By Steve Diogo, Renew media editorial director
We all face the big question, the one that hangs over all who have faced addiction and gotten sober: Now what?
We didn’t get sober just to keep living the life we always lived but without alcohol and drugs. We got sober to live better, to dream and to work toward achieving those dreams, to enter into full relationships, to live productive lives and to be happy. It says so right in the Big Book, and it is the experience related by those who live full lives in recovery.
Unfortunately, addiction does not lend itself to long-term planning. For many of us, the concept of even having goals is new. But simply by getting sober, we have set goals and worked clearly defined steps to achieve them. To stay sober, we continue to work those steps. Now it’s time to apply that same approach to the rest of our lives.
First Things First
You’ve heard it in meetings: “First things first.” That means recovery before all else. Without sobriety, all of our goals revert to barroom dreams, and we all know how well those turn out. The skills we learn to stay sober are the very skills that will guide us through setting and achieving our goals.
“Work on one life area at a time: First, sobriety and recovery; second, honest work; third, time with family and supportive friends,” says Elise Adams, an organizational expert in Walla Walla, Wash. Life coach and author Mikaya Heart lives by this mantra: “One day at a time, one thing at a time, one step at a time. Focus on what you can do right now, in this minute, and congratulate yourself when you’ve done it, knowing you will soon feel ready for something bigger.”
Diana Fletcher, life coach and author of Happy on Purpose: DailyMessages of Empowerment and Joy for Women, says: “For those in recovery, the main thing is staying clean and sober. That is the goal you need to work on, and you will achieve it by taking it one day at a time. One day at a time, change your thinking to thoughts of success instead of failure.”
Anyone who has made epic New Year’s resolutions knows how quickly they can crumble, especially when they were made on a barstool. And there’s nothing like failure to send us back to our old habits. By setting small goals and achieving them, we learn that success can be our reality.
“Start with something small, perhaps just getting through the day, eating a meal, cleaning up your room,” Heart says. “Gradually build up to bigger, more long-term commitments.” Fletcher adds: “Perhaps the first additional goal can be to do one thing a day that is healthy. It can be as simple as drinking a big glass of water or eating a piece of fruit.”
Adams recommends taking a continuing education class: “The accountability of assignments and due dates really helps reestablish self-discipline, and the positive reinforcement of finishing what we start builds confidence.”
One of the major benefits of long-term practice with the Twelve Steps is that we learn to be honest with ourselves. We gain perspective. This skill is crucial to setting and achieving goals. “Do a gut check,” says stress expert Kristen K. Brown. “Does it pass your BS meter? Can you really do this? Does it feel good?”
Brown points out three check marks that should be in place before tackling any project: Is it obtainable? Is it actionable? Is it life-oriented? Organizational expert Susan Stewart adds one more: How long will it take?
“People tend to underestimate the amount of time something takes to do when it is a pleasurable activity and do the opposite when it is an unpleasant activity,” Stewart says. She suggests keeping tasks on task by using a timer or setting a time limit to frame both pleasant and unpleasant activities.
“Lists aren’t just for the mentally challenged,” Adams says. “Make a must-do list, short, sweet and focused, every day.” For many of us, to-do lists seem like burdens: towers of boring chores that must be accomplished before we can lie on the couch and watch TV. Reframe that perception, Heart urges. Don’t write tasks; write intentions.
“Make a habit of writing down your intentions every day, placing the paper where you will see it when you wake up in the morning and several times throughout the day,” Adams says.
Stewart takes it a step further: “I’m not talking about little sticky notes all over the place reminding you of what to do. I’m talking about one list in one place that keeps track of the tasks that need to be accomplished. It doesn’t matter if it is on paper, a computer or your phone. What is important is that you stay consistent and that you give the list a home so you always know where to find it.”
Adjust Your Attitude
Fear and failure are engrained in the lifestyle of substance abuse. In order to set and accomplish our goals, we must lose our fear and reverse the loops that tell us we are bound to fail or that we are victims.
“Victims do not have to take risks,” Stewart says. “They don’t have to worry about falling short of perfection, and they don’t fail. Playing the victim role is safe but not effective. Facing your fears puts you in the driver’s seat of how you spend your time.” Heart adds: “Don’t obsess about how difficult it’s going to be. As soon as you start to feel depressed or overwhelmed at the magnitude of what you want to do, distract yourself by doing something fun and easy, and come back to the trickier issue when you feel relaxed.”
And most important: Don’t procrastinate!
“Procrastination is a double whammy,” Stewart says. “It not only depletes your time, but it also depletes your energy. By the end of the day, the task still isn’t done, and you are mentally exhausted. You will buy yourself time and energy by doing the most difficult task at the beginning.”
Hang with Winners
“One of the most important components for learning to take action is having a positive community to support and encourage you,” says Ben Wagner, founder and CEO of LifeKraze.com, a web-based community where users share their accomplishments and get immediate feedback and rewards from other users. “Share your accomplishments (whether large or small) to develop momentum, and keep track of your progress, using others to keep you accountable.”
But it’s not just about getting pats on the back. Surrounding yourself with people who are accomplishing things means building a community of people who can actually help you meet your goals.
“Successful people don’t do it alone,” Stewart says. “You need support from a friend or mentor to continue to move forward. It also adds companionship, accountability, a little healthy competition, encouragement and someone with whom to celebrate your victories. Having this support can make all the difference in your success. If you find yourself getting stuck, ask for help.”
The lessons of sobriety are the tools that enable us to move forward to our next goals. By incorporating the lessons we have learned in getting sober—practicing honesty, relationship, discipline and accountability one day at a time—we are well on our way to living the lives of our dreams.
“Each day you remain sober should be something to feel good about,” Fletcher says. “That feeling of success, making it through each day, will be what enables you to set the next goal.”