I believe that everyone in alcoholism and addiction recovery should always be planning their “next big move.”
What I am talking about of course is the path of personal growth. What your plan is for how you are going to try to change your life and make new positive habits.
This can be really exciting in recovery because the more positive changes that you make the more you are rewarded. It becomes like a positive feedback loop once you realize that it actually works. The problem in early recovery, of course, is having enough faith to even get started.
I remember what it is like to feel so down in those first few days of detox that you don’t feel like you will ever feel happy again or even “normal” without alcohol. And getting through those early stages can be pretty tough. That is why many programs of recovery are faith based so that you can offer some hope to the newcomer that is struggling. “It gets greater, later.” No one wants to hear this, but it is the truth. Because indeed it does get greater, later.
But in order to get there, you have to put in the work. You have to keep planning your next big move.
Preparing a foundation for future personal growth in early recovery
Now before you can really start to experience tremendous growth in recovery, you first have to lay your foundation. In reality this foundation building process is a whole lot of personal growth unto itself, but most people don’t really see that because you cannot see your own progress from a first person perspective. This is especially true in very early recovery.
So in other words, you are probably not going to be patting yourself on the back too much in the first few months of your sobriety, and you may not feel like you are making much progress at all. This is normal. We cannot really see the progress because we don’t have the perspective that others do. So our sponsor might look at us when we have 60 days sober and think that we are doing really great, even though we ourselves cannot really see it. Alternatively, you might look back after a year or two of sobriety and realize that you did, in fact, make a ton of progress in those first few months of your recovery journey. It just didn’t feel like it because everything was a struggle at that time.
You need to build a foundation in early recovery and in order to do that you have to put in some effort. So the question is, what work needs to be done and how does a person go about building this foundation?
Everyone’s path may be different, but for me, the foundation building consisted of:
1) Surrender and then asking for help. My family directed me to a rehab center. I willingly went to this rehab with no objections. I was desperate for change, for anything different than the misery that I was currently living in.
2) Listening to advice and taking direction. Many people check into rehab. How many of them follow through and do every single thing that they are told to do? I can tell you from experience that it is rare for a person who checks into rehab to follow through completely and thoroughly. Those who do follow through and take direction tend to do well. Those who “take back their own will” usually end up relapsing. In order to build my foundation in early recovery I had to take advice. I had to listen. I had to obey others. I had to get out of my own way. This took genuine humility. Luckily I had that humility because I was so beaten up from the chaos and misery of my addiction. I was sick and tired of being miserable. And I knew that I did not have all the answers.
3) Long term treatment. This was part of my path but most people will not live in rehab for months or years at a time. You have to find what works for you and just how much help and support you need in order to break free from your disease. I needed a lot of help and so I ended up living in rehab for 20 months. Best decision I ever made. Living in long term rehab was a HUGE part of my foundation in early recovery. Without that I don’t know if I would be sober today, but I would venture a “no.”
4) Community support. During my first two years of sobriety I was going to AA meetings, living in rehab, and generally talking about alcoholism and addiction recovery all day long, every day. I was fully immersed in the world of recovery and I was surrounded by various support mechanisms. I had group therapy twice a week, individual counseling sessions, and I was attending meetings. I also had a sponsor. I was doing anything and everything that I could in order to get the help that I needed from other people.
My personality would indicate that I would rather just avoid all of the people and the socializing and get the help out of a book instead. That never would have worked though. I had to interact with real people out in the real world in order to get the help that I needed to recover. I needed that connection. I had to find people I could relate to.
Why do you need to relate to others in recovery? So that you don’t feel like you are going crazy. If you go to an AA meeting every day, then you start to hear people tell their stories. Eventually you will hear someone tell your story and it will smack you right in the face. You will realize that this person has your exact story (the parts that really matter anyway) and that they are also clean and sober and living a happy life in sobriety. And you will realize that if they can do it and they have gone through your same struggles, that you are not actually crazy and that you should have hope for your own future. This is what it means to relate to someone in recovery. You identify with them. This identification is important so that you don’t feel alone or isolated.
5) Holistic health. When I was in early recovery I had therapists and sponsors pushing me to do things that I really did not want to do. For example, they encouraged me to exercise, quit smoking cigarettes, go back to college, get a meaningful job, and expand my relationships. I did not see how any of these things were relevant to my sobriety and therefore I did not think that I should have to do them.
How wrong I was! All of those things were extremely relevant to my recovery and it was this sort of thinking that eventually led me towards the holistic approach to recovery. So instead of focusing exclusively on spirituality I was broadening my horizons and trying out other forms of personal growth to see if they had a positive impact. For example, I became a distance runner and this had a tremendous impact on my ability to stay clean and sober, yet no one in traditional recovery ever told me about this as a means of relapse prevention. And yet it fitness and exercise is most definitely one of the pillars that build the foundation of relapse prevention for me. It is not the entire solution but it is a critical part of that solution. To ignore it just seems crazy, and that is exactly what I did for the first 18 months of my sobriety!
Anyway, these are some of the key elements that helped to build my own foundation in the first few years of my recovery. This gave me a platform to be able to focus on personal growth in the long run and have the sort of discipline to be able to make meaningful changes in my life. For example, after becoming a distance runner and building up to long distance jogs, I found the discipline in that to be able to eventually quit smoking. I don’t believe that I could have put down the cigarettes unless I had learned the discipline required to become a distance runner first.
How to prioritize the most important thing in your life right now
So hopefully you have built a foundation in early recovery on which you can build more growth in long term sobriety. The question then becomes: “What should your next big move be?”
In order to answer that question you have to prioritize. First of all, however, realize that you have plenty of time. Don’t sit idle and do nothing, but don’t rush either. Realize that if you remain sober you will live long enough to accomplish many things. You have time. On the other hand, don’t be complacent and do nothing either. Keep moving forward.
Here is how I suggest that you prioritize your next big move in recovery, regardless of where you might be at in terms of your own growth and your own personal journey:
1) Sit quietly and meditate for a while. No, you don’t have to actually know what you are doing in this case. Just sit with your eyes closed for five minutes and see what bubbles up in your brain. Your mind will keep chattering away and that is fine. Don’t try to stop it. You probably can’t so don’t feel bad about this. But do watch what thoughts pop up. Do it for 5 minutes or whatever is comfortable. Keep doing this on a daily basis for a while and simply watch the thoughts. Be the observer of your own mind.
2) Write in a journal each day. You might meditate in the morning and then write in a journal at night. Just brain dump everything. Get it all out on paper. Put your thoughts down. If something is swirling around in your head then get it down on paper. Put it out there. This will free up your mind to be able to focus on other things.
3) In doing the meditation and the journal you will eventually identify the source of your fears, anxieties, anger, etc. Whatever is popping up the most in this case should be where you focus for your “next big move.”
4) Go talk to a sponsor, a counselor, a therapist, or a trusted peer in recovery and ask them for advice about how to deal with whatever it is you have identified (your fear, anger, anxiety, etc.). Ask them to help you work through it and eliminate it.
5) Take their suggestion and do the work.
Now you don’t actually have to do the journal and the meditation in order to identify your next big move necessarily. You can also do some other things in order to determine a direction. For example, you might just skip right to the part where you ask others for advice on what you should do with yourself.
There are two different areas of growth available here. If you journal and meditate then you will identify internal issues–things that are going on inside of your mind that need work. If you just go ask for feedback from your sponsor and say “What should I do next in my life?” then they might point to something that is more external (such as go back to school, get a new job, etc.). Both of these areas are important and both of them are part of your personal growth journey.
Take a step back and look at your overall life right now. What is the most negative thing, the biggest concern, the greatest source of fear or anger or anxiety? If something jumps out at you immediately upon asking this question of yourself then that is most definitely the next thing that you should tackle.
Always attack your biggest problem first. This is how you prioritize. You probably already started this process when you decided to get clean and sober. Now you must continue the process and keep making improvement and refinements so that you can make further growth in your life.
This is also how you build a foundation in recovery, by eliminating the negative things from your life and creating a clean slate. That is where you gain the ability to be able to have real freedom and create your own direction in life.
When you first start out in sobriety you cannot do this yet. You have too many things holding you back, there are too many fears and anxieties that are dominating your life. You have to do the work, build the foundation, and gain freedom from all of that stuff that threatens to strangle you in early recovery. Too many people who get sober try to conquer the world and achieve far too much before they have even done this internal work to get to know themselves first.
Deciding to make progress in life versus the complacent path
Every recovering alcoholic and drug addict faces a decision every day of their lives:
Either move forward and make progress, or stay put.
Now here is the kicker: The decision to “stay put” is actually the decision to slide into complacency and relapse.
There is no such thing as “staying put” in addiction recovery. You either go forward or you go backwards. There is no in between. You don’t get to coast or be idle in your journey. It doesn’t work that way.
This is why you should always be looking for that “next big move.” So that you can overcome complacency and keep moving forward.
In the first few years of my recovery everything felt like it was a big move. I started exercising, quit smoking, worked through the steps with a sponsor, and so on.
But over time the positive changes that I made became smaller and smaller. This wasn’t really my fault though, because my problems were getting smaller and smaller! I had already solved most of my truly big problems by taking massive action. So after a while I was focusing in on the details a lot more.
But make no mistake–there is still a lot of growth to be had by focusing on the details. My next big change might be to replace one unhealthy snack each week with a very nutritious replacement. That’s progress. When I first got sober I just wanted to stop drinking every day and figure out how to stay alive. That is quite a big leap forward in progress.
If you get lazy in recovery and you stop looking for that next big change in your life then you might become complacent. And if you become complacent for too long then you may relapse.
You get to decide though. You can choose to find the next big change, or you can choose to let yourself drift into complacency. That is entirely your decision.
Building momentum and gaining the rewards of long term sobriety
There is also an element of momentum in recovery when it comes to personal growth.
This is yet another reason to keep pushing yourself to make positive changes. Because when you meet several goals in a row, even if they are very small goals, it helps to build momentum and positive energy in your life.
When I quit smoking cigarettes I got a huge boost in confidence. In order to pull that feat off I first had to become a distance runner. So I did that first, then I quit smoking. Now I was on a roll. I felt like I could conquer the world, like I could accomplish nearly anything, because I had finally beat this particular challenge. But it was more than that because I had to meet other goals (getting into shape) in order to meet my goal of quitting smoking. So I was building momentum and in doing so I realized that I had learned a great deal of discipline. I had power. And I realized after I successfully quit smoking that I could probably do just about anything that I wanted in my life if I were willing to focus on it that much.
Because that is what I learned by quitting smoking. First I had to get sober. Then I had to get into shape. Then I finally was able to put down the cigarettes after years of struggle. This was a huge revelation for me because I knew that I could conquer other goals, goals that were just as difficult as quitting smoking had been for me.
Asking others for feedback to get inspiration and ideas for how to move forward
If you are unclear as to how to prioritize for your next big move in recovery, my suggestion is to talk with other people.
Get advice from them and feedback as to what you should be doing in your life right now. Flat out ask them: “What would you be doing in your life right now if you were me?” Or simply ask them what they think you should focus on next in terms of personal growth.
Get lots of ideas and feedback from several different sources. If you hear some common themes when you do this then those are probably pretty good bets as to what you should be focusing on next.
What about you, what is your next big move in addiction recovery? Do you know what it should be based on your current path in recovery? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!