We belong to a variety of communities: our families; our group of friends; our co-workers and more other communities than need to be mentioned. Our lives intersect with the lives of others in various ways. Sometimes, that intersection makes a big difference in our lives, but sometimes our lives intersect with the lives of others only minimally or sporadically. When the Beatles sang: “I am a rock. I am an island.” they knew it wasn’t really true. Even a hermit living in a cave out in the desert impacts the lives of others to some degree, however minimally.
The abuse of addictive substances is never something that happens in complete isolation. You may be alone when you actually use, but the fact that you are using makes a difference in the lives of your family and friends. As much as it is true that your using impacted the lives of others, it is also true that your recovery will make a difference in the lives of others. Recovery is not something that you do alone. Your recovery will have an effect on your relationship with other people in your life. Equally, other people will have an effect on your recovery.
There is a story about a monk who was known to be quick to anger. Year after year, he would reflect and promise the other monks that he was going to change, but he never did, or at least not for long. One year, God touched his heart and he really did make a change in his behavior. The other monks, unfortunately, had heard it all before and didn’t believe he was really going to change. They continued to treat him like a bomb that was ready to blow up. Finally, he realized that they would never believe he had changed, so he went back to his old behavior. In effect, the other monks refused to let him change.
There may be people in your life who will never believe you have changed and are in recovery. That doesn’t mean you can’t change. Find those people who are willing to give you the chance to prove you are truly in recovery. They are the ones who will support and encourage you through the long journey towards sobriety. You can’t do it alone. You need people who will give you the opportunity to show that you are changing. As for the ones who don’t believe in your recovery, they’ll come around eventually or they won’t
In the 6th chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus tells us that the troubles of the day are sufficient for the day and that we shouldn’t worry about tomorrow’s troubles today. This is true of recovery, as well. Each day of recovery will bring tests, temptations, challenges and dangers. It will be hard enough to deal with today’s problems. If you start to worry about tomorrow and what problems might come in the days ahead, you can begin to feel overwhelmed. Early in recovery, it’s often all you can do to go from hour to hour or even minute to minute. This is especially true when you are going through withdrawal. When your body and your mind are both craving some addictive substance, weeks, months and years of future sobriety may seem completely unbearable. Again, sometimes it’s all you can do to get through the next minute, never mind the next 30 years. Instead of worrying about tomorrow and all of your tomorrows, live in the now, in this very moment.
Looked at the other way, it’s equally true that the troubles of today are enough for today. Obsessing about your failures of the past and brooding about the harm you have done won’t fix anything. It may even increase your cravings as you seek some way to deal with the guilt and remorse for the pain you have brought to yourself and to others. You can’t change the past and you can’t control the future. All you can do is live now in a manner that will lead to a better future for yourself and for those you love. If, for example, you neglected your children in pursuit of drugs, you can’t undo that. What you can do is love your children today so that you and they will have a more positive future together.
A person I know who has been in recovery for years still frequently sings the song One Day at a Time. It reminds him that today is a day of recovery and he asks the Lord to help him through today. You can make that your daily prayer, as well. Our Lord will stand by us as we struggle with the problems of today and He will support us with His grace and love. Turn to Him when you begin to feel overwhelmed by the guilt and shame of the past or the worries of tomorrow. Don’t live in the past or the future. Live today, because today is all you really have.
As you continue your recovery, you may want to recall some of the more intense experiences you had while under the influence of mind-altering substances. There is a temptation to say to yourself something like: “Thinking about it can’t cause any harm. I’m not going to actually do anything.” In actuality, this can be very risky and can be destructive of your recovery. The more you think about using, the more likely it is that you will return to your former using behavior.
Jesus suggests something like this in the Gospels when He says that a person who hates somebody has already committed murder in his heart. By thinking about using or by remembering times you used, you are already using in your heart. We often forget how close thinking is to doing, but the two are powerfully connected. If you think about it, much of what we do or say are things we thought about first. It works both ways, of course. If you think about helping somebody else with something or if you think about forgiving somebody for something they did to you, then you are already most of the way to helping them or forgiving them. Our words and actions generally start in the mind before they are acted on. Sure, there are occasions when we simply react to something or when we make a ‘spur of the moment’ decision, but most of what we say and do begins in our thoughts.
You might think of it this way. There have probably been moments in your life when you simply blurt something out. Afterwards, you look back and realize that you should have thought about what you were going to say first. Those moments stand out in your memory because you didn’t think first, like you usually do.
Recovery isn’t easy in the best of times. There’s no need to make things even harder for yourself by filling your mind with thoughts or imaginations of substance abuse. On some level, you enjoyed your abuse of addictive substances. There are probably many pleasant memories there. To fill your mind or your imagination with the way things were or with the way they might be is to sabotage your own recovery. Keep your mind and heart focused on recovery and sobriety. Dredging up the past will only make your continued recovery more difficult.
Think about the good things you want to achieve. That is the way forward.
Emotions can be a powerful motivation in our lives, for good or for bad. Emotions such as joy, peace and love can motivate us to do good for others and for ourselves. Painful emotions such as sadness, guilt and envy can motivate us to find some way to escape the pain we are feeling. Too often, people turn to drugs in order to escape these painful emotions. Pleasant emotions can lure us to use drugs in order to intensify those pleasing feelings.
Whether they are pleasant or unpleasant, emotions can be very powerful motivations in our lives. It is important, therefore, that we evaluate how we respond to and manage our emotions. Do we simply seek to escape unpleasant emotions and seek out pleasant emotions and try to intensify them? We may be dominated by our emotions or seek to control them. Trying to control our emotions is hopeless. You can’t make yourself feel or not feel an emotion. Can you tell yourself to be happy and succeed in doing so? Of course not. Emotions are simply there. Allowing your emotions to control you is to abandon your ability to reason. The other option is that we learn how to handle or manage our emotions.
Learning to manage our emotions can be difficult. Managing emotions means learning how to respond rationally and humanly to what we feel. Sadness can be a good example. It is an emotion, but the question is what you do with it. You cannot simply refuse to feel sad. Nor can you allow your sadness to incapacitate you. What must happen is that you acknowledge your sadness and continue with your day in spite of it. Somewhere in the middle between denying your feelings and being dominated by your feelings is the middle ground where you acknowledge your feelings and are able to function effectively in spite of those feelings.
Emotions serve an important role in our lives, helping us to respond to the events of our lives. When something bad occurs in our lives, we may feel sadness about it. When something good happens in our lives, we may feel joyful about it. To some degree, emotions mediate between the circumstances we find ourselves in and our rational minds. A great deal of our lives is outside our ability to understand or control. Our emotions enable us to respond humanly, not as computers, to what is going on in our lives. You must allow yourself to feel what you feel, but also be able to function despite what you may feel.
When confronted with a woman who had been brought to Him as a sinner, Jesus told her that He would not condemn her, but He also told her that she should change her life or, as He put it, ‘Sin no more.’ I suspect that the family and friends of a recovering addict would more or less feel the same. They do not, hopefully, condemn the person in recovery for the failures of the past, but they fully expect that they will not return to their former drug use. It is not uncommon for people who are recovering from addiction to alcohol or other drugs to have a slip or two. It’s part of the process of learning how to live a sober life. A return to the previous behavior is something different.
For a person recovering from addiction to return to their former degree of drug use is often seen as abandoning their recovery. This does not mean that all hope is lost and there is no longer any chance at recovery, but it does mean that the person must start over in recovery to some degree. Even in the case of a return to previous drug use, it can still be an opportunity to learn. By evaluating the circumstances of your return to previous drug use, you can come to a fuller appreciation of what motivates your drug use.
What really matters is how you respond to your slips or to your return to previous drug use. If you see it as a failure, a loss, then that is what you’ll have. If you instead recommit yourself to recovery, then you will have a learning opportunity. Addiction is complicated, being a part of the way that you manage your life. There are both mental and physical aspects to addiction and it can be a coping tool to aid you in dealing with various issues in your life. All of this and more comes into play when we talk about addiction. It is mental, physical and emotional in its origins and motivations. The more you gain experience in recovery and the more you are able to learn from your mistakes, the more you will be able to live your life without reliance on mind-altering substances.
Addiction is not something you can simply turn off or turn on in your life, even though people may have said to you something like: “I don’t understand why you don’t just quit.” It impacts, usually negatively, many aspects of your personality. Despite this, the challenge remains: sin no more!