How to Overcome Stagnation in Recovery for Addiction

Posted on August 20th, 2010

When you find yourself at a plateau in recovery – not moving forward, but not losing any ground, either – you’re in a period of stagnation. For some in recovery, stagnation seems almost comfortable. The status quo is okay because they’re not using, so they’re semi-confident in their ability to maintain sobriety. But life is just, well, boring. There’s nothing that sparks any interest. Goals seem less enticing or even not worth pursuing. Why bother? If you can get by just doing what you’re doing – the bare minimum – isn’t that enough?
 

The answer to that question is a resounding “No. In recovery, and life in general, stagnation implies lack of movement. When you’re in recovery and just going through the motions, not really into making progress toward your goals, not challenging yourself to tackle something new and different, you’re resigning yourself to sameness. That’s a dangerous position to take. Sameness soon equals boredom, and boredom looks for something exciting to jumpstart existence and to bring novelty back into life. Often, that novelty is a return to using. So, stagnation is not a good thing. It’s an issue that needs to be resolved. But how do you do that?

Here are some suggestions on how to overcome stagnation in recovery for addition?

Get a Check-up

One of the first things to do is to get a check-up. There may be something wrong physically that’s causing you to lose interest in doing anything to further your progress in recovery. It could be as simple as low resistance causing you to be susceptible to colds, flu, or viruses. You could be exhausted from taking on too much recently and your body has gone on strike, needing a well-deserved break.

Or there could be a psychological issue that you need to address with your counselor or therapist. You can’t know what it is unless you get yourself checked out. You may suspect, but you aren’t a doctor or a psychiatrist. Why guess? Make an appointment with your doctor and/or therapist and either rule out an underlying physical, psychological or emotional issue or have it treated.

Examine What’s Going on in Your Life

If you’re okay physically, or if whatever ailment you have is able to be corrected with medication, treatment, and time, the next step is to look at what’s going on in your life. Your doctor or therapist probably already asked you if there’s something different that may be causing your feeling of malaise. You may have replied that everything’s the same, that there haven’t been any major changes. But is that true, really? Now is the time for you to examine what’s been happening during the past few weeks and months.

To do this most effectively, set aside some time when you won’t be interrupted. Give yourself an hour, just to be safe. You’ll need this time because the first few minutes you’ll probably find your mind wandering – thinking about everything but what you need to. It’s often helpful to meditate for a few minutes before diving into this step. Once you feel calm and relaxed, you can begin.

Start by thinking about your home life. If you have a family, have there been issues that have come up with your spouse or partner, your children, siblings, parents or other adults living with you? Is someone seriously ill? Are you in financial trouble? Is there drug or alcohol use among others in the family? Have there been arguments, unexplained behavior, mood swings, secrecy, lies, or other signs of strain in the family?

How have you been communicating with your loved ones about your recovery needs? Have you pretty much kept things to yourself, going to your 12-step meetings, to and from work, keeping a rigid schedule so you’re not tempted to use? Do your family members tiptoe around you, fearful that anything might set you off or result in a relapse? Do they resent you not spending enough time with them? What about the children? If your routine is mysterious or seems to them to deprive them of your presence, this could be a source of the stagnation you feel. You’ve basically allowed yourself to fall into a rut – doing only what you need to do, keeping to yourself, not communicating your needs or listening to your family members.
Next, think about the past few weeks and months at work. How have things changed since your return to your job after completing treatment? Are you treated with kid gloves? Do you feel that others are talking about you at the water cooler or coffee machine? Have you had a hard time getting back up to speed on your assignments or projects? Is this why you’ve spent extra hours trying to play catch-up? If so, the tedium of constant work could very well add up to your feeling stagnated. You may push the feeling down, but it’s always there. With so much to do, so many things to make up for (in your mind, at least, even if not in the mind of your employer), you’re bound to have some residual resentment. If you can’t see a way out of the current situation and it looks like you’re in for more of the same for the foreseeable future, this is also a prime condition for stagnation.

What about friends? Have you given up on outside friendships after treatment? You can’t just cut yourself off from outside friendships and not have it work against you in the long term. Sure, you did need to sever your relationships with your former drug- or alcohol-using friends, but did you even bother trying to find new friends – those who are clean and sober? If not, or if you gave up without really much effort, this could also be a factor in your current stagnation.

After you examine what’s going on in your life, you’re ready for the next step: Doing something about the stagnation.

Take a Break

Everyone needs some time off. Taking a break, in this instance, refers to making a conscious decision to change your everyday routine. You could, for example, suggest to your spouse or partner that you all take a family vacation. Chances are you haven’t been away with the family for a while. You’ve been too busy getting back to normal or the new normal in your newfound sobriety, going to work, 12-step meetings, working your steps, getting re-acclimated with the family. A family vacation may be just what everyone needs – especially you.

It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, especially if money is tight. Instead of going on a week-long trip, you can do a week-end camping excursion, even a day trip to the beach or mountains. Go to an amusement park. Take the family to auto races. Visit museums or planetariums or go to an open-air concert. The key is to plan the activity with your family members well enough in advance so that everyone has something to look forward to. This brings an element of excitement to the family dynamic. It gives you all something to talk about, to make plans for, and to share up to and during the little break. So, it doesn’t matter where you go or what you do. What matters is that you take the time to do something that’s out of the ordinary routine, something that everyone can enjoy together as a family. It’s also a way for you to jumpstart yourself out of stagnation.

These mini-breaks can occur whenever you feel the need to re-energize your life. Plan something special once a month as a family, or twice a year, around holidays or whenever an opportunity arises. Think of these breaks as an instant lift, an easy way to do something that’s beneficial for you and your loved ones.

Learn Something New

In stagnant water, nothing moves or grows – except pond scum and algae. When you feel that your life in recovery has become stagnant, the quickest way to alleviate that is to get involved in learning something new.

That something new can involve learning a craft, taking up a hobby, receiving instruction in or practicing a sport, taking up an exercise program, or dancing, swimming, cross-country skiing. If you’ve never done it – and your doctor says you’re physically fit enough to go ahead – why not give it a try? This is especially recommended if the activity or pursuit is something that you always wanted to do, or often dreamed of doing. Even more so, if you’ve previously told yourself that you couldn’t possibly do this or that – because of lack of self-confidence, fear of failure, or some other reason.

When you’re actively involved in learning something new, your mind is engaged. You don’t have to think about getting over stagnation. In the process of learning something new – or getting better at something you already know how to do – you’re already moving past stagnation. You’ve tossed the stone in the water, so to speak, and the ripples are already stirring up movement within.

And, to make things even more interesting, why not include your spouse or loved one, and/or your children, in your new activity? Make it a family endeavor.

But learning something new can also be a part of a long-term goal. If you’ve wanted to get or complete a degree, learn how to speak and write a new language, find out more about geology or spelunking or deep-see fishing, add these to your list and get busy figuring out where and how you can get started.

If you’re a homemaker with small children to take care of, or if traveling outside the home isn’t really an option right now, you still have opportunities to learn something new. There’s always the Internet. You can take classes for various degree programs online. Join a writing group that meets online. You could also take a home-study course, or have friends with like interests meet in your home (knitting, crocheting, cooking, painting, jewelry-making, and so on). From time to time, take a field trip with friends or other group members to attend lectures, visit historical sites, or go to a Shakespearean festival.

The possibilities are endless, once you put your mind to it. Go ahead. Give it a try. Make a list of things you’re interested in and want to pursue. Then figure out what it will take to get started doing it. Then just do it.

Figure Out How You Can Give

Maybe all that’s necessary to overcome stagnation in recovery is for you to get outside your own issues and do something good for someone else. When you reach a certain point in your recovery where you’re stable and confident enough that you have the tools and ability to overcome cravings and urges, handle stress without danger of relapse, and feel supported and encouraged by your family and 12-step group sponsor and members, one of the best things you can do for yourself to stimulate growth is to begin to give back.

Giving back may mean that you go out of your way to help a neighbor in need. Perhaps that neighbor is a widow or widower who is unable to do tasks that need attention around the house. Maybe he or she is bedridden and unable to go out for groceries. You could offer to bring supplies from the store, or take it upon yourself to do the yard work (raking up leaves, shoveling snow, pulling weeds). Bring over a casserole or pot of stew or hearty soup, or a basket of fruit or bouquet of flowers. Better yet, offer to play Canasta or Scrabble or watch movies on TV or, just spend time in conversation. When you’re elderly and/or infirm and alone, having someone to talk to is a pure gift. Many people go about their own lives never giving a thought to how others may be lonely and afraid. By taking the initiative, you could make a big difference in such a life. It’s just one example of how easy it is to give back.

Another way to give back is to be an ally to a newcomer to recovery in your 12-step group. There are always people coming into meetings who are anxious, unsure, a little suspicious or afraid of how things work. Think back to when you first started going to meetings. Someone took notice and talked with you, offering to answer any questions you had. Maybe you struck up a kind of friendship over time. This person may even have become your sponsor or, at the very least, someone you looked forward to seeing regularly at meetings. Try offering support and encouragement on a personal (one-on-one) basis to someone new to recovery that seems to be open to such an approach. If they’re hesitant, that’s okay. It may take a little time. Just say that you’re available to talk if they need to, or if they want to discuss how things work at meetings.
There are many other ways to give – or give back. If someone at work is having trouble completing an assignment, you could offer your assistance or guidance. You won’t be doing the project for the person, just helping them with tips or professional advice. Who knows? Such kindness may turn out to have long-term benefits you can’t even imagine now. One thing is certain: When you get outside yourself and seek ways to help others, you’re automatically moving forward and out of stagnation. You’re doing something positive, and that’s life-affirming and extraordinarily effective in recovery.

Enrich Your Spirit

Along with taking a break, spending time with the family, learning new things, and giving to others, it’s also important to pay attention to your spiritual needs. We all have them, whatever we call it. Whether it’s God or god or the higher power or the power of nature or the power of self, your spiritual needs require nurturing. You can’t just ignore your beliefs or the innate sense of what truly is – after you strip away all the thoughts, emotions, issues, concerns, physical aches and pains. What’s at your core is your spirit. It’s either nurtured by you as a conscious pursuit, or ignored and shrivels up.
To thrive, your spirit needs attention. Just like flowers need water and sunshine to grow – your spirit can’t just keep on going without you paying attention to its needs.

How do you get in touch with your spirit? How do you know what it needs? How do you talk with God or have God get in touch with you? How does all this spiritual enrichment occur? The answer is different for everyone.

Many people find that meditation helps them get in touch with their spirit and their spiritual needs. Yoga, Pilates, deep breathing exercises, prayer – even walking in nature – may be the path for your to discover what and how your spirit talks with you. Many don’t even realize that when they spend time alone with their eyes closed, breathing in rhythmic cadence while uttering a phrase or mantra, or listening to the sound of their breath going in and out, that they’re calming the chaos and distractions of life around them. They’re getting in touch with their inner self. They’re attuning their body and mind to peace. That’s when the spirit can become enriched. Things that may have clouded the picture before may fall away or seem less important. What’s really important in life – living up to your full potential, feeling the joy and love for and with your family, finding a sense of purpose, living every day in the present – will become clearer. It’s at least a good start.

Look Forward with Hope

When you take any or all of these steps, you will be well on your way toward overcoming stagnation in recovery. Remember that recovery isn’t a straight-line process. There are good days and those that are less than ideal. Some days may be more of a challenge than others, causing you to want to revert to your old stagnation as a means of escape. Acknowledge that this happens, and go on from there. Instead of stuffing the feeling down, let it make itself known and then affirm your intention to keep doing positive things in your recovery.

The longer you practice what you’ve learned in treatment and through your support groups, the more time you have in recovery, the more that you are able to recognize stagnation or other troublesome issues that crop up from time to time, the more firmly you are grounded in recovery. Over time, what once may have thrown you for a loop is easily handled. You have the strategies and techniques in your recovery toolkit to sustain you. You are in the process of evolving and creating and doing. No more stagnation for you. With evolution and creation and doing comes growth. With growth comes hope. And hope is something you can take to the bank – your recovery bank. When you look forward with hope, anything is possible in recovery – today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life.

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