By: C. W. Stratton, MS, CASAC
Out with the Old – In with the New
“Your life does not get better by chance; it gets better by change.” -Jim Rohn
Recovery consists of making significant adjustments in our lives. New in recovery, we have a lot of baggage that’s weighed us down for years.
All that excess baggage often dictates how we move through the world. And for most of us, that baggage is cumbersome and restricts us from entering many places.
Due to this heavy load and the room it has taken up in our lives, we had trouble fitting in anywhere.
However, if we’re going to flourish in our recovery, we have to examine that baggage. It’s time to go through some of those pieces and rid ourselves of what is still harming our recovery.
“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.”―
People: Finding New Connections
We have formed connections with some fascinating people during active addiction; we were loyal to these individuals to a fault. Even after deciding to turn our lives around and enter recovery, we continued being loyal to them. Despite all the suggestions we’ve heard in counseling and meetings, we continued to hold on, even when people cautioned us that our continued association with them could be devastating to our recovery.
We made excuses for these individuals, and we made excuses for why we continued associating with them. Through trial and error and, in some cases, a relapse, we realized that changing our associations and connections is key to our growth and development in the recovery process. So, how can you start breaking away from those old associations?
- Begin reaching out to those in recovery
- Get involved in recovery based functions
- Enquire about making a commitment in a given meeting (being a coffee maker or greeter)
- Obtain a sponsor
- Talk to those who you wouldn’t normally speak to that are in self-help meetings
- Don’t focus on individual differences; look at similarities when trying to make a new connection
As adults, it seems that many of us have a difficult time making new friends. I would jokingly suggest those with children follow their children around and they’ll teach you how to make friends.
Some of us think we don’t need more friends, but when we look at our friends, there is a distinct connection between those people and active addiction. In other words, the only thing we had in common was the act of using substances together. Think about how easy it was to talk to a stranger to get your drug of choice or talk to the liquor store man you’ve never met, but you spoke to them with ease.
A simple, “Hello, my name is…” We are now beginning conversations to enhance our lives, not to destroy our lives anymore.
And remember, they didn’t know how to be social when they entered the rooms, either.
Places: Finding Somewhere New
We maintained rituals and routines during our use of substances. There were places that we would go to like clockwork. If someone were observing our daily movements during this time, they would know where we were and consistently going. Some of us went to the local bar or liquor store right after work (or before), and even the merchants could predict when we would arrive.
Today, we must begin with new routines and rituals that are healthy and conducive to our recovery. Here are a few changes we can make:
- Attend a meeting before or after work
- Ask a few people from your support network out for dinner
- There are recovery events that local 12-step meeting groups organize (dances, hiking, camping, etc.)
- Locate social events that will not harm your recovery
Things: Look for the Triggers
This area may seem a little difficult to avoid. Editor-in-Chief, Marilyn L. Davis had difficulty hearing a soda can opened in a recovery support meeting – it took her back to beer on the banks of the lake.
Sound and smell memories are wired into our brains. Considering this, we may want to work further on the cognitive aspect of the recovery process. For example, we know that the sound of a soda can opening may actually be a soda can and not a beer.
Given this, we must acknowledge that we have worked diligently on our recovery and have made the needed changes to avoid high-risk situations. Over time, certain sounds are just the sounds of the environment around us.
These adjustments to our reactions don’t happen overnight, but with time we overcome those recalls. Also identified was a song(s) that may remind us of using substances. Making changes to the things in our lives that have impacted our life’s negativity is crucial:
- When it comes to a specific song that reminded us of using, we have a wide variety of choices and genres of music that we can now enjoy without that recall.
- Certain smells that bring us back to that time require us to modify our thinking and realize that we are no longer in those places where we used substances; we are in a safer place in our lives.
- Lighters, spoons, or other things we use in getting high have their normal function. Lighters are used in everyday society for different uses other than substances. Spoons are utensils used for eating. It may sound easier said than done, but as the quality of our recovery increases, we change our thinking about these things.
Getting Back to New Basics
I find it helpful and inspiring to look back at and identify things we used to enjoy doing before drugs and alcohol became the priority. I’m sure we can remember quite a few. However, once we introduced substances, we discontinued those enjoyable things.
Some of us may say, “I don’t do that anymore” or “I’m too old to do that now.” Those are excuses used not to revisit those things. Here are some things many recovering people have identified as enjoyable that they discontinued doing in their active addiction:
- Being creative with their hands
- Riding a bike
- Just taking a walk in the park observing the natural environment
- Reading or Writing
- Playing an instrument
- Sports (actually playing the sport for leisure activity)
Change Doesn’t Have to be Dreary
“When you know what you want, and you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to get it.”―
Recovery is a process of absolute change. We must change the way we think about ourselves and the things around us. Recovering people must have increased awareness of the high-risk situations that can lead to relapse. Change is uncomfortable, but being uncomfortable to better ourselves is less painful than continuing to use substances and creating havoc on yourself with only having three options available; jails, institutions, and death.
While this isn’t a definitive list of things to replace, this will give a basic premise and a starting point for change. We must dig deep within ourselves and decide what is most important. If we can say “WE” are more important, we must begin that uncomfortable journey of resolve and healing. We don’t always have to wait until the pain is too much to bear to make life changes. Please make the needed changes; your recovery and life depend on it.
Writing and recovery heals the heart
Bio: Craig W. Stratton MS, ASCAS
Craig is an Adjunct Professor at Hudson Valley Community College. He brings his personal experience of 22 years in recovery and his education to his students, ensuring that the next generation of substance abuse counselors understand the knowledge of addiction, but more importantly, know a representative of the addicted population.
Bringing this human element to his classes, he advocates for recovery and, through his teaching and actions, will help remove the stigmas and myths associated with faceless addicts.
Combining his passions with a purpose is one of his goals. He has worked to help marginalized populations understand their addictions and introduce them to the benefits of recovery as a Case Manager for the homeless and those in the Drug Treatment Court.
He has also counseled adolescents, adults, and couples over the last 14 years in various agencies and worked extensively on Alternatives to Incarceration to incorporate treatment and not incarceration for nonviolent offenders.
Follow Craig on Social Media and His Site