What should be our targets for addiction recovery wellness? Which goals should we have in our recovery journey, and how hard should we push ourselves to attain those goals?
These are good questions, and entire books could likely be written about the answers. All I can do is to share my own experience, and the observations that I have in my peers in recovery.
Here is what I have learned.
A few things: One, you should certainly have goals and targets for those goals in recovery. It is not enough, in my experience, to simply say to the world “I want wellness.” Well, what does that look like? What will your day look like when you achieve wellness? What will be your sleeping habits, your eating habits, your drug or alcohol consumption, your social activity, your spiritual practice? What does wellness look like specifically in each of those areas?
I have found that if a person only vaguely defines these goals then they are not likely to get good results. “Life favors the specific ask.” We should figure out what we want in life, and the make a plan to achieve it. Even if we fail at getting what we truly want, at least in failing we can get closer to the truth.
In early recovery your only real goal is to stay clean and sober. This is as much as you can take on at first, and that is how it should be. Early sobriety can be overwhelming. You need intense focus in order to avoid relapse during your first few precarious months of recovery. That is why we suggest that you attend inpatient treatment for at least 28 days, go to lots of meetings, follow through with therapy and aftercare, and so on. If you do all of those things and you commit to them fully then it drastically increases your chances of success in recovery. In order to fully escape from your old life in addiction you have to build a strong foundation, and that requires a great deal of effort and commitment.
However, after you have been clean and sober for a while, and you have a strong foundation built in early sobriety, it is time to reevaluate your priorities.
Now this is not to say that you should stop going to AA meetings entirely, or that you need to walk away from the basics. Instead, you need to consider for a moment what your recovery is going to look like at 5 years clean, at 10 years clean, at 20 years clean. Are you going to be going to 7 AA meetings per week when you have 20 years sober? Maybe, but probably not. As you maintain your recovery over time, your program will evolve in order to meet the changing needs of your recovery.
In the first year, your immediate needs in recovery are to avoid relapse at any cost. So you go to meetings every day. That makes sense.
At 10 years sober, you no longer need to hit a meeting every single day in order to maintain sobriety. But this is not to say that your job is over with in recovery, or that you can just kick back and relax from now on. That is not the case at all. And in fact, if assume that you can relax in your recovery journey and just enjoy it without doing any sort of personal growth–that is exactly what can lead to relapse.
The number one threat in long term recovery is that of complacency.
So this ties into our goals and our targets for wellness.
In the first year of recovery, sure–your target can be to hit an AA meeting every single day, call your sponsor daily, whatever it takes. But in long term recovery, we need a different approach. You cannot expect to be calling your sponsor every single day after 20 years sober. That doesn’t make sense.
Instead, you should be developing some goals of your own. These would be goals for personal growth, goals that will allow you to improve yourself and your life, such that you become healthier and more positive in your recovery journey. These would also be goals and targets that, when you strive for them, help to protect your sobriety itself.
So what kind of goals are we talking about here?
In my experience, the number one goal that people should establish in long term recovery is either meditation or exercise. It is an either/or in my opinion, though of course you could do both. My point is that you do not really have to–again, at least in my experience. I have done them both and I prefer exercise, finding it gives me the same benefits as seated meditation and more. Check with your doctor first, but I strongly recommend physical fitness as part of this holistic approach to long term recovery.
One of the reasons that fitness and meditation are my top recommendation are because they are “meta goals,” in that achieving them or striving for them will make other goals more attainable. At some point I got into shape and started distance running, and some time later I completed my first marathon. The confidence boost that I got from achieving that one fitness goal was enough for me to say “I can do just about anything if I really want to put in the effort for it!” and then I started achieving some amazing goals, such as building a successful business. I can remember attempting that new goal based on the success of my marathon, and realizing that achieving such goals was a domino effect–as my confidence built from each “win,” I became willing to take on new challenges. This is an awesome feeling in recovery that I hope everyone gets a chance to experience at some point.
You may have a target in terms of physical fitness, but you might also create targets in other areas of your health as well. Maybe the standard of wellness for spirituality would be something like “Write out a gratitude list every day, pray twice a day, meditate or exercise once daily, and do one kind thing for someone each week.” While that may sound like a strange list of goals, it will likely produce more spiritual momentum than someone who is just trying to “be more spiritual” without any specific targets.
The same concept can apply in any area of your life: Emotional health, positive social activity in recovery, your finances, and so on. If you don’t know how to set realistic goals, then ask for help in doing so. Get with your sponsor or therapist and ask them to help guide you through the process. Once you are hitting goals and reaching these targets, it will give you an amazing feeling of empowerment that will also help you to remain sober.