Part of the Creative Theory of Recovery has to do with creating your own success and happiness post-addiction.
Most of us might break that process down into two parts:
1) Eliminating the negative things in our life.
2) Pursuing the positive goals that we want to achieve.
For example, you may think of eliminating negatives as things like:
* Quitting smoking.
* Not drinking or abusing drugs any more.
* Overcoming any addiction, including something like a gambling problem.
* Fixing a poor diet.
Then you might also have positive goals in your life that are things that you want to pursue and achieve. For example, you may want to:
* Pursue a certain career.
* Start a business.
* Find the perfect relationship.
So there are both positive goals and also “negative things” that you want to eliminate.
What is surprising is that your quickest path to happiness is to focus on the negative. This runs counter to what we commonly hear as advice in life….that we need to chase our dreams and achieve our desires if we want to be happy. Instead, your surest path to happiness is to eliminate your points of misery.
The counter-intuitive path to happiness in addiction recovery
Chasing your dreams and desires will not make you happy. This is one of the revelations that is revealed to you in long term sobriety. Instead, most of your happiness comes from eliminating misery.
The problem is that most people are terrible at figuring this out. I know that I was bad at it for many years, and believed that if I could only achieve certain goals that I would be happy. What I failed to realize is that I only had to find and eliminate my points of misery–the things in my life that were making me unhappy.
If you are in denial then this is impossible to do, because you will not be able to identify what is making you miserable. Instead you will place the blame on anything else that you possibly can in order to further justify your behavior. This typically starts with our chemical addiction in which we are making ourselves miserable through constant drug or alcohol abuse, all while refusing to admit it. This is denial. We are telling ourselves “If only such and such would stop pestering me and if only I had unlimited amounts of money and alcohol then I would finally be happy.”
There are at least two problems with this aside from the fact that it is blatant denial. One, even if we had unlimited money and booze and had no responsibilities or bothersome people in our lives, we would still be miserable. Two, we fail to realize that our happiness is being disrupted because of our points of misery, rather than being elusive based on this fantasy that we want to come true. In other words, even if you achieve all of the “positive goals” that you want in your life, you will still be miserable if you have negative elements that are holding you back.
For example, take drug or alcohol addiction itself. Even if you have everything else going well in your life, if you cannot shake a drug addiction then you are not going to be very happy.
I found the same thing to be true in my own early recovery when I was still addicted to cigarettes. Even though I was making progress in many other areas of my life, I was still not feeling completely happy with the “total package,” because I still had this major point of misery that was holding me back. Nicotine addiction was a slow and constant drag on my life in many subtle but persistent ways. For a long time in my recovery, it was fairly easy for me to justify and rationalize my nicotine addiction, but I was really just fooling myself. In fact I was still using cigarettes in order to self medicate with, though at the time I probably would have denied that. Cigarettes were also holding me back from being healthier, from exercising more, and perhaps even from taking a closer look at my diet. Not to mention the constant but slow drag that it had on my finances (though I was pretty good at justifying and rationalizing that as well).
Eventually I had to admit to myself that I did not like the person that I was as a smoker. I had to admit that cigarette smoking was a “point of misery” in my life even though I tried very hard to deny it. And since I got clean and sober, I can look back now and see the power in eliminating a point of misery like this. In fact, the two greatest changes I have ever made in my life were:
* Overcoming drug and alcohol addiction.
* Overcoming nicotine addiction.
That may not seem like a big deal to a “normie” who has never dealt with addiction before, but it was a big deal to me. And I can clearly see that in terms of taking action and reclaiming happiness, these two goals were the most significant in my entire recovery journey. I had many positive goals that I also pursued and eventually achieved, but I can see that eliminating these points of misery was much more important.
Finding your points of misery
Discovering your points of misery should not be too terribly difficult. There are a couple of ways that you can see through denial:
1) Start keeping a written journal. Write down how you feel each day and whether you are happy or not. Keep writing, every single day, and in time you will be able to look back and see some trends. This will help you to discover what actually produces happiness in your life and what is holding you back from your happiness. Surprisingly, we don’t always know the truth of this until we deliberately set out to discover it and explore it more deeply. Writing can be one way to uncover these truths. This is what makes journaling powerful.
2) Talk to your peers or sponsor and ask for feedback. Actually ask other people who you trust in recovery: “What am I doing wrong? What would you do differently if you were me?” And so on. Ask for feedback and advice, but then here is the key: Actually take action! All of the feedback and advice in the world does not do you any good unless you actually act on it. This is what made a world of difference for me when I finally surrendered and decided to do things differently for once. Instead of just saying that I was going to change, I actually started to change. Instead of just making plans, I was actually taking action. If you don’t know what your points of misery are, just ask someone.
Prioritizing your misery points
One thing that you might do if you are fairly early in your recovery (or if your life happens to be fairly chaotic and/or miserable) is to prioritize your plan of action. This can be best accomplished by writing down a list. Then what you would do is to order these problems in your life in terms of impact. If you are not sure on this then ask your peers or sponsor for feedback about it.
In my example my two greatest points of misery, in order of impact, were:
1) Drug/alcohol addiction.
2) Cigarette addiction.
This is the order in which I tackled the two goals. Had I known the true impact of either of these goals, I would have forced myself to tackle them much sooner. But unfortunately we do not get to choose when we break through denial (unless of course you are using the techniques outlined in this article, such as journaling or seeking feedback from others).
Figure out which point of misery is causing you the most harm in your life, then make a plan to attack it. If you are not sure how to prioritize then ask for help and advice from others.
Committing to action
Once you have figured out your points of misery and prioritized them, it is time to commit to action. This is the “willingness” part of any recovery program. You can’t just think about doing good things, you have to actually do them.
Follow through is the key to success in recovery. The depth of your commitment is measured only by what you actually do, not by what you want, wish for, or hope for. None of the stuff means anything when it comes to reality. All that matters are your actions. And your actions are driven by your level of willingness.
Most of the difficult changes in life are the ones that require persistence. It is not too tough to make a single change that only requires a one-time action. But lifestyle changes almost always require establishing new habits through repeated actions. This is why commitment is so important. The really important and significant changes in your recovery are the ones that require a sustained effort and massive persistence.
Change is easy. Changing habits is tough. Therefore you will have to commit in order to get the real benefits of growth in recovery.
Creating change, focusing, and sticking to it
Focus is key.
When you are early in recovery there is a tendency to want to take action and conquer all of your goals all at once. This is a mistake and is never sustainable. Instead, prioritize. Find your points of misery and just pick the one that will create the biggest impact if you fix it.
Then, focus. Evaluate your life, then decide. Choose what you are going to fix. Then focus all of your energy on that one goal until you reach it.
Living this way allows you to make growth very quickly. It also helps you to get amazing results right off the bat, because you are always seeking the highest impact change to make first.
This can also help you to create momentum in your recovery, because after you meet your first goal and get a “win” you will be more motivated to make additional positive changes.
Evaluating and plotting your next step
Recovery is all about positive change. If you stay the same and refuse to change then eventually you may relapse as a result.
Find your biggest point of misery, then work hard to eliminate it.
Following this, you have a brief reprieve….think of it as an evaluation period. You just set and achieved a goal, now you get to rest for a second.
But don’t rest for too long, because eventually you have to get back into positive change. This is your time for evaluation. Figure out what your next point of misery is, and make a plan to tackle it.
Eventually, you will run out of points of misery. At that time, you can then start focusing on your dreams, and that is when recovery gets really amazing.