A couple of weeks ago while running a recovery support group at The Foundation Clinic, the topic moved onto how sometimes doing the right things doesn’t always get us the immediate results that we are looking for. That we we do what’s difficult and “right” we don’t experience the instant gratification that those of us with substance abuse disorders are so partial to.
Brené Brown says that,”Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.” And for those of us that have experienced the spiritual disconnection of substance abuse, pushing against our personal values and principles is often what causes the most emotional and mental pain and anguish in addiction. So regaining integrity, rebuilding trust, practicing self-love, and overcoming guilt and shame are all part of the personal work that is required for a sustainable recovery and a life of meaning and purpose.
Of course everyone is completely different and these might sound like sweeping statements, but the longer I do the work the more I see this thread running through my life and the lives of the people I work with. Most common is the need to show up honestly and authentically in life, to be courageous and compassionate, and to move forward rather than recycling the snafus of the past over and over again.
Like anyone engaging in transformative work, getting well in recovery is challenging. Yet getting clean and sober, and becoming a wholehearted member of our tribe, probably ranks up their among the more raw and painful A huge part of the work is to learn to be accountable and responsible in life, not just around what’s come before, but also what follows from here. Learning to communicate effectively, problem solve, manage conflict, deal with emotions and not want to run screaming for the nearest line of coke or bottle of Jack, is in itself a masterful balance act of responsive thinking, adult learning and behaviour modification.
I have said it many times that the work is hard, but it’s worth it; especially if we find ourselves in the space of having to make choices. Really massive, scary choices when you gripped by substance dependence. Because there comes a point for most of us as to whether we want to choose drugs and alcohol and dysfunctional behaviour over pretty much everything else. Values are completely displaced when the individual moves into dependency, overtaking and replacing anything else we think is important; family, partnerships, children, health, spirituality, success, certainty honesty, integrity, courage…
Just like any type of change, the move to recovery and wellness does not happen overnight. There are often years of dysfunctional behaviour to address. Plenty of amends to be made. Past traumas to be overcome. Self-worth that needs special attention. The expectation that everything is going to change in a New York minute because we’ve stopped using is insane, and I mean that with love. Most individuals who are abusing or dependent on substances have used to cope with difficult situations, to escape from emotions, to reward “good” behaviour, to just check out, relax and disappear; to find some sort of oblivion in an attempt to fill the hole in their soul. The work takes time, patience, commitment and above all consistency.
And then one morning you wake up and realise that even though it’s fucking difficult to show up in life on a daily basis, we start to notice those 20-minute glimpses of perfect. In the group I mentioned at the beginning of this post, one of my clients shared a story of his morning when his young daughter, toddler son, his wife and himself simply lie in bed together before the chaos of the morning routine begins. What he was challenged to see initially was that although his life has not yet settled into the rhythm and flow of recovery, this is 20 minutes he just can’t have when he is using.
That although everything hasn’t done a 180 and miraculously fallen into place, this 20 minutes of perfect is where he gets to build from. Changing our behaviour as adults is not any easy task. We don’t learn at the rate that we did when we were kids. But if we can start small, start in 20 minute pieces of perfection, then surely there is capacity for creating these moments throughout the day. Life isn’t just difficult for those of us recovering from addiction, and we need to be conscious of that. Sure we have to learn to do things differently, but what a gift.
There is so much written these days about the mind-shifting power of gratitude, and if we just learn to slow down a bit and notice where there is change and connection, we have a very real place to restart from. When we can learn to link those moments together and spend more time in the present, rather than beating ourselves up over our tumultuous parts, and freaking ourselves out with the anxiety of the future, I believe that there is untold hope and possibility in moving forward.
I know for myself that if I just slow down and remember to be grateful for where I am in my life, there is always peace in those spaces. I’ve been very mindful of these moments in my life since that day in the group. Once of the joys of what I do is getting the opportunity to learn from the people I work with. Your days might not be perfect, you may still be grappling with the early work of abstinence and finding your feet in recovery, but if you slow down just a bit, I’m pretty sure that you’ll notice that you do have 20 minutes of perfect somewhere in your life. And I truly believe that that can be the soil in which you can start to sow the seeds of your new life.