The first principle is that of validation. To illustrate, here is a question that we are constantly asking ourselves in recovery:
“Am I doing the right thing?”
We don’t necessarily ask this question consciously. Sometimes it is just an uneasy feeling we might get. The question might be phrased a bit differently as well:
“Am I doing the things I need to be doing?” or “Am I living the way I’m supposed to be living?” or “Am I doing the things that I need to do in order to stay sober?”
Essentially, these questions are all one and the same. They are all rooted in fear, but many would argue that this is a healthy fear, because we are engaging in self-examination.
When we first get sober, we see others who are recovering as well. Some of these people are very confident about their recovery program. They are confident and passionate about recovery and they talk a good game. Yet some of these people relapse. And this instills a certain amount of caution, or fear, into us….it shows the newcomer that this recovery thing is difficult and dangerous and not everybody makes it.
You need Validation
Most of us probably like to think that we are strong and independent, and therefore do not need any form of validation from others. We might say things like “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of me!” But deep down, most of us humans need at least a little bit of validation and support from our fellow man, and addicts and alcoholics in early recovery definitely fall into this category. We like to think that we are bullet-proof, but the truth is, when we first get sober, we need help. Not only do we need help, but we need to ask for help. As newcomers, we need guidance and direction, but we also need validation and praise. We need to know that we are doing right and that we are on the right path.
3 Reasons Why You Need Validation
1) Because Recovery is Complex – As newcomers, we are told that there are certain things we need to do in order to stay sober. Get a big book, read the big book, get a sponsor, work the steps, and so on. The list is overwhelming at first. Working a successful program of recovery is a huge undertaking–it overtakes your entire life. Working 12 simple steps doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what is involved in a successful recovery program. There is so much more to it than just that. As the say, the only thing you need to change is everything. Given that, of course we need validation in recovery (especially early recovery). It’s overwhelming and there are all sorts of things we need to do. Validation is therefore critical, so that we know that we are doing right and have the strength and energy to continue on.
2) Because we Tend to make Poor Decisions – “None of us came into recovery on a winning streak.” In other words, we haven’t been in the habit of making great decisions when we first get to recovery. We feel like screw-ups and we are used to screwing up. It’s easy to get down on yourself in this way, so validation and praise from others can help to counteract this tendency. Validation from others is important because we have lost faith in our own decision-making capabilities.
3) Because we can Fool Ourselves into Anything – Recovering addicts and alcoholics are extremely skilled at justifying and rationalizing all sorts of ridiculous things. We are experts at self-deception. As such, we need reassurance from others that we are on the right path.
3 Ways that You can Find Validation and Praise without Seeking it
It’s a bit pathetic to go seeking validation and praise from others, right? We all probably feel that way. But if take the following suggestions, validation and praise will come your way of its own accord, whether you are seeking for it or not:
1) Sponsorship – Getting a sponsor in recovery–especially early recovery–is a great way to achieve the validation that you need to feel confident. Sponsorship should not be about a power trip, nor should it be an unhealthy relationship. A sponsor doesn’t make you do things, they merely suggest. Following through with those suggestions naturally brings praise and validation.
2) Sharing in Meetings – Another natural reinforcer is to share your experience with others in AA meetings. Feedback after and during meetings can let us know if we are on the right path or not, or if we might be getting off track. Meetings can energize us and give us the confidence to move forward in our recovery.
3) Talk with Others in Recovery – Talking with other recovering addicts and alcoholics can also provide the identification that we need in order to maintain our recovery. We need to reinforce the idea that there are others out there who are addicts and alcoholics just like we are. So identifying with others is an important concept as well.
The Second Key Concept for Overcoming Addiction: Identification
You wouldn’t think that a drug addict or alcoholic would forget that they are–in fact–a drug addict or alcoholic. But that’s exactly what we do.
It seems impossible. “How could I forget that I am an alcoholic? I happen to be really good at remembering things. So what would make me forget this huge thing–that I am an alcoholic? How could I possibly let that slip out of my consciousness, even for a second?”
But it happens. It happens in such a subtle way that most of us pass it off as being nothing. This is a large part of what makes the disease so cunning. Here’s how it happens:
You’re going through your ordinary day, just living your regular life, and let’s say a beer commercial flashes in front of you. Whatever. It doesn’t matter what it is, just something that makes you think briefly about alcohol or drugs. It could be that you’re walking down the street and just happen to think about a fancy cocktail, or smoking a joint, or whatever. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big trigger in front of you–just a random thought of drugs or alcohol. As recovering addicts and alcoholics, we are guaranteed to get these thoughts occasionally. Maybe once or twice a day, maybe once or twice a week. Whatever. The exact numbers aren’t important. Just know that we will inevitably have these thoughts.
Normally, when these random thoughts pop up, we quickly dismiss them and remind ourselves that we quit drinking or using drugs and are now in recovery. We tend to do this automatically if we are staying plugged in to the program. It’s through constant identification with other recovering alcoholics that we are able to quickly put up our defense against these random thoughts. If we stop going to meetings and talking with our sponsor and talking with other alcoholics in recovery, then we are slower to put up that defensive shield when those random thoughts pop into our head. This is known as entertaining the thought.
Entertaining the thought makes us miserable. When we are entertaining the thought, what we are really doing is romanticizing the idea of getting drunk or taking a drink. We remember the good times we had with drinking and not the bad. This is poison and will only make us miserable. Keeping ourselves plugged in through constant identification is how we combat our tendency to entertain the thought. This is a critical concept in overcoming addiction. There will always be triggers and urges and random thoughts of drinking down the road. Those thoughts will come eventually. If we drift away from our recovery program we become vulnerable to relapse as a result.
So you can clearly see how constant identification with other alcoholics is important. It serves as a constant reminder of our condition. So use the principle of identification to keep yourself protected. Do this by sharing and listening to other alcoholics. One good place to do that at: an AA meeting.
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