I don't want you to believe that you can anything like “magical thinking” to suddenly transform your life without any effort in recovery.
I don't want you to believe that you can somehow bypass the hard work that is involved in rebuilding a life post-addiction.
However, that doesn't mean that positive thinking is not important, or that it is not powerful.
Optimism is still relevant for success in addiction recovery. Even if it doesn't perform miracles.
And it sort of does, actually. Thinking positive is still very, very powerful. But you have to give yourself permission to be optimistic. You have to give yourself the ability to even hope for a better life.
That is where the first and second step of AA comes into play. If you work those first two steps then you surrender to your disease, then you surrender to a new solution. You are saying “Yes, I agree that my life is very screwed up due to my addiction, and yes, I agree that I need a new solution in my life.” You are accepting the fact that you need serious help.
What I really want to caution you on is the idea that you cannot just recover using mental thought processes without putting in any action behind those thoughts.
Meaning that you have to actually do the work, get busy, and take some positive action.
Your positive thinking can only take you so far. Your positive thinking is only useful if it becomes the catalyst that moves you to take positive action.
You can sit on the couch all day long and fantasize about living a sober life in recovery, one in which all of your relationships are healed and you are being responsible and sober every day. You can sit there and think positive and fantasize in great detail about that new life and what it might be like for yourself. All of that positive thinking has exactly zero value unless you get up off of that couch and go make it happen.
And how exactly does a struggling addict or alcoholic do that? For me, the process looked like this: Ask for help from friends and family, let them direct me to rehab. Go to rehab. Listen to the therapists at treatment and take their advice. Follow through with the aftercare plan that they give me. Go to meetings, groups, AA, NA, get a sponsor, work the steps, read the literature, write in a journal, start exercising, keep taking advice and suggestions from my mentors in recovery, go back to college, get a job, volunteer to chair an NA meeting, start repairing relationships, start exercising, and so on and so on. Before I knew it, I had been taking advice and suggestions from people for so long and I was actually taking a lot of positive action and suddenly my life was no longer miserable. I had this dawning realization one day that I was living sober, I was free from addiction, and I was actually happy.
And the positive thinking was only one piece of that action sequence. The positive thinking may have kicked much of it off, but really the part that created the transformation was simple action. Someone was telling me what to do, and I was doing it. A sponsor or a therapist told me what to do and I listened to them, took their advice, and give their suggestion a chance to work in my life. Some of the advice that I took was eventually discarded, and that was fine. Much of it created such positive results in my life that I kept doing it over and over again until it became a habit and part of my new lifestyle.
At some point in my recovery journey I had a realization, which was that I could probably tackle just about any goal that I might have in life, and if I really wanted to prioritize something, I could achieve it. It was like those posters that you used to see when you were in middle school about how you could achieve any dream you had if you just worked hard at it. Well, I had that moment in which I realized that I really could do whatever I wanted, and probably be successful at it, because I had become so empowered in my recovery journey. This was a stunning realization for me because when I had been stuck in my addiction I felt so powerless and so trapped by the world. And then in recovery I had worked hard enough for long enough and suddenly I realized that I really could achieve just about any goal that I cared to pursue. Sobriety had given me this platform of strength, and now the world had become my canvas on which to paint whatever I felt like. It was a humbling realization because so many people had helped me get to that point; had helped me on my recovery journey.
And that help is available to you, or to anyone else who wants to get clean and sober. If you go to a few AA meetings and ask for guidance you will be showered with a wealth of support and knowledge. Those people have no reason to care about you, but they do, simply because you are struggling with the same thing that they struggled with. So they reach out and they do whatever they can to help you and guide you. That's pretty powerful stuff, but of course you have to have the willingness in place to go pursue that change in your life.
So how do you flip the switch in your mind and escape from the negativity and misery of addiction, somehow turning that into the positive vibes of recovery?
Don't expect to flip the switch overnight. Be patient with yourself. Ask for help, go to treatment. Start following directions. The positive thinking will follow as you begin to make positive choices. And the key to making positive choices is NOT to make them yourself–let someone else make them for you in early recovery. Listen to the advice and guidance of others–your friends, family, your peers in AA, your therapist, your counselor, your sponsor in AA or NA. Listen to these people and follow their suggestions.
You must take positive action in order to rewire your thought processes in early recovery. You cannot think your way into good living, as they say. Instead, go to rehab, go to meetings, and start following simple directions. The positive thinking will follow these actions. If you are willing to get humble, to listen to others and take their advice, to follow these simple directions–then you can turn your life around and your thoughts will follow. Change your life and you can change your thinking.
Most of us believe that it has to work the other way around–we believe that we have to somehow start thinking positive thoughts all the time if we ever want to escape from addiction and recover. The truth is that no one can do it that way...if they could then they would not be an addict or alcoholic to begin with. Instead, we have to get humble and start taking advice from others and simply take positive actions every single day. Do that for long enough and eventually your thinking will be changed and you will suddenly realize that, just like I did after a few months of the recovery process.
If you do the work then one day you will fall to your knees with gratitude when you suddenly realize that the obsession and the compulsion of your addiction has been completely removed, and your thoughts have become your own again, and you are truly free.
Welcome to recovery.
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