Recovery Workshop: Lesson One

Laying the Foundation for Permanent Change

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. "Which road do I take?" she asked.
"Where do you want to go?" was his response.
"I don't know," Alice answered.
"Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter."
— Lewis Carroll

What have I gotten myself into?

Could you climb Mount Everest? It stands approximately 29,030 feet above sea level; ice cliffs jut upwards of three hundred feet per lift; winds blow with such fury that temperatures frequently plummet one hundred degrees below zero. But say you cut through the wind, survive the cold, and scale the grades — what's next? How about the air? Oxygen levels deplete as you ascend to higher elevations such that climbing too fast turns your blood to the equivalent of baking soda. You become nauseated, confused, lose control of normal functions such as coordination, rational thought and even breathing. Death, of course, is a very real possibility. Even the most gifted climbers take extraordinary precautions for survival. Still wondering if you could make it? We've yet to consider the avalanches, the ice shifts, the blizzards that erupt within minutes and last for days. So, right now, today, could you climb Mt. Everest? Chances are, you couldn't. Without the proper tools and without the proper training, your efforts to reach the summit would fail. Perhaps you can't relate to mountain climbing. Consider, then, the effort needed to obtain a Ph.D., or to establish a successful business, or to raise a healthy child. Imagine anything that takes an extraordinary amount of time, effort and commitment.

Recovering from addiction, or any pattern of compulsive behavior, is much like climbing Everest. Simply wanting to climb is not enough. It takes effort. It takes commitment. It takes time to adjust to your new altitude. And, as with Everest, you will fail if not properly trained. This workshop is your training manual — your path up the mountain. It will show you how to climb, where to climb and which paths you will want to avoid. However, the insights, experiences, and instructions found within these pages will not carry you to the summit. You are the only one who can get to the top as you are the only one who knows which mountains you are climbing and how high those summits lie.

This recovery workshop is a skills-based workshop that is built upon human nature, common sense and constructive values. Because this is not a self-contained treatment program, it supplements many types of existing recovery programs: from rational recovery to twelve steps; and from faith-based to secular. That is not to say that the workshop incorporates all treatment approaches — it does not. It encapsulates what consistently works in transitioning individuals from long-term patterns of compulsive sexual/romantic behavior to a healthy recovery process...and then from that recovery process to managing and monitoring a healthy lifestyle.

Assessing Your Motivation for Change

Addiction is a pattern of destructive behavior that is rooted in compulsion and emotional immaturity. It is not, however, a fate. For many though, by the time they actually seek treatment (or because they have previously sought treatment multiple times), the patterns being exhibited have already become ingrained as a part of who they are. If this is the case with you, and you have been struggling with a series of compulsive patterns for many years, then you likely feel that you are indeed destined to continue down this compulsive, irrational path. That, because this is what feels natural to you, it must be a natural part of you. It isn't. And by the end of this workshop you will know this for yourself with absolute certainty. But first, you will need to challenge yourself to throw away the misperceptions and misinformation that you have accumulated to this point in your life. You will not be 'starting over' but rather, you will be building a new foundation for perceiving your addiction and your life. One that will allow you to take what you have already learned and apply it with more effectiveness and with greater discrimination.

"But how will I know if change is possible?"

Change is not only possible, it is unavoidable. You will change and the direction of that change will be driven by what actions you take. You can never read another word and your life has already been destined to change. Continue to fall helpless to your compulsive patterns and the change will be a deeper ingraining of the addiction and a greater swath of destruction. Continue to engage in a pattern of relapse/recovery and the change will be a reinforcement of your inability to manage your life without addiction. Continue to pursue a sincere, complete commitment to rebuilding the core of who you are — building a life based on an evolving value system — and the change will involve living a life that you simply cannot currently comprehend. Not a perfect life, but a genuine life. One based in reality. In courage. In integrity. A life where the person that you are, is the person that others know you to be. Where love and acceptance are real, not illusions. If, in the back of your mind, you're wondering whether building such a life is even possible for you, you can find the answer right now by objectively evaluating your motivation to recover. By evaluating your motivation in an honest and courageous way, you will be able to accurately judge just how successful you will be in your recovery and transition to health. This motivational scale, and it is nearly infallible, is as follows:

I. If your primary motivation to recover stems from the desires of others...
You will fail in your recovery. External motivation is simply not capable of producing the necessary emotional stimulation that is required to overcome the intensity of a compulsive urge over extended periods of time. The single exception to this rule is when, in the course of recovery, you somehow connect to your own personal reasons for wanting to change...but this is rare. If you are currently engaging in a recovery process for the sake of others, expect to fail. Go through the motions if you must, but somewhere down the road, unless core changes are made within, expect addiction to remain a part of your life for a long, long time.

Examples of this type of recovery motivation:
  • My wife says she will leave me if I don't go through treatment
  • Addiction treatment was part of my legal sentence
  • I have to attend treatment in order to see my kids again
  • My employer will not hire me back until I have completed treatment

Now, to clarify, what is meant by 'recovery failure' is not the inability to maintain abstinence. Forced abstinence can be achieved with any motivator — given sufficient intensity. Recovery failure in this context is meant as the inability to permanently transition from addiction to a healthy lifestyle.

II. If your primary motivation to recover stems from the consequences of your addiction...
A second common motivator in recovery is the hitting of 'rock bottom' or, in realistic terms, hitting the point where the pain of the addiction can no longer be numbed by the addiction itself. When the emotional pain of the addiction's consequences have grown too great, the motivation to end the addiction kicks in as the addiction is no longer capable of serving its purpose. Although this is a significantly more powerful motivator than the first, it too, is ultimately doomed for failure in long-term recovery. Or, more accurately, it is doomed for a long-term recovery/relapse cycle.

What happens is this: when the emotional pain becomes too great to temporarily manage with compulsive behaviors, the decision to recover provides an intense emotional boost that helps to manage that pain. The person feels good. That feeling may last for weeks, it may last for months. But eventually, inevitably, the emotional intensity that came with the commitment to recover wanes, and the person finds themself, once again, lacking the ability to manage their emotional life. A return to the addiction (or another addiction) is the only emotional management strategy that they have. This, followed by a re-commitment to recovery...followed by another relapse...followed by, well, you get the idea. The cycle will not end until the motivation for ending it has changed.

Those who are motivated by a desire to end the pain of their addiction fare much better than those who are recovering for the sake of others. Such individuals can generate sustained, long-term recovery efforts. However, in order to make a true transition to health, the key will be found in their ability to move past the initial stages of recovery and begin to adopt healthy life management skills that will allow them to achieve emotional maturity.

III. If your primary motivation to recover stems from no longer wanting to live such a lifestyle...
With this being your motivator, you can be assured — right now — that a permanent recovery is possible. Not easy. Not guaranteed. But by following the path that has been set forth and traveled by thousands before you, it is absolutely within your reach, should you choose to pursue it.

Why is this the critical motivation for a permanent recovery? Because recovery, while certainly aided by social support, is a very private, personal act. The biggest demons you will face will not be the social barriers placed in front of you, but the personal ones that exist within you. Nobody can make you communicate honestly with yourself. No one can take responsibility for your thoughts, actions and desires. No one can point out to you the internal games that you are playing with yourself in order to maintain some connection to your addictive past. Or the games that you will play as the addiction begins creeping back in. All of these skills are critical in a permanent recovery...and the only way of developing them is with a commitment to do so. Because you want to...not because you have to.

With this personal commitment and honesty in place, all else on the recovery path can be effectively put into perspective. From the consequences of your past, to the rebuilding of your future. From forgiveness, to acceptance, to letting go. From every possible trigger and barrier, to every single reward that is experienced. It is all based on how real you are willing to be with yourself. And how committed you are to living a real life.

Making the Commitment to Recover

Consider this: You can stop your addictive behavior this very moment. To do so, simply pick up an addiction recovery book and read. It doesn't matter which one. Read every word of every sentence of every page. When you're finished, choose another. Then another. Read until you've mastered every last one. Then start on the magazine articles, the pamphlets, the videos, the lectures, the internet...the amount of information now available to the recovering addict is staggering, and the amount of time it would take to complete such a task would place you well into the twenty-second century. Certainly long enough to have fooled society into thinking that you were "cured"; long enough even to have fooled yourself. But should you ever stop reading, or going to meetings, or attending therapy sessions...the behaviors return — they always do. I have long been fascinated by the countless number of addicts who can effortlessly recite each step of the twelve-step program verbatim, yet continue to struggle with both their addiction and their lives.

The Recovery Workshop is not about offering you the illusion of recovery. It is not about playing off of the initial euphoria most addicts feel after first making the decision to recover. It is about showing you how to change yourself — permanently. It is about empowering you to take control of the rest of your life, no matter where you're starting from. It is about attacking compulsive behavior/addiction as you would a cancer. Destroying it. Removing it from your existence. This workshop is about learning to take pride in who you are and in where you're going, rather than focusing on the shame of where you've been. But first, you have to commit yourself to making whatever changes are necessary.

The single greatest predictor of success — be it in business, relationships, or in addiction recovery — is found in the sincerity of the commitment to succeed. Carve this in stone, tack it to your forehead, staple it to a chicken — should you fail to permanently recover from your addiction, it will be due to your inability to fully commit to recovery. That's not to say that you are without sincere guilt or sorrow, or that a part of you doesn't want to change. That's natural, and one of the first obstacles to overcome. But the fact remains that you will never recover from addiction — ever — without the desire to eliminate it permanently from your life.

As you may have already discovered, no court-ordered treatment program, no ultimatum from a loved one, not even a promise to God can give you the strength to end the obsessive thoughts or curb the compulsive behavior. They may slow you down, perhaps allow you to cease the affairs, or curb the morning cigarette, but it won't last. It can't. The root of addiction is not found in the behavior itself; rather, it attaches to the core of your identity. It becomes central to your existence. Perhaps you perceive your behavior, no matter how personally deviant and socially unacceptable, as normal. What's worse, you may begin to perceive yourself as abnormal when not engaged in such compulsive behavior.  Even if you are among those who feel repulsed by your compulsive actions and still feel at a loss as to how you can tame them with any permanency — your ability to commit to your recovery is relative to your motivation. 

Passive vs. Active Recovery

The first step in making your commitment is to choose between a passive recovery and an active recovery.

A passive recovery involves following a prescribed treatment program, usually supervised by a therapist. Your "recovery" is measured solely by your actions: Are you attending your counseling sessions? Your group meetings? Have you read the assigned material? Completed the assigned exercises? Are you taking the prescribed medication? A consistent "yes" allows you to project to all the illusion of recovery. But internally, your life retains that feeling of chaos. Your thoughts haven't changed. Your desires haven't changed. All that's changed is the depth of your secrecy and the overwhelming hopelessness that accompanies a conflict between one's values and their thoughts/behaviors. A passive recovery looks good, even feels good for a while, but as the initial euphoria fades and your support system eases its grasp, the chaotic feelings will return — as will the compulsive behaviors/obsessive thoughts that you've used to control them. If you choose to commit yourself to a passive recovery, you are not yet ready to participate in this workshop. You will not benefit from, nor understand the insights presented in the following months. Recovery cannot be passively learned. It must be actively pursued.

Choosing an active recovery means more than simply controlling your compulsive thoughts and behaviors; it means making the choice to eliminate addictive patterns from your life forever. It's a scary proposition. On the one hand, these patterns have no doubt caused you significant emotional pain, for example, by way of guilt and shame; yet, they also bring great emotional comfort. It's scary to think of a life without the feelings that these patterns bring, and you might believe it's not even possible. You might believe that these thoughts and behaviors are a representation of who you really are. That you are somehow defective. That's a normal line of thought, though not accurate. An active recovery means that you have taken responsibility for who you are. And more importantly, it means that you are ready to take responsibility for where your life is headed. That you have made recovery your top priority — above work, above religion, above recreation, above even family (of course, as your recovery progresses, these priorities will change and "recovery" will eventually be eliminated altogether). Throughout the workshop, your sincerity to recover will be monitored through your work. But again remember, do not passively complete the exercises and read the insights and think that you are "going through recovery". You are not. It is only when you see each and every word as one more potential tool in YOUR recovery that you are truly on the path to permanent success. When you have made an active commitment to change, you will come to hate your compulsive behavior. You will see its devastating consequences and vow to conquer it. You will see recovery not as a punitive consequence of a failed life, but as an extraordinary challenge to become the person you want to be. A challenge to take pride in.

One last issue that will need to be addressed, but not now...is the tendency for some in recovery to become "addicted to recovery". Their life becomes consumed by their recovery efforts, and their recovery infiltrates every aspect of their lives. While this can be a positive thing initially, when recovery should be your top priority...true recovery demands that your priorities change throughout the course of your life. This means that, once the foundation for recovery has been set, and the skills have been developed...once your values have been identified and your goals prioritized...there will come a time when you begin to transition away from recovery. This is a good thing, and part of this workshop will be dedicated to opening your eyes and guiding you towards a balanced, peaceful transition — free from the destructive behaviors associated with addiction. 

Lesson 1 Exercises:

A. Three keys to establishing a successful foundation for permanent change in early recovery are:
1) actively committing yourself to change
2) not allowing guilt/shame to sabotage your commitment to change
3) allowing yourself time to change.

Consider where you feel you are in relation to each of these recovery keys? Briefly share your thoughts in your Recovery Thread.

B. Beyond an active commitment to change, another important factor in determining your ultimate success is your motivation. Look deep inside and list ten to fifteen reasons why you seek to permanently change your life. Don't stop at three or four obvious ones, really examine your life and what is important to you. Phrase these in the positve. For example: " I don't want to keep deceiving my wife" would serve you better if written like "I want to be honest and transparent with my wife". Positive statements have much more power in our mindset than negative ones. List these in your recovery thread.

C. One of the most powerful insights you can gain in establishing a foundation for permanent recovery is to come to see your addiction within the scope of your life span. In other words, to not just see your addiction as it is now, but to look across the span of your life to see the role that addiction has played in your development. Much of this will be explored throughout the workshop, but to put yourself in the right frame of mind to develop such a perception, do the following:

Find a picture of yourself when you were a small child. An innocent child. For those with early childhood sexual abuse issues, do not mistake this abuse for a lack of innocence. You were absolutely innocent. It will be hard to derive the full value from this exercise without an actual picture so if it is just a matter of needing to find one...wait. Wait until you have the picture in your hand. If such a picture does not exist, try envisioning a moment in your life when you were 3, 4...perhaps 5 years old — but only do this as a last resort. The power of this exercise rests in your ability to look into the eyes of your own innocence — something that is very hard to do through memory alone.

Now, with the picture in hand, look into that child's eyes. Feel their innocence. Acknowledge that this child is you at a point in your life.  Feel how vulnerable you were. How trusting. Recognize the lack of addiction in your life...and the desire for little more than love, compassion, teaching and support. Think of the trauma you faced throughout your life. Think of the times when you felt alone. Confused. If you feel like it, cry for this child. Allow yourself to feel love for this child. Do whatever you must to emotionally connect with this child because it is for this child that you are now reclaiming your life. It is this child who lost their way and you are the one now showing the courage to guide this child, who is you, back to health.

If you would like, share your experience with this last exercise in your thread.

IMPORTANT NOTE!

The first seven lessons of this workshop are quite intensive. If you find yourself falling behind because of 'life', don't get discouraged. Simply give yourself an extra week or so to complete this first 'week' of the workshop. If you were in an inpatient treatment center, what you are being asked to do each day over this first week would be reasonable. But few lives can simply extract an extra two, three or four hours each day to accomplish such demanding tasks. Important tasks. Life-changing tasks. But you can't abandon your responsibility to manage your current life in order to complete them. So, stay focused on the goals...even if it takes you a bit longer than what is recommended within the ninety-day program.

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