How does a recovering alcoholic go about building discipline in their recovery journey?
You may find this interesting, because building discipline is like building a muscle–anyone can do it, but you have to put in the work to make it happen.
In my experience, when I first got into recovery, I had very little self control. However, in spite of not having much, or any, discipline, I was so miserable in my addiction that I was finally willing to listen to other people and start taking some suggestions.
And really I believe that this is the whole key to getting this process started–you have to be open minded and willing to start taking suggestions from other people.
When we think of discipline normally, I think that we often believe that it has to be self motivated entirely, and that we are setting our own goals, doing our own thing, without any outside help.
But this was not my experience in early recovery, and that was not really how I developed the discipline that I have today.
Instead, this is what happened.
My sponsor at the time made a suggestion to me that I start exercising. I tried to do so but I really couldn’t get into it that much. I tried a few feeble attempts at jogging and weight lifting, but nothing really clicked. I could not get excited or motivated about any of it.
A family member was already jogging regularly, and I decided to start jogging with them. I started out doing only a mile at a time, but over time I slowly built this up to 6 miles each day.
Now I realize that a lot of grit and effort goes into building up to six miles of running every day, and that this motivation does not just come from nowhere.
But in reality, it sort of does. I think what is most important is the “do something” idea. So if you just force yourself to set a really small goal, such as “walk around the block” then you can eventually build that up to the point that you are running a 26 mile marathon eventually.
In other words, you still have to supply that initial bit of willingness. But here is the key point: That first bit of willingness can be absolutely tiny. You just need a little bit of hope, a little bit of willingness, and if you set a tiny goal for yourself and then force yourself to meet that goal, then all sorts of good things can start to happen.
Why does this work? Because once you put your body into action, you will always find that you can do just a bit more. This works for physical exercise, but it also works for just about any lifestyle change you might care to make.
The other thing that really helps is that once you start taking a tiny bit of action in a positive direction, you will immediately start getting positive feedback from your efforts. So if you push yourself to work out, for example, even if it is your first workout in a long time, you will get your blood pumping and feel a rush of feel-good endorphins from it.
This can become a positive feedback loop: As you take small bits of action towards your goals, you will start noticing positive benefits in your life. As a result of these positive benefits, you will be more and more motivated to set more goals.
Discipline in recovery is actually something that can give you a great deal of freedom. Once you ingrain positive habits you no longer have to waste time and mental energy thinking about whether or not you want to exercise today, or if you should stay up extra late tonight, or if you should actually finish your homework or not. Once you establish the positive habits that take care of all of those issues then you don’t have to agonize over the decision: “I want to get my homework done and be responsible, but I really don’t feel like doing it right now….maybe I will feel more like doing it later…..I wish I was done with college already….I don’t want to do my homework this second…..” and so on and so on.
All that mental agony can be avoided completely once you are in the habit of simply doing your homework the same night it is assigned without question. If you sit down and dive into it without fear or worry, then before you know it you will have it all completed and then you get to feel good about yourself.
Another way of saying this is: Face everything.
Everything that you want to distract yourself from, everything that you want to run away from and avoid, you must face it if you want to have discipline. And if you keep facing these things head on then you will start to notice the benefits of living your life this way. For one thing, you don’t have to play mind games with yourself when it comes to motivation any longer. You no longer need motivation because you made a decision to simple do it, to take action, to face the thing you want to avoid, and to be more disciplined.
As you master this new discipline in one area of your life (such as exercise for example), you will find that you can then translate that same ethic into other areas of your life as well. If you can figure out how to get into shape to run a marathon, then you also know how to memorize the spelling for 100 difficult words, or how to learn a basic skill, and so on. You have the discipline already, you know what has to be done, and you know that you have the strength and the fortitude and the consistency to make it happen. Therefore when you set new goals in life, it will only be a matter of:
A) Whether or not you want to pay the price to achieve that particular goal, and
B) When exactly you will complete the goal (not a matter of if, but when).
This is what discipline in recovery buys you: The confidence to know that you can master any aspect of your life and any particular goal, so long as you are willing to invest the energy and time into it.
If you don’t have this discipline yet then you need to develop it. The way to do that, in my experience, is to start getting advice and suggestions from mentors, sponsors, or therapists in recovery. Do exactly what they tell you to do and follow through exactly with all of their recommendations. If you do this for the first year or two of your recovery journey then you will develop the kind of discipline that I am talking about. And you will be able to see the benefits of actually “doing the work” and following through with that work. This is how you build discipline and that is how it can benefit your life. Your positive habits in recovery can set you free, but you have to put in the work to develop those habits first.