What Works for Sobriety: Intentions, Goals, or Resolutions?

What Works for Sobriety: Intentions, Goals, or Resolutions?


So a struggling addict or alcoholic could use different language when it comes to their own self talk about recovery.

They could have, for example, an intention to get clean and sober. Or they might get a bit more specific with their intention and turn it into a goal. Or they might take that goal a step further and resolve to meet that goal no matter what.

What is important is that you find the self talk that allows you to succeed in early recovery.

I can remember being in a state of total surrender and exploring the self talk that I was using at the time. I felt like I had to get it just right in order to make sure that I did not relapse.

So part of that was in being in the right state of surrender. I had actually gone to treatment twice before and I do not think that it would have mattered if I had used different language for self talk at those times–I simply wasn’t ready to accept a new recovery program into my life, and I wasn’t willing to do the work in order to change. You could have coached me very specifically and instructed me to use any sort of therapy technique at those times and it would not have mattered, because I wasn’t done drinking yet. I had more chaos and misery to go chase after. I had not had “enough” yet, and therefore no amount of therapy could have straightened me out yet. I had to go work through my own denial by creating more misery for myself in my addiction first.

Later on I returned to recovery and I was completely broken down to the point of total misery. This time it was different. This time, I wanted real change in my life. My self talk was different because I was actually humble and seeking help this time.

What I realized very early on in my recovery was that people could very easily “talk themselves into relapse.” And I wanted to make sure that I avoided doing this. So right off the bat I made a commitment to myself that my highest priority in life was that I remain clean and sober.

I also noticed very early on that my mind would often remember “the good old days” when I wasn’t paying much attention to what I was thinking about. My mind would fantasize about the good times that I had in the past with drugs or alcohol, and if I allowed my brain to do so, it would just keep thinking about those good times. This was extremely detrimental to recovery because then the brain would compare those “good times” to the present moment, and my brain would then realize that it was not getting high or drunk right now and having a grand old time.

This led to misery. But the misery was not there because I was clean and sober, the misery was there because I was allowing my brain to sit and reminisce about the good old days.

So I had to shut that down. I had to make a decision that if I “caught my brain” remembering those good times in the past that I would cut it off and redirect myself. I could not allow myself the “luxury” of reminiscing about the fun times I had in my addiction. That was toxic because the real truth was that my addiction led me to chaos and misery and wanting to die. But my brain was choosing to forget the misery and instead focus on the good times that I had. In order to combat this I had to make a conscious effort to redirect my thoughts.

I think that addiction recovery can be a bit confusing at times because in the beginning we are running away from something, we are trying to avoid the addiction, we are trying to eliminate something from our lives. But the long term goal in recovery is not necessarily a goal of elimination–it is instead a goal of creation.

At some point, the recovering addict or alcoholic will come to realize that just avoiding their drug of choice is not really “a full life” in itself. Something more is needed for a person to really have purpose, something more is required than mere abstinence.

In traditional recovery programs they often use the idea of spiritual growth and faith in a higher power. So the idea is that you are supplementing your abstinence with something positive, something to strive towards, rather than just running away from the negative.

While this idea is certainly valid, I don’t think it is the only method of sustaining recovery, nor do I believe it to be the most optimal strategy. Instead, the pursuit of personal growth seems to have advantages over a “spirituality focused program.”

Why? Because personal growth includes spirituality, for one thing. So when you are looking at a program that is strictly limited to spirituality, you are really looking at a program that is artificially limiting people. Personal growth can be about physical health, mental health, emotional stability, and spiritual growth. It can be about relationships and fitness and meditation and connecting with others. It is much more broad and limitless than a program that zeros in on just spiritual growth.

So I do not believe that it matters too much in how you define the self talk that you use, whether that is with goals or intentions or whatever the case may be. What really matters is that you start from a place of total surrender so that you can turn towards something positive, and then start building from there. If you set goals then that is great, you have something to strive for. If you have intentions it is much the same idea–something positive that you can focus on and move towards. If you resolve to do certain things in your life then it is very similar to goals and such, you are taking positive action.

What is critical is that you surrender fully and then make an agreement with yourself that you are going to pursue this more positive life for yourself, that you are going to keep seeking and experimenting, and that you are going to be a better person as a result of this. That is the commitment that you need to make to yourself–regardless of how you phrase it. Good luck!