Recovery Workshop: Lesson Two

Establishing a Healthy Vision for Your Life

"If this is a workshop about addiction recovery, why are we spending so much time talking about health?"

You may already know the answer to this question, but it cannot be said enough; addiction and health are not separate, conflicting entities — they exist at opposite ends of a single continuum. Addiction is not keeping you from living a healthy life. It is not the reason that you are struggling. Even the consequences of your addiction are not the reason that you are struggling...though it is easy to perceive them as such. No, your addiction and its consequences are merely symptoms; the reason you are struggling is because you have yet to learn how to manage your life in a healthy way. It has been your life skill deficiencies that have fueled the 'shortcuts' you have taken to manage your emotions. Shortcuts that provide immediate emotional stimulation (which is good); but to the detriment of your long-term health (which is cumulatively very, very bad). When these shortcuts become ingrained as your primary emotional management strategy, you can consider yourself as having an addiction. But note: it was not the addiction that triggered the life crisis...it was the lack of healthy life management skills that triggered the addiction.

It is vital that you understand this, because without such a realization...you are voluntarily choosing to stick your head in the sand and thus, remain powerless to actually manage your life. Ignorance breeds powerlessness. By neglecting to learn the natural and logical process of addiction, it is the addiction itself that is empowered — often to the point of self-perceived helplessness. Ignorance breeds fear. Fear in recovery is like a match to gasoline.  You may be reading this and thinking to yourself, "I've been in recovery for twenty years; how could I possibly be ignorant?!"  Relax, the ignorance is not being addressed as a personal weakness; it is being addressed as fact. Your ignorance in recovery has been perpetuated by a recovery community's good intentions, but lack of vision. In such a place, recovery becomes a process of following. Of reaction. Of equating abstinence with health. But health is not abstinence. Health is so much more. Health is anchored by knowledge, experience and confidence. It is both proactive and reactive. In a healthy recovery, YOU become the leader of your life — not the follower. And certainly not a subordinate to some behavioral pattern that has developed in your life.

Just as you currently lack the ability to manage your life through healthy, constructive means, you also lack the skills to permanently end your addiction. That is okay. For simplicity, the following will be assumed: You want...but you lack the knowledge to achieve. You need...but you lack the confidence to do. You try...but you lack the vision to succeed. And that is what the remainder of this lesson is about: establishing the vision you will need to succeed.   

Not our vision. Your vision.

Develop a Practical Vision for Your Life

People who struggle to commit themselves to a vision for their life are really struggling with one of the most fundamental issues there is to struggle with: their own mortality. The realization that they have only a finite amount of time on this earth and a finite number of experiences to be had. As a child (and even as an adolescent/young adult), this finite reality has little bearing on one's perceptions/pursuits as it is the rare individual who actually incorporates these thoughts into their daily decision-making processes. Children are not typically bound by the awareness of mortality. At such a time, you are free to dream and experience to your heart's content (social boundaries aside). But as healthy people transition into adulthood, most recognize that there are limits to the life they can lead. They realize that to achieve fulfillment, their life must have purpose. That is when the process of 'settling down' begins and they choose those areas of their life that they will commit themselves to mastering. Those areas that they want to anchor their identities to. Being a parent. Being a partner. Achieving competency in their career. Helping others. Being physically fit. Being financially stable. Being a servant of God. That is not to suggest that these are the values that all people SHOULD pursue; merely examples of what many people DO pursue. The choosing of these values does not guarantee fulfillment, but it does lay the foundation for learning how to derive fulfillment from one's life. And that is what you have to do now: learn to derive value from your life. This is not an easy skill to master. The learning process is complex, but you can begin by establishing a vision for your life that is based on mastering those values that you hold dear. Then, developing a passion for pursuing that vision.

Pursue Your Vision with Passion.

People develop passion for many things. Even in early recovery, it is common for some to develop a passion for the recovery process itself. They want to master addiction. Become recovery experts. Addiction experts. I implore you...don't. Instead, start this process of real recovery by developing a passion for living your life. By developing a passion for learning how to manage that life. For learning how to build your identity through your values. For maximizing the stimulation that you derive from those values. This is so much more valuable and useful than learning to master addiction and/or recovery. Six months from now, it is entirely realistic that the door to addiction will be closed in your life. By that time, you will need to have the skills, the knowledge and the experience in place to manage your emotions and keep that door closed. Begin that process now...commit to that mastery now...because these are skills that you will need for the rest of your life, and upon mastering these skills, you will find you no longer need, nor crave as intensely, the short-lived biochemical shots of emotion that your compulsive behaviors produce.

Now, passion is a good thing, but it can be overdone. A life with too much passion is every bit as destructive as a life with none at all. In the mind of someone struggling with addiction, passion can be a dangerous thing. Be careful. Just as the passion to enact your life's vision can provide you with a great deal of energy and focus when all is going well, it can also rob you of that energy when your life is stressed and/or out of balance. In other words, pursue your vision with passion, but don't equate that passion as the validation for your life's vision. If you didn't understand that...read it again. In a healthy life, pursuing your vision with passion will give way to developing true depth in your life. When that happens, you will no longer be vulnerable to emotional instability.   This depth will not replace your passion, it will merely supersede it as the primary force in maintaining your identity.  In most addicts, passion is the primary driving force in decision-making...and one of the goals of your transition to health is to develop depth instead.

There are, of course, exceptions. People who buck what's universally healthy, choosing to pursue an obsession, a phenomenal personal gift or talent. Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Gandhi, Sister Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr.; people who have transcended their own lives to achieve social immortality. For them, it was their passion that drove them to living extraordinary lives. But in the past one hundred years, there have been over twenty billion people (guesstimate) who have lived on this earth and maybe 100,000 have achieved this transcendence. The other 19,999,900,000 people have had to seek personal fulfillment in more realistic ways. Even with these odds though, many with addictions tend to see themselves living their lives on this extraordinary plane (not necessarily Gandhi-like, but extraordinary) — sacrificing their opportunity to develop ongoing, sustainable fulfillment in their lives for the ongoing pursuit of intensity and passion. At least, the fulfillment that comes from personal competency and depth. If you are one such person, by all means...pursue immortality. But, do so with your eyes wide open to the sacrifices that you are making and the risks that you are taking.

To achieve personal fulfillment as an adult, a vision must be formed of how you want to define your identity. Of what legacy, if any, you wish to leave for others. This legacy can be as simple as the relationship between you and your partner (e.g. having shared yourself completely with another human being); or between you and your children (e.g. having laid the foundation for their generation's fulfillment); or between you and your community (e.g. knowing that the community is better because you were a part of it).  In this early stage, it matters little what you define as important...what matters is that you now define it.

There is no more room for, "I don't know what I want." Make your choices.

There is nothing wrong with looking back and saying, "I was wrong about that choice...and I want to change what I am pursuing," but to rest on indecision — when you are talking about something as valuable as the remaining years of your life...is unacceptable. Make your choices and then drive towards those choices with focus and confidence. Should you become aware that you have made the wrong choice somewhere along the line, adjust. It is no big deal; the big deal is never choosing. Those are the lives that are in constant motion without ever achieving depth, thus never achieving their potential to derive value from their life.

"But I Really Don't Know What I Want"

This takes us back to the mortality issue. At this stage, you likely have another ten to fifty years of active, quality life left. Within the concept of time, that is infinitesimal. But within our own egocentric existence, that is a lot of time. Forever, in fact. Think about that. You now have 'forever' to develop depth from within your values. You have 'forever' to develop maturity and skill in managing your life. And, you have 'forever' to potentially waste to inaction, fear and noncommitment. Your forever, anyway. It can't be argued that, as an adult, lacking a vision for one's life is tolerable, but any vision, even if it is the wrong one...is better than having none at all. Why? Because it gives you something objective to work with. To evolve. Without this vision, the only way to manage one's life is by learning to manage emotions as they are experienced. Everything reactive. This, as opposed to taking a proactive role in establishing emotions through stability and value competency. So what would keep someone from creating such a vision? The answer is the same answer that can be applied to why some are unable to fully commit themselves to ending their addiction: mortality. Not the fear of dying, but the fear of accepting that they are living a finite life. Because they cannot accept this, they tend to hold desperately to all options, to all potential. They don't want to limit themselves because that would mean closing off a part of themselves forever. Subconsciously, closing off certain life options is to acknowledge the finite qualities of one's life. It is to acknowledge that time and experience are no longer infinite.

What to take from this awareness? Throughout the workshop, we will talk about developing maturity. This is one of those areas where such maturity needs to be developed. An immature person sees closing off of certain options in their life (like addiction, or access to the stimuli that feed that addiction) as limiting themselves. It's the "What if?" thought process. "What if...my soul mate is out there waiting?" "What if...I was destined for something great but never took the time to pursue it?" "What if...I can't recover?" A mature person sees the refinement of their values (aka their vision) not as a limiting aspect of their lives, but as an opportunity to develop and experience infinite depth within those values. Think about that. Think about the difference between being in a marriage as a man who is keeping all options open, and being in a marriage as a man who is committed to developing infinite depth within that marriage. The former is based on fear of not losing out on things, the latter is based on a commitment to one's vision of being in a partnership.

Lesson 2 Exercises:

A. Take at least twenty minutes to be alone. If you have a family, ask them to respect this time that you are taking. Make sure that you leave your cell phone off. That the dog is fed. That there will be no distractions. Take a walk by yourself. Sit alone on the beach. Find somewhere secluded and then, think. Think about who you are, the life that you have led, and the life that you want to lead from this point forward. Think about your legacy. Create a vision that you would feel comfortable committing yourself to pursuing. One that, as you someday look back upon your life, will allow you to feel proud of the person that you developed into. Of the life that you led.

B. OPTIONAL If you have someone in your life to talk with about this vision, consider talking with them. You are not looking for validation, correction, guidance...you are just moving one step closer to making this vision your reality. However, it is important that the person you choose to share this vision with not listen with a critical ear. You are in the infancy stage of learning how to perceive, develop and manage your life as a healthy adult — there is no need to reinforce your short-comings during this exercise.

C. Write out your vision. Use any format you would like. As a general rule, the more personal, the better. Post this vision in your Recovery Thread. There is no right or wrong to this vision...though it should be comprehensive enough for a stranger (such as a coach or mentor) to read it and have a pretty good idea as to what you value and the life that you want to live.

As we review these visions, what we will be looking for is the following:

1) Is it practical or is it idealistic? Practical is what we are shooting for. Idealistic visions feel good, sound good...but they serve very little purpose, other than to create unrealistic goals for which failure is already  guaranteed.

2) Is this vision capable of sustaining a healthy life? Are there enough values identified that have the potential to generate fulfillment. To counter instability. To drive decision-making.

For an excellent example of the depth such a vision should have, click the following link: Example of a Personal Vision

Note the depth expressed in this vision. If you are looking to finish this exercise in a matter of minutes to 'check it off the to do list'...you will be missing one of the first tools, vital for rebuilding your foundation. Think of this as the first indication of the sincerity with which you will be approaching this workshop. From a coaching perspective, I know that I do. The more you invest in yourself, the more coaches will be willing to invest as well. It is human nature. If you need several days to complete this, take several days. Most people can write out a solid vision in about an hour. But judge your efforts more on the quality and authenticity of the effort you have put in, rather than the amount of time you took to create it.

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