Mapping Your Personal Growth in Long Term Sobriety

Mapping Your Personal Growth in Long Term Sobriety


So far we have talked about the idea of using “mapping” to work your way through alcoholism or addiction recovery.

The idea is that you need to figure out exactly where you are (get honest with yourself and break through your denial), then figure out where you want to get to.

At first when you are in early recovery you may have to rely on other people to help guide you to making good decisions. This was certainly true for me when I checked into long term rehab and lived there for 20 months while I learned how to live a new life in sobriety. I could not trust myself to make decisions so I let other people do it for me instead. Even though I never would have believed this to work, it actually turned out really well. It turns out that other people really did have my best interest at heart, even though I never used to trust them when I was drinking (instead, I believed them to be my enemies who just wanted to take my alcohol and drugs away from me….I could not see that they were only trying to set me free).

After you find stability in early recovery you can then move on to long term sobriety. This is not an event but rather a gradual transition. At some point in the future every recovering alcoholic may look back and say “I guess I am really living in long term sobriety now.” But it is not something that they can just force. The transition happens very slowly over a period of time, and it depends on how fast you are making growth in your recovery. In fact, it all depends on how willing you are to take advice from others and implement suggestions in early recovery.

Once you get through this transition from early recovery to long term sobriety, is your work finished?

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Not by a long shot. In fact, many people who have long term sobriety still end up relapsing, due to a little thing known as “complacency.” This is what happens when you get lazy in your recovery and you stop growing as a person and stop learning new things. When you get complacent you open the door for relapse.

The only way to prevent relapse in long term sobriety is to take a proactive approach. In other words, you cannot just wait around in long term sobriety for complacency to happen, and then notice it and then react to it. If you try to do this then complacency might actually kill you. At the very least you may relapse before you even know what hit you. This is how alcoholism and drug addiction work; they are sneaky and they will strike when you are least expecting it.

Therefore the solution is to expect it every single day for the rest of your entire life. But this does not mean that you have to stick to the basics and just sit in AA meetings all day, every day, from now on. That might work for you but I found it to be one of the many paths that actually leads to complacency! That’s right, doubling down on the basics of recovery can actually be one of the quickest paths to becoming complacent. If you get lazy and you are going to meetings every day to sustain your recovery, then simply adding more meetings is not necessarily going to be the answer you want. Instead you have to kick your recovery up a notch in order to solve this problem.

So how do you do it? You use a proactive approach.

What does that mean in the real world? It means that:

1) You cannot just sit idle in your recovery and expect to stay clean and sober just because you found stability through meeting attendance. Sustained recovery takes work.
2) The term “reinvent yourself” may sound a bit tired but that is exactly what the recovering alcoholic and drug addict must do on a continuous basis. If you stop reinventing yourself then you will eventually revert back to “the old you” which is another way of saying you will relapse.
3) Striving for personal growth is what you are going to end up doing on a regular basis. If you engage lightly in growth but don’t push yourself then you are setting yourself up for relapse. It takes work!
4) The benefits of living this way are tremendous and you will love your life in recovery in spite of the continuous challenge.
5) “The courage to change the things you can.” Too many people in recovery do not push themselves to explore these limits that they place on themselves. Instead they tend to “accept themselves” including their character flaws. You must be able to figure out what can be fixed in your life, then start taking action.
6) The daily practice must be established at some point, which is the solid framework and foundation on which your holistic health can grow from. In other words, you need to establish healthy habits in every part of your life so that you are not neglecting any one part of your overall health, including physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and mental health. If you neglect one of those areas of your health for too long then it will cause you to relapse at some point.
7) How do you do this proactively? You take positive action every single day. You review your life, your health, and your life situation on regular basis. Then you prioritize and you take action to fix stuff. If you run out of things to fix then it probably means that you are not getting enough feedback and advice from other people (they can see things in us that we will gloss over or rationalize away!).

This is how to use a proactive recovery approach. So in other words you are not just waiting around for complacency to set in so that you can relapse because of it. Instead, assume that within a month or so you will be complacent and in danger of relapsing. Just always assume that! So what would you do if that were the case? Keep in mind that “going back to the basics” may actually be part of the problem in this case! Therefore you have to think on your feet a little and start taking action. If you are pushing yourself to learn and to grow and to take positive action then you are not likely to relapse. It is through the process of continuous growth that you protect yourself from relapse.

The evolution of personal growth in long term sobriety

When you first get clean and sober you are doing everything that you can in order to avoid relapse. So you go to meetings and you get a sponsor and you read recovery literature and you write in the steps. You do everything that they tell you to do. This is good.

Later on you become more and more stable in your recovery. At some point you realize that you are going through the motions and that some of it is helping you and some of it is probably not. So you start to prioritize and you pick and choose. Maybe you keep hitting meetings but you read less literature. Or whatever.

Patterns are established. Habits are established. You get into a routine. At this point you are in danger of potentially becoming complacent. This was a point that I found myself and I wondered what I was going to do in order to push myself to keep “reinventing myself.” I found that I could not get that motivation from traditional recovery sources. I had to find it from within. But I also relied on other people to help motivate me and guide me in what changes I should be making. What I really tried to do was to reduce my dependency on traditional recovery practices (such as daily meetings) and shift that energy over into personal growth.

This started with the search for holistic health. I said to myself “how can I best protect myself from relapse if it is not going to be by sitting in meetings every day?” Because to be honest, a lot of my peers who were doing that were relapsing all around me. So I wanted to find a better way to prevent relapse, a more active method, rather than the somewhat passive method of sitting in AA meetings and talking about my problems every day.

This led me to the idea of holistic health. What is the “holistic” part all about? It just means “whole.” So we are talking about the “whole” person here, not just their spiritual health.

You will notice in traditional recovery programs they almost always focus exclusively on spiritual health. It is pretty much all they focus on at the expense of all other forms of health.

This felt wrong to me. In fact I knew that it must be wrong on some level, because I could see examples of people who stayed clean and sober based on other forms of health (for example, see programs such as Racing for Recovery which focus almost exclusively on fitness as a treatment method for addiction).

So why not take advantage of those other forms of growth?

This is how my personal growth path evolved in recovery. I realized that by focusing only on spirituality I was doing myself a great disservice. So I started to expand my definition of what was helpful to my recovery, and this included things like:

* Physical fitness and exercise.
* Proper eating and nutrition.
* Spirituality (still included!).
* Emotional balance.
* Communication with others.
* Healthy relationships (and eliminating toxic relationships, a major factor in many people’s sobriety!).

These are really just the main categories. In fact there are many other forms of negativity and stress that you must guard yourself against in recovery. For example, if your financial health is out of whack, then you should take action to try to fix it or else it could drive you closer to relapse.

What you have to realize is that most of what you do in recovery is to fix negative forces in your life. If you can simply eliminate all of the garbage and negativity then you will be healthy and happy. But there is so much negative stuff that can come from so many different directions. Being spiritually ill is a major problem, but it is not the only problem. Therefore spiritual growth is not the only solution, nor should it be the only focus in recovery. To do so is to severely limit your potential growth.

Establishing and refining a daily practice based on positive action

You may be wondering how exactly you are supposed to overcome all of these forms of negativity that seek to threaten your health on so many different levels.

I will tell you how.

First of all, you must not neglect any one aspect of your health. So you cannot just ignore, say, your physical condition while you work on your spiritual enlightenment. If you do this then the body will die while you reach total nirvana. What good is that? Obviously if you go this route then you must have missed something spiritually anyway in order to neglect the body so badly.

In a similar manner, you must be mindful of all aspects of your health so that you are not tripped up by any one thing in your recovery.

This is what long term sobriety is all about: Learning to seek a balance in your growth so that you are not neglecting anything that is important. This is so easy to do and I have watched many people relapse as a result of it.

Part of what you must do in recovery is to take advice and suggestions from others. What you should be looking for are habits. Healthy habits that the “winners” in recovery seem to use on a regular basis.

What was frustrating to me was that many of these people would not even share this information with you in AA, because they thought that it was off topic and not really relevant to your sobriety. For example, I almost never heard anyone in an AA meeting talk about their exercise habits or their fitness level. And yet this is one of the pillars of my own recovery and one of the most important keys to my own sobriety. So why are these “winners” in AA not talking about such things?

The problem is that they have learned that they should stick to the script. They truly believe that “the answer” is spiritual salvation, and that is all that they should focus on for the benefit of the newcomer.

To be honest, I did not really dive into the holistic health idea until people started suggesting it to me later on in my recovery. I already had about six months sober and then people started suggesting fitness as a potential path for me. And at the time I was not ready to hear it, I did not want to embrace a holistic life or “balance” or anything of the sort. In fact, I believed that I simply needed to focus on the basics some more and go to more meetings!

This is why I believe it is an evolution. You will grow and learn in your recovery. Do not feel the least bit bad about where you are starting out in recovery. Don’t feel bad if you are six months in and you are not exercising, or not eating healthy foods, or still smoking cigarettes, or whatever. If you make it through each day sober then that is a miracle in itself. Give yourself credit enough for that.

But at the same time you want to be watching those “winners” in recovery, the people who seem to be living a good life without alcohol and drugs, and see what kind of habits they really have. What do they do outside of meetings all day? Ask them. They will not necessarily tell you, because in many cases they are just telling you “spiritual stuff” that they think will save your life. In fact you may need to hear some other details, like how they live each day and how they take care of themselves other than simply going to meetings. This is the stuff that recovery is made of–the daily actions and the positive habits that carry us through recovery.

Consistency and discipline

If you want a positive habit to make a huge impact on your recovery then I would suggest that this new habit must be consistent.

This worked very well for me in the following ways:

* When I quit smoking cigarettes, I finally did it and I did it right. I quit cold turkey and I had the discipline to make it stick. This finally happened after many failed attempts. Since I quit though I have never taken a single puff. One thing I have learned from watching my friends and peers: People who sneak a puff in always relapse eventually. Consistency is key.

* When I started exercising, I actually learned what discipline really was. Up until that point I don’t really think I had a good understanding of what it meant to be disciplined at anything. After I built up to six miles of running every day, I felt like I could conquer the world. Actually I only felt like I could conquer the world after the running became easy for me. That took a really long time but once it finally happened I knew that I had quite a bit of power. This is an amazing feeling. It is the reward that you get from being disciplined, from knowing that you can control your body, and to some extent, your life.

In order to get those full benefits I had to have consistency. After I had the consistency for a long time then I realized that I had also learned how to be disciplined. At that point I realized that I had a lot of freedom in my life, because I had built that freedom painstakingly through a consistent approach.

My examples above are with distance running and quitting smoking, but the concepts apply to nearly anything in life. If you want to master something then you need to do it every single day, without cutting corners or skipping out. Do it for long enough and you will get amazing results. It is very simple but it is also hard work. But you knew recovery was going to be hard work, right?

How to motivate yourself to take action with a 30 day trial

If you find yourself stuck in terms of personal growth then I have a great suggestion for you:

Take a 30 day trial.

This is pretty simple really. Say that you want to start exercising every day and become healthy and fit.

So what you do is you establish a 30 day trial. For the next 30 days, you exercise every single day with no exceptions, and you give yourself one single “out.” After the 30 days is up, you can go back to being lazy if you want. You will put absolutely no pressure on yourself to keep exercising after the 30 days is over.

It is very important that you limit this to 30 days. Tell yourself that you are going to sit around and eat cake all day after the 30 days is up. You get the idea.

What will happen is that you will trick yourself into building discipline.

And at the end of the 30 days you will realize that you have the power to keep going, if you choose to.

And it will be entirely your choice at that point. You will be free to go back to laziness, or you will be free to start another 30 day challenge, or whatever you want to do. But in doing this sort of challenge (and really giving yourself that option of quitting after 30 days) you will trick yourself into building real consistency and real discipline.

This trick only works in practice, of course. Just thinking about a 30 day challenge is useless. You have to actually set a goal for 30 days and then follow through to get results!

Arriving and then evaluating

Once you have put in the work, you will need to periodically step back and evaluate if you arrived where you thought you would on the map.

At that time you can set a new course.

You may also want to consult others, seek advice, or get feedback. In fact, I highly recommend that you do this so that you get new ideas about personal growth that you might explore.

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