Making Healthy Change Stick
Rick Baumgartle CADC II
For Becky (our latest team superstar): Who had the idea.
It’s a New Year, and with that new year comes a slew of new resolutions. Sitting in group the other day and asking the patients what their clean dates were, and one said New Years Eve. “Wait, what?,” I said, “New Years Eve. Not New Years Day?”. “Ya,” he responded, “I never kept New Years resolutions so I figured try something different.
He was right. Read any articles on New Years resolutions and one thing becomes apparent quickly and that’s people don’t keep them very long. Heck, gyms (I know this from personal experience) make a fortune off people signing up and then never using the membership, but the money gets taken out of your account faithfully, month after month. That healthy change gets forgotten.
In recovery change, and change is what it’s all about, can be a scary proposition, especially for those in the early stages. You are being asked to do whatever it is, minus the one thing you used to do that “whatever,” for the longest time. “You want me to what?!” “Go hang out with MY family without being loaded, are you nuts?!” “It’s the weekend.” “It’s Wednesday and there’s ICE ON MY CAR!” “I’m supposed to get through this without ‘something’.” Actually, yes. Part of being in recovery is learning to do just that; make changes in your life that are healthier and lead to the kind of outcomes you want, instead of the same ones you’ve been getting. You hear it a lot in recovery circles, “Insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over, and expecting a different result.” We stole it from Albert Einstein and somehow claimed it as our own, but it still makes a salient point. If you want healthy changes to stick, try doing something different. There are a few ways you can help yourself with this, especially early on.
1. Develop a tolerance for emotional pain- It would be more realistic to call it emotional “uncomfortability,” but expect the best prepare for the worst, right? I used to have a sponsor in AA who would say all the time, “Lean into the pain.” Over and over he’d say this for damn near everything I went to him with. Just “lean into the pain.” It got to the point where I just wanted to scream if he said it again. Know why? Cause it stuck in my head, and he was right.
In recovery there is nowhere to run from our feelings. Our time honored tradition of using some substance to mask it or help us escape is gone, and we are left feeling like a raw wound. And all too often, rather than set in it, or “leaning into it,” we revert back to the same old behavior and then act shocked when it doesn’t get better.
There is this thing the in military called the “Depth of Defense Strategy.” What is basically says is that if you are trying to take ground in a hostile area and come under fire, you retreat back to where it’s safe. Which, is a pretty smart strategy if you want to avoid getting shot. However, we use this same strategy in our recovery, and the place we are retreating back to isn’t safe. The safety of that place we are retreating back to is an illusion, but it’s one we’re familiar with. We call it “comfortable misery.” It’s a place we often retreat to when we encounter feelings and emotions we don’t like. Which brings me to point #2.
2. You need to reframe the way you see things- We have a fancy clinical term we use called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT), which is just a fancy way of thinking of things in a different way so you get different outcomes. In recovery support meetings they call it dealing with “Stinkin Thinkin.” It’s the same thing, we just have to show off all our book smarts to get a paycheck you understand. Ha ha.
Let me give you some examples. One of the things people deal with in early recovery and sometimes later on is what we call “Euphoric Recall,” or in layman terms, remembering only the positive things about substance use and forgetting the bad. It’s fairly common for several reasons. One is that overall people don’t like to focus on the bad aspects of things. It’s one of the reasons the lottery works. You can tell a person that they have a better chance of being caught in a Sharknado, than they do of winning the lottery, but who the hell wants to think about being caught in a Sharknado. I want to think about all the great things I could do with all that money. 1.00 buys me a lot of nice daydreams. Do I KNOW I’m not going to win?! Of course I do….but someone has to…right? That’s what leads people to buy the ticket.
So for a lottery ticket, really, unless you have a gambling issue, we are talking about you being out a couple dollars, but when we talk about addiction, “euphoric recall,” can kill you. You need to learn to reframe the way you see the issue; or what recovery circles call “Play the Tape All the Way Through.”
See, your addictive thinking is saying. “I’ve been doing this recovery thing for a bit, and I’m doing pretty good, but it’s hard. I deserve a break, and hell I haven’t talked to my old connect for a while (but you still have the number in your phone just in case), he’ll be so happy to hear from me that I’ll bet the first one will be free. Plus my tolerance has got to be way down, so I won’t even need a lot,” and CLICK!…off goes the tape, and you are right back in over your head in active addiction all over again.
What you need to do is train yourself, and I say train because it takes practice, by playing the story out in your mind to its conclusion. Yeah the first one might be free, but the next one won’t be. And yes your tolerance is lower, but addiction is progressive and it will quickly return to where it was and get worse. I challenge you to find anyone who went back to active addiction and found it to be easier than it was the last time. I’ll save you some time. You won’t. Never in 14 years plus of doing this have I EVER heard that. Now I’m sure if you scour the internet you’ll find some soul who claims it was. However, just like the lottery, you aren’t going to be the one to win, and thinking you will in this case could get you killed.
3. You need to find some hope and motivation- My friend, and coworker, who gave me the idea for this article in the first place (as I was stuck in writers block) said “people need to know that change is inevitable.” She’s right. The problem becomes when we think all this change is going to be unbearable, awful, or something we won’t be able to handle.
You can handle it, and you will, it just takes some getting used to. I use the following analogy often with people. Early recovery is like you and I going to Bagby Hot Springs (it’s an Oregon thing if you don’t know, look it up) in the middle of winter. Both of us fill out tubs up and the water is 100 degrees in each one. I just hop in my swim trunks and get in the tub to enjoy a soak, but you, for whatever insane reason decide to go roll naked in the snow and then jump in. Your reaction to hitting that water is way different than mine. It’s the same 100 degrees in both, but I am already used to it. You, crazy snow roller, aren’t, and so it seems overwhelming. After a time you get used to the water and enjoy it as much as I do, but that initial period is a shock to your system.
The motivation you need to develop is that you will get used to the water. You WILL get to place where you’re comfortable. If you don’t believe me I encourage you to expand your circle of influence to people who have been in recovery for awhile and can tell you just that, “you are going to be OKAY,” and you aren’t giving up anything you really need.
If you retreat back to that comfortable misery every time things get a little uncomfortable, you are never going to see the changes you want, or experience what others in recovery experience.
Making healthy changes stick in recovery is all about what we call “Courageous Vulnerability.” In other words, be afraid and do it anyway. I assure you it’s worth it.
At Recovery Works NW we have a team of doctors, clinicians, administrative and medical staff with decades of combined experience in helping people get the outcomes they want, helping them move into recovery and away from addiction. If you or a loved one is struggling, please call us. We love what we do, and a lot of the people we are blessed to work with, and for, can tell you that we’re pretty good at it too.