How do we adjust our attitude in early recovery from addiction to something more positive? How can we force ourselves to have a better outlook so that we do not end up sabotaging ourselves and end up relapsing?
One of the things that you will hear over and over again in early recovery is that you need to have “an attitude of gratitude.” If there is a spectrum along which you could be grateful or not, the far opposite end of this spectrum would be “selfishness.” And if you are being too selfish in recovery then it becomes very easy for you to justify taking a drink or a drug, because you will convince yourself that you deserve it.
So how can we avoid this trap and take better care of ourselves? How can we cultivate this attitude of gratitude instead so that we do not end up sabotaging ourselves?
My first suggestion along this line would be for you to get humble and realize that you cannot figure out sobriety on your own, and that you are going to need help and direction in order to find your way through the maze. So that means that you need to ask for help and that you need to take some advice. If you are being selfish then the simple act of acting for help from someone else and taking their advice will help to give you some humility again. So the first thing that you need to do is to take a step back and realize that you do not know how to solve all of your problems by yourself.
Second of all, I would argue that you need to use a holistic approach to addiction recovery and take care of yourself, to include your mind, body, and spirit. This means that things such as physical exercise can have a real impact on how you feel emotionally, and therefore it may become necessary for you to get yourself into better physical shape so that it doesn’t drag you down emotionally. I find that when I am working out on a consistent basis I tend to have a more positive attitude and outlook towards the other events in my life.
Third, I would suggest that you need to stick around in recovery long enough to see the reasons why you are so blessed to be clean and sober and alive. It did not take very long in my own recovery journey for me to realize that a lot of my peers were not going to make it. Several of them relapsed and some of them even passed away as a result of their addiction. And as this was happening I kept checking myself and thinking, “Who am I to be so lucky, to remain alive and sober and reasonably happy today?” Why am I allowed to be clean and sober today when so many others are suffering, relapsing, or even dying due to their addiction? How did I get to be so lucky?
And so I had to stick around long enough in recovery for me to be able to even notice that. I had to keep coming back to meetings, I had to stick it out in treatment, I had to keep showing up for recovery and doing the work in order to one day be able to realize that I was very lucky to be clean and sober and alive. And I still feel that today over 16 years later, because there are not a lot of peers among me that have stuck it out for that long and have enjoyed the massive benefits that pile up after 16 years of continuous sobriety. Realizing the blessing that this gives to me is a very powerful way to improve my attitude.
When I had about 6 months clean and sober my sponsor in Narcotics Anonymous encouraged me to chair a certain NA meeting that was taken into a treatment center and presented to the residents there. I started doing that on a weekly basis and for about 2 years I stayed committed to chairing that NA meeting inside of that facility. So I was taking a message of hope into the treatment center and trying to convince these people that there was a better life, that they could have all of these wonderful benefits of recovery that I was experiencing, but that they would have to stick it out and do the work and go to meetings and do the things that I did.
This was service work. I was doing service work in early recovery, giving something back to people who needed the help, and this was doing wonders to help my own attitude towards my life and my recovery. Now at the time I could not really see that it was helping, because honestly I was all caught up in my own thoughts and I was nervous about the things that I was saying to people and so on, but eventually I was able to look back and realize that this was an important message that I was giving to people and that I should feel good about it. Doing service was adjusting my attitude without me even realizing it was happening.
Now you may realize at some point that you are suddenly feeling selfish and angry at the world, that you are practically looking for a fight because you are suddenly in an awful mood. What can you do then? How can you adjust your attitude on the fly?
One way that you can do this immediately is through taking a few key actions. Going to an AA meeting and sharing is one way. Of course that is not going to work for every person in every situation, but it will work for a lot of people who are so angry and upset that are also claiming it will not help them. Forcing yourself to go to an AA meeting and sharing about whatever is going on will probably help the person more than they are willing to admit. Plus you get the help and support of the people of AA instantly by being at a meeting and opening up about your current struggle.
Second I would recommend vigorous exercise as a potential solution in the moment. Again, that will not work for every alcoholic in every situation, but it is more effective than most people give it credit for. In other words, if you realize that you have a bad attitude about something or someone, and then you go jog 4 very intense miles, then suddenly your attitude is going to shift quite a bit and whatever was bothering you so much is going to seem greatly diminished after you exercise. In other words, a vigorous workout can help to put things in their proper perspective, and this can in turn help to adjust your attitude a great deal.
Finally, I would suggest that if you are having a bad day and you feel as if you are overly negative, try to connect with a peer in AA or NA, sit down with them for coffee and just chat, and you will realize that your problems are not the only thing in the universe. Connecting with a peer in recovery like this will help to “get you out of your own head” a bit, and this will improve your attitude a great deal.
Good luck, and stay positive!