The path to recovery is tough—it is not just about your will, trying harder, or being a better person.
People engaging in, or recovering from, addictive behaviors have this amazing aptitude to be hard on themselves—often to a fault. Sometimes this tendency is called the “Butt (or another word) Kicking Machine.” I am going to encourage all of us to go ahead and turn that off, or at least lower the setting. Here is why: The path to recovery is tough—it is not just about your will, trying harder, or being a better person. It is much bigger than that. Most will find that it is a dance of several steps forward, and then a couple steps back. I have known a great many people in recovery who have the “butt kicking machine” turned to full blast. The time they spend trying to figure out where they went wrong, what they could have done differently, what faults in their life have led up to this point … that time could be used for moving on.
For these people, usually striving for abstinence, the answer is very simple—you used. What caused you to drink? Putting the bottle to your lips and swallowing. I have heard hilarious (but not at the time) stories of shenanigans people have gotten into completely and utterly sober. Or sad life events I could never imagine, that were dealt with without a single mood altering substance. Those people just did not use. Turn the machine off, move on, try again, or make a time machine—all good options.
Working harder won’t make you perfect.
Lots of people have the “American Dream” mentality when it comes to recovery. With hard work, you can achieve anything. If you aren’t where you want to be, you haven’t worked seriously enough. Do better! Sad? Anxious? Angry? Work harder. Relapse? Shame on you. Work harder.
The reality of life and of recovery is that you will be sad, anxious, angry, and a whole slew of other emotions. It’s life, and those feelings happen. You will not handle all of them in the best way. Some people might relapse over them, and others might send a regrettable text message. These are the missteps that make us human. Don’t let them feed that loop of, “I am a terrible person, I do nothing right, I am going to make more poor choices now.” You are not. Come closer—listen carefully … YOU ARE NOT. The loop of shame, and guilt is a powerful pull and will lead you to more addictive behaviors, and then more shame and guilt.
Changing your patterns of thoughts and behavior take time.
Addictive behaviors actually change the wiring of your brain, and it takes a minute or two, to reset that. Imagine trying to suddenly begin writing with your non-dominant hand. Would you be mad if you didn’t pick it up in an hour? Or would you understand that it will take time? What if you got incredibly frustrated and reverted back to your dominant hand? It might be disappointing, but it would be understandable. With addictive behaviors, the pleasure/anticipation centers—the parts of our brain that drive us to do things like eating—is wired to get that fast relief. You have to let the brain rearrange the chemicals, and then learn new ways to find pleasure. Be patient.
There are steps you can take to move yourself forward.
So how do you do this? How do you learn to be kinder to yourself when the pity pot is so darn comfortable? First, take care of yourself. Try to do basic self-care like showering, eating, and exercising regularly. By treating yourself better, you will begin to think more highly of yourself.
Secondly, take a moment every day to have gratitude for things in your life. Some people like keeping a journal to jot down their thoughts of thankfulness, while others find a journal to be just another chore they “have to do.” Lastly, and probably most importantly, surround yourself with people who inspire and support you, but will also question you. You want friends who will help you up and dust you off, but aren’t scared to call you out when needed.
Today, wherever you are on the addictive behavior spectrum, take a moment to be kind to yourself. Don’t expect perfection, because then you are just expecting disappointment. Remind yourself that you are going through some serious brain and lifestyle changes. They will take time, guaranteed. Setbacks are just setbacks. Keep on the path to recovery.