Whether you’ve just arrived at a treatment center for alcohol or drug issues, have been “working a program” of recovery for decades, or you’re somewhere in between, it’s probably clear to you that learning and adopting new ways of thinking and acting isn’t always easy. But in recovery, we’re quickly told by both addiction professionals and 12 Steps “old-timers,” it’s essential. That is, we must be open-minded and willing to make both inner and outer changes, if we’re to be freed from the enslaving shackles of addiction and maintain our sobriety, one day at a time.
You may be wondering, “Hey, I’ve admitted I need help with my alcohol/drug use. What about my thinking and behavior needs changing?” The standard answer we hear (especially early on in treatment or when we’re new to the rooms of 12 Steps programs): “Well, you actually only have to change one thing to get and stay sober/clean: everything.”
Raising your eyebrows, you might respond: “Why so extreme? I mean, how can you expect me to change ‘everything’?”
What massive amounts of research has found is that alcoholism/addiction affects every part of us: our minds, bodies, emotions and spirit. Spiritually, we end up feeling deeply lost, isolated and disconnected from others or life itself; emotionally, we’re often overwhelmed by feelings of guilt, shame, remorse or fear; physically, we find ourselves weakened, if not broken and sickened by the demands of our alcohol or drug use; and mentally, we realize we’re enslaved by the obsession and compulsion disorder associated with addiction—in fact, a common recovery saying is: “We lived to use and used to live.”
Given the all-encompassing effects of addiction on our lives, it shouldn’t be surprising we must use an equally all-encompassing approach to bring about the healing and transformation necessary for a new life.
A quote from some of the recovery literature says it well: “Our disease involved much more than just using drugs, so our recovery must involve much more than simple abstinence.”
So, where do we start with “changing everything” and how do we proceed? In a nutshell, we start by admitting we’re powerless over alcohol, drugs, our addictions, generally, and we ask for help. And yes, we adopt an open-minded attitude (as best as we’re able) toward those who we’re turning to for help—for example, treatment center addiction professionals or our 12 Steps sponsor—and a willingness to begin practicing both new behaviors and new attitudes.
Now, where the vital importance of “practice” comes into play when we look at the nature of what we’re trying to accomplish: going from a life lived for many, many years on the basis of self-centeredness (to the max), inconsideration of others, dishonesty and fear, to a life founded upon spiritual principles, including surrender, acceptance, tolerance, patience, humility, compassion, and yes, honesty.
Most of us find none of these “new” character traits come easily and swiftly to us. We’re encouraged, though, by treatment center staff and counselors or fellow members of 12 Steps programs we become part of, to begin acting according to these principles, abstaining from our old behavior and practicing healthier, more harmonious ways of acting. And sometimes it’s simplified for us when we’re told: “Just do the next right thing, even if it’s the dishes.”
And though we may find some of our old habits do run deep, by diligently practicing the new behaviors and attitudes we’ve been shown, and most importantly not drinking or using, one day at a time, we sense something beginning to occur within ourselves – an unmistakable sense of freedom arising… not just from the urges and thoughts of drinking or using, but from our former impulses to think only of ourselves, take from others, hide from others, get over on people so we can have our way, etc., etc.
And in that newfound freedom, we discover that our “practicing these principles in all our affairs” is now an integral part of a new way of life we’re enjoying… a life in recovery… a life truly worth living.
“Day by day, your choices, your thoughts, your actions fashion the person you become.” – Heraclitus
 Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text. Narcotics Anonymous Fellowship. World Service Office. 6th Edition. 2009.
Part of Step 12 in the 12 Steps programs.