By: Marilyn Davis

Start Your Story with a Goal

“…We can help write that story by setting a goal. Please write it down. Take a piece of paper, a few hours of your time, and write it all down – as an affirmation of you, your life, and your ability to choose.”― Melody Beattie – The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations on Codependency


In 1988, my employer sent me to drug and alcohol treatment and was adamant that I receive help. During the intervention, they all had a goal – get me to agree to treatment. 

They were also encouraging me to make every effort to be successful. This combination of boundaries on my behaviors while still demonstrating faith that I had the resolve, discipline, and desire to receive the help allowed this intervention to work and my story to begin.

Finding My First Goal in Recovery

If my bosses at Brenau University were the only ones setting a goal, it probably would not have worked. On my first day in treatment, my primary counselor told us, “If you want recovery, make it your goal.” 

She then cautioned us that this couldn’t just be a goal established by her, a sponsor, family, bosses, or other people involved in our lives; it had to be our goal. I could state that I wanted recovery, but it wouldn’t work if I didn’t plan to achieve this. 

Create A Goal Map with Sub-Goals

“Goals are the road maps that guide you to your destination. Cultivate the habit of setting clearly defined written goals; they are the road maps that guide you to your destination.”― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

Goals and sub-goals help us get what we want in life. Yes, I had other dreams and aspirations before my addiction took them away. Many of these improved my life, whether it was education, financial security, career, or better relationships with family and friends, those I could see as a goal.

We can carry out recovery as a goal, much like any other. 

  1. Want a new car or house and cannot merely write a check or debit your account? Then you know that you will have to save money to get it. 
  2. Want a better opportunity for a lucrative job? Then you know that you need either a college degree or specialized training to help this goal.
  3. Do you want to travel the world? Here again, it’s about saving for the priorities in your life.  
  4. Is long-term recovery your goal? Then apply S.M.A.R.T. and see where you are a year from now. 

With some of them, I mapped out specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-targeted actions, or S.M.A.R.T goals first mentioned in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran. 

However, it was not until I made a recovery goal in 1988, did I start to attach the principles of S.M.A.R.T.

Applying S.M.A.R.T. To My Recovery 

These goals take incremental actions to define and bring about your stated goal. They are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time targeted. 

My first goal for recovery was “Don’t Use.” I then set up the sub-goals for accomplishing that goal each day:

  1. Specific: Remain abstinent
  2. Measurable: Employer mandated drug screen results
  3. Achievable: Yes, do not use
  4. Realistic: Yes, if I do not use
  5. Time targeted: I’ll be drug screened weekly

Encouraging Ourselves

I had clear expectations of myself: Do not use. If I met this daily goal, I would also enjoy continued employment, so remaining abstinent facilitated other positive outcomes in my life, such as financial independence and better buying power, as I called it.

I also knew that viewing this goal in a semi-frivolous way, much like the resolutions people create on New Year’s Day, would not work. Habits and addictions take years to form, and the early stages of change are when most people relapse.

By making my goal of abstinence time-specific and then beginning to extend the time, I realized a month in recovery, then another, and finally a year. 

At this point, I started measuring and adjusting my recovery goal to include internal reasons and not just the obvious benefits of keeping my job. 

The Emotional Side of Goal Setting

The emotional side of accomplishing goals is personal. Some people process on the positive side and view a four-year commitment to getting a degree as a way to make sure they could get a better job at the end of their four-year education.

Other people belabor the time they have to spend just getting ready to get a job. Positive and negative emotions and attitudes motivate or drive actions. 

For some people, the bottom and the associated feelings of low self-worth, guilt, and shame prompt a wish to change for the better and to receive better outcomes.

For others, the bottom gives them a sense of relief; someone caught them. Now, they realize that changes will produce different and better outcomes. 

It does not matter which side of the coin you are on if changing for the better is your goal.

Need Help?

Each person finds their method for reaching their goal of recovery. However, having knowledgeable, supportive people help direct us to our recovery goal is usually more productive and less time-consuming than going alone.

There are more approaches to helping people than when I got into recovery 33 years ago. There are 12 Step based, faith-based, and secular approaches to help people recover from substance abuse. These approaches work for those who adhere to the fundamental philosophy for each recovery group or meeting.

When you find a recovery meeting that matches your beliefs about recovery, you will get advice, support, and friendships. These, in turn, will help you stay focused on your goal of recovery. Another way to stay focused on your goals is to read meditation books that reinforce your desire to achieve long-term recovery. I continue to use some of the meditation books I got in treatment. They’re dog-eared, loose in the bindings, but they hold special meaning for me. Here’s a link to some meditation books at Hazelden

Build on whatever incentive you have, make significant changes in your thoughts and behaviors. Learn to process your feelings because, with each of these actions, you get closer to your goal of long-term recovery. Click To Tweet

How Is Your Story Progressing? 

I know that you have ways that keep you focused on your goals as well. Let me know in a comment what your recovery goals are and how you’re doing with them. 

They might be something I need to add to mine. Thanks.



Writing and recovery heal the heart.


Marilyn L. Davis is the Editor-in-Chief of From Addict 2 Advocate and Two Drops of Ink. She is also the author of Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate and Memories into Memoir: The Mindsets and Mechanics Workbook. 


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