Most people understand that the best way to keep your vehicle headed straight on the highway is to focus your eyes on the furthest point you can see, and let your peripheral vision take care of what’s happening close to you. I was taught that simple trick in High School Driver’s Ed, and had it reinforced in every driving school I have ever attended. The technique has the added benefit of allowing you to see trouble (like brake lights coming on) when it’s still far enough away for you to react in plenty of time. You can easily spot the drivers who aren’t doing this, their cars or trucks are weaving back and forth within, or slightly outside of their lanes, as they fix their gaze right over their hood and try to adjust to a position that is constantly changing.
What has this technique to do with the importance of setting goals, and changing our belief systems? Quite a lot, actually, and that’s the subject of this post. In the early stages of quitting addictions, our gaze is pretty much fixed right over the hood, in the sense that any goals we set are liable to be extremely short-term, and not very complicated. Our early goals might simply be abstaining for a day, a few days, a week, or a month. In the beginning, it’s difficult for us to focus much farther ahead than this, because we’re still discovering that there is a life without our addiction.
As we progress in our new-found freedom, we find it not only possible to set some longer-term goals, we find that it is necessary in order to sustain a healthy recovery. Our chances of success are much greater if we are moving towards something rather than running away. We also find that keeping our long-term goals in mind helps us make sense of the clutter in our daily lives, and provides part of the criteria for determining if our beliefs are irrational or not.Continue reading
One of the ways we perpetuate our self-defeating behaviors is to convince ourselves that change may be possible for some people, but not for us. We are who we are, and that’s just the way it is. To make matters worse, we tell ourselves that even if we did somehow manage to change, we wouldn’t be able to sustain it because there were certain things we simply could not do without artificially altering our reality, or engaging in our habits.
Just a few moments of disparaging self-talk can make the change process seem to us like a towering mountain we can’t climb, and even if we could climb it we would surely die somewhere on the other side. Perhaps we have no personal examples of self-change we can recall to give us the confidence that we can climb the mountain and survive. The fact is that we do have examples, many of them, but to bring them into focus we have to look at ourselves a little more deeply than we are used to.
Who are you? If I asked you that question, there are many ways you might answer it. You might tell me a little about your background, your work history, your relationships, or your worldview. You might show me a picture, or tell me about your political leanings. You might even delve into your using history as a way of defining yourself. Even if you could tell me everything you know about “you” in a few moments, I submit that you still wouldn’t be answering the question—not really.Continue reading
This excerpt is from Chapter 13 of Powerless No Longer, from a section that discusses techniques for reducing stress.
When we were using, we thought we were free but we were not. The servicing of our addictions restricted our options to only those that would perpetuate the addictions, leaving us unable to make simple choices now, when we are free to make them. When we were children, we learned to ask our parents’ permission to do things. As we grew older, we began to give ourselves permission to do things.
The time has come to start giving ourselves permission again, this time to do things that lead to healthy beliefs and behaviors. A good place to begin is by giving ourselves permission to be good to ourselves. Think about it. We have a 10-foot internal bullwhip, and for years we have been using it on ourselves. Why do we do that? We do it because our belief system tells us that we deserve no better. We can turn that around by treating ourselves better, but first we have to give ourselves permission to do it.
Do you remember the story of the teacup from Chapter 10? All that stands between us and being happy is giving ourselves the permission to be happy. We can choose to be happy even if the world is falling down around us, if we just give ourselves permission. That does not mean that we are ignoring what is going on, it just means that we have chosen not to allow ourselves to be drawn into depression, anger, fear, or other negative emotions. Those negative emotions are paralyzing, while a calm, confident demeanor is a great platform for problem solving.
We can give ourselves permission to plan for the future, now that it looks like we may have one after all. In the depths of addiction, the future seems to get closer all the time, doesn’t it? We start out planning for our retirement, but by the time we are ready to quit using, we can think no farther ahead then the next high or the next drink. Now we can begin making plans again, and working for the achievement of long-term goals.
It is important for us to give ourselves permission to do the things we need to do to maintain our recovery. If we do not do that, the rest of the permissions do not make much sense. By giving ourselves permission to do these things, we are reaffirming that we are worth the effort, and that we can prevail.
Along with being good to ourselves, we can give ourselves permission to do things we have always wanted to do, now that we have the time and the available resources to do them. One day, about a month sober, I spotted a beautiful pair of cowboy boots in a leather shop. I had always wanted a pair, ever since I was a kid, and they were about the price of three days’ supply of the scotch I used to drink, so I bought them. They pinched my feet, and I could not wear them two days in a row, but I never regretted buying them. Every time I wear them, I remember what they represent.
In this excerpt, from Chapter 10 of Powerless No Longer, I am going to describe some of the more common self-defeating beliefs, along with the ways we can dispute them.
You may notice two things as you are going through the list. These irrational beliefs are not new, they are variations on the same theme as others we have explored, and most of them effect our self-esteem. The messages we send to ourselves are far worse than any we receive from the outside world. These are in no particular order.
“I should always feel happy, confident, and in control of my emotions, I should never feel angry, anxious, inadequate, jealous, or vulnerable.”
First, notice the absolutes, “should always,” and “should never.” Anytime we start thinking in absolutes we are asking for trouble. Emotional upsets are difficult enough to resolve without beating ourselves over being in that position in the first place. Whatever they are, our feelings are indeed valid, and a result of our current belief system, healthy or not. Being upset for being upset makes no logical sense, and keeps us from looking at the underlying belief that caused the upset.Continue reading