What is your next big move in your addiction recovery journey?
You should figure it out. Right now.
Why not? Think about it for a moment: You are living your life in recovery, and doing the things that you need to do in order to remain clean and sober.
Every day you have certain things that you need to get done, certain things that you need to take care of.
Most of these tasks are mundane, trivial, the details of life. You keep on living, you keep on grinding out a living, you keep on doing what you need to do.
And life goes on and you are (hopefully) happy and healthy in recovery.
But what about the big stuff? What about the big juicy goals?
Do they just happen on their own? Does someone out there just get lucky and accidentally fall into a big goal, a bigger purpose? Does it just happen magically, as a matter of circumstance?
No it doesn’t. The big juicy goal–run a marathon, build a business, get that college degree, etc.–that big juicy goal doesn’t just happen by itself.
It won’t happen by accident. By definition, the big juicy goal will not just happen, because it is….wait for it….big and juicy! It’s a tough goal, it takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of dedicated effort, and therefore it is not just going to magically appear in your life one day.
You don’t just slip and fall and accidentally run a marathon. That’s not how marathons are run.
No, it takes a whole lot of deliberate action, deliberate planning. You have to set the goal and then go for it. Over and over again.
With a big juicy goal, you are probably going to fail a few times. Perhaps you will fail many times. But because the goal is so important to you, you will keep pushing yourself to tackle the problem with renewed energy. This is purpose. So your big goal should mean something to you, it should be a worthy goal.
Now realize this:
All of the mundane details of your life, all of the day to day stuff that you have to grind through every day, that stuff is always going to be there.
And it’s not critical. It will take care of itself.
Your laundry is going to get done eventually, in other words. But if you use the dirty laundry as an excuse not to take action and go after that big goal of yours, then the big goal never gets attained. You simply put it off forever.
Therefore you need to figure out what you want in life and set a big juicy goal that will help you to achieve that burning desire. And you have to realize that you are going to fail along the way, and that this is OK. That is part of getting to the big juicy goal.
One of my biggest goals that I had in my sobriety journey was that of quitting cigarettes. I failed many, many times. And these failures taught me something. They taught me how hard NOT to try when quitting smoking. As in, I simply wasn’t trying hard enough. I had to dig deeper. I had to dedicate my entire life to the art of quitting nicotine. And so I redoubled my efforts and made another go at it, and finally I was successful. And when it finally happened and I realized that I was free from nicotine, it felt really amazing. The reward was huge in my mind because the required effort had been really enormous.
So the little stuff, the day to day challenges of life, the details–they are going to take care of themselves. The stuff will get done. Life will go on, regardless of how you prioritize your life. And most of us are on auto-pilot, and we just let our attention get taken up entirely with the day to day living stuff, and we never pause and reflect and figure out what our big juicy goal should be right now.
Well, that needs to stop. That needs to change. Everyone needs to stop right now and figure out what your big juicy goal is. Because otherwise you are just drifting through life, reacting to events, getting the laundry done, and accomplishing nothing. You may be at peace and you may be sober and happy, and perhaps that is enough for some. But you have an opportunity to do more, to prioritize your efforts, to chase after something that you really want. The little stuff will always be there and it will always get done eventually and take care of itself. But your big juicy goal–that part is up to you. You have to figure out what it is, then you have to decide to go after it, and then you have to act. In that order. What is the goal, do you really want to make the sacrifices to achieve it, and are you ready to spring into action?
Some of the greatest highlights of my recovery are goals like this that I have achieved. I had to think big, I had to push myself a bit, I had to dream a little bigger than what I thought I could achieve. These were the really good parts of my recovery, the parts where real growth happened.
And the growth happens because you are overcoming fear. It is scary to attack that big juicy goal. Because what if you fail, and look stupid? That is scary. And in conquering that goal, a huge amount of personal growth is attained. You faced a fear and you overcame it. You gave yourself permission to fail. It’s OK. This is how we grow in recovery.
Ask yourself: “What is the one change in my life that would make all the difference for me right now?”
In early recovery you need to learn how to prioritize.
Here is how I suggest you do it. You are free to find other ways to prioritize, of course…this is just what worked for me.
Make a quick list of goals in your life, things you want to accomplish, things you want to achieve, things that you want to become, things you want to learn.
Then realize that some of these goals are either:
1) Moving towards something positive, or
2) Moving away from something negative.
So for example, quitting drinking or quitting drugs is the second option. You are avoiding a negative.
Now maybe you have the goal of owning a puppy. That is towards a positive.
A subtle difference, but it is an important one.
Because many of us believe that we should focus on the positive, and chase after those goals that move us towards something positive, and at the same time we tell ourselves that we should not dwell on the negative.
This is wrong.
No, the way to prioritize in early recovery is that you need to figure out the negative stuff in your life. You need to figure out what is making you miserable, what is making you afraid, what is making you angry.
And then you need to eliminate it.
If you are familiar with the 12 steps of AA and NA, that is exactly what they do. You make a moral inventory in the fourth step, and then in steps six and seven you actually eliminate many of the things that are causing you pain and misery. Those would be your character defects.
So for example, when I was in early recovery I realized that I was prone to self pity. I would sit around all the time and feel sorry for myself. I had all of this petty drama in my head and I was using it to justify my drinking and drug use.
Only now that I was in recovery, I had made the daily decision not to drink or use drugs any more. But the mental script was still playing in the background, that mental script that told me that I was a victim and that I deserved to self medicate.
And so I had this moment fairly early in my recovery journey in which I realized that I was doing this to myself. My brain is rigged against me! My own mind engages in this self pity every day, and the only use for that self pity is to help justify my drinking and drug use. The self pity just makes me miserable, nothing more. It has no use beyond that. So what good is the self pity in my recovery?
This is what character defects are like in recovery. You uncover them, and hopefully you realize that they are not serving you well. They can only trip you up or lead you back to addiction. Therefore you should work on eliminating them.
So this is what I mean when I say that there are two kinds of goals in recovery, and that in early recovery you need to focus on “eliminating negatives” in your life rather than focusing on “going towards positives.”
Now, why is this the case? Why is it better to focus on eliminating the negatives?
The reason is because you will be happier. Or rather, you will be at peace, and content with yourself, if you do the work that is required.
So if you identify your character defects and then you do the work to eliminate them, you will eventually realize a peace and contentment in your life that you never knew.
If, on the other hand, you decide to ignore your character defects and instead focus your goals on simply “going after the positive,” you will leave these giant holes in your recovery plan. Because your defects of character will still be there, and they will continue to create chaos and misery in your life, and ultimately you will not be at peace until you deal with them.
The negative stuff holds you back from real peace. Therefore, your first priority in recovery is to work on eliminating those defects of character. Working through the 12 steps of AA is one way to do this.
Building a proper foundation before you make a grab for “true happiness”
As mentioned, you need to build a proper foundation before you can make a grab for “true happiness.” In fact, you should not really think of it as happiness that you are chasing after, because that will always remain somewhat elusive. What you really want is to chase after peace and contentment. Once you attain peace in your life, happiness can then happen naturally.
The foundation that you build is based on eliminating the negativity in your life. You can’t just sober up one day and then magically become super happy. If you do then this is not sustainable. You are likely experiencing the “pink cloud” syndrome. The cloud will eventually burst. Recovery, and life itself, always has ups and downs. We strive for peace rather than happiness.
In order to build a foundation in early recovery, I had to get out of my own way. How do you do that?
You listen to others. You follow directions. You take advice, and apply it.
This is a humbling experience. You have to admit to yourself that you are at rock bottom, that you don’t have the answers, that you want to live a better life. Then you ask for help. Your way did not work. What you were doing to try to achieve happiness did not work out for you. You found yourself to be miserable. Your addiction led you to chaos and misery and that was your best effort at achieving happiness. Time to get out of your own way and let someone else run your life for a while.
That probably sounds horrible. I know that the idea certainly left a bad taste in my mouth–to let someone else call the shots in my life for me. I wanted to stay in control. Because, I reasoned, who else would know how to make me happy other than….me? Who could possibly tell me how to live my life in order to be happy other than myself? Who could know me that well?
It turns out that, as a raging alcoholic and drug addict, I really did not know myself. I had run away from myself and hid from myself, and therefore I did not know how to achieve peace and happiness in my life.
But others did. These “others” were people in recovery themselves. They had gone through treatment, been to AA meetings for years, and they had done the work. They had figured out their character defects and worked hard at removing them. They had taken action to fix their problems, to fix their life. They had done the work. And in doing so, they had come to know a new peace, a new contentment that they never had before.
And so this was their gift to me, this knowledge of how to achieve peace and happiness. The problem is, it doesn’t sound like a good deal at first.
Here is the deal, essentially:
You can either A) Go drink and use drugs, and get a brief moment of “happiness” right now this very moment, followed by misery, or B) Sober up, go to rehab, go to meetings, work the steps, get honest with yourself, and work like a dog to remove your character defects so that in 6 months to a year from now you will know a new peace and happiness in your life.
That was the deal. Six months of hard work, or you can go get drunk right now. Which do you choose?
And that is why alcoholism and drug addiction are tough nuts to crack. Most of us don’t really want to sign up for six months of self honesty, soul searching, and hard work. All while completely clean and sober. It’s like climbing a huge mountain of fear. Or rather, it’s like looking up at that huge mountain and not even knowing how to start.
Well, there is a way to start. You surrender. You give up. And you ask for help. That’s what worked for me. And in doing so, I was able to build my foundation, to do the work, to eliminate the negative stuff.
After that is when you get to “big juicy goal” territory in your life. Where you can finally figure out what you want, and go after it.
Figuring out what you really want in life and setting goals to achieve it
Once you have stability in recovery, you have an opportunity to figure out what you want.
Ask yourself the question: “What is the one thing in my life that, if I achieved it now, would change everything for me?”
There should be one goal in your life that rises above all others, that would have the most positive impact for you. This is how you prioritize the big juicy goals in your life. You figure out what make the biggest difference for you right now, what would have the most positive impact.
I am not a fan of having multiple goals all going on at the same time. If that is the case then I would argue that your goals are not big enough. You need one goal, a goal that is life changing and that is so big that it really challenges you, really consumes you. If the goal is not that consuming or challenging then I would suggest that you dig a bit deeper.
Remember that your day to day life will take care of itself, that life will go on, whether you have this big juicy or goal or not. Either way you keep on living. You may as well have this big shot at greatness going on, this big challenge in the background that, if achieved, would change everything for the better.
At one time in my life I asked myself the question: “What is the one goal in my life that would change everything?” And the answer was “quit smoking.” And another time the answer was “build a business.” And another time the answer was “Get into shape.”
And so the answer to that question directed my efforts. And I achieved many things and my life got progressively better. And that is another nice thing about these sort of life changes, that many times they also become part of your foundation. For example, I still exercise and stay in good shape today, and so that one decision made many years continues to ripple through my life and have positive effects in the long term. Everything that I have done over the last ten years is in some ways touched by the fact that I exercise and stay in good shape. It has become part of my life. A lifestyle change. And maybe that says something about the kind of big juicy goals we should seek–they are not just things that we achieve, but they are something we become, part of our permanent lifestyle.
Do something, do anything
My suggestion to you is to do something, to do anything. Test and iterate. Go talk to your sponsor, or talk with your peers in recovery, and have them help you to find a direction. Then test that direction out, put your efforts into something new, and see how it affects your recovery.
Most of us spend our lives not doing this….we get wrapped up in the day to day details, and we are so busy with living our lives that we never take the time to step back, figure out what we really want, and create a plan to help us achieve a new direction. A big juicy goal should challenge us, it should push us to the point that it scares us a bit. And after you achieve a goal like this in your life, you can rest and reflect for awhile until you figure out your next big move. Living this way is exciting and it gives your life purpose.
What is your big juicy goal in life right now? Do you have one? Could you work on making one? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!