Forget Light-Speed Sobriety! Learning Life-Moderation and Recovering at a Healthy Pace
Moving Away from All or Nothing
Upon entering recovery, most of us remain "all-or-nothing people". Early on, (0-3 years) we want to make up for lost time, fix our character defects, make amends to those we hurt, and improve every part of our lives. This approach results in repeated crashing and burning.
Every time it fails we beat ourselves up and despair that we will never get it right. We try to live recovery the same way we lived addiction and it leaves us feeling perpetually overwhelmed and fearful in our recovery efforts.
The most common reaction an addict or alcoholic has to fear is failure and avoidance. Eventually, many of us give up on anything beyond staying sober. We 'white knuckle it' but find we can only sustain abstinence for short periods of time. How then do we move toward a place where we can incrementally face the things that scare us and deal with life on life’s terms? Can we trust ourselves to differentiate between caution and going at a sustainable pace or between avoidance, complacency and staying stuck? Certainly not.
Manageability Comes from Support
Finding a healthy pace for our recovery is challenging because it means doing things in moderation, a way of being that exists far outside of our current comfort zone. This underscores the need for a very healthy and holistic support system that offers feedback and challenges us while also providing encouragement and support. With the guidance and direction of good people, we can begin with small incremental steps that lead to lasting and sustainable change.
However there’s a couple of problems with this approach:
- Our greatest fear is vulnerability – A fear of opening up and sharing who we are, what we feel and what we need with others. I say to people in recovery that if the only fear we overcome is the fear of meaningfully reaching out and accepting support, then we don’t have to face any other fears alone. Being alone is all too familiar and it allows our fear to cripple us.
- We are people who need people – We need to be held accountable for the changes we seek to make. We don’t yet trust ourselves to follow through and we are far more comfortable predicting that we will fail than succeed. Many of us fear that we are perhaps one of the “unfortunates” (an AA reference to those who are “constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves”).
An often misunderstood expression in recovery is, “hang with the winners”. Winners are people who have hope, work hard, and demonstrate accountability; they show us that success is not achieved alone.
We need sponsors, mentors, advisers, contacts, and friends. We see that these folks have characteristics, skills, and abilities that we want for ourselves. When we ask them to share what they have learned, we affirm their value and offer them the opportunity to “pay it forward”.
Organization is one of our greatest investments. We’re accustomed to flying by the seat of our pants but we find that significant progress toward our goals is not attainable without managing our time, commitments, and priorities. We learn again and again that we simply must write everything down because we cannot trust our memory to function beyond five minutes. At first we resent being told to keep a day planer or calendar, but we find our tensions reduced when we do so. Just the stress of fearing we’ll forget something important is draining – even if we don’t forget it!
Adding routines and rituals improves our ability to maintain a healthy perspective. We’re embarrassed to be told that a bedtime routine will help us get better sleep, but we find it to be true. The benefits of good sleep include a vast improvement in our ability to manage emotion, which results in less fear.
Learning to Ask for Help
We feel ashamed to admit that we do not know how to manage a checkbook, a budget, or a household. There’s great vulnerability in asking to be taught, but when we try to bullshit our way through, the best we can do is compensate. Pretending that we know what we’re doing undermines our recovery because it makes us feel like we’re just faking it. Being real and admitting our faults and fears is the key to becoming, 'happy, joyous and free'.
It’s all a great balancing act and sometimes we find ourselves going back to 'firehouse management'. We tend to look at things categorically. We think of our program, our career, our family of origin, our children, our partner, and other problems, and if we hyper-focus on any one category, we find that the others suffer. We rush to the category that is suffering the most, only to find that this results in other areas of our lives coming undone.
We need to learn to ask for help, to delegate, and to trust a power greater than ourselves to take care of what we cannot. Powerlessness is one of the most difficult lessons in recovery. Achieving the right pace and attaining our goals means accepting our limitations and sharing our struggles. We consistently find that those who live lives “second to none” are those who have grown spiritually and in fellowship.
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