When It Seems Like Progress Stops
“When we make progress quickly, it feeds our emotions. Then, when there’s a period of waiting or we hit a plateau, we find out how committed we really are and whether we’re going to see things through to the finish or quit.” Joyce Meyer
Plateaus in Recovery and Life
For many people in recovery, there is a plateau at about nine months. Sometimes it’s emotional and feelings begin to level out. Without these chaotic feelings, people sometimes misinterpret this as boredom. For others, they start judging whether they are getting enough rewards for their inner work. While they are glad that the emotions have finally stabilized and they have better jobs and relationships, they don’t understand why it feels like something is missing some days.
They are going to meetings, discovering things about themselves, making changes, and yet, they become increasingly impatient for more. They forget to be appreciative that their family is a little more trusting; that they are making new friends and have social outlets that do not revolve around their use.
One of the reasons that chips, medallions, and other markers are given to recognize people’s time in recovery is that this recognition is important. They are reminders that give an incentive and can confirm hard work. But our recovery is more than just a medallion or chip, but for some people, the chips, improved relationships, and better opportunities aren’t enough and they hit a plateau and go back out.
Plateau phases often separate those who have gotten clean to avoid consequences and those who are authentically embracing recovery. For those who got into recovery to placate others or an authority, at about nine months, many of the early restrictions are not hanging over their head. They are getting along with their family, the boss has moved on to other problems, and even their Probation Officer is being nicer. Unfortunately, progress in relationships is only one indicator that things are going well in recovery.
Plateaus Give Us Time to Reflect
So which are you at this point? Is it a time to recommit to lifelong recovery and accept that there will be ups and downs, frantic and stable periods, or that some days, life, not just recovery, is tedious. Sometimes questions help us reflect on our circumstances. One way to think about where you are in your recovery is to answer some simple questions:
- How chaotic was your life before you got into recovery?
- Are you taking advantage of all the opportunities to grow in your recovery?
- Do you need to rate or re-evaluate your goals and sub-goals for recovery?
- Do you need to give yourself credit for the progress so far?
- Are you discussing your feelings with trusted people?
- Does your attitude reflect your gratitude?
- Are you on slippery ground with some of your thinking?
- Do you need to discuss these feelings of a void or too full feelings with someone?
Plateaus: Not Just in Recovery
These plateaus are going to happen for everyone, not just in recovery, but in many occupations. For instance, the person who won’t have a vacation for another year and they feel bored and trapped in their job, or someone who cannot get a promotion in their present position and cannot receive training for another year. These people will have to do the same thing every day for another year.
Alternatively, many students wonder why all this emphasis on the history of any country when they are a math major and could be finished in two years instead of four, but the school requires them to study certain things before they can move into their major’s classes.
We sometimes do not understand, nor value what we are learning in the day-to-day, routine experiences until we have done something foolish and sacrificed them.
We are not running a race with a distinct finish line where we are in recovery, nor are we running in circles completing nothing. It’s more of a cross-country course – hills, straight-a-ways, and unexpected bumps in the road, or an uphill climb to carry out our next recovery goal.
Stop and Enjoy the Calm Moments of the Plateau
These lulls in our recovery also allow us time to prepare for the bumps in the road or an uphill climb to carry out our next recovery goal. Reflection during plateaus let us see where we’ve been. We have lessons to learn that are unique, special, and distinct for all of us. We need to understand these lessons in order to move forward.
Plateaus: Time to Plan
A plateau also provides us with time to rejuvenate and be ready for the next hurdle or obstacle. Sometimes people trap themselves into judging their recovery progress by what others are accomplishing and doing this can set up jealousies, resentments, or feelings of inadequacy. “Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly” is part of many readings at recovery support meetings and it is true.
How long it takes you to repair the damages to your life from your use will differ from others. However, comparing yourself will only net you dissatisfaction in your own progress or give you an overly inflated sense of importance.
Plateaus: Time to Peacefully Reflect
However, it may just be a time to reflect, be peaceful, and express appreciation for the journey.
Reflection gives us an opportunity to see how far we have come in our recovery. However, it is not the end, but merely one more stepping-stone to greater rewards in our recovery.
These plateaus give us the time, not just to reflect but to energize us to move forward with our lives and our recovery. Each step forward gives us extra opportunities to find a wider range of behaviors that will give us with better outcomes.
We do not linger long at the plateau; yet seek to enjoy it and move on.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart.
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