I admit that I did this out of fear. I still was not comfortable sharing in meetings.

And for a long time, I was worried that I was doomed to relapse.

Doomed, because everyone at AA and NA meetings told me I was doomed. They said that I would drink and that I would die if I stopped coming to meetings.

I worried about this for many, many months after leaving the program.

But then a strange thing happened. I began to notice something. Many of the people from the meetings that I knew…..they started to relapse. One by one, many of my “heroes” that I looked up to in the meetings were falling by the wayside.

Not everyone that I looked up to in the 12 step fellowships relapsed of course. But enough of them did that I took notice.

And you know what really sealed it for me? One of the people who relapsed was a person who told me that I would relapse if I quit coming to meetings.

That is when I knew that I could no longer put so much faith in all of the “wisdom” that gets thrown around the 12 step meetings.

Meetings can still be useful in early recovery

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not bashing the 12 step programs. Not at all.

What I am doing is pointing out the truth: that the 12 step programs are a support system, but they do not create a magic ticket to recovery for you. I would go so far as to say that the program does not even drastically increase your odds of staying sober. Maybe slightly. But certainly not drastically.

I still recommend that newcomers check the meetings out. But if someone has a few months or a few years of sobriety and they are seeking advice, the last place I would send them is to the 12 step program.

No, I believe that once you have the basics of abstinence under your belt, it is time to start pushing yourself to grow.

“Relapse prevention” is nothing more than personal growth. Positive action, every day. Build something up great in your life, so that you will not be so quick to tear it down by using drugs or alcohol again.

Protect your recovery by investing in yourself. Your health, your education, your relationships, and so on. Build this stuff up in positive ways, and you will become more protected from the threat of relapse.

But you know what I witnessed quite often in the fellowship? People who were stuck in the meetings, not growing. Becoming complacent. Now sure, you can overcome complacency while you are still attending AA meetings every day. But you know what the kicker is?

If you force yourself to NOT rely on daily meetings, that is when you will really kick start your journey of personal growth.

Yes…..when you remove the safety valve of daily AA or NA meetings, it is then that you realize how much your recovery hinges on positive action.

Going to an AA meeting every day and whining about your problems is a form of cheating. Even if you don’t whine at the meetings, it is still a bit like cheating. Why are you depending on something? Why the dependency? Why not grow stronger in your recovery and build something with your life?

It used to make me cringe to hear people in meetings say things like “I know what I need to do to stay sober. These meetings are like my medicine. I know I gotta keep coming until I die!”

What?! This is like saying “I know I am not gonna experience any real growth in my recovery. I will never become stronger or be able to achieve positive experiences outside of AA that will help me to stay sober.”

What kind of death sentence is that?

Again, I am not bashing meetings. I am just bashing dependency on meetings. That is what baffles me.

Escape from traditional recovery through purposeful, goal oriented living

Personally, I always thought meetings were a drag. I quit going to them over 8 years ago, and I don’t relish the thought of going back to them.

My bottom line is this:

If you are trying to get clean and sober, you should probably start your journey in the traditional fashion. Go to rehab and be exposed to AA and NA meetings. If they work for you, then follow up by attending them.  Do what works.

But if you do not feel like they are a good fit for you, or if you have been going to meetings for a while and would prefer some other form of recovery, I would suggest this:

Get yourself some goals.

If you take positive action towards your goals every day, you can overcome the doubters and the fear-mongers in the 12 step meetings, and you can build your own life in recovery. It is not arrogant or snobbish to do so. It is not immature to go off the beaten path and try to carve out your own success in recovery. There is nothing wrong with wanting to do so. But if you are going to do it, then do it well.

That means you need to push yourself. Because you are not going to be sitting in meetings every single day for the rest of your life, having others push for you. No, the responsibility will be all yours.

Walk away from 12 step meetings, and be a little nervous about it. That is fine. Use that hint of fear to spur you into action. Set some awesome goals that will challenge you and make a real impact on your life. Then get to work.

Is it really so different?

People have argued that I am making it harder with this idea of “recovery through personal growth.” They say that to ignore the 12 step fellowships is just turning your back on free support.

To those people I would point out that traditional recovery is just as hard!

Look at how many people relapse in AA and NA. Look at how many people drop out of those programs. Look at how terrible the retention rate of AA is to begin with. Very few actually stay.  Out of those who stay, many relapse! What the heck?

Twelve step programs are not any sort of magic bullet. They do not give you some huge advantage for staying sober. They might give you a slight edge in early recovery, but even that is debatable when you look closely at the numbers!

I know I sound like I am bashing the 12 step programs. I really am not. All I am saying is that they still take a tremendous amount of work. And, the people in the meetings will tell you that! It takes hard work!

Ask any person who has accumulated significant sober time in AA or NA if it took hard work. “Yup, it sure did” they will say.

Ask them if getting clean and sober in the 12 step program was the hardest thing they have ever done in their life. “Yup, it sure was” they will say.

Programs do not make it much easier, if at all. In the best case scenario, having a program to follow gives a bit of structure in very early recovery. But after that initial hump is past, and the addict has been grounded in recovery, the program does not offer any magic tricks to insure continuous sobriety.

Sure there are folks who do well in the program. They are working hard at it! Ask them….they will tell you that they dedicate their life to recovery. They would do just as well to put in all that hard work into a one step program that instructed: “Abstain from drugs and alcohol and take positive actions every day.”

There is no mystery. If there was, the success rate of AA would be a whole lot higher.

The ultimate answer

So what is the solution?

The solution is to create.

To build.

To take positive action and create a better life for yourself.

Create a positive life that is worth protecting from the threat of relapse.

Deep down, anyone who has overcome low self esteem, anyone who has blossomed in their life and become something amazing, anyone who has defied the odds and turned their life around, deep down all of those sorts of people know what it takes:  It takes guts. It takes hard work. It takes positive action, every single day. No short cuts. No secret mystery technique that makes it all happen without any struggle on your part.

No, if you want to reap the rewards of an awesome new life in recovery, you have to put in the work for it. You can do it in a program like AA, or you can outline your own recovery plan. It makes no difference in the end.

If you choose a 12 step program, guess what? You still have to create. You still have to build a new life. You still have to work your tail off for success. And if you fail to take massive action, the fellowship will welcome you back and say that “you did not want it badly enough.”

The truth is, you simply did not take enough action.

If AA and NA help you to take positive action, then by all means, embrace them.

Otherwise, cut the cord and start pushing yourself to build the awesome new life that you really want for yourself.

Your recovery hinges on your actions. Period.

So what are you waiting for? Take massive action today!


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