Yesterday we looked at the cycle of personal growth and acceptance in recovery. Today we are going to look a bit closer at what “personal growth” in recovery should consist of, and what direction it might take.
Of course, your results may vary….
The bottom line is that you always want to do what works for you in recovery. The problem with that is that you have to be extremely honest with yourself about what is really working in your life, and what is not.
For example, if you want to leave 12 step meetings behind but they are actually keeping you clean and sober (just like everyone says!) then you might need to do substantial work in your life before you are ready to make that leap. Don’t shun support that is keeping you clean and sober, even if you believe you should be going another direction.
Do what works. Do whatever it takes to stay clean and sober. This is the top-level disclaimer in any recovery program. Sobriety is more precious than most people realize, and the “cost” of that sobriety is less than you think (because the reward is so great).
So even though I tend to be a bit anti-mainstream on this website, if you find that the mainstream is helping you, then by all means, keep doing it.
In order to make this decision you are going to have to correctly evaluate your life in recovery. You cannot just coast along all the time and assume that you are doing “fine” in recovery. The reason for this is because a relapse slowly develops long before you pick up a drink or take a drug. In order to combat that you have to evaluate yourself and your progress as you go along, and the only way to evaluate yourself is to be brutally honest with yourself. This sounds very easy to do when we are just talking about it but it is much harder to do in actual practice and in real life.
There is no shortcut to being honest with yourself, no trick I can give you that will help you to practice this. You just have to keep making an honest self assessment of where you are in your recovery journey, and be as honest with yourself as you can about it.
Self esteem and valuing your life in recovery
One of the most important forms of relapse prevention is in building healthy self esteem in recovery. Without healthy self esteem you are likely to relapse at some point in your journey, because you will not value your sobriety enough.
Just telling yourself that you value your sobriety is not good enough. This goes back to the idea that you have to be honest with yourself. You have to actually value your sobriety and value your life in recovery. You have to wake up and be excited about the possibilities of each new day. You have to feel good about what you are doing with your life and the positive changes that you are making. If none of this is happening for you then you will be much more vulnerable to the possibility of relapse.
If you do not value your sobriety then it will be easy to throw it away on a relapse.
Therefore, much of my thoughts about a recovery program consist of building up healthy self esteem. My belief is that this is best done by the individual when they take positive action in their life and make positive changes.
If you try to make a positive change (such as quitting smoking, for instance) and you fail, should we still congratulate each other all around and say “good job” for attempting to make that change?
In my opinion, the answer to this is “no.” The answer to this is “keep trying.” The wrong answer to this is to congratulate the person (or yourself) and say “at least you tried.”
Not good enough. A failure like this should simply make you redouble your efforts in order to get the result that you wanted. Try harder. Make it happen.
Anything else is false. Anything else that attempts to make you feel good about yourself is like trying to build false self esteem. It may work for a little while, or it may work in the short run, or it might help you feel better temporarily, but it is not genuine self esteem. Because deep down you know that you failed to make that positive change. Deep down you know that you did not make a positive, lasting change in your life.
Therefore I believe that most self esteem is built in recovery through setting and achieving goals for yourself. Decide to make a positive change in your life, then make it happen. Do this over and over again and you will build up positive self esteem, the kind that is “permanent” and cannot be taken away from you by anyone.
I frequently use the word “push” when I talk about making positive changes. I am always saying that you have to “push yourself” in order to make positive changes in your life and in your recovery. I talk about “challenges,” and that you need to find ways to challenge yourself to grow in a positive way.
The reason I do this is because I am trying to get people to create healthy self esteem for themselves. The way to do so is to make significant changes, and that requires a bit of challenge. That requires you to push yourself a bit. If you want big rewards then you have to take on big challenges. Otherwise, if you make an easy change, how much will your self esteem really benefit?
One of the things that I also talk about is how I believe everyone should find a way to help others in recovery, given their unique gifts and talents. There is a very important reason for this beyond the fact that it is simply the right thing to do. It also happens to be the most powerful way to create real self esteem in your life.
Say that you do find a way to “give back” and help others in recovery based on your own unique situation. Say that you are really helping some people and making a genuine difference. What would this do to your own recovery? How would this affect your own self esteem and self worth?
I can tell you what it would do–it causes you to see that your life has real value, because you are actually helping others. Therefore it is substantial boost to your self esteem and it will allow you to place real value on your own life. You will realize that you are making a difference and that your life is important, at least to some degree. And because this will be based on your own observations, based on action you have actually taken yourself, no one will be able to take this sort of self esteem away from you. You will inherently know and see the value in this, without even trying.
The way that this protects you from relapse is quite simple–when you value your life in recovery, you will tend to NOT throw it all away on a relapse. Create a life worth living in recovery and you will be that much less likely to relapse and destroy that life.
Defining “positive” action
There are possibly only two broad categories of positive actions that you can take in recovery: One is in improving your own holistic health, the other is in helping someone else to do the same.
The reason the definition is so broad is because “holistic health” can encompass so many different things.
Sobriety and recovery fits under the label. But so do other types of change, such as physical fitness, emotional balance, education, finances, career, spirituality, nutrition, and so on.
Most actions in recovery that you evaluate can be answered fairly simply by asking yourself “does this increase my overall health in some way, or decrease it?” Most options for change in recovery will be able to be labeled fairly clearly based on this idea.
Daily exercise? Probably a net gain for your overall health.
Better nutrition and diet? Probably a net gain for your overall health as well.
Quitting smoking? A no brainer there. Definitely healthy.
But there are lots of other decisions that you might make in recovery that are complicated, more intricate, and may require some thought. Or you might have to just do them and see how they affect your life. Like evaluating a relationship to see if it is healthy for you or not. Or the decision to go back to school and take on some debt in the hopes of improving your career. It may not always be clear to you that it is a net gain for your overall health in recovery.
In early recovery you can solve these problems by seeking advice before you act. Although it can be humbling to do so and a blow to the ego, you should seek advice from others in your early recovery because you can benefit directly from their experience. Find people that you trust in recovery and ask their genuine opinion about what direction your growth should be taking.
If a choice is not clear to you in recovery then you should definitely try to seek advice from others and get plenty of feedback before you make a decision. Why not collect this advice from others and use it to help you in your decision? Ultimately you are still in charge and can decide whatever you want. But it can be incredibly helpful in recovery to ask others who have more experience what they think you should be doing, or how you should be prioritizing your growth.
You want to seek out positive action in your recovery, and keep pushing yourself to make positive changes as a means of preventing relapse.
Positive changes are generally:
* Things that improve your health (not just physical health, also spiritual, mental, emotional, financial, social, etc.)
* Suggested by other people who want to see you do well in life. Other people often give us great advice, if only we accept it.
Clear the slate first, realize your dreams later
There are two basic types of positive changes that you can make in your life:
* Moving away from a negative (quitting smoking, overcoming addiction, etc.)
* Moving toward a positive (taking that vacation you always wanted, learning a new skill, etc.)
It may be a bit counter-intuitive, but you should actually focus on “clearing away the negative” stuff in your life first.
This is important because if you do not do this and just try to start chasing your dreams, you will find yourself mysteriously held back in life because you are doing things out of order.
Before you can chase your positive goals you need to eliminate the garbage in your life.
We might think of this as “clearing the slate” of your life. If you want to start over and get a fresh start in life, then you have to start by eliminating the negative stuff.
In my own recovery this meant that not only did I have to get clean and sober, but I also had to quit smoking cigarettes as well. This took me a few extra years in my recovery while I was sort of stagnating in my own personal growth. I would also throw in the idea that I had to overcome my lack of physical fitness, and I had to get into shape physically too.
My “not being in shape” was actually a negative that was holding me back.
So I really had to spend about the first 2 to 3 years of my recovery clearing away these negative traits before I could start chasing my dreams. I had to first find the stability in recovery of being clean and sober, then I had to get rid of the cigarettes, and then I had to form a habit of daily exercise. These were the 3 changes that I had to make in order to clear a path for more positive forms of personal growth. It was really these things that were holding me back from making other positive changes in my life.
There was another benefit from pursuing positive growth in this fashion: overcoming negative problems taught me the discipline necessary to chase my dreams and actually make them happen. The discipline that I learned from each problem that I overcame taught me what I needed to know in order to make more positive changes in my life. Each successful change set me up to make more positive changes down the road.
Physical health and abstinence as the foundation of holistic health
If you follow a traditional recovery program there is a strong focus on spirituality as the foundation of health in sobriety. The idea is simple: addiction is a spiritual malady, so if you fix your spiritual life in recovery, you will become clean and sober and be healthy.
I have found that such an approach undermines the real truth: that addiction is a physical disease first and foremost, with physical consequences. Because of this, I believe that recovery should address more than just spiritual growth (although it should include it), but that it should also focus on other types of growth in your life.
Addiction attacks all areas of your life. Recovery should address all of these areas as well (not just the spiritual angle).
Addiction may be emotional and psychological, but it is also very physical. It is rooted in the physical world. We are putting alcohol or chemicals into our bodies. This is a physical problem first and foremost, and so the solution must be based on the physical world as well.
This translates most simply into the concept of abstinence. Do not put the chemicals into your body, period. Abstain from addictive drugs and alcohol, period. (Why is this not step one in AA, btw?)
This is the foundation of recovery. It is the baseline for success. Without physical abstinence, there can be no recovery. Period.
One top of that, people who are in poor physical health in recovery (smoking cigarettes, out of shape, poor nutrition) are just going to be holding themselves back in so many different ways when it comes to the possibility of future growth in recovery.
It may not be obvious how these physical problems can hold you back from making other types of growth, but it is absolutely true. For example, many people find their spiritual life enhanced after the get into shape and start exercising on a regular basis. Another example might be the person who finally has the energy to pursue the job, career, or business venture they really want out of life but only because they finally got into shape and also learned the discipline that it took in order to do so. Some of these positive interactions are not obvious or easy to explain but they are definitely significant and are quite real.
Defining “total freedom”–it starts with all things physical
Therefore “total freedom” in recovery has to start with its basis in the physical world. If you are trying to become happy and content in this world then you will be held back if you have problems that are holding you back based on the physical world, problem such as:
* Drug or alcohol addiction.
* Cigarette addiction.
* Being out of shape or inactive.
* Eating a poor diet.
Even if you are striving to make gains in other parts of your life (such as spirituality), you will be holding yourself back if you are suffering from any of these “physical based problems.” This is not obvious to someone who is being held back until they make the necessary change and can then see how they were being restricted in the past. It is very difficult to see or describe how you will have more freedom by fixing one of the above problems until you actually go through with it and make the change. This is because those problems are so infectious that they hamper multiple areas of our lives–they do not just affect us physically.
Seeking opportunities for growth based on self inventory and suggestions
There is a right mindset for recovery, and a wrong one. The wrong mindset could also be called a “bad attitude.”
When you have the wrong mindset, you are closed off from the idea of change.
Either you are not willing to look at yourself and your situation honestly, or you are not willing to take advice from others who might be able to help you. Or possibly both.
In any case, the solution is fairly straightforward: you need to get honest with yourself, and you need to become open to the idea of positive change in your life.
If you really want to accelerate your growth, find people who are living the life you want to live, and then seek their advice. Ask them what you need to do in order to improve your life. Ask them what you should be working on for your recovery. Ask them what they would do if they were in your shoes.
But you have to be honest with yourself in order to do this, and you have to be willing to put yourself out there, expose yourself to some risk, set yourself up to hear some feedback. Maybe in some cases it will be feedback that you do not really want to hear (and maybe this is what prevents us from seeking such advice!).
My life got a whole lot better once I was able to get honest with myself, with others, and start taking some advice and direction. This was especially true early in my recovery journey. It was then that I needed the direction and advice the most (because after that, I was set on the proper course, having taken and followed advice from others).