Rehab 101 – How to Identify “The Next Right Thing to Do” in Recovery
When many of us arrive in recovery—be it at a treatment center, a 12 Steps meeting or some other organized mode of recovery from substance abuse or addiction—the last thing we’re familiar with doing is “the next right thing.”
That is, our typical behavior pattern is based upon “I want what I want when I want it,” also known as self-centered to the max. Long before we realized we needed help to recover from our enslavement to the obsessive-compulsive nature of the disease of addiction, our typical M.O. was get what we need, even if it meant lying, cheating, stealing or hurting others (even loved ones) to do so. And there’s not much “doing the right thing for the right reason” (if any) in that way of life.
However, very shortly, upon arrival in treatment or when attending our fist few 12 Steps meetings, most of us began hearing this phrase as part of the lexicon of recovery. In fact, it was the answer we often heard from a treatment staff member, counselor or our sponsor when we’d ask a question about how to “deal with” this or that frustrating or confusing situation that had arisen in our lives.
“Just do the next right thing.”
I heard it a bunch in my early days of recovery, and through sheer determination to stay clean and sober, I doggedly pursued this abstract, sometimes mystical beast… until I slowly (trust me!) began to “get” what this mantra was aiming at.
In a nutshell, I learned from my experience that the next right thing could literally be countless acts! For me, it became clear the primary characteristics of any step forward into “right action” are:
n It isn’t opening a doorway for me to relapse or jeopardize my recovery in any way.
n Doing this either serves the purpose of me staying clean and sober or helps me maintain or deepen my sanity and serenity.
n By taking this action, a healthy, life-affirming result is likely, if not guaranteed.
n Either directly/indirectly, by doing this action I’m being of service to someone, contributing to their welfare or well-being.
n When contemplating taking this path forward into action, I feel peaceful (or at least satisfied about the intended result) and good about myself, without a shadow of a doubt about doing it (i.e., no “vibes” that lying, cheating or stealing is part of it).
In my early recovery, when I wasn’t sure about whether or not what I was contemplating doing was indeed the next right thing, I found it valuable to pause and ask a friend in my recovery network, my sponsor or my counselor for their input about it. Literally 10 times out of 10, this approach—asking for their input and perspective on the matter (and keeping open-mindedness and willingness front and center regarding what they shared with me)—brought forward good results.
I’ve come to see this is not simply because “two heads are better than one” — rather, by opening myself up to the experience, strength and hope of a fellow recovering alcoholic/addict or a veteran therapist or sponsor seemed to always widen my perspective and broaden my point of view… oftentimes showing me important aspects of the situation I absolutely hadn’t seen beforehand. And by seeing such, I could inevitably make a better, more well-informed decision.
All-in-all, learning to intuitively identify what the “next right thing” to do has been a tool I truly can’t value enough. By being open to guidance, early on, and having a willingness to look for the telltale characteristics mentioned above, plus reaching out for help whenever necessary (not doing my old pattern of “going at it alone”), I eventually have developed a “Spiderman sense” that’s kept me clean and sober, growing in sanity and serenity, and ready to be of service to others, one day at a time.