Change is less scary if we take our recovery one day at a time.

I received this comment about change on an article that I wrote about getting through post-acute withdrawal from alcohol and other drugs:

I am 3 days clean, and after reading this. I feel totally hopeless and want to go blow my brains out. Exercising, eating healthy, none of that is me and will never happen. I give the fuck up.

Here was my response:

Hi L…..,
Recovery is about changing many things, but it doesn’t have to happen all at once. That’s why we say, “One day at a time.” When you decide to really change your life, things will get better.
In the meantime, good luck and best wishes.

So many of us felt that way when we looked too far ahead during those first few days and weeks!  They say around the rooms that “recovery is simple; all you have to change is everything.” The prospect of making changes in our lives can seem so daunting that folks who aren't yet committed to recovery often find it a great excuse to go back out and drink or use other drugs. Change is scary, but it doesn't need to be terrifying.

As I wrote to the young woman, in recovery we say “One Day At A Time.” Thinking about all the details of any major project can be alarming, especially for us addicts. We’re accustomed to thinking no farther ahead than the next drink, or the next meet-up with the guy down on the corner. Ask us to consider big changes early on, and many of us are just not emotionally able to handle the prospect.

All I have to do is stay clean and sober today. If I can do that, I can make some plans. I can go to a meeting this evening. Between now and then I can get a little laundry done, buy some groceries, and call another recovering person. (Oh yeah, maybe I’d better take a shower, too.) After the meeting, maybe someone will want to go for coffee. Then I’ll come home, thankful for one more day, and crawl into bed. Tomorrow will be another day.

Obviously, we do have to make some long-term plans, and when the time is right we can do that. But worrying about the details of our future is a good way to (and a good excuse for) deciding we’d be better off doing what we used to do. At least we know how to do that. All too well.

The secret is to make little changes. It gets us used to change and gives us practice. As long as we stay clean and sober and work our program, one day at a time, the bigger changes will happen — often without our even noticing.

Having It Welded

I used to have a friend who played the 12-string guitar.  He’d built it himself when he worked for Gibson and it was a fine instrument, but like all 12-strings it was a bear to keep tuned.  Dick was a folksinger.  He’d sit on his little chair in front of the mike, plonking on his git-fiddle and making little adjustments, and for the benefit of the audience he’d mutter, “I’m going to get this thing tuned and have it welded!”  We all thought that was hilarious (folksingers are easy to amuse).  It wasn’t until much, much later, when I was a couple of years into recovery, that I realized how well that phrase describes the way us alcoholics and other addicts think.

It’s been my observation (correct me if I’m wrong, here) that addicts will do just about anything to avoid change.  Oh, we give it all kinds of lip service.  We tell all sorts of tales, to ourselves and others, about all the things we’re going to do, the places we’ll go, the novels we’ll write, the fame and fortune that the gods will shower upon us.  But really, even when we make changes we don’t change.  We may travel to another part of the country — even to other countries.  We may change jobs, spouses, cars, drinking establishments, dealers, drinking and drugging buddies.  We may decide to “further our education,” and may in fact do so with some success.  We may take up religion.  We may diet, exercise and otherwise attempt to improve our lives — but deep down, where it counts, we don’t change.

That’s because change is an inside job.  It doesn’t make any difference what I change on the outside if I’m the same stubborn, denying, my-way-or-the-highway addict on the inside — and we are all that way.  We get our internal life as comfortable as we can, and then we try to have it welded.  We don’t examine the possibility that we might be wrong about much of anything, because doing so might open up that chink in our armor that would force us to look at the fact that, despite our best efforts (and they are our best efforts), our lives are rapidly swirling around the porcelain bowl, and about to take a little trip.

Alcoholics and other addicts — and that includes compulsive gamblers, shoppers, eaters, lovers and other dysfunctional lifestyles — spin great webs of denial, because the last thing we want to consider is change.  Change would mean admitting that something isn’t right, and we have an uncanny ability to convince ourselves that we’re doing what’s best, even when all evidence points decisively in the other direction.  We dare not open that chink that could let in the doubt.  To do so might mean that we’d have to really change.

Even after we get into recovery, we resist change.  We resist what we hear in rehab, in AA, NA or whatever support group we may embrace (if that’s the word).  We know, deep down, that we have no idea what we’re doing, but that addict bravado makes it hard for us to give in and follow the suggestions of others.  “Well, AA may be OK for them, but it’s ‘not right’ for me.”  “Well, I can see where some people could get into trouble if they have a relationship early on, but this is true love.”  “Those people don’t understand me; I’m (more intelligent, better educated, more sensitive, more rational, cooler, more”…whatever.  And why?  Because we don’t know how to do it, and we’ve spent much of our lives trying to keep other people from finding that out.  We have it welded because we don’t know how to tune our lives in a different key.  We don’t know how to change, so we convince ourselves that we don’t need to.  And every day, some of us die because of our own rigidity.  When the stuff hits the fan, we go back to dealing with our difficulties in the same old ways, because we haven’t learned how to react to life’s rough spots in a healthy way.  Because we fear change.

And that’s a shame, because change is the only certain thing in life.  There’s no way to have it welded.

Think about it.