How to Find New Solutions to the Same Old Problems

Posted on August 14th, 2012

If you’re finding that you dread the arrival of the new day because it feels like you’re just beating your head against the wall, trying in vain to solve persistent problems in recovery, you know you need help. A good friend will sometimes do the job, at least temporarily. But what you really need to have are some effective new solutions to those same old problems.

Here are some tips to help get you started.

It’s Not All In Your Head…But Workable Solutions Start There

You might believe that your head is so filled with problems and issues that you can’t possibly come up with anything even remotely workable to help you manage day-in and day-out problems in recovery. But the truth is that what may turn out to be an effective solution – one that works for you-has to start somewhere. It might as well be in your head.

In other words, try not to self-censor. When you sit down in a quiet place where you know you won’t be disturbed for an hour or so, allow your mind to brainstorm. This is your opportunity to let the ideas flow, to try them out in your head before you put them into action. It is a good idea to write down things as they come to you, since you never know when a combination of suggestions or seemingly extraneous ideas may jell to form a unique solution that you hadn’t before considered.

Having a partner to bounce ideas off is another way to get at this brainstorming technique. It can be your sponsor, a fellow 12-step group member with whom you’ve become friendly, a loving family member or a trusted close friend. Be sure to keep to the task at hand. This isn’t just a gab fest or a time to air all your gripes and complaints. If you’re trying to approach a particularly pesky or difficult problem in recovery, it helps to address them one at a time.

Give Your Ideas Time to Breathe

Once you’ve come up with some suggestions, sleep on them. At least give yourself a few days to mull them over in your mind, maybe jotting down additional thoughts as they come to you. What’s going on during this hiatus, the time from coming up with the proposed solution and getting down to implementing it, is that your mind is busily constructing all sorts of scenarios, the what-ifs and how-tos of creative problem-solving.

Remember that this is a process. There is no right or wrong answer. It works much the same way as the initial brainstorming process and is meant to be free-flowing and non-judgmental.

After a few days, revisit what you’ve jotted down. Spend a little time fleshing out what you’ve written, adding any other ideas that come to you as you go over your list. A few descriptors here and there, notes on where to obtain additional information, resources, contacts, even a timetable is helpful in your quest to come up with new solutions to the same old problems.

Test a Solution on a Small Scale

If you’re new at this creative process of problem-solving, you may not have much confidence in your ability to follow it through. One way to give yourself some space is to select a reasonable approach, one that you think, from all your research and conversations with trusted friends and allies, has the most likelihood of success and try it out on a small scale.

Maybe you work on the least-bothersome problem to begin with — perhaps one that doesn’t endanger your sobriety but that is nonetheless troublesome. You might want to tackle how to sleep through the night without waking up with an incredible craving or urge. Some suggestions that may prove workable may include dietary changes, particularly no late-night snacking or consuming, embarking on a moderate exercise program (but be sure to get a go-ahead from your doctor first), reading an enjoyable book just before going to sleep, or listening to soothing music or sounds on a CD as you close your eyes.

The point isn’t what you decide to work on, but that you pick something that isn’t too stressful. You’re after a small success, not to solve everything all at once. Emboldened by figuring out an effective, reasonable and workable solution to one of the problems you’ve had on your to-do list will build your self-confidence and give you greater motivation to move on to the next item.

There are No Failures, Just Opportunities to Revise and Change

Suppose you try one idea and it doesn’t turn out the way you had hoped or anticipated? Does this mean the entire idea is headed for the trash-bin? Before you instinctively junk what you don’t think is working, give it some time to sit on the back shelf while you try something else. Not every solution to a problem will work the first time or every time, so it is important that you have a number of potential solutions in your recovery toolkit.

What often happens is that an individual will happen upon a solution that works at least somewhat and then attempts to use that same solution in exactly the same way each and every time. Do you wear the same clothing day in and day out? Do you eat exactly the same thing for every meal? Obviously not, and you do strive for some change in your life, if for no other reason than to have life be a little more enjoyable. Change is good. Why do some people in recovery have such a hard time with the concept?

Instead of looking upon one solution as the only solution, or deciding to trash it when it doesn’t live up to your expectation, why not put it aside and revisit it at another time? Maybe a slight alteration is all that will be required for it to be perfectly workable on another occasion. Perhaps revising it a bit and incorporating some or all of another solution will be even more effective.

Keep in mind that recovery is a process, and an ongoing one at that. As you learn new things you are adding to your repertoire of effective strategies and techniques. You will be stronger and feel more capable the more that you learn, for as you learn you grow, both in strength and in wisdom. A side benefit is that building your body of knowledge helps shore up or increases your self-esteem as well.

Share What You Learn

If you happen upon a workable solution to one of your everyday or out-of-the-blue problems, don’t just keep it to yourself. There are a number of your fellow group members in the rooms of recovery who will be eager to learn of your success and to see if it might be something that they could use in their own recovery journey.

By the same token, keep an open mind when you go to 12-step meetings and listen to others relate how they were able to overcome this or that problem or tackle something particularly difficult in recovery. While every person is unique and not every solution works the same for everyone, you’ll be surprised how many ideas will start flowing into your head following one of these meetings and the subjects discussed there.

Your sponsor is another excellent source of ideas and possible suggestions for approaching how to manage a challenge or solve a problem or issue that’s been giving you fits. Bounce your own thoughts off your sponsor to get valuable feedback, along with support and encouragement to keep on going.

Don’t Be Discouraged…Be Consistent and Persistent

While it’s natural to want to instantly come up with a new and innovative way to get past a recurring problem, and it’s also normal to occasionally feel discouraged about your perceived lack of progress or that your results aren’t occurring fast enough to suit you, keep in the front of your mind that you make progress incrementally.

What is important here is that you are consistent in your search for new solutions to the same old problems. You have to be persistent in your quest, since some ideas and solutions will only occur to you after a period of time – as already mentioned during the brainstorming and breathing time stages.

There is also the working out stage, where you try out your ideas, modify and revise them as appropriate, and keep building on them. Again, consistency and persistence will pay off, rewarding you in the end with a workable solution – or at the very least, a better idea of how to get there – to solving those pesky problems you’ve been attempting to deal with.

There’s Always More to Learn

Will there ever come a time when you feel like you know all there is to know about how to manage a problem, even if it’s been long-ago handled, in your estimation? The old-timers in the rooms of recovery will be quick to tell you that you should always retain a healthy view about problems that may resurface after many months or even years of sobriety. That way, they won’t throw you for a loop when they do rise up and demand immediate attention.

Remember that repertoire of strategies in your recovery toolkit? Remember, too, that not every solution works on the same problem time after time? That’s why it’s important to have a number of strategies and techniques that have worked well for you in the past, or worked well enough to get you through an immediate dilemma. Maybe some of them you sort of filed away for future use and modification. Well, now may be the time to dust them off and try them out, particularly if you’ve gotten a shock with some problem or issue that you thought you were long past.

It could be the old friend that you used to use with shows up on your doorstep, pleading for help. You might think you’re ready to handle this sort of situation, but, then again, you might recoil from this brush with addiction. There may be the temptation to look back on your old partying days and your thoughts could wander toward thinking about using again – just this once.

Getting some help for your former friend may be enough to get you past this hurdle, but don’t think that you can be the person’s savior. You can’t. It’s not your job. Call up your sponsor and ask for his or her help. Drive your friend to a meeting or obtain information on rehab or treatment facilities. Do discuss the situation with your trusted advisors. Reinforce your commitment to your own sobriety for it is at times like this that it may be tested dearly.

Above all, remember that as long as you breathe, every day that you live, you have ongoing opportunities to learn something new. There is no such thing as knowing it all, having come up with all the answers. Like changing sunsets, your own creativity knows no bounds. All you need to do is unleash it and let it continue to amaze you.

Are You Ready to Get Started?

If you are serious about getting a handle on finding some new and hopefully workable solutions to continuing problems, here are a few more suggestions that may make the overall process easier and more productive.

  • Pick your time. You know when you are at your best, whether that is first thing in the morning after breakfast or during lunch break or when you’re relaxing after dinner. Maybe it’s after you’ve put the kids to bed, laid out your outfit for work the next day, finished up your homework or work scheduling. Whatever the most optimum time is for you, when you’re able to carve out at least a half hour to one hour of uninterrupted time, that’s when you should begin to think about and toss around solutions to your problems. Why? When you are refreshed, your mind is more alert and ready to mix and match, to creatively sort through what’s stored in your mind and devise ways to manage problems that you may not have thought of otherwise.
  • Keep a list handy. It’s always helpful to have something to start from, a list of problems you need to find new solutions for, or strategies and techniques that you may have used before, heard about in the rooms of recovery or from your sponsor, therapist, family member or close friend. It could be something that you’ve done research on and want to add to your list for further consideration. The point is to have something to get your mind around. It’s a whole lot better than staring at a blank page or computer screen.
  • Acknowledge your successes. As you arrive at solutions that turn out to be effective in solving the same old problems, give yourself time to acknowledge your success. This is important, since success builds upon success. The more you achieve a satisfactory resolution to solving a recurring problem that’s been resistant to your prior efforts, the stronger and more self-confident you will become. Your list of successes serves as a tangible reminder that you can, indeed, do what it takes. This is, after all, your recovery and you are the one who is living it. Give yourself a little credit where credit is due.
  • Every day is a new day. Suppose things didn’t so well yesterday or it’s the end of the day today and you’ve come up empty. You know that the best way to approach recovery is to live one day at a time, right? Well, tomorrow is going to be another day, another opportunity for you to get back on the project of looking at ways to creatively and effectively solve your problems. Whether it’s an old problem that just won’t go away or comes back to haunt you or it’s something similar to a major problem that threatened to derail your sobriety in the past, when the day arrives, it’s an all-new chance to do what you need to in recovery.

Bottom line: It is not only possible to find new solutions to the same old problems but it is almost a certainty. You do need to put in the time and do the work, of course, but when you do, you will find that you’ve got more going for you than you ever expected. That, and you’re getting stronger all the time in recovery. 

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