How Opening Up Your Mind Benefits Recovery

"One's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions." - Oliver Wendell Holmes, U.S. author and physician (1809-1894)

Have we ever thought about our mind as having infinite capabilities? Do we imagine, even just a little, that we are capable of brilliance and uniqueness and incredible accomplishments? If not, why not?

Hold the phone, this is not a trick question. The truth is that each of us has greatness inherent. We just haven't discovered it yet. Maybe we've never given ourselves the chance or we've been beaten down by our circumstance, upbringing, and, not the least of it, our addiction. Maybe we once thought we had the world by the tail and now find ourselves unable to even describe what such a life might mean.

That doesn't preclude our being able to make goals, take action toward achieving them and, most important, being successful in the realization of our most dearly-held goals.

The thing is, it takes work, and a lot of it. No great success is simply going to land on our shoulders or plop in our path if we fail to take action. That only happens in the movies, and it's the bad ones at that where the main character winds up with a windfall or success drops out of the blue and everyone lives happily ever after.

Is there such a thing as happily ever after? Imagine how boring that would be? After all, life is all about yin and yang, of opposites, of opposing forces of good and evil. Most of us reside our entire lives somewhere in-between, in that middle sphere where we can live a good enough life without too much catastrophe. Maybe many of us have already experienced enough of the downside so that we are hopeful of making a big enough change to ensure that we can live out the rest of our days in a period of stasis. We long for security and stability, a clean and sober life that allows us to be productive and happy and content.

This isn't a daydream that's impossible to fulfill. It can very much be reality. Again, it requires work. Such a scenario won't just fall into our lap.

So, where do we begin? It all starts with emptying our mind of all the negative thoughts that have accumulated and contributed to our dour outlook and doubt about any future progress. This, however, can be a daunting proposition, one which we may feel less than up to the task. Fear not, this is something that we can tackle and here's how.

When a critical thought enters our mind, don't just dismiss it. Instead, acknowledge that we're having this thought and then tell ourselves that it may have been true in the past, but things have changed. We have changed. We are determined and committed to making the kind of life for ourselves in recovery that we want. We will not be chained to the past, or to outdated and erroneous misconceptions about ourselves and our capabilities. Most of all, we will not be held back by stereotypes or stigma or nay-saying from others, even those that are the closest to us.

This is a huge first step, and it won't necessarily be easy to do. The very first time we find ourselves thinking that we can't do this or that, telling ourselves that we shouldn't or couldn't or never were good at it before, the temptation will be to accept this negative voice for the lie that it's telling us. This is common in early recovery, especially if we're now healing from chronic addiction or a combination of substance abuse and mental health disorder, or multiple and simultaneous addictions, such as prescription drug abuse, alcohol abuse, marijuana and/or cocaine abuse, or heroin addiction, possibly coupled with a gambling compulsion or some other kind of process addiction. The more intricately involved addiction to multiple substances has been in our lives, the more that negative voice clamors to be heard.

Now that we've acknowledged the bad thought, but refused to give into it, what's next? We need a plan in order to make any headway toward our goals. And this, of course, requires that we have goals already crafted that we can work towards. If not, then that is the next step.

But, assuming we do have a list of goals, likely ones that we developed during the final stages of our rehab, now is an excellent time to sit down and figure out the steps we need to take in order for us to reasonably achieve each goal. This exercise is not only necessary, but we cannot make any progress toward achieving any of them until we do have a plan of action.

Besides serving as a kind of roadmap, our action plan helps keep us centered and focused on doing the work we need to do for our recovery. An action plan is always there for us to refer back to, to revise and add to, to eliminate what no longer is germane and to flesh out to accommodate new opportunities that manifest themselves along the way.

Here's a little secret. As we get busy developing and refining our action plans, and then start to work on achieving them, our world horizon opens up. We're no longer living in a strictly-confined boundary of work, meetings, home and nothing else. We will be exposed to new situations, to meeting new people and learning new things. In fact, every day is a learning opportunity, a chance for us to grow and become more established in a solid foundation of recovery.

And that is a good thing. It is a very good thing.

Perhaps the most that we can hope for is the last thing we'd ever dreamed would be in our lives. Guess what? Once we start achieving even the first of those long-ago dreams or seemingly impossible goals, the more that we'll see that other ones appear within reach as well. Thus, there's never an end to our possibilities. Our mind will continue to be filled with new knowledge and it will never again seem closed off and limiting.

Think of our mind this way: It is an ocean without end, a horizon of limitless possibilities. It can be our best friend or our worst enemy, depending on our outlook, determination, commitment and sound judgment. And we will become stronger every day that we act to fulfill our dreams, instead of sitting back and bemoaning our fate. Our lives are truly ours to fashion. What are we waiting for?

Posted on December 27th, 2012

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