Recovery is not about personal growth….recovery from alcoholism is personal growth.
It is true what they say about recovery: you’re either working on recovery, or you’re working on a relapse. There really is no treading water; no in-between status. Such a waffling state inevitably leads to relapse. So there is only a choice between two directions: growth or stagnation.
So how can we embrace the growth in recovery and avoid the complacency that can lead to relapse? Let’s dig in and find out:
Raise your awareness of growth oriented decisions
First of all, you need to raise your awareness of growth opportunities. Unfortunately, this usually involves keeping close tabs on what scares you, and then acting to confront it. For example, the idea of giving up cigarettes absolutely terrified me in early recovery, and the thought of no longer having anything with which to self medicate with and manage my own stress level with was almost unthinkable. Obviously, breaking through this fear and achieving the goal of quitting has been a real opportunity for growth in my life, and I’m glad that I was able to face that fear.
The fear of living without the crutch of smoking was very real, but they lure of a healthier life of freedom from nicotine was equally powerful. But I had to recognize the fear and deal with it directly, and that involved a small leap in consciousness. I had to admit my fear to myself and then forge ahead anyway.
What does this have to do with awareness? Most people will balk at this level of introspection and remain steeped in denial. Instead of acknowledging their fear, they will rationalize and say “I choose to smoke because I enjoy it.” Staying in such a mindset robs them of the opportunity for growth, because they ignore the negative feelings that they are covering up with rationalizations. These negative feelings are the subtle hints that can motivate us to grow and change, if we are willing to listen carefully and raise our awareness.
Smoking is just one example, of course. I recently had an experience in changing my diet due to a friendly weight-loss competition at work, which proved to be an eye-opening experience for me for 2 reasons. One, I wanted to make an effort to change my own nutritional habits for the better, and two, I wanted to be able to better empathize with those who struggle to lose weight. Part of this is because I am fairly skinny and have never really been overweight, so I have no idea what other people might go through. Needless to say, I learned a lot, and I also have a deep respect now for the problem of weight loss in general. Making significant dietary changes is hard, and I would wager to say it is as difficult as quitting smoking. Furthermore, I now have a deeper respect for the monumental challenge of improving my own eating habits, a goal that I am still struggling with.
So the pattern for me has become: Raise my awareness, experience something new, learn from the change.
Rinse and repeat. Grow!
Another tactic: associate with motivated individuals who are seeking to change their own lives
Another key aspect when considering personal growth and motivation to change is to look at our friends and associations. Who are we hanging out with? What kind of people are they? Are they motivated to grow and change themselves? Or are they content to just tread water, and simply shuffle their way through life without really trying to push themselves?
The company we keep can have a powerful effect on us. This is part of what makes the fellowship of AA so powerful: you are associating with growth-oriented, like-minded individuals. We can inspire and motivate each other to grow and change, based on the growth that we see in others around us.
Action items: what you can do
1) Raise your awareness – and tune in to those learning opportunities that you notice around you.
2) Keep a pulse on your fears – and see if you can grow by meeting them head on.
3) Stick with the winners. You know who they are. (they are trying to grow).