Recovery is all about change.
The alcoholic is trying to change bad habits into good ones. Turn a negative life into a positive one.
Of course with all change there is struggle. No one wants to change at first, because it takes courage and energy to do so.
And of course, some changes are easier to make than others. The really hard changes might take us years or even decades to finally confront. And unfortunately some people never rise to meet those specific challenges (like putting down the alcohol or drugs).
So when you are in recovery from addiction you are trying to make various changes. We all know that it is not enough to simply stop using your drug of choice. If stopping were enough then there would be no problem; addiction would not exist. But we all know that it takes more than that. A whole lot more. Recovery takes work.
This begs the question: “What additional changes are necessary in recovery other than eliminating the chemicals?”
What does the alcoholic have to do besides just quit drinking? How are they to go about rebuilding their lives?
This is where the idea of change comes into play. We have to change “everything,” as they say in recovery programs. We must change people, places, and things in our lives. We must change our attitudes and our perspective. We must change both from within and also in our external reality. Recovery is all about change.
Given that we have to make so many different changes, it might occur to you that some of these potential changes will work really well together, while others might even conflict with each other. In realizing this, we are introduced to the concept of alignment, and also of synergy.
Aligning your goals in addiction recovery
In designing a recovery program that fits you life, you will want to choose goals and themes that work well with each other.
This is alignment.
For example, let’s say that you quit drinking and using drugs. Now you are trying to rebuild your life in recovery. Potential changes include things like:
1) Quitting smoking.
2) Daily exercise and fitness.
3) Healthy sleep patterns.
4) Better nutrition.
5) Eliminating toxic relationships.
These might be the goals that you choose to pursue during the first few months of your recovery. Or it may take you a few years to realize that much change in your life.
But what is interesting about that particular list of goals is that they all tend to compliment each other. For example, quitting smoking and exercise go hand in hand. The fact that you exercise every day makes it significantly easier to stop smoking. Likewise, having good nutrition and healthy sleep patterns will go a long way towards how you feel on a day to day basis.
Consider all 5 of the goals. If you do one thing from the list then it will no doubt help you, but if you combine the goals then the actual goals themselves start to enhance each other. The goal of daily exercise will cause you to also get a higher quality of sleep (generally speaking).
This is an example of alignment. Your goals are in alignment with each other and they enhance and compliment each other.
So what is synergy?
It sounds like a made-up buzzword, right?
Synergy is the idea that when you are working towards all of these different goals that are in alignment with each other, the end result of that will be much greater than just the sum of the parts.
In other words, 1 plus 1 plus 1 equals five rather than just three.
Obviously this only happens when your goals are properly aligned with each other. Then you experience synergy because there are positive network effects from the relationships between your various goals.
You can usually tell when you are on the wrong track because it will feel like a struggle. Having synergy in your life is the opposite of a struggle. Everything just works well together and your personal growth seems to be accelerated.
So we want to create this synergy stuff in our recovery because it will enhance our personal growth.
In the end it is personal growth that prevents relapse.
Recovery is nothing if not change. If you stop changing then that means you are “changing back.” Back into what? Into whatever you were before recovery.
Therefore you must keep pressing forward and trying to change for the better.
While you are doing this you may as well focus your efforts. You may as well choose goals that are in alignment with each other so that you get this added bonus of synergy.
Don’t like goals? Choose a theme
Some people don’t like the idea of using goals to create the future that they really want. Some people are completely turned off to the idea of goals entirely.
If so then that is OK. You can still work on your recovery without really having “goals,” per se.
Instead, use a theme.
Recovery, at its core, is about two things:
1) Positive change.
Really, what are you striving for when you stop drinking or using drugs? What is the point of quitting?
The point is greater health. You can measure the outcome of recovery by measuring your health.
Health is the currency of recovery.
And not just physical health either, but also mental, emotional, spiritual, and social health.
Therefore you can avoid the idea of “goals” if you like by simply adopting this new theme for your life.
And that new theme is “personal growth.” You seek to make positive changes now. This is the new you.
What direction do you make these positive changes in? You make them in the direction of greater health. Holistic health. Your entire life, your overall health.
So you do not necessarily have to think of your recovery in terms of goals if you do not want to. You can think of it in terms of a theme.
And that theme has to do with personal growth and holistic health.
The old you was in poor health and you were not making any growth in life. You were stuck in addiction. Nothing changed. Your health was bad and getting worse.
In recovery, your new theme is to reverse those two trends. You want to move forward and create positive change. And you also want to improve your overall health. Not just physically, but in all areas of your life.
But where do I even get started?
You can get started by going to treatment and getting detoxed. Before you can do any of this stuff you need to stop putting drugs and alcohol into your body every day. You must stop entirely. Abstinence is the baseline and the foundation of early recovery. In order to do this safely you should consider going to inpatient rehab.
After detoxing in treatment you will likely be put in a residential program. This is the 28 day variety that is so common. If you find yourself in a residential treatment program then I strongly suggest that you kick back, keep an open mind, and listen to what they are telling you.
This is how you “get started” in recovery. By listening.
If you are not willing to listen yet then it probably means that you are still stuck in denial. The way to move past this is to reach a point of complete desperation and misery until you surrender and ask for help willingly. Early recovery depends entirely on willingness. If you are not willing to listen and ask for help then there is no hope for sobriety yet. More suffering may change this in the future.
When you take suggestions from other people in recovery you get a secret shortcut to wisdom. Of course it is not really a secret at all but on the other hand no one wants to do it so perhaps it really is! The key is to get out of your own way. The key is to be so desperate for change in your life that you are willing to ignore your own ideas. The key is to trust in the idea that other people can tell you how to be happy even better than your own brain can.
This takes a great deal of trust. It takes a real leap of faith to start living sober and listening to other people. It takes a leap of faith to follow a recovery program when you have no proof that will make you happy in the future. Every impulse in your mind is screaming at you to run and hide and get drunk or do drugs again. It takes guts to stay in recovery and stick it out, to see what might happen. No alcoholic knows for sure if they will ever be happy in recovery. This is the leap of faith. You gamble on the fact that you might be miserable forever.
But at some point the alcoholic must realize that they are miserable anyway, even if they keep drinking. And this is the magical turning point. This is how you beat denial. When you finally wake up to the fact that you are completely miserable no matter what you seem to do. Drinking and drugs have failed you. You are not happy. So you consider recovery, and you consider going to treatment, and you consider actually listening to other people who will tell you how to live, and you think just maybe this could possibly make you happy again some day. That is the tiny shred of hope that you need to recover. Nothing more is required! I only had that tiniest little shred of hope and I honestly did not really believe that I would ever be happy again. But I took the leap of faith anyway because I was so sick and tired of being miserable.
And it worked.
And that is how you get started in recovery. You ask for help and you take a leap of faith. You go to rehab and you do what people tell you to do.
Kill your ego if you want to live and be happy in sobriety. It really is that simple. Not easy to do, but very simple. Just get out of your own way.
How the benefits of recovery multiply over time
If you take this leap of faith and ask for help then it will set off a chain reaction of events. Of course you are ultimately in charge of your life and your actions and so you have to keep putting forth this continuous effort in recovery. But when you do this consistently something amazing happens.
It doesn’t happen overnight. You knew there had to be a catch, right? These magical and wonderful benefits of sobriety that I speak of, they don’t materialize during week two of sobriety. And they might not even be there (not in full anyway) during your second month of recovery.
But at some point the benefits and the rewards will come to you. They will build up slowly, over time, in such a way that they tend to multiply on themselves. In other words, you will build different platforms of success in recovery that then allow you to reach even higher in the future.
It is not like you just quit drinking and then return to a baseline of contentment and then move on with your life as if the addiction never happened.
In fact, you couldn’t do that if you wanted to. You would relapse. We can’t just coast through our recovery and expect for it to work. You are either climbing up the mountain or you are sliding down it. Try to stand still and you will start to slide. No good.
Momentum and positive growth are thus a key concept in recovery. We build on our previous successes. If we stop building then are old life will slowly begin to seep back in. And we all know where that will end up: relapse.
The only long term solution for sobriety is to keep reinventing yourself. Over and over again. It’s work. It takes effort. You have to keep learning about yourself. You have to keep being honest with yourself. And it’s not easy.
But as you do this you will notice the payoff:
Even though recovery is hard work, the rewards in recovery continue to accumulate and multiply.
Life just keeps getting better and better.
Unless it doesn’t, which for the alcoholic generally leads to relapse.
And fortunately we don’t get to stagnate. We don’t get to sit still and do nothing. If we do that we slide back down the mountain.
Let me give you an example in my own personal journey.
I stopped drinking and using drugs. I went to rehab and I was living my life in recovery. I still had several goals and challenges that I wanted to meet though.
One of those was in quitting smoking. I was still addicted to cigarettes, and I knew that they were terribly bad for my health.
So I tried to and tried to quit. I tried over and over again. And I kept failing at it.
Finally I used a slightly different approach in that I attempted to get into shape before I quit. Sounds a bit backwards, right? You would think someone would quit smoking first and then go get into shape.
But I couldn’t do it that way. I had to start exercising first.
And amazingly, it worked. I started running every day and began to increase my distance. By the time I hit 6 miles per day I felt like I could take another stab at quitting. And it finally worked.
And what I realized was that the discipline that I learned from building up the exercise also helped me to put down the cigarettes.
Later on I used this same discipline to go after other goals in my life. And so I was able to build on this previous success by pushing myself to accomplish even more.
I would not be the same person today if I had not pushed through these struggles. And I honestly don’t believe that I could have quit smoking unless I had whipped myself into shape first. I had to use one goal in order to build on it and then tackle the next one.
And this is why it seems like life just keeps getting better and better in recovery. Because we build on our previous success and achieve new things.
My theme in recovery today is a mixture of personal growth and holistic health. These are the themes that have served me well over the years. I continue to strive for improved health in all areas of my life. And I also try to keep looking for growth opportunities, both internally and externally. In other words, I look to improve my life and also my life situation.
Of course there is always a need for balance when it comes to recovery, but we tend to find balance over the long run rather than in the short term. For example, when I was first getting into shape and quitting smoking that is almost all I focused on for a while. Was this unbalanced? Perhaps, but over the long run I pursued other goals and so it all evens out. Sometimes you need to focus in order to achieve a particularly challenging goal, and I think that is OK. It certainly worked for me.
If you pursue these themes in your life (personal growth and holistic health) then I believe that you will find balance naturally. Some of this comes down to your daily practice and what you are focusing on each day. For example, you can ask yourself if you are taking action each day in order to improve your life in the following ways:
1) Physical health – eating better, sleep patterns, exercise, eliminating addictions.
2) Mental health – Seeking out new learning experiences, staying open minded, being honest with yourself.
3) Emotional health – Eliminating stress, toxic relationships, finding ways to help others.
4) Social health – Helping others in recovery, not isolating yourself. Reaching out.
5) Spiritual health – Practicing gratitude.
This last point is important because it can make or break your recovery all by itself. Without any gratitude for life you may become bitter and relapse simply as a matter of course. No one who is grateful (truly grateful) has ever relapsed. It’s just not possible.
Therefore you might go through this checklist each day and ask yourself if you are neglecting any of these areas in your life. This is about balance. If you neglect something for too long then it can lead you into trouble. You might even relapse if you ignore a particular area for too long.
So it is not so much that you have to strive for balance, rather, it is that you need to make sure you are not missing one of those areas in your daily practice. The goal is greater health and in order to do that you need to take good care of yourself every day. You can’t take care of yourself if you are neglecting one of those check points.
Finally you may want to seek advice if you cannot find this alignment and synergy in your life. You can always ask sober people in recovery: “What is one thing that I can do to help me in my recovery today?” Keep doing that over and over again and acting on the advice you receive. If something seems to help you then keep doing it. If it doesn’t help then discard it and move on. Eventually you can discover the themes in recovery that lead you to better health and happiness, simply through the power of suggestion.
But even then, you still have to take action!
What about you, have you found alignment and synergy in your recovery? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!