By: Marilyn L. Davis
Want to Change? Then There’s Work to Do!
“How would your life be different if…You stopped worrying about things you can’t control and started focusing on the things you can? Let today be the day…You free yourself from fruitless worry, seize the day and take effective action on things you can change.”
When you realize that there is a problem or do not like a particular situation in your life, you often have the ‘want’ to change something. You’ve stopped denying that a problem exists, and you’re willing to make changes to correct the problem. There are several changes you can make at this point:
- An action
- Changing a negative attitude about the person or situation
- Processing your feelings from a different perspective
But continuing to only worry about the problem leads to frustration, tension, and guilt.
Pondering is Unproductive
Recovery ambivalence is the inconsistency that many of us feel about recovery or entering treatment. On the one hand, we know that our addiction is slowly killing us, but we are fearful or angry about discontinuing our use.
While we may acknowledge that we need to stop using drugs and alcohol, we may be unsure how to do that. One part of us likes the idea of change; the other is fearful or angry about changing.
Other people have fears about deciding because they think they have made so many poor choices or decisions in the past that they cannot make a correct decision specific to their recovery.
Some people are just ambivalent, undecided, or of two minds about change. They may have gotten used to:
- Living in unsatisfactory or stressful relationships
- Staying stuck in a dead-end job
- Living here and there with whoever would take them in
- Making money/not earning money
- Eating at the soup kitchen
- Being in trouble with the law
While they can identify things that wished were different, they don’t do anything to change their situations.
Go Beyond Identifying the Problem
In the case of addiction, not changing can and does lead to harsher outcomes. When you seem dissatisfied but do not take actions to improve, this sets up disappointment from others when they attempt to help with a solution, and you reject it by not following and using their suggestions.
If you find yourself in the cycle of only identifying the problem and complaining about it, ask yourself, do I have the want and the willingness to change something?
- Am I willing to make an effort to change the problem?
- Have I explored all my options for help with changes?
We Can Control What We Change in our Recovery
In our addiction, we had little control; our substance use dictated our every waking moment. We were always thinking:
- “Where can I get drugs?”
- “When can I safely use them?”
- “How soon until I can have a drink?”
- “Can I use, and no one will know?”
- “Can I get away from my responsibilities?”
In 2013, an estimated 21.6 million persons aged 12 or older had substance dependence or abuse in the past year, which indicates how many people need help. Twenty-one million people is a considerable number.
It’s comparable to saying that every citizen of Beijing, China, or Sao Paulo, Brazil, needs treatment. So why don’t people take advantage of quality treatment when they know they need it?
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), there are five common reasons why people don’t make an effort to get treatment.
- Not ready to stop using (38.8 percent).
- No health coverage/could not afford the cost (32.1 percent).
- Possible negative effect on the job (12.3 percent).
- Not knowing where to go for treatment (12.9 percent).
- Afraid of adverse reaction from family or friends if they need treatment (11.8 percent).
We Can Decide to Get Help
I understand how difficult it is when we know we need to enter treatment. However, here you are reading about substance abuse treatment. Could it be time for you or a loved one to investigate treatment options?
We’re often conflicted about our decision to enter treatment. We can feel relief that we’ve decided to enter treatment but are uncertain about outcomes. Uncertainty and doubt happen when a person holds two opposing attitudes or feelings about a situation.
It can be as simple as liking and disliking certain aspects of a situation. Ambivalence delays changes because we have both positive and negative feelings about someone or something.
When You’re Reluctant to Change, Question Your Motives
In active addiction, we learn to live with the conflicts and uncertainties of not changing, and we learned to survive. Survival is about endurance, carrying on, living to tell the tale another day. It can be nothing more than drudgery.
Even knowing this, many are still only thinking about changing and finding solutions.
- What do I get out of staying the same?
- Is there a reason for me to change?
- What might I learn through the process of change?
- Are there benefits for me if I change?
- What are my feelings about changing?
- What efforts are necessary to change this situation?
- Why am I hesitant about changing?
- Do I have fears about changing?
- Can I expect better outcomes if I change?
- What would any change cost me: financially, physically, mentally, and emotionally?
- How much time, energy, and effort would I have to put into changing?
- What feelings and attitudes are holding me back from changing?
The Answers are Within You
I found this Stephen Richard’s quote meaningful and encouraging when I was contemplating a change: “When you connect to the silence within you, that is when you can make sense of the disturbances going on around you.”
When you go within to find answers, you can also see your resistance. At this point, you have to decide if continuing to take the opportunity for further change is something that you want. You have to determine if you are capable of putting forth the energy needed to carry out the change or continue experiencing the possible adverse outcomes that you have gotten in the past by not changing.
Unlearning and Overcoming Reluctance to Change
Remember that we learned habits and self-defeating behaviors. That means we can unlearn them, too.
Complicating the unlearning is that many of our actions are mechanical or habituated. In other words, the predictable, knee-jerk reaction, the way “I’ve always been” attitudes to life.
If, however, you decide that you do want to change or experience further changes, there can still be some predictable barriers to changing:
- You want to change but do not know how to improve.
- It seems that changing is just too hard.
- You’re not willing to put effort into changing.
- You think if you say you want to change, that should be sufficient.
- People might expect more changes.
- You believe that your changes will never be good enough.
Changing Is About Problem Solving
While the answers are within you, marshaling the resolve and motivation to change or overcoming your fears about change may be the hard part. There is a simple solution.
Take any problem, break it up into its components, and see if it does not become less fearful and more readily accomplished to correct one aspect at a time. If you do not know how to change something but genuinely want to change, ask others, or research achieving change.
Look at All Your Resources
When you consider family, friends, and people in recovery support meetings, you see that you have many resources to ask. Not all of them will have an exact solution for your particular change because they have not had to change that aspect of themselves, or they may not think they know enough to help anyone else.
Don’t give up on finding useful solutions.
You know that you would ask multiple people for answers if it involved your use, so you have to be just as diligent in asking for help with the change.
If you ask enough people, there is sure to be someone who had a similar problem and had a solution, and you can go from pondering to productive actions.
Writing and recovery heal the heart.