When you are first starting out in early addiction recovery it can be difficult to imagine what your life is going to look like in a few years.
What we think is important and critical at that time may not be what ends up being ultimately important to us later on. So it can be good to talk to people who have accumulated some time in the world of addiction recovery, people who have gained that perspective.
I am lucky enough that I have been clean and sober now for over 17 years continuous and I have been working towards improving my life and my recovery during that time. So what I thought was important back then and what I know to be important to me today are definitely two different things.
My life today is defined by what I do, for the most part. I have my routines and I have certain things that I do on a regular basis and these are a big part of what defines my life. Another thing that defines my life today are my relationships and the people that I have that are close to me. My family and my circle of friends and my coworkers are a big part of who I am today.
The job that I am doing is an important part of who I have become. I am lucky enough to have two jobs that involve carrying a message of recovery to people who are trying to turn their life around. This was an evolution of course because when I first got into recovery I started working a job that was not exactly recovery related. Later on I was able to transition to more meaningful work, work that allowed me to directly help struggling addicts or alcoholics.
At one point my sponsor in recovery suggested that I go back to school and pursue more education. I took that suggestion and I went back to college and that has proven to be part of what defines me in my life journey.
So there can be some big and significant decisions that will come to define you: Job, school, family, living situation, and so on. And ultimately you want to be putting in the effort so that you make good decisions when it comes to these major life choices.
If you are just starting out in recovery then you may be overwhelmed at the thought of all of these major life choices. I would urge you to take it very slow, to relax, and to just do the next right thing (as they say in AA meetings often). You do not have to solve all of the world’s problems in a day. If you make it through today without taking a drink or a drug then that is a very healthy start. If you keep maintaining sobriety on a daily basis then you have the foundation for a better life in recovery.
To some extent you are going to be defined by your growth experiences. In other words, if you look at your life and figure out what you need to do in order to improve who you are as a person, and also figure out what it is that you truly want in life. Those two things will hopefully drive your decisions and allow you to become a better version of yourself.
Let me give you some examples. When I first got clean and sober my therapist and my sponsor were helping me to see that I needed to make certain changes. One of the problems that I had was that I was constantly creating all of this drama in my own head, and I was trying to position myself as the victim in various life situations. Why was my brain doing this?
I realized that my brain was setting up excuses so that I would have a reason to drink or take drugs. If I was the victim and if I had been “done wrong” then I had an excuse to relapse. My brain was doing this proactively, in advance, in case it decided that it needed to drink or take drugs.
Now this thought pattern was happening even without my permission. I genuinely wanted to remain clean and sober, and I had made the decision to stop drinking “for good.” But my brain did not seem to realize this, and it just kept right on going with the justification and the rationalization.
So I had to realize this, first of all. I had to notice that it was even happening. Then I had to figure out how to shut it down; how to correct the behavior. My therapist and my sponsor were able to give me suggestions to be able to figure out how to do that. I eventually trained my own mind to stop making excuses to drink or take drugs.
What has defined who I am today in long term recovery is a series of decisions that I made along the way. Those decisions followed this format: Identify the problem, gather information about how to conquer the problem, make a plan to overcome it, execute that plan.
So my therapist, my sponsor, and my peers in AA were able to help me identify the issues and the problems that were potential hang ups for me in early recovery. Then they were able to make suggestions as to how to go about overcome those issues.
So I started to do this one at a time. I would identify my biggest stumbling block, then make a plan to overcome it. Then it was “rinse and repeat”: find the next stumbling block, the next hang up, and figure out what that was so that I could eliminate it.
This worked well for me and it slowly began to transform who I was in early recovery. At some point I realized that I was happy in my life in spite of the fact that I was sober, and this got me really excited. In fact this motivated me to keep doing more and more in terms of personal growth, because I could see that it was working and that it was leading me to a better life.
Today I can identify pretty quickly when there is an opportunity for personal growth. It is typically an area of my life in which I am experiencing some level of discomfort. That is where the opportunity is. Every time that I make a leap forward and grow in my recovery I gain a little bit more freedom.
I can remember when I was in active addiction, I was drinking every day and I had a group of friends and drinking buddies, and I was afraid that if I got sober that I would lose all of those friends and that it would change my personality. And people argued with me and said “yeah, but it will change your personality for the better if you get sober, and you will have new friends in sobriety, and everything will be so much better.”
I did not believe them at the time because I was scared. I lived in fear. I wanted to stay drunk forever and have my little circle of friends and just be who I was at the time, stuck in a cycle of drinking. I did not want to believe that I could change, that I my life would be so different, and that it would be better. I did not want to have to meet a whole new set of friends and go through that scary process.
But eventually I got so miserable in my drinking that I surrendered, went to rehab, and did exactly that–I got a whole new circle of friends, I built a new life for myself in sobriety, and I started challenging myself to identify my fears, my hang ups, my anxiety–and to push through it. This is what has defined my life, and this is what has led to the success, freedom, and happiness that I have today.
Recovery is scary and it is hard work. It is also wonderful and has an amazing payoff.
Meanwhile, addiction is just sad and boring, and it keeps getting worse.
The price you pay for recovery is that you must face your fears.
Are you ready to take the plunge? Come join us!