So the question came up recently from a newcomer: “What would you have done differently if you could go back in time and start over in your recovery, knowing what you know now?”
It’s a darn good question and offers a ton of insight into how we should be living today.
I will admit that I am very blessed in my recovery, and I got lucky (or was just blessed) and did a lot of things right. I asked for help, and I got it. A lot of people were there for me when I needed them. I had an extremely supportive family. I lucked my way into a long term recovery program where I stayed put for almost 2 years. Things just worked out well for me.
Of course we can always look back and see how we could have done better. Hindsight is always 20/20. But it is still useful, I think, to look back and see where we went wrong, in order to try and correct for the future.
I did not do badly in my first 10 years + of recovery. But, I could have done better. Here is a quick run down of the things I would have done differently, had I known better at the time. If I could go back and do it all over again, I would have:
* Eliminated toxic relationships more quickly from my life.
* Established my independence sooner, rather than sticking it out with roommates for so long.
* Started exercising earlier.
* Quit smoking cigarettes sooner.
* Started reaching out and helping others in recovery sooner.
* Let go of the guilt/fear mentality that kept me in AA and NA meetings for 18 months, when clearly, a different path was calling me.
* Paid less attention to what people said at 12 step meetings, and more attention to people who had significant clean time and were living an awesome life in recovery.
Notice that most of these points say sooner. They are things that I wish I would have done sooner in my recovery. Why? Because I could have grown faster, progressed more rapidly to the relatively health place that I am at now in my life.
What does it all mean?
Clearly I tend to be too passive, too reserved, and I tend to move slowly on goals rather than too quickly. Some people have more of a bias towards taking action in their lives, and thus they might have “gotten here quicker.”
I like the direction I’m headed, and I like where I have ended up in my recovery. So if I could do it over again, I just would have done it quicker. Made positive changes sooner. Had a little bit more confidence in my actions, and thus been more quick to act.
Now I understand that if you try to do too much, too soon, in your recovery that you can quickly become overwhelmed and even relapse as a result. But it is my experience that I have never done too much, but I do regret a lack of action. I have never really overdone it in terms of personal growth, but I do regret inactivity.
As such, I know I need to push myself to take more action in the future. Instead of living passively and letting changes come to me slowly over time, I need to take more initiative in my life and pursue the changes that I want to see happen.
This might not be true for you. In fact, you may be heavily biased toward taking action, so much so that you would do well to slow yourself down a bit. But that is not true for me. I almost always learn and grow when I push myself to take more action; to push beyond my comfort zone.
So when you try to design your own recovery program, you might consider how passive you tend to be, and how much of an obstacle that could become for you. You may have to adjust your strategy a bit once you realize how much of a bias you have towards taking action in your life. If you tend to be passive, you know you will have to push yourself a bit. That is one thing I learned, anyway.
Perhaps the biggest change that I would make if I could go back would be to convince myself that recovery is not all about group therapy, and that my survival in recovery does not depend on daily meeting attendance. Because for a long time in early recovery, I heard it told to me over and over again that if I stopped attending meetings, I would end up drunk. It took me many years to realize that this was a message being spread based on fear, and that it was completely false. I stopped going to meetings, put my time to better use in other venues, and have enjoyed an awesome life in recovery as a result. But it took me years of doubt and questioning myself before I was able to break away from “the comfort and safety” of daily group meetings.
I still see that there is power in the group idea, and I am by no means an island in my recovery today. But I think there are many people out there who are more terrified of group meetings such as AA than they are of dying from alcoholism. They would sooner die than to ask for help, because they cannot face the anxiety of public speaking (which is essentially what happens in AA, you are speaking in public, in front of an audience, when you participate). I know there are people who choose to die rather than to face that fear. I was almost one of them.
The traditional solution is to try to reassure these people, that they need not be afraid, and to just keep pushing pushing pushing the 12 step program as the only solution.
Wrong approach. We know it is the wrong approach because only about 13% of alcoholics who need the help actually seek treatment. The rest drink till their deaths.
Why don’t the other 87 percent seek help? Fear.
It is fear that keeps them from seeking a solution. Far easier to continue to self medicate.
It was fear that kept me from giving recovery a chance. Fear of speaking in public. Fear of meetings. Fear of AA and NA.
But today I have found a solution, one that does not rely on daily meeting attendance.
Yes, my solution takes a lot of work. You have to take a lot of action. But guess what? You have to do that in a 12 step program, too. You might sit around in group meetings all day and try to convince yourself that you are on a spiritual path of action, but unless you put in the footwork and really push yourself to grow and to change outside of meetings, then you are just fooling yourself.
Sure, the 12 step program can work. But the secret of success is not in the formula. No, the secret of success is in the blood, sweat, and tears.
How can you move forward in your recovery today?
Look to your past, and see what you should have been doing all along.
Then, do that.
Do it now.
Take positive action today. Take the action that you have been putting off, out of fear or of laziness.
It is hard to do this. It is hard to create momentum out of nothing.
But as you go along, it gets easier and easier. Small successes build on each other, and life gets better and better.
What changes have you been putting off?
Start your recovery over today.
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