As you move through your recovery journey you will be faced with lots of problems and challenges.
Life, it seems, is set up to keep throwing new and different challenges at us.
Think about it: If they are the same old challenges, then they are not really challenging problems, are they? If you already figured out how to fix a specific issue in life, then facing that same issue in the future is no big deal. You know how to deal with it so you simply execute the old plan that worked in the past. You live and learn.
But unfortunately you have to keep learning, which means that life just keeps giving you new problems to deal with. And each new problem that you face that is an actual challenge is going to seem just as difficult, because it should be easier and you should know a solution, but obviously you do not know it yet. So you have to learn it. In some ways, it never gets easier, because life keeps dishing up new drama, new twists, new turns.
So you have a choice every time that you encounter a new problem in your recovery journey: You can face the challenge and learn the solution, or you can distract yourself from the problem. You can avoid the issue and run and hide. You can duck and dodge and live in denial.
So when you find yourself examining your own life and your own behavior, to some extent you need to look at your actions and ask yourself: “Am I rising to the challenge, facing the problem, and honestly seeking a solution here? Or am I attempting to distract myself from the problem?”
Another thing that you can do is to look at your behavior and see if one of your actions may be, in itself, one big distraction.
At one point in my recovery journey I was going to meetings, I was working a program of recovery, I was working at a job, and I was going to school. But at the same time I was really heavy into gaming, and I realized that most of my free time was being sucked up by gaming.
And yet, I wanted other goals for myself. I looked into my future and I thought: “Wait a minute….I may not be using drugs and alcohol, but is my current path of work, gaming, sleep, really going to get me to where I want to be in life?”
And I decided after some analysis that, even though my current routine was certainly better than alcoholism and drug addiction, and even though my current routine was fairly innocent, it still was a distraction. The gaming in my free time, even though it was enjoyable and relaxing and “I had earned it,” was still a distraction. I wanted a different path for myself. But I really had to take a step back and think things through in order to come to that realization.
At that time I decided to sell my gaming system and I started working diligently on a side business, which certainly had a positive impact on my recovery and on my life. Realizing that I had that distraction was definitely a big factor in my current success in recovery. Another important thing to note is that now, about ten years later, I can still do some gaming and have fun with it, but I would argue that I don’t let it become a life altering distraction for me any more.
I will give you another example. I once had a supervisor at work that was extremely challenging and all of my coworkers were complaining about this person. I was at the point where I was trying to figure out if I should make the leap to another job, or if I should stick it out instead and try to figure out how to deal with the issues at hand.
I am not saying that I made a perfect choice in this case, but I decided to stick it out, and I learned something from the experience. What I learned is that the work that I was doing was important, and I could focus on the work and the mission that it represented, and I could treat a toxic employee as something that has to be worked around in order to meet that goal. And so I definitely struggled for some time before I figured out how to be peaceful and serene in that role and be able to make it all work for myself. Had I left and went to another job I do not believe that I would have learned those lessons, and I would be weaker in terms of dealing with a challenging teammate.
In other words, life keeps giving us challenges to deal with, and we can either avoid them or we can face them. If we face them then we have to struggle and it is difficult and we often feel as if we are failing as we go through the struggle. Personal growth, to me, often feels like failure. Or at the very least it feels as if you are constantly risking failure.
I can remember a time in my early recovery in which I had not yet experienced any real breakthrough at all. I was in a state of surrender and I was doing what therapists and people at AA told me to do, which was to keep my head down and work the program and go to rehab. I was walking the walk and I wondered if I would ever be truly happy again in my life without drugs or alcohol. I had not yet had that “magic moment” in early recovery yet.
But after a certain amount of time, maybe about 90 days or so, I had this epiphany. It hit me very suddenly and I realized one evening that I had gone all day without a single urge or craving to drink or take drugs. Not one craving! It hit me like a ton of bricks; this was a real miracle. I was astounded.
And then I realized that my life was, in fact, getting better and better. I set a goal for myself and I met that goal. Then I set another goal and I met that one too. And suddenly I had positive momentum in recovery.
This was at like the 3 to 6 month point, maybe even 9 months sober. But somewhere in that range of the first year I struggled and I struggled and I felt like a failure most of the time, and I honestly did not have a ton of hope that I would ever really be happy again for most of that time, and then suddenly I turned a corner.
When I turned this corner my epiphany was this: Not only had I gone for an entire day without a craving, but I also realized that I could tackle just about any challenge in my life and I could conquer it. I had a glowing feeling of confidence–like I could conquer any goal and I could do anything that I wanted in life. And I believed it, because I was setting my own goals and I was achieving them.
This was my turning point, my moment of empowerment. It was at this point that I knew that I had a choice in life, every single time: Either choose a distraction, or dig for the solution. I know today that digging for solutions will feel like flailing, it will feel like failure, and it will not be comfortable at first. But that is the path of personal growth. Running and hiding or using distractions or denial feels good at first, because we know how to do that. We are good at denial, we are good at distractions.
But running and using distractions does not get us to personal growth. It just keeps us stuck.
What will you choose today: Seeking solutions, or distractions?