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The biggest barrier to successful long-term sobriety is dealing with overwhelming change.
This might seem obvious at a glance, but there is a powerful lesson here that can help anyone.
The reason most addicts fail is simply because the change required is so dramatic
The great barrier to recovery is the monumental effort required to change enough.
Most people believe that the problem is simply whether or not an addict makes the decision to change. This is an error in thinking. It might be a subtle difference, but it is an important one. The great struggle for addicts and alcoholics is not in their decision to change–because almost everyone decides to change at some point–but in their level of conviction in following through with that change.
Consider the alcoholic that decides to try and get sober for the first time ever. The odds are heavily stacked against this individual. Why? Because recovery is a learning process, and the lesson to be learned first is: what level of conviction is required to stay sober? This is almost universally underestimated by those who have never tried to get clean and sober. So what happens? They stop drinking and drugging, and then reality hits. They are confronted with life, and have to deal with it. The level of change necessary for recovery is in the learning of how to deal with any given life situation. In other words, the addict that used to self medicate for any situation now has to learn how to deal with every situation, sober. This is monumental change.
Recovery demands such a tremendous change, such a drastic and complete turn-about in one’s life, that it is overwhelming for almost anyone. An example of this in my own experience: I finally managed to get clean and sober, but only after committing to 20 months in a long term treatment center, completely abandoning my job and all of my friends, and focusing entirely on recovery for the first few years. They say that “the only thing you have to change is everything,” and I can definitely vouch for that statement. My journey to a successful life in recovery is characterized by tremendous change.
A classic example of overwhelming change: dieting
A lot of people can relate to this idea. Anyone who has started a diet that was just too strict can tell you that it sets you up for failure. Sure, you can do it for a day or two, but eventually people break down, eat a food that was “off limits,” and end up caving on the whole thing.
The changes you make in recovery can work the same way, if you bite off more than you can chew. Setting too many goals or setting the bar too high can result in early disappointment. We all know what happens to addicts and alcoholics when they get severly discouraged. So how can we maintain a successful recovery, while still making progress and real change in our lives?
How change is best implemented in recovery
Most addicts and alcoholics are overwhelmed by the changes they must make in order to remain sober. For some, it becomes an internal battle: the need to change nearly everything in order to live a new life in sobriety, balanced against the fear of change and the need to feel comfortable by clinging closely to the things that we know best–or the things we did that worked for us in dealing with life.
Over the last few years, I have been winning this internal battle, and creating an awesome new life for myself, conquering goals and making some serious, life-altering changes.
The secret? I would say the key for me has been to narrow my focus down to one goal at a time.
After I got clean and sober, I had a number of goals to tackle. I wanted to quit smoking, live healthier, start exercising, and finish my college education. What I found was that focusing all of my efforts on just one of these goals at a time worked best for me.
Action items: what you can do
This is not a license to be lazy and only take very small steps and make very small changes. Instead, it is a specific and deliberate mindset and attitude of extreme focus, so that you can tackle and dominate one goal at a time.
One benefit of the progressive, incremental approach: it builds momentum and positive energy.
Another idea: start with your quickest-to-be-reached goal first, and focus all of your energy on it. Reaching it will build energy and momentum. Then move on to the next quickest-to-be-reached goal. And so on. By experiencing a number of quick victories right off the bat, you will create momentum and energy for yourself when it comes time to tackle your bigger projects.