Every once in a while in your recovery journey you can find yourself getting stuck. In these moments, the path forward is not always clear. At least, this is the case in my own experience. Sometimes I had to have a bit of inspiration or a certain insight in order to start moving forward again. Hopefully the 3 questions here can provide you with that bit of insight to get you making positive changes again.
The assumption here is that you are already stable in sobriety
Of course, asking yourself these sort of questions assumes that you are already relatively stable in your sobriety today.
If you’re not, then you should be asking yourself a different set of questions in order to help break through your denial. Those would be questions such as:
“Am I really as happy today as I was when I first started drinking or using drugs?”
“Does my drug of choice still do for me what I want it to do? Has it stopped working?”
“How long do I have to go without any drugs or alcohol before they become effective for me again? Have I tested this? Do I notice my tolerance and how it has changed, how it has cheated me?”
“Am I truly happy today?”
“Am I willing to admit that I have a serious problem?”
“Am I willing to embrace someone else’s solution today?”
“Am I willing to get professional help for my problem?”
Those are the kinds of questions that you should be asking yourself if you are still stuck in denial.
If you are already past that stage, however, and you are living sober in recovery today, then you need a new set of questions.
Questions that can help drive you forward to take positive action.
So let’s take a look.
Questions #1: Am I willing to pursue personal growth and positive change in my life today?
Are you willing to pursue personal growth today?
Your recovery strategy should ideally consist of two parts. First, you need to take an honest look at your life and find out what the problem areas are.
For example, when I got clean and sober I was prone to self pity. This was how I justified my addiction. I had all of this drama up in my head, and I used it as an excuse to drink and take drugs.
Only now that I was sober, I was no longer trying to justify my drinking or drug use. Except the problem was that the same script kept running in my mind, the same old self pity routine.
And it was driving me crazy.
So I had to take an honest look at myself and realize that this was emotionally immature behavior. I was just doing that to make myself feel better, to try to make it OK for me to drink.
So I had to figure out a plan to knock that off. I had to eliminate that character defect. But before I could do that I had to identify the problem and be willing to face it as being a threat to my sobriety. I had to get real. I had to get honest with myself.
That is one part of personal growth–the internal journey. What is going on up in your head every day? There are likely to be a few problems for nearly any alcoholic or drug addict.
Things like shame, guilt, anger, fear, self pity, and so on can all become a huge threat to your serenity, and therefore to your sobriety as well. You can’t afford to let those problems run rampant in your mind. The solution, therefore, is to identify those problems and eliminate them. This is personal growth. It has to be done if you want to remain sober.
Second of all is the external world. You are living your life in the real world and you have certain surroundings and relationships. Those can all have an impact on your quality of life and your sobriety. Maybe you have some particularly toxic relationships in your life and the people you associate with make you want to drink. Or maybe you work in a job (like I did at one time) where nearly everyone abuses drugs or alcohol.
These are external problems. They exist outside of your mind, in the real world. They are environmental problems. And they can have a definite impact on your sobriety.
Therefore you need to be willing to change those things. You need to be willing to get honest about what is good for you and what is no good for you, and become willing to take action in order to rearrange your life.
When I finally got clean and sober I made a series of drastic and immediate changes in my external world:
1) Moved out of an apartment.
2) Left a toxic relationship with a significant other.
3) Left all of my drug and drinking buddies and never spoke to any of them ever again (harsh, I know, but in my case it was necessary).
4) Moved into long term treatment, lived there for 20 months.
5) Got a job working in a treatment center eventually.
Do you have to get that drastic in order to recover yourself?
Not necessarily. But you do have to make changes. And my point here is that you need to make changes both inside and outside. Both internal and external changes.
Many people in traditional recovery believe that if they just work hard enough on the internal changes that they will be able to “handle” just about anything in the external world.
This is the wrong attitude. You need to do both. Don’t try to make life hard just so you can prove how strong you are. Don’t seek to test your sobriety. It will be tested anyway, whether you seek it out or not. So do not hesitate to rearrange your life in order to make your sobriety easier on yourself. I did exactly that and it was the best decision I ever made.
Questions #2: What is the one thing that I could change in my life right now that would make the biggest positive impact?
Further on in your sobriety you may get to a point where you are no longer thinking about drinking or drugs, almost ever. You will go through entire weeks and months of your sobriety without a single thought of relapse.
It is at those times when you may need to ask this question of yourself: What is the one change that you could make right now that would have the biggest positive impact?
You will notice that if you really sit and think about this question that it is usually the idea of “fixing” something negative in your life that will create the most benefit for you.
For example, I was a smoker when I got into recovery and I continued to smoke for about the first 4 years. During those 4 years, the answer to this question was always the same for me: The single biggest change I could make would be to successfully put down the cigarettes. I knew this and everyone around me knew it. Yet I struggled with it for years and years. I was trying to quit nearly that entire time.
Which brings up a great point: If you don’t know what you should be working on right now in your recovery, ask someone! They will tell you. And if not, ask several different peers in your recovery journey what they think you should be working on right now. What should your priority be? What is the most important personal growth effort that you could be making right now? Get some feedback. Seek some outside opinions. You may learn something about yourself.
Some people in recovery take on too many small projects at once. This can be ineffective because they won’t really put enough attention on any one area of change.
Instead, figure out what the real priority is. Find the one goal that would really benefit you the most, and then get serious about it and put all of your energy into that one thing.
Ask yourself: “What is the one goal that I could achieve next that would make all the difference for me?” And then dedicate your life to figuring out how to achieve that one thing. Ask for help. Ask your peers and mentors in recovery to help guide you in reaching that goal. And then put a ton of energy and effort into making it happen.
After you achieve it, move on to figure out what the next biggest priority is.
When I went through this particular phase in my own sobriety, the series of goals went like this:
1) Get sober.
2) Quit smoking (failed to achieve)
3) Start distance running.
4) Quit smoking (succeeded this time due to exercise habit).
5) Build a successful side business (I knew I could succeed at this due to the discipline that I gained from quitting smoking).
6) Run a marathon (wanted to see if I could do it, bit of an ego I suppose, but was also experimenting with focus and discipline).
This series of goals represents several years of my life, and all the while I was constantly asking the question of myself: “What is the one goal that would change everything for me?” And that was how I gained inspiration and was able to push myself to achieve some things in my sobriety journey.
Questions #3: Am I complacent today? In what areas of my life am I complacent?
This one is really tricky.
In some ways, all three of these questions I am suggesting to you are the exact same question.
They are all basically asking of yourself: “Am I willing to grow? Change? Learn?”
That is really the only question.
Here it is asked with the idea that you may become complacent one day in your journey.
I have been clean and sober now for over 13 years continuous. I am pretty comfortable making it through the day without needing alcohol or addictive drugs.
And that can be dangerous.
It is dangerous to get too comfortable. That is how people end up relapsing.
It is amazing to see if you go to enough AA meetings and listen to people. You will find people who got complacent after years or decades of sobriety, and they went back out and drank.
Obviously we want to avoid this fate.
So one solution to this tricky problem (because no one really knows for sure if they are in denial about being complacent!) is that you can just assume that you are always a tiny bit complacent.
So the question then becomes:
“How am I complacent today?”
This is a tough way to live.
It is like giving yourself a homework assignment, over and over again.
No one likes to do homework. Ever. I realize this.
But this is a very important homework assignment. Every once in a while (maybe every day of your life?) you need to ask yourself the question of how you might be being complacent today.
Because most people assume that complacency is only about avoiding alcohol and drugs.
This is wrong.
You can become spiritually complacent, for example, if you stop being grateful. If you forget to practice gratitude. Then you become selfish and eventually it gets that much easier to justify a drink or a drug. Because you deserve it. Because the world is all wrong and you are the victim. Where did your gratitude go? It could have saved you!
You can become physically complacent. I watched this lead a close friend of mine all the way to relapse. He got physically inactive, then he got sick, and eventually he drank over it. I watched it happen. Could there have been something deeper going on? Sure, I suppose so. But he was still physically complacent, and that should have been a huge warning sign. It should have kicked him into gear, to say “wait a second, I am not healthy now….why?” Physical health is so important in recovery. That is something that you don’t necessarily believe when you have 30 days sober and you believe that “the solution is spiritual.” The solution is more than just spiritual. It is holistic. And your physical health is vital to sobriety. You just can’t see that yet (if you are new in recovery).
You can become emotionally complacent. If you fall into your old patterns, if you are codependent with someone and the relationship is no good for you, if you are emotionally unstable and on the brink of emotional relapse. If you keep your feelings bottled up and fail to communicate them with others. Emotional relapse is a real threat and it often leads to a full blown alcohol or drug relapse. Most people don’t want to admit that they self medicate due to unwanted emotions in their life. In fact, most people have not become honest enough with themselves to even realize that this is what is happening when they self medicate. We feel angry, scared, or upset and we medicate as a result. Keeping your emotional balance in recovery is absolutely critical. Hint: The way to do that is through a holistic approach where you take care of yourself every day, in every way.
You can become socially complacent if you isolate. Or if you are involved in a toxic relationship and you fail to say “no” to it and walk away. This can easily lead to a devastating relapse. When I was living in long term rehab I found out that nearly everyone who relapses does so because of a relationship of some sort. It was really eye opening to watch that happen over and over again.
You can become mentally complacent if you stop coming up with ideas, if you fail to write out that gratitude list, if you are too lazy to read the recovery literature or write in your daily journal or work on some written step work. You have to take action to succeed in recovery. And that action almost always demands that you use that brain inside your head.
So complacency can happen in a number of different ways. In fact, the ones that I listed here just scratch the surface; they don’t even cover all of the possibilities. Can you think of any other ways that you may have been complacent in the past?
The solution for complacency is the same solution that sobriety demands of us: Personal growth.
If you get stuck in recovery then the solution is, quite simply, to get unstuck. You have to push forward, move ahead, make positive changes again. What can you improve in your life today? What can you improve about your life situation?
And if you are truly lost then you need to simply ask for help. Find someone that you trust in recovery and ask them what you should do next. Ask them what your next step is. Ask them what they would do if they were in your shoes. Ask them what the most important change that you could make next would be.
And ask several different people. If there is one thing that you have in recovery, it is time. Now you have time to engage in personal growth. The journey never ends, it just keeps going on and on, and so therefore you have plenty of time to work on improving your life.
Once you make a positive change in your life, turn it into a habit. Lock in those gains. Then move on and ask yourself: “What next? What else can I do to improve my life and my recovery?”
Bonus question: Who can I reach out to and help today in my world?
The 12 steps of AA have some good ideas in them.
One of the best and most powerful ideas in the last step regarding helping others in recovery.
This is so powerful that it is a mistake not to incorporate it into your life in some way.
Therefore you should ask yourself on a regular basis: “How can I reach out and help someone today? How can I help make a positive difference for someone today?”
The benefit of doing this to your sobriety is pretty evident once you have done it a few times. The reason for this has to be felt in order to be fully appreciated. When you are helping someone else in recovery it reinforces your own reasons for quitting drinking. If you can help someone else to stay sober then it strengthens your own sobriety immeasurably.
The way to do this may not be clear to you at first. If nothing else I would recommend going to AA meetings and then trying to meet up with folks for coffee afterwards. Start talking to people. Start building some friendships. This is a powerful way to get involved. At one time I was attending a midnight meeting in my city and we would go out for coffee afterwards. That was over 11 years ago and I can still remember some of those late night conversations today. Amazing. There is power in the social solution, in connecting with others in recovery. If you can reach out and help someone to be stronger in their recovery, then it will help you a great deal. Don’t worry so much about what you have to offer at first, just reach out and try to connect with your peers at first. Over time you will get stronger in recovery and start helping people naturally, without even trying to force it.
What about you, do you have any questions that you ask yourself to give you direction in your recovery journey? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!