September is National Recovery Month, a time to recognize and support the efforts of the addiction recovery community in the US. And whether you count yourself as a member of this community or not, you might relate to the difficulties inherent to the process of life changes.
As a therapist I’ve spent several years working with recovering addicts and I’ve noticed the temptation toward an “all or nothing” mindset for those attempting the change of recovery. I’ve seen people decide to stop drinking or drugging and then attempt to overhaul their lives. They buy new clothes, start new diets and exercise programs, stop and start relationships, attempting to start or stop a whole collection of habits, all at once. The sheer amount and degree of change would overwhelm them and the resulting stress would inevitably lead to one misstep, then a total abandonment of their new habits. This would be followed by a single episode of returning to their drink or drug, which would then lead to a full-blown relapse, and it could take days, weeks, or months before the person returned to attempt sobriety again.
The temptation to reinvent ourselves, followed by the eventual “failure” of what we’d envisioned might resonate with some outside the recovery community, especially if we’ve spent any time living life in the year 2022. From diet culture, to Instagram hauls, or whole house renovations, our culture celebrates people who make dramatic changes and seems to encourage us to “go big or go home.” When we adopt that cultural “go big” mentality, we set ourselves up to fail, because real change takes place over time, in small moments and includes periods of stagnation as well as even feeling like we are moving backward. Changes, even ones we long for and are very ready to undergo, entail mental, emotional and physical stress that take time and energy to adjust to.
Rather than continuing to consider change as a large-scale, all-consuming, personal overhaul, we can try shifting our thinking about change, allowing ourselves to take small steps. We can take things “one day at a time” to borrow a phrase from Alcoholics Anonymous, moving at our own pace, whether slower or faster than those around us. We can give ourselves credit for the steps we take, understanding that self-compassion leads to more sustainable and lasting change over time. And lastly, we can recognize that the struggles we face in changing, connect us to other people, helping to unite us in a common humanity, imperfectly striving toward something better.
Amanda Jacobson, LMHC, Amanda is a licensed therapist in clinical practice since 2013. She has experience working in both inpatient and outpatient settings, with group and individual therapy and she has a passion for working with people recovering from addictions, as well as codependency, depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship challenges and major life transitions. She earned her master’s degree from Boston University.
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