If you have been following along then you know that creative recovery may benefit greatly from the idea of “mapping” technique.
The idea is to think of recovery from addiction or alcoholism much like a map, and then to use that map to help you get where you want to go in life. The idea is very powerful and it may help certain people to get “unstuck” in their recovery effort.
“Mapping” where you are and where you want to go in recovery
The first thing that you do when you use the mapping technique is to figure out exactly where you are in life. When it comes to addiction and alcoholism this basically boils down to the act of surrender. When you finally break through the last of your denial what you are really doing is acknowledging just how screwed up your life has become and you finally come to grips with the fact that you need serious help.
In order to use the mapping technique you have to have a good idea of exactly where you are in life. If you are still in denial about where you really are then it will be impossible to make any sort of progress and move forward in recovery. This is what breaking through denial is all about.
After you have reached this point of self honesty then you are ready to start moving forward. Typically what happens at this time is massive disruption in the form of going to rehab. In other words, you need to take a break from your addiction for long enough that you actually have a fighting chance of breaking the cycle. You detox, clear your mind a bit, and hopefully realize that you want to change your life on a permanent basis (by quitting drinking for good).
This is a transitional period when you are first getting clean and sober. Early sobriety is very different from long term recovery, in my opinion. What this means is that you have to change as you remain clean and sober if you want to protect yourself from relapse. In practical terms, this means that the things that you did at 2 weeks sober are not going to be the same things you need to be doing at 2 years sober. Likewise, the things you may be doing at 20 years sober will probably change quite a bit from 2 years sober (though those are much more similar than the difference between 2 weeks and 2 years, if that makes sense). In other words, early recovery is a unique time of transition, and you do not want to get “stuck” in it forever. You want to grow and move forward and learn and live.
In order to do this at some point you may want to make a “map” in terms of where you want to get to. This means that you need to figure out what you want in your life and in your recovery, and then make a plan to achieve it. I am of the belief that if you do not make a plan to get what you want then you will naturally become part of someone else’s plan instead, which will ultimately lead to resentment at some point. You don’t want this to happen. Instead you want to deliberately create your own life in recovery so that you can own it and become responsible for your own happiness, instead of being a victim of other people’s actions.
Therefore at some point in early sobriety you must transition into a period where you are no longer just going through the motions, attending meetings, and seeking stability. At some point you must become stable and realize that you are going to need to make an effort to improve your life if you are going to stay sober in the long run. Thus you need a “map” to figure out where you want to go and how you want to get there in terms of personal growth.
Sponsorship in AA or simply modeling other people
One of the big ideas in AA is that of sponsorship. This is actually not a bad idea because it can be very helpful to model yourself after someone else’s success in recovery.
The idea is simple enough: Find someone who is living the sort of life that you want in recovery. If you cannot find such a person then I would suggest first and foremost that you start exploring your local recovery community. If you do not have such a community then I would suggest that you travel until you can find one.
The easiest way to do this is to attend various AA and NA meetings. This is just the simple path because that is a concentrated group of people who are seeking to learn and grow and improve their lives in recovery. Not everyone will be a role model for you but if you go to a handful of different AA meetings then I can assure you that you will find at least a few “winners.” These are the people that you want to model yourself after. You will know that they are winners simply by observing them and listening to them. They will be genuine people and not acting fake, so there will be nothing to see through or decipher on your part.
If you want to get the same results that someone else has achieved in life then you have to take the same actions that they took. This is how you build a new life in recovery with deliberate action. You can’t just see someone who is successful in life and say “oh, that person is so lucky, I wish I could be like they are and have it so easy….” That is delusional thinking. Realize that everyone who has achieved good results in life (and in recovery) has worked hard for those results. So if you want to model the success of someone else don’t just hope that you get lucky and fall into the same sort of patterns that they are in. That is not how success works. Instead, you need to be willing to roll up your sleeves and do some serious work.
You can only go so far with your own ideas
The whole point of modeling other people or seeking additional feedback in recovery has to do with the limitations of your own mind.
We can achieve a certain amount of personal growth on our own. But this is always limited by our own ideas. In order to really grow in our recovery we have to push ourselves to go beyond our current set of ideas and seek feedback from others.
Maybe you are clean and sober and you are pushing yourself to be a healthier person. OK, that is great, you are doing good work in your life. You may be improving many different things in many different areas of your life. But realize that we all have our own personal bias in life and we will have areas of our health that are just naturally easier for us to make changes to.
For example, I am really into exercise so I tend to push myself hard in that area. This is great for my recovery and for my personal growth. It makes me healthier. But you can only go so far with this in your recovery. I mean, if you exercise every day for an hour then that is great and it will help your recovery. But say that this is all you are doing and you feel like you are stuck in your recovery and so you double the amount of exercise. Is that going to help? Of course not! You are not a one dimensional person. You need to grow in other areas of your life as well.
We need to find balance in our lives in recovery. And this is where modeling comes into play. This is why you may need to seek feedback from other people at times. Because your own ideas can only take you so far in recovery, and then you hit a wall. So you need to find a way to get unstuck, to expand your horizons, to find a new direction to seek growth in.
Seeking personal growth where you never expected it
When I was in this transitional period of my recovery I was used to going to meetings every day. I was used to reading recovery literature every day. I thought that “the basics” that they taught me about in recovery were going to keep me clean and sober forever.
I had a sponsor at the time and he was pushing me to do certain things in my life and I honestly thought he was stupid. And what was going on was that I believed that I had to focus on “the basics” and he was pushing me to exercise, to go back to school, to meditate, and so on. It took me a year or two from that point to realize that my sponsor was not stupid, that he in fact was pushing me to do exactly what I needed to do in order to grow.
You see, the basics in recovery can only take you so far, and then you have to learn how to push “outside of the boundaries” of traditional recovery. In other words, if you are still relying on your daily meetings after ten years sober then (IMO) there is something wrong with your recovery strategy.
In some cases this comes down to strategy versus tactics. Going to AA meetings every day is not a strategy, it is merely one tactic out of many. Don’t confuse this tactic as being a full recovery strategy, because it is not. Though this is what happens to many people in early recovery because they assume that by going to meetings every day for the rest of their lives that they can maintain sobriety through osmosis. It doesn’t work that way though. In order to get stronger in your recovery you are going to have to work at it, you are going to have to put in some effort, and you are going to have to put forth some effort. That means you will need to get honest with yourself (map of where you are currently) and also to get honest about where you want to go (seek feedback and advice from others). If you try to determine the map of where you are going all by yourself then you will likely sabotage your own efforts or wind up stagnate in your growth. You need outside influence in order to move forward in recovery and that means talking with other people.
Asking for advice and input requires humility
It takes real humility for ask for feedback and advice.
At the moment of surrender this should come naturally. When you hit rock bottom then it is not too difficult to ask other people how to live your life. If you are still struggling with this when you are at “rock bottom” then you are probably not really at rock bottom yet. When you fully surrender to your addiction then you will not trust yourself to make any decisions.
This slowly changes as you remain clean and sober. If you start taking advice from others then your life will slowly get better and better over time. If you remain clean and sober then you will start to become more and more stable in your recovery.
This is when humility becomes really important–when it gets harder to actually practice it. Because now you are doing fairly well and you may not believe that you need help from other people. Now that you are stable in your sobriety you may not feel that you need advice or feedback in order to move forward.
So this is where you are in danger of getting stuck.
But just imagine what will happen if you reach this point of stability and then you go to the people in recovery that you look up to ask them:
1) “What do you think I should be working on my recovery right now?”
2) “What is the most important goal that I should be pursuing in my life right now?”
3) “What are my weaknesses that I need to improve on in order to be a better person?”
4) “In what area is my overall health lacking right now? Physically? Emotionally? Spiritually?” etc.
5) “What is the one piece of advice you would give me if you knew that I would listen to you and act on it?”
6) “If you could go back in time to the point that I am at in my recovery right now, what would you do differently? What would you tell your former self and what advice would you give?”
Now imagine that you ask those same questions of several different people and listen to all of their advice and answers. If you actually go through with this and get their advice, then prioritize their suggestions and start acting on it, you can imagine the kind of personal growth that would result from that. Just imagine how much wisdom you are drawing from if you do this exercise with many different people who have multiply years sober in recovery.
Now imagine that you seek this sort of feedback not just once in your life, but every year or so, over and over again. So that you take suggestions, make real growth and progress, and then do it all over again in the future.
Recognize that everyone, by default, is already using their own ideas.
Think carefully about that. Everyone on this planet is already using their own advice. We are all doing the best that we can with what we have.
But now realize how you can gain a tremendous advantage. You can seek feedback and advice from others. You can draw on their ideas about how to live a healthier and better life.
This is a huge shortcut to success in sobriety. It is not necessarily a “shortcut” but it definitely gets you more powerful results than if you simply try to figure everything out on your own.
Neglecting areas of growth in your life and how to overcome this weakness
For the first few years of my recovery I was missing out on some opportunities.
I don’t fault myself for this too much. I mean, it is not like I relapsed because of it or anything. But perhaps I would have eventually if I had not changed.
For example, in early recovery I was heavily focused on spiritual growth. I believed that this was the most important thing in recovery to the exclusion of everything else. So I basically ignored ideas about a “holistic approach” and I did not really pay attention to certain suggestions.
But later on something changed. I ran out of momentum in my recovery. I had pushed myself as far as I was probably going to be able to go from a spiritual perspective. I needed something more.
That “something more” came in other areas of growth and health. Physical health. Fitness. Nutrition. Relationships. Emotional balance. And so on.
These things are related to spirituality but they are actually different areas of growth. From a holistic perspective you are exploring different avenues of potential growth in this regard.
So at some point I woke up to the fact that people were trying to get me to exercise. They were making this suggestion over and over again but I was not receptive to it at first. For the first few years of my sobriety I sort of ignored the idea.
But then later something clicked for me. I was hearing the suggestion over and over and my personal growth had sort of stalled out. So I made a decision to dive into it and get active. And this opened up a whole new world for me, a new avenue of personal growth. And to be honest it had a huge impact on my recovery, one that I never could have predicted.
And this is an example of why we need to seek feedback and advice from others, even in long term sobriety when you may think that you have everything all figured out. Because you will never had everything all figured out, and there will always be more to learn about yourself.
And of that stuff that you still need to learn about yourself, half of it can be done through “self discovery” and the other half cannot. In other words, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” In order to learn that stuff you have to explore, you have to interact with other people, you have to reach out for feedback and advice. This will not be the answer in every case but it will be the solution in at least some of the cases. And that is enough that everyone who is on a path of personal growth in recovery should realize that they can benefit from seeking feedback and advice from other people.