Yesterday we looked at how to accumulate personal growth in recovery and start building momentum from making positive changes. Today we are going to look at how to take massive action in recovery and how this will help you to stay inspired on your recovery journey.
You may need massive action just to break into recovery
One of the biggest barriers to entry for recovery for me was this idea of taking massive action. I dimly thought when I was still using drugs and alcohol that any solution to my problem should be a minimal solution. I was in denial of course, and I did not realize how badly I was trapped by drugs and alcohol, but I still thought that the idea of treatment (and especially long term treatment) was really ridiculous. Why would someone have to check into a rehab facility in order to stop themselves from using a substance? The idea seemed extreme to me and it did not really make sense. But like I said, I was in denial, and did not really realize what I was up against. I would later attend several treatment centers and still fail to remain clean and sober!
The idea of taking massive action in order to change your life has to do with your level of surrender. The first two times that I attempted to get clean and sober, I had not fully surrendered to my disease of addiction. I was holding something back and therefore I was not completely willing to take massive action.
This was evidenced by the fact that I would not follow through when it came time to actually take action. For example, when I first went to see a counselor and he recommended that I go to meetings, I was not willing to do that. I was not willing to change and I had not surrendered yet so I was not really willing to follow through on anything. I attended one or two meetings but had no intention of quitting at the time, so it was pretty much a waste of time.
Later on I went into short term rehab and stayed for a week or two, but again, I was not willing to follow through with the aftercare. The therapists would recommend that I attend meetings, or go to long term rehab, and I was not willing to do these things. I had not fully surrendered so their suggestions were offensive to me. I believed that I should be able to leave rehab “cured” from my addiction, or what was the point? I was not realistic because I was not willing to take serious action in order to overcome my addiction. I wanted an easy solution or a quick fix, if anything. Otherwise I could just keep on using my drug of choice, right? That was my attitude at the time based on a total lack of surrender.
Total surrender changed that attitude, and when I finally “saw the light” I became willing to do the things that I had never been willing to do in the past. I was willing to go to rehab and listen to what the therapists told me to do. I was willing to follow through with aftercare and take real action in my recovery. And I was willing to go live in long term rehab for several months. In short, I had become willing to take massive action, which was exactly what was required of me in order to remain clean and sober.
Every person who is flirting with the idea of recovery has to make this same commitment. They do not necessarily need to go to long term rehab, but they do need to make a decision in their life and be willing to take massive action.
Why massive action? Why does it have to be “massive?”
There is a good reason why I keep calling it “massive” action.
Drug addiction and alcoholism are very special diseases. They are not like other things that you have experienced in your life, for the most part.
Overcoming addiction is a pass/fail proposition that requires a total commitment in order to get good results.
Most everything else you have experienced in your life is NOT like this.
Most things are not pass/fail, and most things do not require a total commitment.
For example, look at your education, or even learning to drive a car. These things are never pass/fail, you learn enough to get by, and you do what works. You do not have to continuously study your driving skills and keep working on them in order to do well with driving. You do not have to dedicate your life to learning how to drive in order to do well. The learning curve is fairly simple.
The same is true with just about all of the things you experience in life. You just show up, put in a modest effort, and you get decent results. This is probably true of most jobs that you have held as well. You do a good job, (not a fantastic one) and you get modest results and the company is happy with you for it.
Recovery does not work like that. If you approach the “job” of getting clean and sober in the same way that you approach your day job or ninth grade algebra, then you are going to relapse. This is the difference between just taking action and taking “massive” action. Recovery demands that you take massive action.
Why is this?
The reason is due to the nature of addiction and alcoholism. The disease is severe and it takes over your entire life. Addiction pervades every part of your mind and body. It has a total grip over you and so therefore you dealing with a need for massive change in your life.
Recovery is nothing but making changes. That’s it. So you need a certain amount of inertia in order to overcome these changes that are required. You need a certain amount of commitment and energy in order to make the changes necessary to make it in recovery.
In the early days of recovery everything is an uphill struggle. Your entire mind and body is telling you to self medicate against your will, screaming at you to relapse. In order to overcome this resistance you have do something, you have to take action, you have to make something happen.
So you find support, your seek help, you ask advice, you soul search, you write in journals, you write in the steps, you work with a sponsor, you go to rehab, you stay in treatment, you live in rehab, you find a therapist, you find a counselor, you spill your guts, you find peers who can give you advice, you go to meetings, you do whatever you can to stay clean and sober for one more day.
And realize that thousands of recovering addicts and alcoholics do all of these things (and more) and still manage to relapse by the thousands. In fact the vast majority of people who start doing these sorts of things end up relapsing. The rate of success after a full year is usually stated as being somewhere between 3 and 20 percent, depending on who you ask and what the are measuring. Generally 80 percent or more relapse during the first year, and this is based on people who actually made a decision and took action!
They took action….yet they still relapsed.
So what is the answer? For me that answer is “massive” action. They took some action by going to a meeting or seeing a therapist or whatever, but they did not take ENOUGH action. They did not follow through–meaning, they did not take consistent action.
And the reason that a person would do this is very simple–they have failed to fully surrender to their disease. They are at a stage in their life where they wish that things were different, they would like to “wish away their addiction,” but they are still not willing to do whatever it takes in order to get clean and sober. So they are sort of at a crossroads and they are not quite willing to go the distance, so they end up relapsing. They take some action, but they do not follow through with it.
When it comes to recovery from addiction, the barrier to entry is that first hurdle you must overcome in order to get started on a new life. It is a difficult hurdle because denial can keep us trapped in our addiction for years or even decades.
The only way to get past this particular hurdle and become willing to take massive action is to fully surrender. This will generally not happen until the addict or alcoholic has experienced a great deal of pain in their life. They have to be “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” so much so that they are willing to throw in the towel and then become willing to do whatever it takes to stay clean and sober. Getting to this point does not happen overnight and for most people it takes years of pain and struggle before they finally see past their denial.
The addict must come to grips with the idea that they are no longer having fun with their drug of choice, and that it stopped being fun a long time ago. They have to admit that they are no longer happy in life, and that their drug no longer makes them happy, as it once did. It is only after moving past this stage of denial and making these realizations that a person can commit to the level of change that is necessary to overcome their addiction.
Seeking the biggest impact changes and how to prioritize change in recovery
Once you are living in recovery the game changes a bit, as you no longer need to find a way to overcome that big hurdle and take massive action. You have already made the leap into recovery and now you are stable in your sobriety.
The challenge now is in maintaining your recovery and avoiding relapse in the long run. Another way to state this is that you are need to avoid complacency by taking certain actions in your recovery, so that you do not become lazy and end up relapsing.
So how do you take “massive action” in your long term sobriety? And do you really need to do so at all?
The best way that I have found to take massive action in your long term sobriety is to make huge, positive changes in your life. These are most likely going to be “lifestyle changes” that deal directly with your health, though they may also be changes in career, finances, spirituality, social groups, etc.
I would also recommend that after you have found some stability in recovery that you do some honest self assessment with your life and figure out what changes would have the greatest impact for you.
Ask yourself: “What is the one thing that I could change in my life right now that would change everything for me, and have the greatest possible impact?”
This is how to prioritize in your recovery. When I asked myself that exact question in early recovery, the answer was “quit smoking cigarettes.” Nothing else that I could possibly do would have a greater impact on my life (at the time). So that became my number one objective, my most important goal.
Why put your energy into a different goal that would have less impact than that? Why waste your time chasing smaller goals that would not serve you as well? The only reason to hold back would be out of fear, and this is a hollow excuse. The rewards of achieving your “highest impact goal” obviously outweigh any drawbacks of pursuing such goals.
Therefore, your job in recovery (and really even before recovery starts!) is to figure out what one single change would have the greatest positive impact on your life. Then, go make that change. Put all of your energy and focus into making that new challenge a reality.
This is a very powerful strategy for growth in recovery, because it focuses your efforts on a single goal. I have seen many people in early recovery who became ineffective because they tried to take on too many changes all at once (thus mastering none of them).
The key instead is to focus on your biggest impact goal until you master that change. This is a very deliberate and purposeful way to live, and it is also very effective. Each change that you make in your life has a much better chance of becoming permanent this way, too.
This is how to take “massive” action, because each change that you make is always the biggest challenge that you could possibly face in your life. Every time before you attempt to make a change in your recovery, you have first taken a step back, evaluated your entire life, and asked yourself “What is the one thing that would have the most positive impact for me in my life right now?” And then you have set your sights on making that challenge and that change into a reality.
It is true that you could live a different way in recovery, and that you might even be successful in staying clean and sober. But no other system of growth in recovery will push you like this to make the really big changes, to fix that which most needs fixing in your life.
The question remains for some people though: “What is the biggest impact change that I could possibly make? How do I determine what that is?”
Clearing the garbage out from your life and then seeking your true passion
The way to determine what your highest impact change is to look carefully at your life and figure out what is holding you back from success.
First and foremost for me, this was my addiction to drugs and alcohol. Overcoming that addiction was by far the biggest change that I could possibly make in my life. Nothing really got better until I was able to make that change.
Second to that was my nicotine addiction. I sort of floundered around in recovery and could not really break through to that next level of growth until I was able to move past my cigarette addiction.
The reason that I was “floundering around” in my recovery was because I did not know that this was the highest impact change that I could possibly make. For example, I was also pursuing a degree in school, and so I thought that perhaps achieving that was more important than quitting smoking.
I can hear your thought process now: “Why can’t you do both?” Well, you can do both, but during the recovery process you still have to prioritize. There is only a limited amount of energy and commitment with which you can achieve various goals. So you must pick and choose and decide what is most important to tackle first.
Certainly you can both quit smoking and also pursue education. But what I found in my recovery journey is that the negative stuff in my life was very damaging (such as nicotine addiction) and eliminating that allowed me to break through into a new level of recovery.
So I have discovered that it is more beneficial to eliminate negatives from your life than it is to chase after other goals. You can still chase your dreams at some point, but it is far more practical to eliminate your bad habits first. Clear out the garbage from your life and get back to a clean slate, and then other goals will be that much easier to achieve.
What is the one goal that, if achieved, would change everything?
Really this is the most important question that you can ask yourself in order to drive positive change in recovery, and in your life in general.
The question is not: “What is the most important goal in your life?”
Instead, the right question is “What should be the most important goal in your life?”
The “should” directs you to seek a bit, to think carefully about what changes you could make that would have a positive impact on your life.
When I was still struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, the answer to this question was obvious. I needed to get clean and sober. I needed to ask for help and find a way to live without drugs and alcohol. That was the one single change that I needed to pursue more than anything else.
After doing that and finding sobriety, I had to ask that same question of myself again. In doing so I eliminated nicotine addiction (which was a long struggle, but I was finally successful!).
But then I continued to ask that question of myself, and in doing so I managed to:
* Get into shape by exercising on a regular basis.
* Created a successful business and gained freedom from a job that I did not enjoy.
* Found a way to connect with others in recovery using my own unique talents.
And I continue to ask this question of myself in order to direct my life and my recovery.
If you do not ask this question of yourself, you run the risk of just zooming through life, lost in the details of living each day, and never really stopping to consider what it important. Or, what is most important to you.
The question of “what is the most important goal that I should be pursuing right now?” forces you to evaluate what is really important to you, and it also forces you to take better care of yourself. Your health is obviously a priority in recovery as you value your life more and more. Potential changes you might make in recovery should reflect these values. This is why things like “exercise” and “overcoming addictions” are so common when it comes to taking massive action. These are the important kinds of changes that can have a serious impact on your long term health and your happiness in recovery.