How to Choose From the Good, the Bad, and the In-Between

Anyone who’s in recovery knows that it’s not all good times. Sure, there’s the great feeling you get from knowing that you’ve completed treatment and are on the road to recovey. But that’s just it – it’s an ongoing road, not a destination that you’ll charge towards and then rest at the end. This means that there are bound to be many twists and turns along the way, and some of these can prove frustrating, difficult, or downright confounding. How do you know what to do? Here are some suggestions on how to choose from the good, the bad, and the in-between in recovery.

Take it Slow

The first recommendation is to just take it slow. You’re not expected to know how to do everything all at once. How could you? This whole idea of recovery is all new to you – or, it is for most in early recovery. If you’ve been in recovery for a while and have slipped now and then, you may need to go back to the basics and reapply the lessons you first learned during treatment. At any rate, everyone needs to take it slow in the early days of recovery. What taking it slow implies is that you carefully think through your options before jumping into a decision that may prove shortsighted in the long run. This doesn’t mean that you should become paralyzed, unable to go forward because you’re afraid to make any decision for fear of making the wrong one. It’s a simple case of weighing all your options, going through the pros and cons of each. Seen in this light, making a choice is far less complicated and frustrating that it might otherwise be. So, just take it slow. Think of how you prepare for a long-distance race, or an outdoor hike in higher elevations. You prepare by doing some stretches, breathing exercises, getting yourself in physical shape. You don’t just leap forward without a second thought. The same principle applies to making choices in early recovery.

Make a List

You’re used to list-making tasks by now – or you should be. After all, you’ve gone through creating a recovery plan for yourself in conjunction with your therapist during treatment where you put down some short- and long-term goals. What advantage does making a list give you when it comes to deciding among your choices – the good, the bad, and the in-between? In short, it gives you something to look at where you can see on paper – or a computer screen, if you prefer to go digital – how each potential choice stacks up. But you don’t just mark them down. You also need to take another step. Next to each choice, write out what’s potentially good about making this decision. Do the same thing in an adjacent column and focus on potential drawbacks or consequences if you wind up making this choice. Go through this exercise for each of the decisions that you need to make. Don’t worry if you can’t think of too many reasons for or against each at this point. Just do the exercise. Then put the list aside for a while and concentrate on doing something that’s part of your everyday recovery plan – such as going to 12-step meetings, getting proper nutrition, meeting with your therapist, engaging in vigorous physical exercise, and so on.

Talk Things Over with Others

You obviously wouldn’t want to make an all-important life decision without consulting with your trusted advisors. In this case, those advisors will likely be your 12-step sponsor, your loved ones and other family members, close friends, perhaps even your boss or co-workers. Of course, not every decision you need to make will require that you arrange a meeting or get on the phone with your sponsor, spouse, boss, or best friend. Many of them you will be able to make yourself. But leave this open as a part of your strategy for the really tough decisions. This is especially true if the decision before you will impact your life and that of others in major ways. The decision to quit your job is one that would probably qualify as one in which you would seek counsel and advice from others you trust. The choice to get married or divorced, to have children or adopt, to sell your house or change your will are others that could equally fall into this category. The decision to buy a certain pair of sneakers or a piece of exercise equipment most likely wouldn’t. Then again, if the purchase price is such that you’d be jeopardizing the family household budget by buying the item, maybe it would. The point is that none of us is completely sure of what constitutes a good decision at all times and in all circumstances. When we’re in recovery – especially early recovery – we’re more prone to doubt and uncertainty over our ability to make a lot of different types of decisions, minor to major. If you need help, talk with others you trust. And don’t feel guilty about doing so. These people are your support network. They want you to succeed in your long-term recovery. Go ahead and ask for their help if you feel you could benefit.

Revisit Your List

After you’ve discussed things with others, take the time to revisit your list. You’ve undoubtedly receive valuable input from your sponsor, loved ones, friends, and co-workers that now provide you with other points that you can add to the pros and cons for various decisions you need to make. Go ahead and add those observations to the appropriate sections of your list. For example, if your pending decision is whether or not to accept a position in your company that would require you to travel more often, put down what you’ve identified as pros and cons affecting such a decision. In the pro column (the good) would be such considerations as the fact that it is a promotion (if it is), it offers more money, gives you more exposure in the company, is a path toward further advancement, is a long-held dream, allows you to see more of the country (or world), and broadens your horizons. On the negative side (the bad) might be the fact that this would take you away from your loved ones for long stretches at a time, you don’t do well on the road, you are afraid that you’d be tempted to use when you are away from your home environment and regular 12-step group, that you’d have to work longer hours, you hate to travel, and it’s not going to wind up netting you any more in the way of income or advancement. Again, for major decisions, give the process some time to work. You don’t want to rush anything that’s potentially so impactful to your life – and that of your loved ones. If you must make a decision within a limited timeframe – you either want the job or not, for example – go with the decision that seems to have the most positives in its column (as opposed to the negatives). What if it’s a draw? If both columns, the good and the bad, have an equal number of entries, then you’ll need to rank them in priority of importance. How important is it to make more money? Do you need to get your financial house back in order and becoming financially stable is a high priority for you and your family? This may push your decision one way or another. If the available position or assignment will help you meet your long- or even short-term goals, perhaps you now have enough to make your decision.

Making No Decision is a Decision

It’s important at this point to mention that failing to make any decision is, in itself, making a decision. What this indecisiveness tells you is that you are avoiding making decisions. You have to look at why and how to overcome this reticence. Everyone makes decisions daily, sometimes many times during the day. Often, we are not even aware of consciously making a choice between the good, the bad, and the in-between. We just do it. But we are always filtering our ultimate decision through the assessment process in our brain. Do we want orange juice or V-8? Will we wear the blue striped tie or the solid? Do we want the full-service car wash or the exterior wash only? Will we go to the gym before work, at lunchtime, or on the way home from work? We can’t just not make some decisions. We may not want to take the time to visit the restroom before embarking on a long road trip or commute, but bodily necessity will force the decision – sooner or later. But other decisions that we don’t make for one reason or another just languish there. We don’t move forward and we may not move backward either. We just stagnate, existing in a no-man’s land. Don’t allow your decision-making process to grind to a halt. If you’re stuck on something, revisit the list, talk with your advisors again, and choose something. The more important the decision, the more likely you’ll need some solid advice to help you figure out what’s best for you.

When Your Emotions Get the Better of You

Granted, some decisions are going to be gut-wrenching. What may be only troublesome for one person may be agonizing for another. There’s no simple solution that works for everyone. There never is, whether the issue is decision-making or getting out of bed to face the day. So what happens when your emotions become so overwhelming that you just can’t seem to figure out which way to turn? What should you do then? Although it may seem like a small consolation, recognize that you’re not in this alone. Millions of others in recovery – especially early recovery – have faced and are facing the same emotional turmoil. There is, however, a silver lining in this potential black cloud. You have the support and encouragement of your support networks: your family and your 12-step sponsor and fellow group members. Why beat yourself up over your apparent inability to come to a decision when your heart feels like it’s being wrenched backward through a sieve? If you’ve just lost a loved one, gone through a crisis, had a physical setback or illness, or just a bad day, you need to talk with others who understand what you’re going through. Your support network consists of people who love and care about you, those who are or have been in the same or similar circumstances, and who offer their encouragement and support for no other reason than they do care about you and want you to succeed in your long-term recovery. In this case, when emotions get the better of you, finding help is as simple and basic as getting in touch with your support network. They won’t give you the answers. That’s not their responsibility or role. But they will listen, offer encouragement, maybe relate some stories from their personal experience from which you can draw on to adapt their strategies for your own purposes. Sometimes, all you really need is someone to listen to you and be able to relate. Before you know it, that decision that’s been weighing you down, clouded by emotions, won’t seem so insurmountable. You’ll find your way out of the confusion and be able to reach a conclusion in your mind as to which route to go.

Create New Goals

Another way to get your decision-making skills in motion is to create some all-new goals for yourself in recovery. You may not have looked at your recovery plan for a while. That’s understandable, given all you’ve had to deal with in early recovery. But your recovery plan is a living and changing guideline to lead you where you want to go. In this respect, it needs updating and revision on an ongoing basis. In a sense, it’s a roadmap toward recovery that’s sustainable over the long-term. Think of it like getting a trip-tic from the auto club before you set out on a destination for a family road trip, or plugging in coordinates and destination address to your car’s navigation system. You do what you need to do so that you have the latest-available information so you don’t wind up stuck in the middle of nowhere and the road ends in front of you. The same holds true for your recovery plan. Things change. Your plans change. Goals you had yesterday may no longer work for you in the long-term as you are presented with new opportunities. You want to be able to take advantage of these turns in the road. Put down some new or potential goals as they become available. Then, work on making the decisions on the steps you want and need to take to get you to accomplish those goals. It isn’t rocket science. Anyone can do this. It just takes time and patience, networking, reviewing and analyzing, and doing what’s best for you and your overall long-term recovery. In the end, how to choose from the good, the bad, and the in-between in recovery is just another process that you learn how to do better each and every day.

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