You might think that recovery is all about going to meetings and staying out of trouble. It is that, but it is also a lot more. The truth is that being in recovery is hard work, probably a lot more work than we ever imagined it would be. It’s so easy to get caught up in a confusing mixture of emotions and thoughts, some of which are in direct conflict with each other – and your recovery. Here is another truth that deserves elaboration: what you think matters and it matters a great deal in recovery. How can your thoughts be so instrumental in your new life in sobriety? Let’s look into this to see how what you think can help benefit your recovery.
Thoughts – They’re Always With You
First of all, let’s be very clear about one thing. Your thoughts are always with you. Many times, you may be at your wit’s end and want desperately to have a little release from what’s bothering you. In the past, you’d likely resort to your favorite drug of choice to help ease the pain and take away the worry for a short while. And that’s just it. The remedy not only didn’t last, but when you came off the high or got sober again, your troubles were still with you. It could even be that your “solution” made your situation even worse. The tough thing about resorting to quick fixes is that they leave us disappointed and somewhat angry that they didn’t work like we’d hoped. This is true no matter what the sure-fire remedy is purported to be. We know, deep in our hearts, that there’s no such thing as a miracle cure and that we’re going to have to put in the hard work if we have any hope of achieving the desired results. So, let’s get back to the matter of your thoughts being always with you. There’s good news and bad news in this. First, the bad news: the more you allow your thoughts to remain stuck in negativity, the more negative you will feel, the less progress you will make toward meaningful goals, and the longer you’re likely to remain stuck. The good news is that you are in control of what you think – or, you can teach yourself how to harness your thoughts and put them to the best use for your recovery. Since you cannot escape your thoughts, doesn’t it make a whole lot of sense to figure out how you can maximize your benefits from them, instead of permitting them to bring you down and keep you there?
Getting Rid of the Dead Weight – Lift Up Your Spirit
When you’re in the early stages of recovery from drug or alcohol abuse or process addictions, you know all about the feeling of a huge, decaying weight that seems permanently affixed to your chest. It sometimes hurts to breathe, you have so much pain. All the bad things that resulted from your addiction weigh on your mind, creating a maelstrom of confusion, worry, anxiety, depression, fear and anger. In fact, think back to the last time you felt really happy – that is, a time in your life when you were not using substances to create an artificial high. When did you last feel happiness, pure and simple? This may be a difficult and somewhat painful memory to dredge up, but the exercise is worthwhile. Were you a child when you last felt such happiness and joy? Were you just falling in love with someone? Was it when you had your first child that you were infused with incredible feelings of positive energy? Whenever it was, that was a pureness of spirit that you felt. That was the boundless font of energy and positivity that only comes from the realization and celebration of spirit. This isn’t some obscure concept or something that is “new age.” It is a reality proven by science. When we feel good and think positive thoughts, our spirit is lifted. We can then release the burdens of dead weight we’ve been carrying around with us for so long. The problem, as many of you are quick to point out, is that there’s been so much bad stuff that’s happened in the interim that you may have forgotten how to take back your right to feeling good, to expressing and experiencing joy and happiness. But you can begin right now, today, to drop that excess weight that drags your spirit down. Remember what you learned during rehab about the body-mind-spirit connection? In recovery, you’ve likely been concentrating almost exclusively on the body, trying to heal from your addiction. Yes, this is important and takes some time to accomplish, but you’ll never truly be happy or totally productive in your recovery if you fail to tend to your mind and spirit as well. For some individuals, the concept of spirit doesn’t work. But what does make sense to them is to substitute the word “soul.” For the purposes of this discussion, let’s do that. By learning how to nourish and enrich your soul, you are helping to lift up your spirit – and to create more space for positive thoughts that benefit your recovery.
The Downside of Thinking Bad Thoughts
Just what can happen to you when you dwell on the negative and make no room for uplifting and forward-looking thoughts? Here’s another area where science has proven that what you think matters. When your thoughts remain in a bleak state for extended periods of time, you run the risk of becoming clinically depressed. Beyond depression, serious illness can also come about. The pain of a broken heart from a relationship that ends can lead to physical manifestations of illness and disease. Thinking that you’ve brought about this sad situation as a result of your addiction and going over and over what you’ve said and thought and done without getting off the trajectory and doing something else will inevitably bring you down – both physically and mentally. Your soul will also be chained in a deep, black pit from which there seems no escape. Barely able to breathe and constantly embroiled in your swirling bad thoughts, you may find that you have very little energy left to get on with your life. Even the basic requirements, the things you need to do for your recovery – such as going to meetings, paying attention to your nutrition, getting adequate sleep and frequent exercise, reading recovery literature, getting back to work, repairing fractured or damaged family relationships – get short shrift, relegated to the back corner while you stay submerged in your negative thoughts. Does any of this sound familiar? Why prolong the agony and stick with your negative outlook? Isn’t it time you did something proactive for yourself and your recovery? Isn’t it time you realized that what you think matters? Isn’t it time for a change that can really benefit your recovery?
First Steps: Create Your Dreams
The innocence of infants and the pure joy you see on their angelic little faces is an image that should give you an inkling of what happiness looks and feels like. Granted, infants aren’t always happy. They have colic and diaper rash and want to be fed and held and loved when they want. They depend on their parents and caregivers to tend to their wants and needs. But that pure joy? That’s what you want for yourself. That’s what you can have – but it will take considerable work. Before you can experience happiness, you have to have something to work toward. You need some goal or series of goals that mean enough to you to motivate you to do whatever it takes to achieve them. These goals need to be so valuable, so worthwhile, so important to you that they serve as a beacon, always there to give you hope and to spur you on in the face of difficulty or unexpected challenges along the way. So, the first step in changing what you think from negative to positive is to take the time to sit down and figure out what’s really important to your future. Sit down and create your dreams. For now, the sky is the limit. Don’t limit your thoughts or listen to that nagging (and evil) little voice that tells you that you’re not worth it, that you’ll never succeed, that you don’t have what it takes to get to that lofty goal. You need a horizon and it is your dream that counts here. If it means something to you, it’s worth considering and putting down as one of your dream goals. Certainly there are a lot of very good reasons why you might be a bit reluctant to think about certain goals. Let’s tick some of the more common ones off. You lack the experience. You don’t have enough knowledge. You need more skills. You don’t have the time. You have too much responsibility. You have to make up for lost time and can’t afford to detour to what you really want. You don’t have enough money. You lack support. You have children and that prevents you from following your dream. You’ve given up on ever being happy. There is a rebuttal for each of these excuses. And that is exactly what they are. You should never allow that little voice to tell you that you can’t achieve your dreams or that you shouldn’t even try. If you lack experience, make it a point to figure out ways that you can obtain the necessary experience. You have to begin somewhere. Everyone does. They don’t just get up one morning and possess the experience they need. They have to put in the time to get it. You can too. If you don’t have enough knowledge, the way around that is to learn what you need to learn. This may mean that you have to take classes in college or night school or some online course. Maybe you need to brush up on your reading or pay attention to instructions. If there’s a will, there’s a way. You can get the knowledge you need, but, again, you have to take the action necessary and put in the time to do so. If you find that your skills are lacking, this is similar to needing more experience. Skills can be learned, just as they can be taught. Find out where you can get training to help improve or add to your skills. Don’t hold back on going after your dreams because it will take time. If it matters to you, your thoughts can help motivate you to keep working until you acquire the skills. Think you don’t have the time? You can tell yourself that, but it is another example of dwelling on the negative. How much does your dream mean to you? Is it something that gives you joy to think about? Can you see yourself in this dream, achieving it? If you can, then the time you need to devote toward accomplishing the dream is well worth it. Another way to look at it is that as long as you have breath, you have time to pursue your dreams. Think you have too much responsibility holding you back from going after your dreams? Maybe it’s time to relinquish some of your duties or work on paring them down and allocating your time a bit differently so that you can take advantage of the opportunity to advance your dreams. Someone else may be able to share the responsibility, freeing you up to do what you want. If the idea that you’ve already wasted too much time and lost out because of your addiction, and this precludes you being able to go after your dreams, it’s time to revise your thought process. The only true waste of time is allowing your dreams to stagnate and die. You need something to spur you on, something that makes you smile and want to get up in the morning and get going. Your addictive past is behind you. It’s today and your future that you need to concentrate on. What’s more inviting than working toward realizing your dreams? If money is an issue, find ways to get financial aid, pare down unnecessary expenses, consolidate expenses, and develop a better and more workable budget. Maybe you can get some assistance from family or take out a loan. Never let the financial aspect of what really matters to you stand in your way. Again, if you really want this, you will be willing and able to figure out a way to make it work. No one around to offer you encouragement and support as you pursue your dream goals in your new life in recovery? Maybe you don’t have any family members or loved ones, but this doesn’t mean you don’t have anyone in your corner. You have your 12-step sponsor and fellow group members in the rooms of recovery. They are always there to stand by you and offer their unwavering encouragement and support. Make use of them. Do you feel like your children are tying up your time and making it impossible for you to think about your dreams and work toward achieving them? Children do grow up eventually, you know. And there are resources that are available to free up your time and allow you to carve out some time to go after what really matters to you. Whether it’s a family member that offers to babysit or summer camp that offers you some needed time, or something else, don’t be afraid to be creative in managing your time and resources so that you can devote some of your energies to what gives you joy and benefits your recovery. If you’ve given up on ever being happy, this is an excuse that you can simply toss out the window. You have life. As long as you have life, you have hope. There are no certainties except this one: if you give up, you’ll never know the joy that you could experience. Why not be willing to take the chance? See yourself happy. Visualize what it looks like and how you’ll feel when you manifest your dreams.
Craft Action Plans
Creating your dreams is one thing. But it takes more than just thinking about something to turn it into a reality. The next step to positive thinking benefiting your recovery is to craft a plan of action that will allow you to make progress toward achieving your dreams and goals. Think of these action plans as a stair-step process. Another analogy is building the foundation of a structure. You have to start somewhere and keep on going until you reach your destination. Each success along the way serves as positive reinforcement. What you think at each step of the way is an indication of how much you’ve learned and how you’ve been able to apply that knowledge to your situation. The more you succeed the more positive your thoughts will be. The more positive you find that your thoughts are, the more satisfied you will be with the results. You will also find that your dreams don’t stop because you’ve been successful. There will be other dreams to take their place. This is called continual growth. There is nothing better to benefit your recovery than to be on a lifelong learning journey. What you think matters. Start today to turn those negative thoughts around and start making big strides in your recovery. You can do it. Your dreams are waiting, so what are you waiting for?