The Secret of Recovery is not New Age Visualization

The Secret of Recovery is not New Age Visualization


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“The Secret,” is a book by Rhonda Byrne that promises to unlock your potential and enable you to achieve your dreams. It is essentially a new age philosophy, or a guide to happiness and getting what you want in life. The idea behind the Secret is that visualization–when properly practiced–can be powerful enough to manifest your dreams all on its own, without any specific action taken. The book is very clear that the secret is in the visualization itself and your belief in it, not in any follow up actions on your part.

Without trying to sound too negative, the book is really about 90 percent marketing genius and about 10 percent practical application. While there is some value in visualization, I think the core message here is particularly dangerous for recovering addicts and alcoholics. Here are a couple of reasons why:

Early recovery demands action

If lofty thinking and intense visualization was enough to get someone sober, I would have been a sober millionaire many years before I actually quit drinking. I had no problem with visualization when I was still getting drunk every day. This was part of the disease for me, a fantasy that some day things would be different, and that I could find a way to be successful while still getting drunk and somehow control my drinking. I think part of this fantasy was the idea that if my life was better in other ways (more money, different job, etc.), then I wouldn’t have to drink so much.

Obviously this type of thinking doesn’t get the alcoholic anywhere. Early recovery demands action. In fact, success in early recovery is about 5 percent conviction, 5 percent visualizing sobriety, and 90 percent action.

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You have to do something to get sober.

It requires a firm decision and immediate action. None of this let’s-plan-out-the-rest-of-our-life stuff. That just gets in the way when you’ve got 5 days sober and you’re climbing the walls. At this early stage in the game you need a way to stay sober today.

Remember that recovery is split up into 2 stages. The first stage is about using brute force to get some clean time under your belt. The second stage is about creating a new life for yourself by living with passion and purpose. Truly, visualization is nothing more than a distraction in the first stage. What you need in early recovery is action.

Addicts and alcoholics have a tendency towards the “something-for-nothing” mindset

Part of the marketing genius behind The Secret is that it promises something for nothing. Just visualize what you want, believe in your vision, and then “align yourself to receive it,” and success will fall right into your lap.

This is dangerous territory for recovering addicts and alcoholics. Through active drug addiction, we were all about instant gratification and the whole idea of getting something for nothing. Self-medicating was the ultimate shortcut for us. By using chemicals to change how we felt, we were cheating the system and taking a shortcut to what we thought was real happiness. A popular phrase for addicts in recovery is “I want what I want when I want it.” We say this, realizing that we need to get over this incessant need for instant gratification, and that lasting happiness does not happen overnight.

Because of this tendency, addicts in recovery are probably more vulnerable to a scheme that promises something for nothing. I know that when I was still drinking, I always looked for the easy way out, and didn’t necessarily like the idea of having to work really hard for something. Because of my addiction, I was naturally averse to hard work.

Recovery, of course, demands hard work. There is no shortcut to long term sobriety. The something-for-nothing mindset is therefore misleading and dangerous. It is a false promise to the hopeful addict or alcoholic.

Can you think your way into good living? Or must you live your way into good thinking?

Recovering addicts who have been around for a while in recovery know the answer to this question: you have to live your way into good thinking.

Bring your body, and your mind will follow. Never the other way around. It starts with action. Our actions become habits and that in turn will reprogram our thoughts. You have to do stuff in order to change your thinking.

If you try to shortcut the system and just change your thinking, then you haven’t really changed anything. Behaviors and actions will remain. Old thoughts will follow. Nothing changes. The change must start with action.

I know this because I tried the other way for so many years, always failing miserably. I tried very hard to think my way into sobriety. I also tried to think my way into controlling my drinking, too. Basically, I tried to solve my problems by thinking my way out of them, instead of by taking decisive action (such as checking into treatment, or attending a 12 step meeting, or seeking genuine help from someone in recovery, and so on. Action steps.)

For a drunk, solving problems through thinking does not work. Even if it happens to be a very intelligent drunk, it doesn’t work. And anyone who has found success in recovery echos the same idea: “Yes, I had to surrender in some way, stop trying to figure things out, and accept some help from others. People told me what to do and it worked. My life got better.

This is how recovery starts, with action. With a decision. With surrender. It does not start when a drunk sits in their home with a bottle and tries to figure out how to get sober, or how to control their drinking, or how to switch to some other drug in order to stay off the booze, and so on and so forth. When we’re caught up in addiction, we can not think our way out of it.

The Secret is essentially saying that you can use your thoughts and your mind to create your future. Visualize and believe, and your dreams will manifest. This is reversing the idea that I’ve outlined above. It is putting the thinking back at the forefront and moving the action into the background. This will not produce sobriety.

How creative recovery goes beyond visualization

It is true that visualization is a part of the creative theory of recovery. But it is a small part that only serves as a tool for setting goals in long term recovery, not as a magic trick to produce short term sobriety.

Instead, the creative theory emphasizes creating a new life for yourself through action. But the emphasis is on the action, not on some secret law that will magically bring you what you visualize.

The visualizations in creative recovery are actually concrete goals. For example, say that you want to quit smoking now that you have been clean and sober for a while. With the creative theory of recovery, your action plan might look something like this:

1) Make firm decision to take action and fully commit to it.

2) Because you know that this is a particularly challenging goal, construct a custom plan to tackle your goal with overwhelming force.

3) Use all available resources to prepare for your quit. Save up extra money to dedicate to funding your efforts, consider taking time off work, plan a vacation for the event, etc. This is a big challenge so take advice from others who have been successful at it. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for the challenge and plenty of time to gather the necessary resources.

4) Use learning as a tool. If you fail to quit, figure out why you failed and construct a new strategy that can overcome that particular stumbling block in the future. Don’t just throw up your arms and resign yourself to smoking forever. Learn from the mistake and regroup. Start planning your next assault on your goal and don’t take no for an answer. Learning is about persistence and conviction, not about thinking and visualizing. Be ruthless in your approach. Create with action, rather than visualize with false hope.

5) Enlist the help of friends and family for added accountability.

Notice that the creative theory of recovery emphasizes both action and learning. Visualization and planning are actually secondary steps that can be minimized, because we learn so much through trial and error, while overcoming so many challenges through action, leverage, and overwhelming force.

Now, compare this with “The Secret” method of achieving a smoke free life:

1) Visualize your smoke free life.

2) Bring yourself into alignment with this “vibration.”

3) Success?

Notice how the emphasis here is more on visualization and any action steps are left fairly vague (part of the mystical appeal of the Secret).

Conclusion: tread carefully

I hate to knock The Secret and other philosophies that have been spawned by it, because I’ve read the book and there is some good stuff in there. For example, there is a fairly strong focus on gratitude, which can be very powerful for recovery. But overall I think the risks are real because the central message is that you can “think your way into good living” instead of taking an action-based approach. The Secret promises a shortcut where there clearly is no shortcut to be had.

For addicts and alcoholics in recovery, “thinking our way to sobriety” just doesn’t work. We need an action plan, not a day dreaming program.

The problem is not visualization. The problem is replacing action and creation with visualization as a strategy for recovery.

Just my 2 cents on the whole thing.

Has anyone used The Secret with meaningful results in their recovery?


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