When you’re in recovery, you hear a lot of talk about remaining strong and how being strong will help you maintain your sobriety. There’s only one problem with that. What if you don’t think you have any strength to begin with? How do you find strength when you don’t believe any exists? Before you go off on a tangent and object that this doesn’t apply to you, or that the problem isn’t all that bad that you cannot manage it. You might want to check out the following tips on how to find strength. And, yes, everyone can do these.
Be Kind to Yourself
There’s no doubt that you’ve beaten yourself up over all the misdeeds you’ve committed and poor judgment you’ve exercised while you were deep in the throes of your problems with substance abuse. Maybe it was more than just abuse of substances and became a full-blown addiction. Whatever side of the abuse/dependence/addiction problem you were on, you clearly thought pretty negatively about yourself and your capabilities of a) becoming sober and b) being able to maintain your sobriety. This is perfectly normal and happens to almost everyone in early recovery. So, it’s really nothing to worry about that you initially feel like you don’t have the necessary strength to continue on the road of sobriety. What you can do, and beginning today, is to try to be kind to yourself. Stop expecting instant miracles, since they are unlikely to come. Whether you believe in such things or not is irrelevant at this point. What is relevant is that you make a conscious effort to be a little gentler on yourself from this day forward. Avoid beating yourself up over not succeeding in everything you attempt at the first go-round. After all, you’re new to recovery. You have to expect that there’s a learning period. It will go a lot easier for you if you adopt this mind-set early on.
Little Things Mean a Lot
Once you’ve begun to treat yourself a bit kinder, cutting yourself some slack in the early weeks of recovery, you can take steps to address the creation of daily schedules and mapping out goals and then assigning priorities to those various items on your agenda. While there’s a lot more to scheduling, goal setting and prioritizing to be discussed, the point that’s important here is to recognize that when you do achieve a small measure of success – you’ve been able to make five meetings in five days, for example – this means a lot in your quest of finding strength. It is especially important when you are attempting to build strength when you are convinced that you never had any or haven’t been strong for some time. You’ve heard in the rooms of recovery how all of recovery is a building-block process, that it is an ongoing journey filled with discovery, learning and growth. This also means that each step of the way you have an opportunity to gain strength. No success is too small to be counted. If it is important to you, it is helping you build your reservoir of strength. Don’t ever take this for granted, but don’t discount it either. You are, after all, the one who is creating your life in recovery. You do need strength, and you are perfectly capable of figuring out just how to do that. Best of all, you get stronger every day, as long as you keep working on your recovery.
What About Bad News, Mistakes and Failures?
One area where newcomers to recovery have a really difficult time – and, again, this pretty much happens to everyone new to sobriety at one point or another—is when they receive bad news, make one mistake after another, or consider themselves a total failure in their new life in sobriety. If you’ve paid attention to what’s been said, and is said quite regularly in the rooms of recovery, you know that it isn’t the fact that you get bad news—that you lost your job, that your house is now in foreclosure, that your family has disowned you—but how you react to it once you do. It isn’t the fact that you don’t have a dime, that you’ve bungled an important assignment at work, or that you failed a core class at school, that you were careless about your nutrition and sleep and became overcome by stress, but what you do about it immediately afterward. It isn’t the things you’ve done that you consider failures that will do you in, but your lack of getting back into doing the hard work of recovery. If you stop, you will undoubtedly fall into the category of either being stalemated, making no forward momentum and not falling backward, or you will regress, possibly relapsing. There is a way out of this dilemma. When you find that you’re feeling overcome by all the bad news, the mistakes and disappointments, and start thinking of yourself as a failure, you need to get back to talking with your sponsor, going to meetings and working the program. In fact, this is something you should have been doing all along, but everyone moves forward in recovery at their own pace, so maybe it just takes you a little bit longer to get where you know instinctively that you need to go.
Control How You Think About Things
One area where each person has control is in how they thing about things. You may not believe that you have this within you, but you actually do. For example, when you wake up in the morning, from the moment you open your eyes and your brain registers that it is a new day, you have the power to decide what you are going to think about first, and how you are going to think about whatever it is that comes to mind. You might, for example, awaken with a feeling of dread, having made less progress than you wanted to the day before, or falling short of your goal, or just having had a really bad day. You can choose to continue this feeling of foreboding or do yourself a favor and make the conscious choice to a) accept the reality of what happened and b) move forward today with your recovery action plans. Looking at the two choices, which one seems more productive and likely to result in you gaining strength? While there is certainly no guarantee that positive thinking alone will change the outcome, it is most assuredly a huge part in what you eventually do achieve. For one thing, if you can envision being successful in the pursuit of a goal or in achieving a specific outcome, whether the task or project at hand is minor or major, you are well on your way toward doing exactly that. This is where you have strength that you didn’t even know you possessed. It doesn’t cost you anything. You carry the strength within you. All you need to do is recognize that it is there and give yourself credit for making use of it. Strength is also like a muscle. It becomes stronger the more you use it, or make use of it, in the case of recovery. This does not mean to imply a rigidity of thinking, of being so set in a certain way that you don’t allow anything to change your mind. Flexibility is necessary because as you learn and grow in recovery, you will discover many unique opportunities that may require you to alter your plans a bit in order to take advantage of them. At the heart of controlling how you think about things is the idea that you are the architect. It is your life, after all, so you might as well use all the creative tools at your disposal. Envision what is good and productive and possible, given reasonable expectations, and greet the day with this positive mindset. There is tremendous strength in doing so, and it gets stronger every day.
No Need to Engage in Comparisons
Another way you can find strength is to avoid in comparing yourself with others. There’s simply no point in doing so, since everyone is different to begin with. So your situation may be similar to another’s. That doesn’t mean that your recovery path will mirror that person’s exactly, nor should it. We are each a product of unique upbringing, background, genetics, current circumstances, health and myriad other factors. How and why we arrived at this point in recovery is never going to be a duplicate of someone else’s experience. Still, it is amazing how many newcomers to recovery seek to compare themselves with others in the 12-step rooms. While it is good to gain information and brainstorm possible solutions to common problems, suppose you’re all discussing how to cope with recurring cravings and urges and most of the others in the group talk about their successes in doing so, while you alone seem to be the odd man out. You not only aren’t having any luck in managing these unwelcome physical and psychological demands, you feel like you should be at the same level as everyone else. In other words, you’re comparing your perceived failures to their stated successes. This is not helpful. Instead, recognize that everyone heals at his or her own pace. There is no one strategy or answer or program that will work for everyone uniformly or within a prescribed period of time. Feel good about the successes of others, for it shows you that success is possible. Support and encourage their efforts and accept the support and encouragement of others in your own endeavors. There is strength in the recovery community and it comes from this freely-shared and genuine desire to help others achieve and maintain sobriety.
Ask and You Shall Receive
Everyone needs a little help. Some need it more often than others, but we all need it. When you are in recovery, you are part of an incredible community, one that can help sustain and nourish you in your new life in sobriety. But you also need to build strength by asking for help from your Higher Power, or God as you know Him. Maybe you are not a religious person, from the standpoint that you do not attend or participate in an organized or recognized religious faith. You can still believe in the power of spirit, the power of consciousness, the power of mankind or nature. Whatever it is that you hold dear in the spiritual realm, you can ask for help from that power or source. If you believe in something that is outside yourself, something that is at the core of your belief system, then you have an asset that you can tap into to derive more strength. Many individuals in recovery talk about the miraculous nature and benefits derived from prayer. But, again, it doesn’t have to be prayer in the traditional sense. You can just “talk” to your Higher Power or your inner spirit and ask for the help you need, for the strength you want to go on. The beautiful thing about asking for help is that you’re opening up a space inside you to make room for strength to grow. In a way, it’s like spring cleaning. You broom out all the negativity and bad thoughts about the past and a breath of fresh air comes in, along with a lot of light and a great deal more space. Even if things don’t change dramatically as a result of asking for help, what often happens is that you are able to perceive your current situation, the challenges and obstacles you face, and to see potential solutions in a clearer light. You may also feel more motivated to tackle new tasks, to engage in additional learning, and to broaden your horizons to encompass areas you never thought possible for you before. The Serenity Prayer itself is a good example of asking in order to receive. Since you know it already, why not use it? Say it with meaning, paying attention to the words and the meaning behind them? It’s an excellent place to start in your goal of finding strength.
Count Your Successes…and Watch Them Add Up
How do you know when you are gaining strength? After all, strength isn’t really anything you can see, right? Here’s how. Keep a list of your successes in all areas of your recovery. This includes obvious achievements such as the first week, month, six months and first year of sobriety. It also includes being successful at overcoming cravings and urges by keeping careful track of the strategies and solutions that work for you over time. No doubt you arrived at these successes by virtue of being flexible, of adapting various suggestions and making them your own to fit your circumstances. You have created a workable strategy and an effective part of your recovery toolkit. Look over your list of successes, literally counting them and reflecting on the hard work you put into achieving them. What happens now is that you have an accumulation going on. Your successes are beginning to build. With each success is more strength that you have managed to amass. Every day in recovery is an opportunity to learn and grow and become strong. Every day is a gift, one that should never be taken for granted or squandered but accepted with gratitude and an eagerness to continue making progress. How do you find strength when you don’t think you have any? Hopefully, you have a few easy-to-do suggestions to try out now. Remember, you have incredible untapped strength. Like unwrapping a Christmas present or delightfully unexpected gift, the more you begin to see the results of your recovery work, the more your strength manifests itself.