Addiction– and recovery– can look differently from individual to individual. As surely as we can be addicted to alcohol, substances, or medications, we can just as easily be addicted to love, work, sex, dieting, exercise, skin picking, and food. Addiction can refer to any compulsive and unhealthy attachment or behavior that one uses as a way of artificially enhancing, numbing, or avoiding feelings. Addictions have negative consequences and are difficult to just “stop” doing.
There are certainly different levels of medical and psychological risks associated with different kinds of addiction, and recovery. Individuals who are at high risk for dangerous or destructive consequences from addictive behaviors should seek professional direction, support, and monitoring from healthcare professionals, including doctors and addiction therapists, and emergency medical attention if needed.
Assuming medical and psychological stability have been achieved, the road to recovery and associated healing work has many aspects. And it truly is a road: recovery is a lifelong journey that will inevitably have peaks and valleys, joys and sorrows, highs and lows.
Ways to heal and find your road to recovery
- Yes, it is one day at a time
You may have heard the expression “one day at a time” in reference to taking each day in recovery, getting sober, or stopping an addictive behavior. That’s because focusing on the enormity of the long term without a substance or behavior can seem intensely overwhelming and drive people back to the same thing they are trying to decrease. Focusing on one day at a time is the equivalent of setting small, manageable goals and keeping your attention on what you can control . . . yourself in the here and now.
- Educate yourself
Too often, recovery is framed as a mystical process. There certainly can be a deeply soulful and even spiritual aspect to any life change process. But successful recovery is achieved by taking active, empowered, and informed steps towards the desired change. Any athlete will tell you that hoping for change in their performance isn’t an effective strategy—hope and faith is helpful, and it also takes commitment, determination, support, knowledge, and practice. And surgeons don’t go into the operating room “hoping” to have an epiphany about the procedure they’re about to do. So utilize the best recovery science the field has to offer from reputable addiction science professionals, regardless of the addiction with which you struggle.
- Enlist support
Feelings of shame, embarrassment, anger, depression, and fear of judgement often deter individuals from enlisting support from the important people who can help them. Isolation is detrimental to recovery in every way. It reinforces the secrecy and minimizing that is usually a part of most addictions. Isolation robs individuals of helpful support in the tough times, and also creates an accountability vacuum. So reach out and let people in your world know what’s going on, and how they can help you. Utilize people you trust and can count on, wherever they might be in your world: a faith organization, a social group, family members, friends, counselors, or even coworkers if appropriate. If you have concerns about things getting complicated with people you know, or if the people you know are also addicted, do a quick internet search for local or internet-based support groups and organizations that can help.
- Carry a “reasons” list
When faced with a trigger or temptation, our reasons for getting into recovery can seem vague and distant. Make a list of the top five motivations you have for getting into recovery. Make copies, and put them everywhere you can to remind you why you are engaging in the recovery process. Hang one on the refrigerator, one on the bathroom mirror, one in your wallets, purses, backpacks, or anything else you carry with you, and consider making it the wallpaper on your tablet, computer, and phone. This will help you reinforce your motivations to yourself at regular intervals and help you stay focused on the reasons you are working so hard. If someone—like a child or a spouse—is one of your reasons, put their picture on your list.
- Forget willpower and embrace strategy
Willpower doesn’t respect addiction. That’s what makes it an addiction. So rely on strategy, instead. If you know you’re likely to do the behavior you’re trying to start in certain places, with certain people, or under certain conditions, don’t put yourself in those scenarios. You are no more likely be able to resist the behavior than you were before, just because you’re thinking about it harder. If history says you binge eat a half gallon of ice cream or a bag of cookies every time you have them in the house, stop buying them. If you have a certain friend group that you often have too much to drink with, you might have to host an event in location without alcohol.