What is the most important question that you can ask yourself each day in recovery?
I think the question has evolved over time for me. So I want to present a few different questions and what that evolution has been for me. Because as you maintain sobriety over time you gain new perspective and your ideas about staying sober seem to change.
When I first got clean and sober I was living in a long term treatment center and going to meetings every day. My life is very different from that now over 13 years later. But I am still sober and I am still on a journey of personal growth. But I think the questions that I ask myself have changed.
Am I doing the things that I need to do for my recovery today?
This was the question that I was asking myself a lot during my first year of sobriety. Of course that is not to say that the question becomes less relevant when you have more time sober, because obviously it is always an important question. We have to do certain things each day in order to keep ourselves sober.
But in early recovery this is all about new habits. We have just left our old life and flipped our entire world upside down and we are trying to take on a lot of new things. It can be overwhelming. So we need to keep ourselves in check a bit and make sure that we are taking the proper actions.
So when you hear people suggest things like “Going to 90 AA meetings in 90 days” that has a lot to do with establishing new habits. It is not that you actually need another meeting every single day, though that can be useful too. It is that you need to rewire your brain and establish new habits in life. Out with the old, in with the new. I used to drink every single day. That had to change. But, change to what? That is a question that deserves a real plan. So you have to take action. You have to find positive things to do with yourself. And that can be tough.
I talk a lot about the holistic approach to recovery. Many people hear the buzzword “holistic” and wonder: “What does that even mean?” It sounds like hype. It sounds fake.
But it’s not fake. Holistic just means “whole,” as in the “whole person.” So you should look at yourself in recovery as a whole person, and a person who is trying to grow in many different ways, such as:
* Physical health.
* Mental stability.
* Your social circle, relationships.
And so on. All of those areas are important for your recovery.
Pick one of those areas listed above and I can promise that you some people have relapsed because they were failing badly in that particular part of their life.
For example, a lot of my peers in early recovery ended up relapsing because of a failed romantic relationship. I watched that happen over and over again among my peers. It was a real eye opener for me. I learned what NOT to do and where to be really careful in my future.
So with the holistic approach you pay attention to all of those areas. You learn to take care of yourself in all of those ways, to protect yourself from relapse along all of those different lines.
It is an oversimplification to believe that you can just put down the alcohol or drugs and then live some sort of normal life. That doesn’t work. As alcoholics and drug addicts, we are naturally more complicated than that.
Maybe you resist that idea of being complicated, and you want to keep it simple. You want to make it just be all about your drug of choice. If that is your goal then you have a lot of work to do. Because you will first need to learn how to take care of yourself in a holistic sense, how to become healthy in all of those areas of your life.
Because if you are not healthy in a holistic sense then relapse can sneak in one of these various back doors. You can relapse due to spiritually bankruptcy. But you can also relapse due to failed relationships, unstable emotions, even mental problems. Or you could relapse due to physical health that spirals out of control. I have watched that one happen several times as well, where a peer of mine got sick and it eventually led me to relapse in a way that they never could have predicted.
This is why the holistic approach is so important. Because it protects all of the bases.
Am I loving myself today?
This is an evolution of the previous question. In reality is almost the same question, just another way of asking it.
With the first question you are basically going down a checklist of sorts, asking if you have taken care of everything that you need to do in your recovery today or not.
With this question, you are talking about self love. And so you need a bit of experience in recovery before this question might even make sense to you, because you will need to be able to identify what is really self love and self care.
As in: “Should I do this thing or not? Is it loving to myself overall, or does it hurt me in some way?”
A great example of this is when you have to say “no” to a toxic relationship in your life. That can be really hard for some people to do because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But if being around a toxic person is no good for you then you have to find a way to say “no” anyway. You have to create that space, create that distance, in order to take better care of yourself.
Ultimately the move away from addiction is a move towards greater self care. It is a decision to be healthier. But that decision should not be the end of the story, it should instead be the beginning. So that you evolve in your recovery and learn how to take care of yourself on many different levels.
I found that my self esteem increased over time as I remained sober.
When I first surrendered I had nearly no self esteem at all. I did not like the person that I had become in addiction and therefore I put very little value on my own life. I did not care about myself or others.
As I stayed sober I started to feel a little bit better about myself. And I started to try new things and I even eventually tried to help other people. After several years I was able to reach out and help various people and I got to a point where I felt like I might really be making a difference in at least a few lives. And that felt good. So this made my self esteem go up quite a bit. It wasn’t any sort of fake self esteem, it was real. I did not have to try and feel better about myself, because the results of my life were doing that for me. I was creating results, and it felt good.
And this eventually created a positive feedback loop. Because as I felt better about myself I was more inclined to achieve new things, to pursue new goals. I gained a certain amount of confidence in myself and I used that to push myself even further. So it became like a loop. I was lucky enough to experience something positive and that in turn pushed me to create more positive energy in my life.
I don’t think that I ever would have said that I was really “loving myself” until I got to this point I am talking about, where I was creating real self esteem in my life based on the things that I was accomplishing. So it took a bit of time and it took a lot of hard work. And eventually that hard work turned into visible results and those results made me feel really good about myself. This was what it took for me to finally feel like I was loving myself.
And when you love yourself you are more likely to take care of yourself. Self care is definitely one of the pillars of strong recovery.
Am I taking care of myself today?
Yet another way to phrase this question is:
“Am I taking care of myself today?”
This one is pretty comprehensive if you ask me. Obviously if you are avoiding drugs and alcohol then that is part of taking care of yourself.
But the question also leaves room for the holistic approach as well: Am I taking care of myself spiritually? Am I taking care of myself emotionally? And so on. You have all of those dimensions that come into play. And they are all important. Because if you stop taking care of yourself in one of those areas then it can eventually lead to relapse.
No one ever sees a relapse coming. Becoming complacent in long term sobriety is very, very tricky. It is a bit like denial for the alcoholic who will not even admit that they have a problem. Because the person who has ten years sober and does not think that he is complacent may, in fact, be complacent. He is in denial of his complacency. What could be more dangerous?
Complacency is laziness. It sneaks up on us. We deny that it exists.
We would all like to believe that we are strong in our sobriety. We would all like to believe that we are rock solid, that we would never relapse, that we got this sobriety thing in the bag.
But people relapse. People who have years or even decades still relapse. And when they come back and tell their story, they always say that they got complacent. They got lazy. They stopped doing the things that they need to do. Which is another way of saying that they stopped taking care of themselves.
So how do you take care of yourself on a day to day basis for the rest of your life in sobriety? How do you do it in a way that does not lead to complacency?
I believe that it comes down to maybe a few key ideas. Consider the following two strategies for long term sobriety:
1) Daily habits. Your daily practice. The positive things that you do every day. We need to pay attention to this and give it deliberate focus.
2) Peer feedback. We need to take criticism from our peers, even though we don’t want to hear it. “We are each others eyes and ears” (NA basic text).
How do these two things keep people from being complacent?
The daily practice is a big deal, in my opinion. You are defined by your habits. If you want to know what you will be like a year from now, just take a look at your daily habits. Look at what actions you take every day. That is the best way to measure where you are headed and where things will end up. Our daily habits define us.
So in thinking about the holistic approach to recovery, you might consider adopting healthy habits in order to create a strong recovery. For example, some of the habits I have adopted are:
1) Writing in a daily journal.
2) Practicing gratitude every day, writing out gratitude lists.
3) Physical exercise. Distance running. Meditation.
4) Eating healthier foods. Eliminating toxic foods, chemicals, substances.
5) Sleeping 7 to 8 hours per night, consistently.
6) Working with others in recovery on a regular basis. Reaching out.
7) Eliminating toxic relationships. Inviting positive people into my life.
Those habits have served me well over the last 13 years. Interestingly I did not adopt all of them on day one though. In fact some of them I have just adopted recently and started to work into my daily routine. We learn as we go along. None of us walk into recovery as some sort of sobriety wizard. We are always in a state of learning more and more about ourselves.
So your daily habits are one important way to take care of yourself on a day to day basis.
Second is the idea of peer feedback. Of talking with a sponsor or a therapist or a counselor. Of talking to others in recovery with you and seeking their opinion about your life and your direction.
None of us really wants to do this or rely on it. But it is very powerful. This is because we can often see the faults and problems in other people much easier than we can see them in our own lives.
Think about that. We can criticize others easier than we can criticize ourselves.
This is a clue.
The wisdom here is that you should listen to others! Even if you are really intelligent, you can gain a great deal of wisdom by listening to the criticism of other people. They see things in you that you cannot possibly see yourself.
Think back to when you were still drinking or using drugs. Other people around you could see that you had a problem long before you would admit it. Don’t you think that this can happen again in sobriety? Of course it can happen again! I am suffering from a million and one different forms of denial. Sometimes I need a little help from my peers in order to see what those problems are. And I am grateful to be able to identify those problems so that I can do something about them before they drive me to relapse.
Am I grateful today?
This is perhaps the most pointed question here.
Many believe that the solution to addiction is entirely spiritual.
I believe that gratitude makes up at least 90 percent of the spiritual approach. If you are not grateful then you are not spiritual, period.
And if you are truly grateful for your existence today then you don’t really need much more in terms of relapse prevention.
People who are truly grateful do not reach for a drink or a drug. They don’t need it! They are happy with the universe just as it is. That is what being grateful means. You are happy with existence just like it exists. You are grateful. No need to change anything. You are not complaining. You are happy with things as they are. Grateful.
Gratitude is power. If you are truly grateful then you are well protected from relapse. It is only in a moment of extreme selfishness that an alcoholic can justify taking a drink to themselves. At that moment of decision when they decide to drink they are being purely selfish. They want to drink, they have made up all sorts of excuses as to why they should take a drink, and most likely they have painted it in their minds that they are some sort of victim and that they deserve that drink. If other people were in their shoes then surely they would drink too! They deserve a drink. They deserve to relapse. Selfish, selfish, selfish.
Gratitude is the exact opposite of this. Think about it. When you are grateful you are giving all the glory back to the universe, back to circumstances. Things are the way that they are and you have found a way to appreciate them and be happy with yourself. That is the state of gratitude. You appreciate your existence. You appreciate the current circumstances. Whatever is going on is just fine. Maybe you had some good luck and the universe loves you. Or maybe you had some bad luck but at least you learned something from it. If so, then you find a way to appreciate the lesson you learned. Being grateful does not depend on circumstances. You can find ways to be grateful in spite of your circumstances.
And that is the challenge to the recovering alcoholic and drug addict. To find ways to be grateful no matter what is going on. To be grateful in the face of adversity. Because there will come a day in your future when relapse looks pretty darn tempting. That is inevitable. We all face an uncertain future. Life has its ups and downs. So temptation is inevitable. It is only a question of when it will happen.
So when you are tempted in the future you want to be able to summon a shield. One of those “shields” that you can use in any situation is gratitude. You always have this option of being grateful. This defense can work at any given moment in your life.
And it is a practice. Gratitude is something that you practice. So it gets stronger over time. You have a gratitude “muscle” that can build up in its strength. If you have not been practicing gratitude every day then your gratitude muscle will be weak. The way to make it stronger is to practice every day. Make gratitude lists every day. How do you do that?
Simple. Write down 10 things you are grateful for today. Jot them down. Then tear up the list and throw it away.
Tomorrow, do it all over again. If you can’t think of ten things, write down 50 things. Seriously. And then throw it away.
Keep doing this for a long, long time. This is how you build your gratitude muscle.
This is, in my opinion, the single most potent tactic for relapse prevention. Sure, there are other things you can do too, but this is probably the most powerful.
Find the question that keeps you moving forward and making progress
What question have you found that keeps you moving forward? What do you ask yourself every day that keeps you moving forward in your recovery? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!