Recovery Workshop: Lesson Six

Building Proactive Action Plans I

Building Proactive Action Plans

One of the biggest mistakes perpetuated by many in today's recovery community is the notion that addiction is to be managed. That the primary weapons in battling addiction are avoidance, reaction and giving up responsibility. You are taught to avoid triggers. You are taught to react to threats. To react to slips. To react to relapse. And, you are encouraged to give up the responsibility of managing your life to a higher power because addiction is just too powerful for mere humans to manage on their own. As alluded to in an earlier lesson, this is being done with the right intentions, but it is the wrong message. Better than nothing? Absolutely. Effective? To a point. But the underlying premise is absolutely, destructively wrong (from a sociological standpoint).

Life is to be managed. Addiction is a mere boil on the butt of life (apologies to my wife for bringing her medical condition into this). Your goal in recovery is not to learn to manage addiction, it is to learn to manage your life. Yes, learning about addiction is an important step in removing the boil, but it is not the solution. You don't learn your way out of this. Insights will come. Skills will be developed. But unless you are ultimately able to apply these insights and skills within the context of a healthy life, they will serve as little more than a temporary escape from your addiction.

One of the most valuable tools you have in learning to apply these insights and skills to your life are Action Plans. There are two main types of action plans (Proactive and Reactive) and by the end of the workshop, you will need to have mastered both. The first type that we will address here is Reactive Action Plans (though we won't actually learn to develop them until after learning urge control and values-based decision-making).

Reactive Action Plans are used in response to a particular situation that you must react to. Common in recovery are reactive action plans that focus on the specific rituals that you have engaged in, or that you are likely to engage in. Someone struggling with compulsive masturbation, for instance, will have an action plan developed for when the urge to masturbate is experienced. Most recovery platforms involve some sort of reactive action plan. You have an urge: you call your sponsor.This is a very basic example, but it serves its purpose. Reactive Action Plans will be discussed in great detail later in the workshop when you work on skills involving urge control and decision-making. Their success is based on your ability to build an action plan that is founded in your values — while you are not under the influence of a compulsive urge; and in your commitment to those values (as opposed to your quest for immediate emotional stimulation). Again, much more on this down the road.

Today's lesson is on developing Proactive Action Plans. The 'ugly-stepchild' of action plans because they are so infrequently used. Yet, they stand to be the most productive tool you will build in your life management arsenal. Imagine an athlete who blows out a knee. They can take the reactive road to healing: resting, medication, allowing their pain response to dictate their health. Or, they can take a dual-approach: complimenting the above with a proactive regimen of exercise, stretching and developing the surrounding healthy tissue. This is what proactive action plans do for a person in recovery: they strengthen the healthy tissue.

Proactive action plans focus on personal value development. They allow you to strengthen the foundation that is responsible for driving your life's vision. They allow the scattered mind to focus and the chronically disorganized to remain organized. Finally, these plans will serve as the building blocks for your Health Monitoring program — so it is important that you put sincere effort into their construction.

Developing a Proactive Action Plan

There is no definitive structure for building an effective proactive action plan. On the one hand, it is as simple as determining what areas of your life you want to strengthen and then writing out a plan to strengthen those areas. On the other hand, the areas that you choose must be both practical and meaningful to you. Choosing to strengthen your spirituality because you think you should is not going to translate into an effective action plan. Most likely, it will translate into an action plan that allows you to feel good about yourself for a few days...and then drifts off into oblivion. Your proactive action plans must be based on those areas of your life that you want to serve as your foundation. Obviously, your prioritized values would be an excellent place to start.

Be careful to maintain an aura of practicality throughout this process. For instance, if the value being strengthened is something that is complex; say, 'Strengthening My Role as a Husband to Christy'; recognize that this will not be accomplished by throwing one or two idealistic goals down and moving on to the next value. Primary relationships are complex and the development of those relationships must reflect that. A possible example of a preliminary action plan for the above value might be:

Proactive Action Plan: Strengthening My Role as a Husband to Lisa (example)
  • Improving/Maintaining Communication
    • Share with absolute honesty/absence of secrecy
    • Express my emotions openly and spontaneously
    • Express my emotions with vulnerability (e.g. without fear of being judged or rejected)
    • Monitor Lisa for signs of frustration and work to overcome this, not get drawn into it
    • Monitor myself for signs of frustration and engage in my action plan for anger/frustration when necessary
    • Initiate meaningful communication on a daily basis. Don't sit back and wait for Lisa to do it
    • Answer Lisa's questions with more than one or two word responses
    • If it is inconvenient for me to communicate with her at a particular time, communicate this to her. But remember my priorities and when I do communicate, be fully engaged in the communication.
  • Organization, maintenance of the home
    • Sit down with Lisa this week to prioritize home maintenance/chore issues
    • Use maturity in problem solving each issue
    • Remember that not all of life is emotionally rewarding. I will need to set aside certain times of my life to do what needs to be done so that such a burden doesn't fall to my partner
    • Plan weekly menus together
    • Plan shopping list for menus
    • Help with grocery shopping
    • Share in meal preparation and/or clean-up
  • Parenting
    • Develop a parenting plan to address the major concerns relating to our children
    • Follow this parenting plan
    • Evaluate/evolve this parenting plan every two weeks
  • Support, encourage Lisa's personal development
    • She wants to go to the gym regularly
      • Define regular, scheduled personal time to work out
      • Encourage her health through compliments and endearment
    • Explore additional options with her
      • Staying at home
      • Developing her career
      • Other options
  • Loving Each Other
    • Work as partners, not colleagues
    • Reach out to each other through physical touch
    • Being receptive to Lisa initiating non-sexual physical touch/affection
    • Offer verbal confirmations of appreciation, admiration, love
    • Engage in actions that will affirm that Lisa is special
      • Written reassurances (cards, gestures, poems)
      • Verbal reassurances
      • Thoughtful surprises
  • Accepting Love from Each Other
    • Acknowledge Lisa's vulnerability, risk taking towards physical affection
    • Initiate quality 'adult time' equally
    • Actively seek out love and validation from each other
    • Actively communicate unfulfilled needs of wanting to feel wanted, desired
  • Developing Sexual Intimacy
    • Experience sexual activity as a time of fun and enjoyment
    • Actively pursue tenderness
    • Release myself from the pressure of performance and/or always experiencing emotional depth
    • Establish consistency with frequency of sexual activity
    • Explore initiation, acceptance rituals together

These are some 'off-the-cuff' examples of areas that you may want to address in the action plan. As you can see, this barely touches the depth of any committed relationship and so, you will have to walk a fine line between creating the perfect idealistic plan to build your relationship and one that is practical — given your life and situation. Thankfully, not all action plans need be this complex. Let's say that you have a distant relationship with a brother and in your heart, you know that you would like something more. It is not necessary to address every issue of that relationship, but only to address moving that relationship forward. What would be the next step you would want to take? And so, such an action plan may be as simple as:

Proactive Action Plan: Strengthening My Role as a Brother to Steve
  • Call Steve once a month to talk about our lives
  • Don't worry about guilt for not having called in the past
  • Accept that it may be uncomfortable at first
  • Realize that my efforts may be rejected

Note the specific elements addressed. Note the anticipation of reality. All of your action plans (proactive and reactive) should have these qualities so that you develop confidence in managing your life, rather than leaving things to unstable emotional reactions. Also be mindful that the more specific your action plan are, the more practical they will be. And that is your ultimate goal here: to develop plans that you can actually engage in that will strengthen the values that are most important in your life.

Lesson 6 Exercise:

A. Of the top fifteen values on your Prioritized Values List, develop Proactive Action Plans for two or three of the more simple ones. For instance, "Strengthening your relationship with your wife" is complex. "Developing a closer bond with 'Chewie', your dog" (probably) isn't. For now, choose 'Chewie'. Post these plans into your recovery thread.

Note that your goal here is not to map out perfection. You only need to map out the next few steps in the developmental process of strengthening and/or maintaining this value (if it is already at full strength).

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