Strange as it may seem, people often ask me how to NOT do something. The first time I was asked this I stammered, “Um, you stop, think, and then don’t do that thing that could kill you?”
Later I learned a simpler and far more effective answer: Just for today, don’t use drugs or alcohol.
What these folks are really asking is what am I supposed to do instead? There’s a million answers to that but simplicity provides opportunity and prevents us from getting overwhelmed. When folks tell me, “I don’t even know where to start!” I tell them to take a multivitamin every day. It’s a good beginning.
Abstinence requires structure, habits, and routines. There are very few things in this world that are more dangerous than an alcoholic or addict with too much time on their hands. I encourage folks to focus on healthy actions and to treat their head like a bad neighborhood (don’t go in there alone).
The person in early recovery legitimately cannot find their ass with both hands and nevertheless needs to make significant changes in a hurry. This is especially problematic because addicts and alcoholics always resent people in authority and yet are asking to be told what to do.
Game plan courtesy of AA: Don’t Drink/Drug. Don’t Think. Reach Out. Go to Meetings. Repeat.
The addict is always looking a mile down the road before they take the first step and so they ask what else do they need to do?
Start simple: Get Up. Get washed. Get coffee. Get cigarettes. Pray. Do this at the same time every day.
That’s a routine in and of itself. Do it every day for a month and it’ll be established as something you do without thinking. This will reduce stress and provide a sense of security. I have a routine upon waking, leaving my house, opening shop at the office, leaving my office, returning home, and preparing for bed. These have the net effect of making me appear a bit autistic at times but they make my life far more manageable because there’s less possibility of forgetting things and less thinking.
Manageability is vital for those in recovery. As soon as we become overwhelmed we are at risk of poor decision making, poor self control, and for getting a case of the “f@ck its.” Those who do not understand addiction often ask why people go back to using after a prolonged period of abstinence? I have worked with folks who relapsed because they couldn’t get the lawn mower to start. When we don’t know what to do, we’re likely to go back to old habits.
We learn to access people who want to support our efforts. In this way, we replace reactivity with planned responses. This ensures better outcomes and reduces stress because we now have something we can do when we don’t know what to do – we call someone and let them help us break down that which overwhelms us in the moment.
Maintaining perspective is paramount to a healthy lifestyle. Stress and negative emotion limit what we’re able to perceive and make sense of. Clarity is achieved when we use the Keep It Simple System (K.I.S.S.) and when we are grounded in the here and now (not regretting yesterday nor worrying about what’s down the road.
I’ve always marveled that the strategies and tools that support recovery from addiction can also benefit those who have never experienced addiction. Recovery is about transformation – becoming something greater. The more we reduce stress and optimize the foundational aspects of daily life, the more growth becomes possible.
“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” – Kurt Vonnegut