By: Marilyn L. Davis
Changes Take You from Nowhere to Somewhere
“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether to accept our destiny.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Devil, and Miss Prym
Choice: Make Changes or Remain the Same?
Each day, we have choices in how to behave, think, and feel. We also have the option to stay the same or change. We make decisions on which way to go, back to our addiction, or move forward in our recovery. However, we often create barriers to change, even when we realize that a change is necessary.
Anytime we are attempting to change, we experience a heightened sense of anxiety or apprehension. And that’s just the thinking about changing, let alone the actions necessary to make those changes.
Some of this anxiety occurs because we don’t know the outcome. These uncomfortable feelings about change are especially acute when it’s a new behavior, thought or attitude.
How Will I Benefit from These Changes?
We want someone to tell us what’s going to happen if we do make changes. However, we’ll often negate the experiences of others with statements that create barriers to our changes:
- “Oh, it might have worked for you, but I’m different because…”
- “Why should I go to recovery support meetings”?
- “People aren’t trustworthy; I can’t confide in them!”
- “Two years ago, I tried recovery, and I wasn’t successful.”
Our barriers are self-imposed for the most part. That’s both good and bad news. Good because it’s an attitude within us, and therefore, we can change it. However, that’s the downside, too, as most of us don’t like to feel uncomfortable in our life choices.
A simple way to decide your willingness to change, regardless of your feelings or attitude, is to ask two essential questions:
• Are the risks of staying the same higher than the discomfort of change?
• Am I willing to experience uneasiness or anxiety while changing?
Even if you’ve decided that you can tolerate feeling uncomfortable while changing, there are still barriers to change.
Five Most Common Barriers
People continue to create barriers to change. Even when they see others in recovery, they continue to stay trapped.
Here are the five most common barriers. When you relate to any of the following descriptors of obstacles to change, there are also a few suggestions for overcoming the particular obstacle.
Do not stop with this. Research your options, seek out others in a similar situation, and ask for help with the changes.
1. Blaming Others
People have a hard time focusing on what they need to change within themselves when considering how much everyone else needs to change.
Keeping score on how others have hurt them, or how much of a given situation that someone else caused, move the primary focus from self-changes to blame.
Without absolving anyone for their responsibilities in your current situation, your primary focus must be on the changes you need to make.
The reality is that we are never going to change anyone else. Therefore, the only option we have is to change ourselves. Those changes include behaviors, attitudes, or feelings, but those are limitless options.
2. Fears: Assumptions about the Future
More often than not, when people start focusing on changing, they begin predicting and assuming the outcomes – “If I do this, then that will happen.”
Given that none of us can predict the future, invariably, the apprehension about the future spirals into the “What Ifs.” Here are a few “What Ifs” to reference:
- What if I don’t like the changes? Then revert to your old behavior.
- What if I can’t change quickly? Make progress; we’re not striving for perfection.
- What if they’re still mad at me? Our families, friends, and employers need time to trust that our changes are ongoing, not just done to appease them at the moment.
- What if I don’t like the way I feel when I make changes? Learn to journal, talk about your feelings, and realize that all feelings will pass – be patient.
Rather than focus on the “What ifs” concerning the future, ask yourself if you are more afraid of staying the same or changing.
Staying the same, in your feelings, attitudes, and situations means that you will continue experiencing the same outcomes. That choice to stay the same condemns you to the misery of your addiction.
Too often, people rely on their intellect, believing that they are smart enough to make changes without asking for directions specific to recovery. If you consider recovery as a new subject or skill, it can remove some of the false belief that you ought to know what to do.
The reality is that while you are intelligent, most people do not intuitively know how to do things well the first few times they attempt something. Think about the following. Do you know how to:
- Effectively Deal With Cravings
- Trust Others
- Rebuild a relationship with Family and Friends
- Change Self-defeating Behaviors, Thoughts, and Attitudes
- Stop blaming others
- Develop healthy coping skills
- Process issues
If you discover that you do not know how to do any of the things on the list, use your intelligence wisely, and ask for help, guidance, or instructions from people who know.
4. Mistrusting the Process and People
Trusting stranger’s advice feels foolish; after all, most people in the drug lifestyle were not trustworthy. Therefore, a certain cynicism and mistrust cloud most of your encounters with people trying to help you in early recovery.
Learn to separate your feelings when you listen to suggestions or directions from others.
It is okay to ask someone if their support and guidance comes from education, personal knowledge, or observation, without challenging their help.
When you find that they have worked in this field for multiple years or are in recovery themselves, common sense tells you that they may have some solutions to your problems.
Furthermore, most people do not want to give directions, suggestions, or information that proves incorrect; after all, that would mean that they were wrong.
Therefore, dropping your guard, listening to advice, following directions, and then deciding if you like the outcomes will help teach you which people are trustworthy.
With this information, it is easier to ask the next person for guidance if you’re uncertain.
5. Uncertain Rewards for Changing
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that you will win the Mother of the Year Award now that you are in recovery or win the girl because you are currently taking a shower every day. There are still uncertainties in recovery; however, there are more opportunities for better outcomes than in active addiction.
When you realize how many opportunities you have squandered in your addiction, it makes sense that if you are not using, show interest in your recovery, and change those aspects of yourself that prevented you from capitalizing on opportunities, then the rewards will come.
Just as importantly, there are self-defeating behaviors besides using that prevented you from realizing positive rewards.
For most of us, it was the simple changes that showed us doing something concrete, then evaluating the outcomes; we were motivated to make more changes.
Change From This to That and Nowhere to Somewhere
Here is a partial list that might help you see where simple changes in behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and attitudes could positively influence your recovery and life. Start with six universal negative aspects and make an effort to change them.
- Assuming to Asking Questions
- Careless to Careful
- Complacent to Interested
- Irresponsible to Accountable
- Arrogant to Open-minded
- Resistant to Willing
Remember, you always have a choice in how you think, act, feel, and behave.
Writing, and Recovery Heals the Heart
When you’re ready to share how you’ve changed, encourage others to change, or tell your recovery story, consider a guest post.