How can we embrace the process of recovery on a daily basis?
It is easy to believe that we are “cured” in our addiction recovery journey, that once we reach a certain point we will never have to worry about personal growth again. But that’s not what we have found to be true in our experience. Instead, recovery is an ongoing process, one that we have to persist at. We have to work at it. And if we stop working at it we run into the danger of potential relapse. So in order to maintain sobriety over long periods of time we need to have a strategy.
That strategy has to tell us how to act on a day to day basis. In other words, how should our recovery work for us on a daily basis? What actions do we need to take every day in order to remain clean and sober? And what are the potential pitfalls when implementing a recovery strategy? (Hint: there is a big one!).
What is the daily practice?
Every person in recovery needs to find their own daily practice. In order to have a good life in recovery and maintain personal growth, we need to take certain actions each day.
You have to find a practice that works for you. Every person is going to be unique in their journey. That said, there are certain principles and concepts in recovery that are likely to be universal. For example, the core principles of honesty, open mindedness, and willingness are going to be critical for nearly everyone in recovery. Without them your sobriety becomes unstable and you will be in danger of relapse, regardless of what your recovery strategy is.
On the other hand, you can cite two examples of recovering alcoholics, compare their day to day activities, and see two individuals who are really nothing alike at all. One might be reading recovery literature, going to AA meetings, and writing in a journal while also meditating twice a day. The other person might be going to an online recovery forum, doing intense daily exercise, and writing in the 12 steps with a sponsor. We could even compare these two individuals to a third person who might have a completely different routine that might involve seeing a therapist, working with them to create new daily goals for themselves, and so on.
So there is no one path in recovery that is going to work for everyone. We may share many of the same fundamental principles but in the end we all have to find our own path, and our own unique way to apply those principles.
There are some people in recovery who disagree with these ideas, and they believe that there is “one program” of recovery and that there is only one correct way to work that program. They want to put the idea of recovery into a nice and neat little box, one that allows anyone to recover if they would only just surrender to the simplicity of the program (whatever program that might be). Such people, I have come to realize, are reacting out of fear. They want recovery to be simple, and they want it to be straightforward because they want to reassure themselves that they are doing everything that they need to do in order to recover.
That said, we each need to find our own daily practice.
What do you do each day that helps you to live a better life in recovery?
Another way to think about the daily practice is in terms of habits.
Habits are really powerful because they define what we become in life. If you have a habit of working out and eating healthy every day of your life, you can imagine what kind of results that will produce ten years from now….as opposed to someone who just eats junk food every day and never works out in the slightest. Your habits dictate what becomes of you in the future.
Therefore when you think about your own daily practice in recovery, I would urge you to look at it in terms of your habits. In particular, I would first suggest that you need to look at any bad habits that you currently have and work really hard to eliminate those entirely. For example, when I had a few years sober I was still smoking cigarettes every day. Bad habit, obviously. So I had to take a look at that and eventually ask for help, get some advice, and tackle that bad habit head on. It took me several years of struggle but eventually I was able to eliminate that bad habit and become healthier as a result.
Second of all you want to look at positive habits that can shape your future. I made a couple of these habits as well in my own recovery, one of which was to exercise on a regular basis. At first the decision to exercise every day did not show much benefit, and in fact it was downright painful. It hurt and it was uncomfortable and I much rather would have been lazy instead. But for some reason I persisted, because I had made the decision to create this new habit, and eventually the exercise became ingrained in me. After a few months or even a year or two the exercise habit really started to pay off, and it was much easier at that point to see the massive benefits that daily exercise was giving me. But I had to persist in the habit for long enough so that I could finally see the positive results. As they say, “Don’t quit before the miracle happens.” This is exactly what I experienced in terms of the exercise habit. It was awful for what seemed like a long time until one day it suddenly was a joy to go run six miles rather than an uncomfortable nightmare.
There are lots of different habits that you might adopt in order to create a better life for yourself in recovery. For example, you might create the habit of socializing with other people in recovery on a regular basis. Going to AA meetings is one way to do this, but there are other ways of course.
So the question might be: “What habits do I need to create? How do I prioritize?”
The answer to that can be summed up in one word, and that word is “holism.”
In other words, you need a holistic approach to recovery in order to cover all of the bases. Let me explain exactly what this means.
You are recovering from alcoholism or drug addiction. In order to maintain sobriety you need to create or build a new life for yourself, one that does not revolve around drugs and alcohol. You build this life through your daily actions, but you also need to watch out for the various ways in which your disease will try to get you to relapse.
The final result of relapse is that you put your drug of choice back into your body. If that happens then it is complete disaster and could even result in your death. Obviously we don’t want that to happen.
But before an alcoholic or drug addict relapses physically they will often times relapse in another way–either mentally, socially, emotionally, or spiritually. All of these other forms of relapse may precede an actual physical relapse where you put drugs or booze into your body.
So in order to protect our sobriety we need to do more than just worry about physical relapse–we have to worry about these other forms of relapse as well. The reason for this is because if you relapse spiritually, for example, then you may not care any more if you actually drink or take drugs. That is the whole point of mental, emotional, or spiritual relapse–you get to the point where you say “screw it all, screw everything, I don’t care any more, I am just going to drink or take drugs now.”
The goal, therefore, is to stop “the relapse before the relapse.” We have to control our thoughts and our impulses if we are to avoid the first drink or the first drug. And in order to keep control of those impulses we need to create protection in our lives on all fronts. We need to find a way to protect our sobriety from a holistic standpoint.
The disease can attack us in any direction. Just consider the recovering alcoholic who injures their elbow at a softball game and finds themselves on painkillers, only to be led back to the bottle as a result after their pills run out. Or consider the recovering addict who gets romantically involved with another newcomer in recovery and they relapse after a sudden breakup. Or consider the recovering alcoholic who starts hanging out with the wrong crowd instead of hanging out with positive people in recovery, and is eventually led back to drinking as a result of their social interaction.
Or consider the alcoholic who forgets to practice gratitude and as a result they become more and more selfish, thinking that they deserve more out of life. Think about how easy it is for someone like that to justify a drink to themselves.
We can relapse emotionally, socially, spiritually, mentally, or physically. In the end, it is the physical relapse (where we put the drug back into our bodies) that really seals the deal….but if we relapse in one of these other ways then that will often lead us to a total physical relapse.
How do we avoid these avenues of attack that our disease tries to take with us? How do we protect ourselves from so many different forms of relapse?
The answer is “holism.” The holistic approach to sobriety is the key to this problem.
In other words, you need to develop a daily practice that allows you to protect yourself in all of these key areas.
And that means that you need to take care of yourself in many different ways, every day.
For most people that will mean a certain amount of physical exercise. Taking care of themselves with decent nutrition. Getting enough sleep each night. Taking good care of their physical body. Avoiding illness, disease, and so on. Quitting cigarettes at some point in their recovery.
For most people this will also mean that they need a new social circle. So they need to stop hanging out with the people that they drank or used drugs with, and replace those relationships with people in recovery who are taking positive action. Again, going to AA meetings every day is one way to shortcut this process, but it is not the only solution. It is just an easy way to create a new positive habit.
Emotionally you will need to find new ways to take care of yourself every day. This might mean that you find new ways to create emotional balance and find new ways to deal with stress. You might need to ask for help or get advice from other people to find new ways to do this. You might need to take time out for yourself each day or create a new ritual or routine involving meditation or quiet time. And you also might need to eliminate toxic relationships from your life that might be holding you back in terms of emotional health and balance.
If you are sick in one area of your life then eventually that sickness will try to manifest itself in terms of your addiction. If you have negativity in your life then eventually that negative aspect will rear its ugly head and attempt to get you to relapse.
We are generally happy people in recovery, or in general, people are just plain happy and content. We screw this up when we cling to the negative stuff, when we allow resentments, shame, guilt, and self pity to run freely up in our minds. So part of the healing process in recovery is for us to identify what that negative stuff is and then to come up with a plan to deal with it all.
You might be guided through this process with a sponsor or a therapist in recovery. You might need another human being to help guide you on this journey. It is a learning process and one that will involve facing your fears. Part of uncovering your daily practice in recovery is in getting past these sort of blocks.
For example, I suffered from self pity when I first got clean and sober. I had a few months into sobriety and I realized that I was feeling sorry for myself all the time. Then I realized that this was left over from my addiction and that this was part of how I justified my drug and alcohol use to myself. If I felt sorry for myself then I had an excuse to self medicate all the time. Self pity was how I justified my addiction.
So I realized when I had a few months sober that I was still doing it; I was still feeling sorry for myself. It was not serving any good purpose to do so. It was a mental trick that I was playing on myself, and for what purpose? I was feeling sorry for myself on purpose. This was an attitude problem. I was saying “poor me” to myself when I could have been taking a more positive attitude.
So I had to fix this. I had to figure it out. If I continued to feel sorry for myself then eventually it would cause me to drink or relapse. Obviously I did not want that. But I had to find a way to fix the problem, and I did not know what to do.
I asked for help. I talked to people in long term recovery. I asked my sponsor and my therapist what their suggestions were.
They told me to write down what I was grateful for. At first, I did not see how that was going to help me.
Then I started doing it every day. I would write out a list of what I was grateful for every day. Eventually I started throwing the lists away. What was the point, you ask?
It was practice for my brain. I was training my mind. Sit down, write out ten things you are grateful for today, right now, and then tear it up and throw the list away. Then tomorrow do it again.
Can’t think of ten things? Then write out a list of 50 things. Seriously, that works. It sounds ridiculous but it works.
And it changed my attitude. It cured the self pity. How did it “cure it,” you ask?
Because it became a daily practice. I had to practice gratitude every day in order to overcome my problem with self pity.
This was the attitude that justified my drug and alcohol use, this attitude of feeling sorry for myself. In recovery, I had to find a way to overcome that attitude, I had to find a way to permanently change that way of thinking.
Practicing gratitude was the answer. I trained my brain to be able to instantly think of things to be grateful for. I trained my brain to find the positive in any situation. When you practice gratitude you are forcing your brain to find reasons to be happy, to find reasons to be positive, to find the good in things. When you sit down and force yourself to write out a list of 50 things to be grateful for, you are training your brain to get quicker at it. Keep doing it every day and it becomes automatic. Then it becomes a new way of thinking. Eventually you don’t even have to write out lists any more, your brain will simply adopt this new attitude every day.
And this is how the process of the daily practice works in real life. But it doesn’t have to apply just to self pity and gratitude, it can apply to anything. For example, you may come up with the new habit of exercising your body every day. This obviously has a different set of benefits that is going to be different than writing out a gratitude list. But it is still a powerful habit that can make a huge impact on your life.
So the question becomes, what new positive habits do I want to adopt in my life? What do I want to do each day in recovery? What should my daily practice consist of?
I can tell you what my daily practice is, but you have to find your own path as well. Keep in mind the fundamentals. And be sure to model those who are already successful in recovery (sponsorship in AA is one way of doing that).
I mentioned a potential pitfall in recovery, and that pitfall is complacency.
If you stop pushing yourself to make progress or growth then that can result in a relapse. That is complacency.
If your daily practice is not challenging you to grow and to learn new things then that can lead to complacency.
There is only one solution for this problem, and that is personal growth. That can come in many forms, however. It may come from working with a newcomer in recovery (usually a good idea!). Or it might come from a new exercise habit. Or it might come from a new goal that you have that challenges you.
Either way, you must continuously ask yourself: “What is my next step in life? What is my next goal in recovery, how can I move forward and learn something new today?” Do the work that is in front of you, and continue to take positive action. This is how you embrace a daily recovery process, by constantly pushing yourself to learn, to grow, and to love others.
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