Addiction treatment, done properly, is a long game.
Many people make the mistake of seeing a trip to rehab or a few AA meetings as a temporary fix to a problem that they believe is only temporary in nature.
The problem with that approach is that addiction lasts for the rest of your life. Once you become alcoholic, once you become addicted to drugs, it is a permanent condition. Even if you abstain and you work a recovery program the threat of relapse is always going to be just one mistake away.
Therefore it makes sense to think of your addiction recovery journey as a long term game rather than a short term fix. You should think in terms of months, years, and decades–and then act within the day you are in to make the best possible decisions for yourself.
What does this mean for the recovering addict in the real world? It means that you favor a holistic approach to recovery in which you take care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and socially. That is an overwhelming amount of positive changes to consider for a single day, but in the long term you can certainly make changes in all 5 of those areas.
So how does the newly recovering alcoholic or drug addict manage to tackle this huge goal of positive change without becoming overwhelmed?
Of course there is the popular “day at a time” philosophy, and that can certainly be helpful to some people. But also it is important to realize that addiction recovery, done properly, lasts for a very long time. The rest of your life, in fact. Which means that, every time that you feel pressure that you have too many things that need to be “fixed” in your life, you can just take a deep relaxing breath and remember that:
You have plenty of time.
There is plenty of time for all of the personal growth that has to happen in your life. The key is to prioritize your goals and then pick something and get started. Forward motion. Make progress each and every day, and over the months, years and decades this will accumulate into an amazing new life.
There are some people who get discouraged when they consider all of the improvements that they need to make in order to live any kind of successful life in recovery. So they think “I need to go to AA and get a sponsor” and “I also need to get into therapy or counseling” and on top of all that “I also need to get into shape and quit cigarettes.”
And so the struggling alcoholic or addict in early recovery can look at all of these potential changes, get overwhelmed, and decide to do nothing. Or they determine that their goals are going to take so long to reach that they lack the motivation to even get started.
This is silly though. Realize that no matter how long it takes for you to improve and “fix” your life in recovery, the time is going to go by anyway. You are either making positive changes today or you are not.
There was a turning point for me in early recovery in which I realized that I had crossed a certain line, my life had improved vastly since I quit drinking and using drugs, and I realized that every little bit of effort had culminated into a pretty decent life for myself. Things had improved so much and it seemed like a miracle to me, but really it had just been a battle of daily inches, daily progress.
We might picture addiction recovery as being this fixed event, after which our life is “normal” again, and before which we are a total mess. But the reality is that actual recovery, the way it works for most people anyway, is that they quit drinking and taking drugs, then they improve their life a tiny bit every single day.
This is how you build a successful life in recovery–one day at a time, through tiny bits of positive action.
For example, I did not quit smoking cigarettes until I had about 3 years clean and sober. I did not start exercising seriously until I had about 2 years clean and sober. And I did not really get emotionally healthy enough for a serious relationship until....well, that took even longer for me! But the point is that I got there, with each of these major goals, with each of these positive changes in my life, I eventually conquered the goal and moved forward again.
Note that I did not do it all at once. I prioritized.
At one point I took inventory in my life to determine where my biggest leverage was at in terms of freedom and happiness. The question really was, at the time: “What is holding me back from happiness and freedom the most?”
And in 2005 the answer to that was “cigarette addiction.” That was my biggest hang up at the time, and it was the thing that would bring the most freedom and happiness to me if I “fixed it.”
So I put all of my energy and resources into it, and I fixed it. Note that this took a very concentrated effort and a whole lot of help and support.
At another point in my recovery, I realized that a lack of fitness and exercise was my biggest block to happiness. I was out of shape and it was dragging me down. So again, I made a monumental effort and I got whipped into shape. This was not an easy thing to do, and the reward was immense. Getting into shape had a huge impact on the quality of my recovery.
So this is how I suggest that you play “the long game” when it comes to addiction and recovery.
Surrender and go to rehab. Make a firm commitment to sobriety and to personal growth. Know that you have time to make all the necessary changes, and start out with a rock solid commitment to being clean and sober.
From there, start to build on your recovery with other positive lifestyle changes.
Recognize that when you eliminate a bad habit or form a positive new habit, that improvement to your life is locked in permanently because it is habit related.
Then start seeking feedback and advice from your sponsor, your therapist, and your peers. Ask them what bad habits you should eliminate and what positive habits you should form.
Then start taking suggestions and testing out their advice. As you make changes, it will quickly become apparent to you what is worth focusing on and what is not worth your efforts.
Deciding to be overwhelmed and to do nothing is a mistake. Instead, pick the biggest opportunity for personal growth and focus on that first. Keep moving forward!
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