I’m not big on astrology, but folks who are tell me that really messed up things happen when planets are in retrograde. Interestingly, retrograde doesn’t mean things are moving backwards – they just appear that way. Similarly, we often mistakenly judge our progress in recovery by how things feel. When we feel good, we assume we’re gaining and when we feel bad, we assume we’re doing it wrong or “backsliding.”
In my experience, emotions are the worst possible gauge of progress. The simple truth is that progress often feels bad. Having a greater awareness of self means experiencing heightened emotional states. The pain we were numbing is now something we go through. The fears we avoided are now the challenges we face.
Being emotionally raw underscores the need for active coping and active use of supports. I often hear from folks that, “I have people that are there for me if I need them.” I’ll immediately suggest that they strike the “if.” The truth is we need support on our good days. Waiting until we need them means procrastinating and avoiding until we’re drowning and by then it’s all the harder to reach out.
Moving outside of our comfort zones is an ongoing necessity. As long as you’re the only one checking in on you, no one is pointing out your blind spots. We need reassurance. We need people to hug us and tell us we’re ok. We need a healthy perspective and a mindset that includes the idea that I can overcome anything as long as I don’t drink or drug.
Emotions are also the worst possible basis for decision making. Somehow, we still have this romanticized idea in our culture that we ought to follow our hearts. This is a horrible idea. Our hearts tell pretty little lies. They leave us seeking gentler ways instead of clear and direct solutions.
The bigger question here is – how do you measure your progress in recovery? Counting days is good but it’s not enough. Developing plans that include specific goals is key. Vague ideas about getting better don’t lend themselves to accountability.
We need people who challenge us. One of the very best things about utilizing counseling or coaching is that you get to hear yourself talk. Ideas that seemed to make perfect sense in our heads sometimes sound insane when they come out of our mouths. More often, they just sound like bullshit. I’d love to have a dollar for every time a person I support in recovery is struggling but says to me, “Well, I just need to keep doing what I’m doing.”
We may not need to add a lot of activity but if we’re struggling, there’s about a 99% probability that we need to involve more people. Struggling is something we typically do alone. The more we expose our fears and the more we share our pain with good people, the less we struggle. Maybe the biggest red flag in feeling like our recoveries are going backwards is simply the loneliness that follows every time we disconnect.