My clients get tired of hearing me tell them, “Go to a meeting…TODAY!”
So why would I tell them to go to “a meeting”? Why do Northland and the Ridge recommend, no, PUSH attendance at outside sober (sober means not using mood altering substances and working towards becoming a better me – it doesn’t just mean not drinking alcohol) support groups?
There are numerous benefits of gathering with other individuals who have lived through similar experiences, whether the experiences were negative or positive. They help me see I am not alone in dealing with trying to remain in recovery. They help me see that recovery is possible. They help me learn new ways of dealing with life and the challenges we encounter during life. They provide me a group of people I can tell my fears (of returning to using) and cravings (I really want to use right now!) to and not get negative feedback or be judged as weak.
I like to look at recovery as getting “in shape” emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. If I compare getting in “physical shape” with getting in “recovery shape”, it might make more sense.
Getting in Shape Physically
Many of us have made a resolution to “lose weight and get in shape” at some point in our lives. We join a gym, usually at a time when memberships are free or significantly discounted. We swear we’re going to work out several times per week and might actually do so for a period of time. However, many of us discover continuing can be difficult due to a variety of reasons, including our body hurts, we’re tired, don’t want to get up early or go after work, too many other obligations, etc. Before long we’re not going to the gym at all and many quit without renewing the membership.
Some go but generally watch others work out but don’t use much of the equipment for fear of “looking silly” because they don’t know how to use the equipment (and are too embarrassed to ask for help). So, it’s not long before they aren’t going anymore.
Some go and end up getting injured because they used a piece of equipment incorrectly, or tried to do too much too fast. This gym membership isn’t getting renewed!
But sometimes there is someone who wants to get in shape. They join the gym and work with a personal trainer. The trainer teaches them about diet and provides them with a weekly menu and grocery list in order to eat in the healthy fashion recommended. The trainer teaches them how to perform each exercise and use each piece of equipment properly in order to obtain the most benefit. The trainer also motivates the individual and holds them accountable to their commitment to getting in shape. As time goes on and the person actually makes progress, exercise goes from being a painful chore to an activity that is enjoyed as the person begins to build and tone their muscles. Clothes begin to fit better and sleep is also improved. They notice more energy and just feel better all around. Exercise and a healthy diet become a way of life.
Getting in Shape Physically, Emotionally, and Spiritually
The disease of addiction causes profound changes in the brain and causes a change in motivation at a deeply seated, fundamental level – survival. Due the changes in the limbic system (survival instincts) and the frontal lobes of the brain (motivation, decisions, insight, impulse control), the person with the disease of addiction becomes motivated to use mood altering chemicals more and more, to the exclusion of other previous motivators (food, sex, childcare, work, companionship). In order for the brain to heal and bring previous motivators back online, the person must change their lifestyle by eliminating mood altering substances and engaging in specific activities regain a more normal brain function. Detoxification followed by treatment and ongoing sober support the person begins the healing process.
Eliminating mood altering substances is similar to eliminating processed foods and a diet high in fats and carbohydrates.
Attending treatment is much like beginning the early process of working out every day, focusing on the various muscle groups each day (arms on Monday, back and chest on Tuesday, etc.). Treatment focuses on different “groups” such as communication with others, recognizing and dealing with emotions not experienced for a long time, looking at and processing a variety of adverse events during life which may have contributed to the early use of chemicals to cope. New skills and techniques are learned and practiced to deal with life without chemicals.
Ongoing sober support is very much like continuing to attend the gym three days a week in order to maintain a level of fitness achieved during the intense period of getting into shape. We all know what happens if an athlete stops working out and becomes complacent, they get out of shape quickly and usually gain weight. Recovery is no different. Without ongoing support from others in recovery, the person returns to old behaviors and a relapse occurs.
Finally, if a person wants to make significant progress at the gym they work with a personal trainer. This individual educates, motivates, and hold the person accountable to their exercise program and dietary changes. So too, a sponsor/mentor in recovery does the same thing. By helping a newcomer in recovery the sponsor maintains their sobriety while helping the newcomer by educating, motivating, and holding them accountable to their program.
Recovery is a lifelong process requiring dedication to the little things each day to maintain sobriety. The process becomes more enjoyable and less burdensome when it is shared with others on the same journey.