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Trusting Your Gut: Developing Intuition in Recovery

One of the trickier skills to develop in early recovery is that of decision-making. While you were using, making decisions may have been a relatively simple affair—more often than not, you chose the path that protected your ability to continue to drink or use drugs. But now, in recovery, learning to trust yourself and make decisions that protect and promote recovery is an important task. Developing the parts of you that aid in good decision-making is a positive, fun and potentially even spiritually uplifting part of recovery.

What Is Intuition?

In the past, intuition was understood as virtually synonymous with “extrasensory perception” (ESP) and not well understood or respected. To rely on intuition was seen as more than a little flaky, and not necessarily a wise or sensible way to make decisions. More recent research, however, has helped give the notion of intuition a bit more respectability and value. Malcolm Gladwell’s popular book Blink summarized this research in a readable and clear format that helps explain just what intuition really is and how we can use it to make good decisions. Intuitive moments happen to a lot people. Most people describe experiencing their intuition as a little voice in their head that makes a suggestion, such as “go home a different way today.” You can’t explain why or provide a definite reason for having this kind of feeling. Sometimes the feeling may be strong and clear and may even present itself as fear, and sometimes it is vague and fleeting. What researchers explain is that many times these feelings are based on real observations. The observations might be so subtle, so small, that we couldn’t recognize them as something we heard or saw, but our brains processed the observation anyway and created the feeling in response.

Using Intuition to Improve Decision-Making in Recovery

So if you get these “funny feelings” every now and then, how can that help you make better decisions to protect your recovery? You’ll need to learn to listen to that inner voice. Many of the ways to do so are also excellent ways to de-stress and relax—great relapse prevention skills as well.

  • Try meditation. Simple and short practice sessions in which you sit quietly and empty your mind can help you clear away all the mental noise and clutter than can get in the way of experiencing your intuition.
  • Take good care of yourself physically. Lots of people try to ignore feeling hungry or tired so that they can get one more task done. Taking good care of yourself and not putting your physical needs off until later will help you feel well, rested and strong. Practice meeting these needs in a timely way, because these physical feelings can drown out the more subtle intuitive messages—think of your hunger, for example, like a voice, and if you let it shout at you, you won’t be able to hear the other messages your brain might be sending because they are more like whispers. This might sound simple, but if you’ve been drinking and/or using drugs for some time, it might be a little tricky at first to get reacquainted with all your body’s signals, especially if you haven’t always been a great listener.
  • Check out your hunches with a trusted friend, therapist or your sponsor. Talk about what you feel, and explore where that takes you. Addiction can be a lonely and secretive place where you hide much of what you feel for lots of different reasons. Trusting others with your thoughts, feelings and experiences might be new and uncomfortable at first, but bouncing these experiences off people you trust may be very helpful.
  • Try writing in a journal. You don’t have to make the journal all about developing your intuition—just practice recording what you feel as a meditative practice and a way to talk with your higher power or your inner self. You may find, over time, that you’ll be able to see a pattern of listening to your inner voice and getting positive results. If not, you’ll have a record of what happened when things didn’t go as you hoped, and that will give you some ideas about how to change things next time.
  • Exercise, or take up an activity that helps you get in “the zone”—that mental space where you feel a sense of flow, ease and being completely in the moment. Besides being enjoyable, increasing your time spent in “flow,” or in the zone, is like rest or meditation. It will help you hush the mental noise and turn up the volume on the subtle but important intuitive messages.

Learning to listen to your best and wisest self is a great process of self-discovery that is, in a nutshell, what recovery is all about. With practice, you’ll be able to enjoy the process and the results.  

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