Recovery Goals Too Tough? Here’s how to Make Them More Achievable

Posted on March 27th, 2012
Posted in Articles

Taking the great leap of faith and entering rehab may have been the first really difficult decision you’ve made in a very long time. If you’re like most people in the first few days and weeks of recovery, however, it’s very likely that you’re beginning to think that what you want out of life is just too tough to achieve. If you believe your recovery goals are out of reach, here are some ideas on how to make them more achievable.

Start Small

You know what they say about taking things in bite-sized pieces? Well, this applies to more than just eating. It’s also applicable to our choices of goals in recovery. At least, when you’re first starting out, just beginning to embrace recovery, aim to be selective in what you try to accomplish.

After all, you’re not in a race. You’ll be in recovery for the rest of your life, so there’s no real reason, none that makes any sense, that is, to rush things.

How do you define small? As opposed to what, you might wonder. Strive to take things as they come today, working on what you believe to be the best schedule or regimen you can adopt for living today in sobriety. You may be unsure what to do at first. That’s to be expected. Suffice to say that each day you will get stronger and more self-confident. The key is to make incremental gains, and you do that by starting off with small goals, ones that are more immediately achievable, and then building upon this base as you move forward in recovery.

You can do that, right? Of course, you can.

Ask for Help

Remember when we mentioned that you probably will feel uncertain and not know exactly what to do at all times when you first enter recovery? No one does, so that should be some small comfort. But what you really want to know is how do you learn what works and what doesn’t? Outside of practice and evaluating results, one of the ways is to ask for help.

Your best bet is to seek advice from your 12-step sponsor. If you don’t have one yet, put this right at the top of your must-do list. Your sponsor, besides being there for you to help answer your questions, will also serve as your guide as you begin working the Twelve Steps of recovery.

Other good sources for help include your fellow 12-step group members, particularly those who have been in effective recovery for a long time and whose demeanor and words you admire. These individuals provide good role models, certainly something you can make use of as you begin your path in recovery.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

You’ve got a lot on your agenda when it comes to tackling the work of recovery. There’s no getting around that. But this doesn’t mean that you need to be overly concerned about every little detail. In fact, if you do find yourself obsessing about all kinds of things, this borders on the unhealthy.

Give yourself a good talking-to if you’re stressing out about not having enough time to do all that you feel you need to. Remember that you’re going to take things in small steps, right? That also means adopting a more forgiving attitude about how fast you get where you want to go, and giving yourself the freedom to overlook what is clearly beyond your ability to handle right now.

In other words, you need to focus on what counts and don’t sweat the small stuff. What seems like a herculean task today will seem less formidable as you get stronger and more grounded in recovery. You don’t have to know this for it to be true. Just remind yourself that this is how recovery works, because it does.

Plan for a Little Leisure Time

You’ve heard the saying, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," haven’t you? Whether it’s Jack or Jill is irrelevant. The principle is the same. You simply cannot be totally consumed with doing the work of recovery and, let’s face it, recovery is hard work. You also need to schedule in some time to relax.

That sounds a little counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? How can you relax if you have to schedule it? Actually, perhaps planning a time to relax is more appropriate. That’s something that everyone can get behind. After all, we plan for a lunch break or a family vacation, so we can certainly carve out a few hours here and there to do something that relaxes us, gives us pleasure, helps us rejuvenate and refresh, and clears our mind.

What that leisure time consists of is purely up to you. Given your interests or pursuits or something that you always wanted to get involved in, you should have any number of choices to fill this purpose.

The point isn’t what you do. It’s how much you enjoy it. If you find that you’re relaxed and less stressed after taking in a movie, then this is an effective way for you to have a little leisure time. If you prefer strenuous workouts, vigorous physical exercise, then go that route on occasion, or as often as you can.

It’s all about balance. Playing, in the sense of taking time for yourself, allows you to maintain equilibrium, a place of harmony. This will serve you well as you resume your recovery work.

Get Organized

Along with starting small, asking for help, not sweating the small stuff and planning for a little leisure time, what else can you do to make your recovery goals more achievable? If you look at the jumble of ideas you have about where you want to go and what you want out of your recovery, it still might seem too tough to tackle.

One excellent way to move past this logjam is to organize your goals. This also helps ensure that you keep a consistent and smooth pace as you begin taking steps to achieve them.

The simplest organization involves separating goals into short-term or immediate ones, then mid-term goals, and finally long-term goals. Let’s say you have an ultimate goal of becoming a doctor or buying a house. You can’t just leap ahead and achieve either dream, can you? No, you have to make a plan and take incremental steps to get there. Sometimes these take years of planning, additional education, accumulation of a certain amount of money, or other factors. The only logical way to ensure that you eventually realize your long-term goal is to put together a series of progressive action steps.

Organization into short-, mid- and long-term goals is just the beginning of getting yourself on a smooth trajectory toward achieving your goals. You also need the action plans within each step or phase of your proposed path.

One thing to keep in mind is that goals change over time. What you may think you want now may look a bit different as you come closer to achieving that goal, or some level of advancement toward it. What happens is that you broaden your horizons, you learn more, meet new people who may introduce you to or open up new avenues of discovery. The good thing about this is that you’re never limited. The sky is truly the limit here. Just remember to be flexible and keep an open mind.

Make Learning Fun

One sure-fire way to kick yourself when you’re feeling down is to look upon recovery goals as distasteful. All of recovery is a learning process, but it doesn’t have to be dull, boring, too difficult or nasty. In fact, if you strive to learn something new each day, you’ll soon begin to look forward to the next day and feel fulfilled at the end of each day.

Of course, there are some aspects of learning that are challenging. There’s no denying that fact. But even so, learning something new, despite it being a bit of a stretch, is rewarding. You might even look upon it in time as fun. That’s because you savor the accomplishment all the more, knowing how much you had to put into it to get there.

Other things you learn will clearly be fun. Meeting new people that you enjoy and have a great time with is fun. Finding you’re good at a particular hobby or skill is fun. Becoming adept and fluent in a new language you learn is fun. Traveling is fun, and so on.

What’s enjoyable for one person will be different for the next, so there’s no single route for you to take. As long as it works for you, go for it. But do adopt a positive mind-set that allows you to look at learning as adding to your recovery skills, making you a stronger person who’s more self-confident and eager to keep making progress in the life you’ve chosen for yourself.

Mistakes are Not Your Enemy

It’s inevitable that you’ll make some mistakes along the way. Know that upfront and don’t worry unduly over the fact. No one has a clear line progression in recovery. There are good days and some that are less than what you’d like. You simply have to learn to overlook some of these and get on with your plans.

It’s also true that you might have a relapse. If this sounds harsh, it isn’t meant to be. And it’s certainly not going to happen to every person in recovery. But it does happen quite frequently.

This doesn’t mean you are a failure. If you do relapse, it may mean that you need more time learning the necessary skills to cope with cravings and urges, or that a bit more time in rehab might do the trick. Maybe you have a co-occurring disorder that also needs attention and you’ve been trying to overcome too much at once.

Keep in mind that even if you do relapse, you’re way ahead of where you were before you decided to get clean and sober. You’ve got that much going for you and it means that you know you can commit to sobriety. You do have some of the basics down, so all you probably need is more of a refresher. It could also be that you can get the assistance you need in continuing care or aftercare, if that was part of your overall treatment program, or you could arrange to go for more counseling on your own.

Remember that you are a human being, and that human beings make mistakes. But it is also true that human beings learn from their mistakes and this makes them stronger as well as wiser.

You Are Unique – So Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

When you sit around in the rooms of recovery and listen to the stories of others where they recount how they overcame this problem or that challenge, you might find yourself looking at what they’ve been able to achieve and find yourself somewhat lacking.

Don’t fall prey to this line of thinking. It’s self-defeating and not at all necessary. Just because individual A was successful in putting a particular strategy into practice doesn’t mean that what he or she did was the only way to do it. There’s no grading system at work here. Nor should you compare your efforts and achievements to those of anyone else in the rooms.

Naturally, you want to make progress. It is normal to look at the successes of others and want to emulate them. That’s good and it’s a healthy sign that you’re serious about your recovery. But jealousy and resentment about the accomplishments of others will do you no good at all. Instead, see how you can soak up what they’ve got to say and turn it around in your mind. Talk suggestions over with your sponsor and together you may come up with a workable plan or strategy for you.

In time, you will be successful in your own right, at your own pace and level of effort. Remember that you are unique. Your path of recovery will be equally unique.

Maintain a Healthy Perspective

You know that releasing the burden of your addictive past is necessary to be able to move forward in recovery. No doubt you talked this over with your therapist during treatment and, to the extent that you have continuing therapy available to you as part of your aftercare program, you may still do so. It’s important as you progress through the first few months of recovery that you begin to see where you’ve made significant progress. Being able to look at the gains you’ve made toward achieving your recovery goals is proof positive that helps you realize something incredibly important: It helps you gain a healthy perspective.

Think about this for a minute. When you first entered recovery, everything was pretty much up in the air. You weren’t sure if you’d be able to make it through the first days, let alone weeks, of being on your own. You likely wondered what would happen if you couldn’t take it or what you’d do if your former drug- or alcohol-using friends dropped by and you couldn’t help yourself and started using again. What if your spouse left you and took the kids? What if you blew up under pressure and told your boss off – only to get fired or demoted? What if recovery would be too boring or you’d wind up too depressed or anxious? What if, what if, what if….?

Gaining and maintain a new perspective in recovery means checking back to see the small improvements you’ve made each day. It takes a little time to be able to recognize these advances. You won’t necessarily see them right away. But over time, say a few months, you will definitely see that some things are becoming a little easier. Add up the days you’ve been sober, for example. That’s a great start and proof positive that you’ve made a significant achievement.

Live in the present and give yourself credit for the good things you’ve done for yourself and your recovery today. Thank your higher power or spirit or the power of the self for the opportunity to see life with all its challenges and possibilities.

Consistent progress is what matters. Adhere to your recovery plan, refining it as you go along. When you achieve a short- or long-term goal, you should always have new ones to take its place. Always strive toward what’s next on your list, while enjoying and being firmly present in the here and now.

In closing, if you find that your recovery goals are too tough, you can make them more achievable. In addition to the suggestions provided here, take the time to enjoy all of life’s riches. This includes loving your family, spending quality time with them as well as with your friends, working at a job you enjoy or doing something you love with a passion. Be in nature and fully appreciate the beauty and symmetry – and awesome power. Life is all around you and in you, creating, evolving, and moving forward.

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