Anyone who’s ever embarked on an endurance run knows the importance of pacing. The simple fact is that you can’t run flat out and expect to still be standing – or even make – the finish line. The same concept holds true in recovery. To be successful in long-term recovery, you simply must learn how to pace yourself. Let’s look at some ways that pacing can be implemented as well as how to keep motivated during seemingly impossible stretches.
Have a Conversation With Yourself
Right up front, you need to give yourself a talking-to. After all, you’re the one that’s responsible for your actions from here going forward, so you’d better begin the inner conversations sooner rather than later. What should you say? Here are some general thoughts on how your inner conversation might go. Feel free to elaborate and tailor to suit your situation.
- I want to do everything I can to be successful in my recovery. I know I have the tools, and will get stronger every day. I’m just going to take it slow, and embrace each day as it comes.
- I promise myself that I won’t allow others to push me into something I’m not yet ready to do.
- I will make it a practice to take some time for myself each day to do whatever it is that I find enjoyable and that is within my secure and sober recovery plan.
- If I feel down, I’ll talk with my sponsor or my family. I won’t isolate myself.
- It’s important for me to keep to my schedule, and revise it when necessary. But I won’t be a slave to it.
- My past does not define me. I will plan for the future, and live in the present.
Give Yourself a Break
Now, to the reality that is your recovery. Recognize that there will be good days and bad days, and days that are somewhere in between. You can’t expect to have all the answers or know what to do in every possible situation. In fact, no one else has this expectation for you either – or should have. If your family members or loved ones or close friends or co-workers start demanding more of you than you are ready for, you need to assert your intention to work your recovery at your own pace. If loved ones have gone through family treatment or counseling, this is less likely to be the case, but everyone tends to forget now and then. Recovery is more than just adhering to rules. The whole concept of long-term recovery is that it’s an ongoing process. As you progress from the early days to several and then many months of sobriety, you learn more and become stronger. Although it’s probably pretty tough now, scary, in fact, it will get better – if you stick to it. But in order to achieve effective long-term recovery – to live in sobriety – you need to give yourself a break. Cut yourself some slack. Realize that, sure, you could go gung-ho and try to implement all kinds of things in your plan at once, but you’re likely to become frustrated or worse. You could falter or slip and relapse. Better to adopt a slow and steady pace.
Learn from the Experts
Let’s face it. We can all learn something new. It doesn’t matter if you’re just new to recovery or if you’ve been living sober for years. There’s always something new in the recovery field. And, as many who are in successful long-term recovery will tell you, it’s fun to expand your knowledge. So, where do you go to gain these new insights? There are a number of sources and resources available, but the primary one is your 12-step sponsor and fellow group members. These are the individuals who live recovery day in and day out. They have likely – individually or as a group – encountered every type of crisis or stumbling block, opportunity or challenge that there is and have come out on the other side. The tips and techniques they found effective may very well work for you. At the very least, you should be able to devise ways to modify certain practices to better fit your life and lifestyle. In short, these individuals can certainly be considered the experts. They’re expert in living in recovery. Even when members suffer relapse, they learn from their mistakes. You can learn from them as well. But the most important part of this learning opportunity is the fact that it gives you the chance to benefit from the community of others in recovery. There’s strength in numbers, and the support of the group can help you learn how to navigate through the tough times, how to moderate your pace so that you are better equipped to make it through almost any conceivable circumstance – and remain on track in your recovery. Other sources of knowledge and inspiration include books, pamphlets, Internet sites, chat groups, movies, lectures, and additional classes. You might even consider going for weekend seminars or couples counseling or recovery retreats. If your community sponsors activities in connection with the annual Recovery Month, this is an excellent place to gain additional knowledge, network and make new friends – and further help solidify your recovery. It’s also good to get involved yourself in Recovery Month activities. And knowing that this occurs every year in September is another way to pace yourself in recovery. It gives you something to look forward to, plan for, and participate in. In short, be a sponge when it comes to learning something new – from the experts and on your own. Soak it all in and be ready to absorb more. You can never have too much knowledge about effective recovery.
Weaning Off Medication
For some – but not all – in recovery, taking medication as prescribed is a necessary part of becoming stronger and better able to function, or capable of overcoming urges, combatting depression or anxiety or other existing mental health condition. Whether such a condition pre-dated addiction or was brought on or exacerbated by addiction, the fact is that taking medication that’s been prescribed for you is something that you need to continue to do. Granted, no one wants to have to take medication forever. While in some cases this may be necessary – for example, in the case of schizophrenia or paranoid psychosis – many individuals in recovery will be able to wean off of medications over time. This can only be done under the supervision of your doctor, and it isn’t a given. In other words, there may be a period of adjusting dosage or frequency of medication, gradually tapering off while the doctor sees how you are doing at each stage. If your goal is to wean off medication that’s been prescribed for you in connection with substance abuse or mental health disorder, express your desire to your physician and be guided by his or her counsel. After all, your doctor only wants what’s best for you and will work with you to help you establish a transition if it’s going to be possible. The process of gradually weaning off taking prescribed medication is another example of pacing yourself in recovery.
On Getting Back to Work
Naturally, going back to work is a big concern for those who’ve completed treatment and are trying to put their lives back together. The fact is that employment is one of the pillars of recovery. To be employed means you are working at being self-sufficient, paying your way, taking care of your responsibilities. It’s also an excellent way of restoring self-confidence, self-esteem, and reasserting your independence. But you can’t go overboard by diving right back into the maelstrom that may have contributed to substance abuse in the first place. If you have a highly stressful job, maybe what you need to consider is changing employers or, at the very least, transfering to a different department or asking for a new assignment or position. As an example, someone who is a Wall Street stock trader may not do as well rushing back into the pressure cooker environment of the trading floor. It’s not impossible, but it’s definitely more difficult. Maybe a hiatus from work or going into a different line of work might be a better short-term solution. Not everyone facing the prospect of going back to work has either the opportunity or choice to make a job change. Sometimes you just have to get back in the office or on the road and do what’s expected of you. You can, however, have a conversation with your supervisor about the timing and expectations of you on your return. And this is very important to your pacing in recovery. What you want to establish is the understanding on the part of your employer that you have completed your treatment and are fully committed to your recovery. It’s important to let your employer know that you will be attending 12-step meetings and doing what you need to do for your recovery. Assure him or her that you will gradually ramp up your productivity and ask for understanding as you resume your duties.
All Work and No Play…
Once you’re back on the job, you have to think about your time away from work as well. Life is more than just work, and while it may seem like an ideal solution to throw yourself into work in order to avoid temptations and urges to drink or do drug, confining yourself only to work limits your ability to become a healthier and more rounded individual in recovery. You need balance. That balance is only achieved when you have an offsetting amount of free time or play time to enjoy activities and friends and family. One way to ensure that you have leisure time is to put it on your schedule. Carve out an hour a day, if that’s what it takes, to go for a hike or see a friend for coffee or dinner, or work at a hobby or take a class. If the activity takes longer and is less frequent than daily, allocate the amount of time required for that particular day. But be sure that you set aside time each day for something that is just for you. It can even be a half hour morning and evening to read, or meditate, or do yoga. Think of it this way. If you work an 8-hour day, you should at least have some time away from work that’s devoted solely to you. You’ll be sleeping for 7 to 8 hours (ideally), and meals will take some time. So, setting aside an hour or so each day for your pursuits and hobbies isn’t too much to ask. Doing so will help you establish balance and pacing in recovery.
Enrich your Spirit
Where do beautiful dreams of a joyous future come from? How do you lift the burdens from your heart and dare to dream of things that you’ve perhaps never believed possible? One answer is to look toward your spiritual side and seek to enrich it. You can call it belief in God or a Supreme Being or the spirit of nature or self. It doesn’t matter what you call it, but it does matter that you do something to enrich and nourish it. Without nourishment and enrichment, the spirit dies or, at the very least, languishes and doesn’t fluorish. You need to pay attention to the spiritual side of your being in order to develop the resiliency, strength, courage, and determination to see you through both crises and opportunities in your coming life in recovery. And there will be many of them. Enriching your spirit may take the form of prayer or attendance at church or synagogue or mosque. It may involve meditation or communing with nature. Perhaps it is silent reflection or reading of psalms or poetry. Maybe you nourish your spiritual side through art or music. But do pay enough attention to helping your spirit grow. This will aid immensely in establishing a sound and effective pace in recovery.
Bring the Family in
The importance of family support in your recovery cannot be overestimated. Family, in fact, is one of the two most important support networks that you can have in recovery, the other being your 12-step group. While you are working to incorporate a realistic pace in your life in recovery, ask for the assistance from your loved ones and family members. A spouse or partner can be invaluable in this effort, since he or she knows you the best and can be a tremendous asset as you begin to lay out your plans. Brainstorm ideas. Talk about rough spots. Together, you can work out almost any difficulties if you approach it with love and honesty. There will inevitably be some situations that will be hard to tackle, even to talk about. You may feel overwhelmed or full of remorse, guilt, or shame. Something from your past may surface to haunt you or threaten your newly-won sobriety. You have to learn that these trials and tribulations are bound to occur sooner or later. They happen to everyone in recovery. The key is to learn how to weather the storm and to emerge on the other side stronger and more capable of dealing with such things in the future. Your family members can help you as you start to pace yourself in recovery. Every trouble spot that you successfully navigate – with the support and encouragement of your family – is one more proof positive that you are learning the benefits of pacing. You know that, however bad things may look at the present, you will be able to get through it. You have the tools, you’ve been developing your abilities, and you are getting more self-confident every day.
Keep it Slow and Steady
To sum it all up, being successful in long-term recovery requires pacing. It is neither necessary nor recommended to try to do everything all at once the first days, weeks, and months of early recovery. Have a discussion with yourself about what’s important to you, give yourself a break, keep on learning new things, work with your doctor to gradually wean off prescribed medications (if appropriate), ease back into work, take time off for yourself, pay attention to your spiritual needs, and enlist the support of your family. When you think about pacing in recovery, think of the process as slow and steady. Don’t to run before you walk. You’ll only burn yourself out and become frustrated. Apply the principles and strategies of recovery you learned during treatment and continue to learn every day. Take each day one at a time. Remember that your future grows out of today, so live in the present to the best of your abilities. If you take it slow and steady, you will make remarkable progress over time. It may not be apparent overnight, but nothing truly worthwhile ever is. Some months and years from now, as you look back on your early days in recovery – perhaps telling your story to your 12-step group or to a newcomer that you one day sponsor – you will be able to say with clarity that pacing is one of the most important things you can do for yourself in recovery.