Taken down to its bare essentials, recovery is remarkably simple: replacing the habits and thinking of an addict with those of a physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy person. The key is “replacing.” If we remove a bad habit and leave an empty spot, it’s likely that other bad habits will slip into that space. Substitute addictions are an excellent example: eating, sex, gambling, excessive exercising, working, smoking and so forth. Nature, as they say, abhors a vacuum — and so do addicts. Didn’t we spend a great deal of time and effort trying to fill our empty spaces?
It’s a good idea to start the day with healthy ideas and thoughts. I have two books that I read from each morning, meditating briefly on the ideas they bring. I’m on my second trip through one, and my first through the other. They help me start off in a recovery frame of mind, and with healthy ideas in my head that I can try to implement in my life throughout the day. I make notes of passages that particularly catch my eye, and ideas for things to write about. Often I’ll read a passage in the basic text of one of my recovery fellowships. The idea is to at least begin the day with my head in the right place.
Daily contact with other recovering people is another must for me. Texts don’t count. I need tones of voice and nuance, and my supports need to hear me. It’s easy to hide feelings in a text or email, and I need my supports to know the reality of what’s happening in my life, and as far as possible in my head. I have a core group of folks that I’ve been talking to regularly for years, and they can generally tell when I’m feeding them a load.
Addicts are loners. Even those of us who used around others never let our companions see who we really were, and heaven forbid anyone else should find out! In the process of supporting our legend, we got further and further from the reality of who we were in our own minds. People with poor self-esteem have to protect themselves, and there’s no such thing as an active addict with good self esteem. Which brings up supports.
As recovering people, the most important thing (after abstinence) is learning to trust others. We can’t get the unconditional love that we need without first trusting without conditions. This extends beyond the 4th and 5th Steps; it has to become a part of our daily lives.
We learn to trust by trusting. First, just a little bit: testing the waters. If that goes okay, then a little more, and then a little more. Eventually we learn who we can trust, but we can’t do that without taking at least a little chance. We do that by getting to know our peers in the program: first maybe a couple of people who sound like they know their way around sobriety, along with a couple of folks at our own level of experience. We make phone calls, talk after meetings, maybe go out for pizza. As we get to know them, we develop feelings about who we want for our “core group.” Those are the folks who go on speed dial, that we learn to turn to when things are bothering us. We need three or four of these folks.
We don’t develop relationships like that without trying. I tell the guys I sponsor to call me and three other people every day, and to note it in their journals. (At least they’ll have to open them for that, if nothing else.) My reason for insisting on that is simple: if we don’t get in the habit of calling our supports when we feel good, we’re not going to call them when the crap strikes the propeller. Instead, we’ll recoil back into our addict shells, and that’s the most dangerous place we can be when we’ve got trouble in our lives.
Meetings are a must. They’re available online, by phone, and obviously in person. There is absolutely no excuse for blowing off meetings. Newcomers need one every day. We spent far longer on our addictions than we’ll ever spend on our programs, so we need to knuckle down and take our medicine. I’m diabetic, so I take my metformin every day and watch my diet. I’m also an addict, so I go to meetings, talk to my supports, and watch out for people, places and things. Same difference.
There are dozens of other healthy things to add to our toolkit: meditation classes (I recommend at least a few), yoga, regular get-togethers with supports for fun and games or a movie, reading, bird-watching, hiking and other exercise (always in moderation), classes in all sorts of things — all the stuff that would have interfered with our acting out is now open to us. Some of us enjoy keeping a written record of what we’ve done, so we can go back and remember things we enjoyed (another new experience: wanting to remember).
The important thing is to do it! Leaning on our shovels and telling everyone how some day we’re going to own the company is no way to get long-term sobriety. Active addiction was the worse job we could ever have. Compared to that, a little work to get better is no big deal.
Scary, maybe, but no big deal.