We know that the addiction recovery journey is a lifestyle change that takes dedication and daily commitment. However, the path of recovery is rarely smooth or straight forward- and that’s okay. As with any worthy undertaking, success is a sum of continual efforts practice each day.
That being said, we know that beginning the journey of recovery isn’t always easy, or linear. It may seem impossible to take that first step into sobriety because we often view it as one sudden, intimidating, and extreme shift, when it’s not. Each of us moves through a series of 5 stages to enact real change in lifestyle. Understanding these stages can help you take the steps necessary to move forward confidently into recovery.
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All changes in lifestyle must start from somewhere. For most people, it begins before we even realize there’s a need for change. We all have personal blind spots, little hidden aspects of ourselves that could use some improvement. When it comes to addiction, being unable to recognize the harm caused by substance abuse stands in the way for many people. During the pre-contemplation stage, we believe we have control over our drug of choice, often being resistant and defensive when the possibility of a problem is addressed. While this stage may be frustrating for people on the outside looking in, this stage is just as important as of the others stages of healthy lifestyle change.
This next stage of change may not seem significant, but it’s incredibly important to the process of addiction recovery. While we may not be ready to enter a treatment program, at this point one begins to recognize the ill effects of our habits. In active addiction, the contemplation stage includes acknowledging how substance abuse impacts you mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially. It means seeing the rippling effects of addiction in your family, friend circle, and other relationships. At this point, we recognize the problem but struggle to see a plausible solution. Fear of change still supersedes the desire for real change.
During the preparation stage of lifestyle change, we understand that harmful habits such as substance abuse are negatively impacting our total wellness. At this stage, we begin to make small changes and attempt to adjust our lives for the better. While our efforts may not yet be consistent, these tentative steps toward meaningful lifestyle change are imperative in setting change in motion. As we gain confidence and learn that the change we seek is attainable, we get closer to achieving the life we desire.
This is also when with different methods of reaching our lifestyle change goals. Bargaining is common, especially in addiction recovery. We convince ourselves the problem isn’t substance use, but frequency, so we cut back: only on weekends, only at night, only when we’re stressed, etc. This final barrier in committing fully to change can be the most difficult to overcome because of anxiety, fear of failure, and comfort. Addiction recovery and all worthy life transformations require commitment- getting stuck in this preparation stage won’t give you the results you’re looking for.
The action phase of lifestyle change is what many people refer to as the “aha” moment. It’s when you finally dedicate your energy into achieving your recovery goals. For some, this shift happens after hitting the fabled rock bottom or experiencing other eye opening events. Others never reach that state, but still choose to seek recovery. What’s important to understand at this stage is the work and effort must continue, otherwise relapse and backsliding into old habits will occur. Having a good day in recovery doesn’t mean you’re “cured” or in the clear. In fact, these milestones and accomplishments should motivate you to work harder and reach farther with your recovery goals.
It’s also important to know that the action phase of changing your lifestyle is that slip ups may happen. That’s okay- what separates this stage from preparation is your rebound time. Viewing stumbles and close calls as learning experiences and using them to reinforce your foundation allows you to move forward constructively and positively.
Being active in your recovery process and leading a sober, drug-free life is the maintenance stage of lifestyle change. This is when we actively utilize the tools and skills we’ve gained during treatment in our daily lives: we participate in group, continue regular therapy sessions, and work toward our goals. While maintenance gets easier as time goes on and we get accustomed to living beyond a substance abuse disorder, the work continues each day. We live each day one day at a time, and so our recovery can only follow suit.