In this blog, we take a look at some of the tools we give our drug rehab and alcohol treatment clients in their recovery toolbox. Lots of alumni tell us that life is great now. They’ve blown the smoke off their lives and had a good, long look at what they want out of it. And they are putting in the time, effort, and creativity to achieve those goals.
But some alumni are struggling, even if they have not had a slip. They usually tell us that they have lost sight of goals, are dwelling on a family conflict or problem at work, are afraid to take risks that will challenge them, are living life for others, and so on.
There are “tools” to help with these struggles. The bottom line for all these tools is: “we all have one life to live. No thunderbolt from the heavens is going to save us. That’s our job”. SCHC alumni who are already taking charge of their lives in addiction recovery know this is true, because they tell us it is. Those who are struggling also know this is true — they suffer because they don’t do anything about it. We typically hear from those who are struggling, “I know what I have to do but I’m not doing it” or “I’m not following my aftercare plan.”
Whatever we choose, the question to ask ourselves is this: ” How is my life working out for me?”
If we are unhappy, or feel that something is missing, then this is a sign that we need to do something to change things. No one ever wants to have an addiction. This is one of the main reasons why they suffer. They spend a lot of time and effort pursuing a life that they really don’t want. So, the job for those in recovery is to find a life that they do want. The life we want isn’t going to just drop into our laps. We actually have to work at it and here are 4 ways – or tools – to do that.
1. Take Charge of Your Life
Be the Author of your life
Some of the greatest psychologists remind us that each person is in charge of his or her life. Each of us makes decisions that result in how we live. The 12-step version of this is “To thine own self be true.” A recipe for suffering is willingly giving up control. One of the most famous examples in the recovery world is to play the victim. Adults who choose to be victims suffer unnecessarily and they certainly don’t inspire admiration. Watch just about any Hollywood film, and you will see a hero that faces great problems and overcomes them with creativity and determination. We admire people who refuse to be victims.
Ask Life what it Demands of you
Lots of people try to take control of their lives by attempting to control others and life. This is where all that manipulation and lying comes from. But, as life may have taught us already, this is not a good tactic. People do what they choose regardless of what we want them to do. Things happen regardless of what we want them to do. The 12-step version of this is: “Live life on life’s terms.”
Live Comfortably in the grey Areas of life
It is simply reality that often there are no black and white answers to life’s problems. If you struggle in this reality, it’s likely because you feel the need to be in complete control—a typical sign of great insecurity. Taking charge means accepting reality. (Those of you who are parents know that there are lots of gray areas with kids.). The 12-step version: “Do your part and leave the rest up to God.”
You are on a journey and no one can predict the future. If your thinking is rigid, you’ll suffer unnecessarily. When (and not if) a wrench is thrown into your plans, figure out a way around it or change your path.
2. Live with Purpose
Set Goals for Yourself
Focus on today, but keep an eye on the future. Psychology is showing that happiness depends on moving forward toward what you want out of life. Unfortunately, many in recovery think that they have to focus only on keeping away from drugs and dealing with their personal “issues” of depression, guilt, anger, and so on. But we now know that if you don’t make progress toward some goals, your quality of life will suffer.
Live for more than Yourself
The old idea of focusing only on yourself doesn’t work. Living for something bigger than yourself is very important for happiness. Whatever that looks like is up to the individual. It’s a personal choice. Our alumni have reported various things they are living for: family, the environment, helping youth, playing music for audiences, volunteering with the homeless, and so on. Actor Christopher Reeve who, in spite of paralysis from the neck down due to a equestrian accident, lived for his wife, child, and for doing his part to raise money for spinal research.
Don’t get Suckered by Intensity
One of the key themes at SCHC is that our clients have substituted living intensely for living meaningfully. People with addictions love intensity. They love the adrenalin rush. They love excitement. Boredom often comes quickly and a great (but only temporarily) way to eliminate boredom is to do something intense. A much better tactic is to find something personally meaningful to fulfill.
3. You are the Story You Tell Yourself
Change the Story You Tell Yourself
The way in which you make sense of life becomes your reality. If you think that recovery will be really difficult, then it will be difficult. If you think that having cravings is unacceptable, then they will be. If you think that it’s too embarrassing to go dancing without a drink, then it will be. If you think you cannot have a good life until your parents change, then this will be your reality. The stories that we tell ourselves become our reality.
Just do it!
It is a remarkable fact that alumni who are thriving tell us one thing: they are doing things to help themselves. Action is more powerful than anything in recovery. Evidence of this is found in the Big Book of AA, the history of AA, and simply by talking to people who are happy in recovery. This was not merely going to meetings. This was action in the home, at work, with friends, volunteering, and so on.
Never give up
You’ve probably heard this one on TV, in magazines, and in movies. Psychologists call it various things, but a popular label right now is “resilience” or “hardiness.” This is the idea that when the going gets tough, the tough get going (And it is one of those interesting facts that the typical millionaire in this country has gone broke six times before striking the jackpot. They didn’t give up).
4. Accept Reality
Accept Suffering as Natural
Despite all those advertisements that tell us suffering is bad and that we can fix it with a pill or whatever, the truth is that all people suffer. Suffering is not a bad thing. It’s how we grow as human beings.
Happiness is not the Absence of Suffering
Again, we seem to have this peculiar idea that to be happy, we must not suffer. If your remember your time with us, you probably remember hearing about Viktor Frankl, who said that happiness is the byproduct of living the life you want to live. We really don’t have to work at being happy. It comes naturally as long as we are following our bliss.
Making a Decision Means you will lose
Most people who have a hard time making a decision recognize that deciding on one thing means they lose the other. If I go back to school, then I lose my paycheque. If I keep with my job, I don’t get trained for a new job. If I choose to have a better relationship with my family, I have to give up being the center of attention. If I choose to be assertive, I have to give up the safety of being passive. Losing out on something is not a bad thing. It is how the world works.
It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you deal with what happens to you. We find that most of our clients have not figured out this truth. In life, sh*t happens. People will say “no” to us, life will often be “unfair,” people will hurt us. This is simply reality.
Summing Up: Recovery Tools from Dr. Wong
Much of our addiction treatment program is based on the work of Dr. Paul Wong. Dr. Wong comes up with all sorts of little sayings. If we think about them, though, we’ll see that there’s a lot of truth in them. Here are some:
“Everybody has a racehorse and a donkey. If you don’t pay attention to the racehorse, you’re stuck with the donkey.”
“If you look at your life and it’s like you’re always in the shadows, turn around, and start looking into the light.”
“If you don’t want to be criticized, then do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”
“Why do couples quarrel? Most of the time, arguments and getting angry with each other serve the function of (a) communicating their unhappiness and (b) avoiding to confront & resolve the real issues that underlie their dissatisfaction.”
“Conformers do what others do. Cowards do what is safe. Fools do what their desires dictate. Wise people do what is right.”
“All your striving, suffering and setbacks are worth it if you are pressing towards the worthy goal of a higher calling.”
“People may not know what kind of success will make them happy, but they do know that failures and rejections do make them feel unhappy. The best way to maintain a sense of peace and contentment is to rise above success and failure and focus on doing what really matters at the present moment without expectations.”
“When tragedy strikes, we may begin by asking WHY, but at some point we need to move on to ask: What can I do to give meaning to my suffering or what can I do to make life worth living in spite of pain?”