If we believe that after we get clean and/or sober we’re not going to have to do any kind of work to stay sober then we’re mistaken.
We come into our sobriety with a big pile of difficult emotions, incorrect ways of thinking, and many unskillful habits that have to be undone. So it’s going to take time and focused, thoughtful work to correct those things. We’re seeking not just to be free of physical addiction but to make our mind function in a way that’s geared toward expediting mental and physical health.
We’re being naïve if when we’re new to recovery we think that all we have to do to achieve significant health and happiness is just go to a few 12-step meetings. I assure you that things are not that simple. I spent a great deal of time overy many years interacting with other people in 12-step programs. And as far as my own experience is concerned, I spent many years both working 12-step programs within their proper guidelines and foolishly neglecting to do so. I came to realize that creating a clean slate, moving towards mental and physical health and wellness, and understanding the world as we were designed to do so takes a great deal of effort.
Having said that, if you start with your recovery practice today, even right now, you can still experience a great sense of relief. But in order for that encouraging sense of relief to stay with us and provide continuous hope we have to be prepared for the hard days ahead.
There will be hard days ahead—that’s just part and parcel to being alive on this planet. We’re going to have to understand the source of our anxieties, we’re going to have to observe our own reactions to events, and we’re going to have to make changes for the better.
Changing the way we think, feel and act is a natural process. As an example of how self-improvement should work, consider a computer program that isn’t working properly because it has bad data on it. If a programmer finds the source of the dysfunction and overrides it with new data, the program will then operate as it should. In the same way, we have corrupt data in our memory banks and it causes us to have bad behavior. We have to find the corrupt data in our own minds and fix it. It’s our responsibility to do that if we want to see positive change in ourselves.
The computer program correction analogy is accurate up to a point, but there’s a significant difference between that process and addictive behavior improvement. Let me explain. If a computer programmer or systems analyst discovers a fault in a program, they will almost always need to shut the program down immediately and completely fix the problem before bringing the program or system back online. Such a situation is commonly referred to as “downtime.”
But there is no downtime in addiction recovery. We need to change behavior immediately and get on with our lives regardless of what we think, how we feel, or what our impulses are telling us to do or not do. Hopefully over time we will examine our behaviors, link them to traumatic events, grieve appropriately, and do other things that will make it so that our lifestyle will be extremely satisfying over the long run.
However, we may never get to the point at which we’re doing the deep mental and emotional healing work that’s strongly recommended. We can’t stop living, do the required introspective work, and then begin our clean and sober lifestyles. Our metaphorical “system” of being alive has to be up and running at all times.
It’s not required for us to fix the roots of our addictive behavior before we stop engaging in that behavior. What is required, though, is to have the desire and inspiration to quit for good. How does one get such desire and inspiration? Doing what you’re doing right now—reading a self-help book written by someone who’s been where you are—is a good beginning.
You have to remind yourself every day to focus on recovery and stopping your negative behavior patterns. You cannot let yourself slip for days on end. You have to do your meditation work, your writing, and your prayer work. You have to go to meetings, engage in therapy (if it’s available), talk about your feelings, exercise, and read books on philosophy.
The good news is that your situation will improve right away as long as you’re doing those things. Having said that, some people will definitely have more difficulty than others, especially if they’ve been in a depression for a long time.
I’ll conclude this short section with a hint that will be helpful for anyone and especially for someone struggling with depression. Specifically, find 10 things to be grateful for in the world. Think of those things—things you love, things that interest you, things you enjoy, and the like. When you do so, you’ll begin to develop a positive attitude and see things from the perspective that you will need to have to recover fully and move into a life characterized by self-fulfillment, excitement, and joy.