Behind the fundamental goal of recovery, being addiction-free, there is another objective. Whether we call it the profound personality change spoken of in the traditional Twelve Step model, or the personal transformation of a more contemporary approach, we strive to become a different and better person. The thoughts, feelings and behaviors of the person that used drugs and alcohol just won’t work in an addiction-free life. Growth and change are essential.
Sometimes trampled under the rallying cries of “keep it simple”, “avoid projecting”, and “one day at a time”, is the idea of thinking ahead. The concept is nearly taboo. A limiting idea has arisen: FUTURE is a dirty word.
Positive change is not likely to happen at random. Great recovery is not an accident, but rather the result of some very deliberate and challenging work. A program with multiple components is required. Meetings, sponsorship, book knowledge, fellowship, and very importantly, a spiritual belief system are all part of how we get and stay sober. A mindful approach would suggest being aware of that intention, positive change. Envisioning where this transformation is going is practical and necessary.
My personal approach is to become an upgraded version of myself. I work on this daily, and openly invite change and the unexpected into my life. If every day is the same, I’ll be the same too. Vital in this process is a vision for the life and recovery I want. To work my recovery this way, I had to come to terms with that dirty word, future.
Like it or not, the future is coming.
In early recovery, one of the best ways of handling the stress and newness of sobriety is staying in the present moment. However, as we progress, rigid day-at-a-time living can have limitations. That mindful and intuitive program may be sacrificed in favor of a stationary routine, risking stagnation or worse—a backslide or even relapse. Remember how much we hated boredom! That fine line between playing it safe and pushing ourselves, actually doing the work, can become lost in well-meaning adherence to an inflexible rule that may no longer serve us.
Now, consider the conventional concept of time, past moving into the present, moving on to the future. We rarely ponder that this is how our lives and reality are structured, and we come to have a very fixed relationship with time. We remember the past. As each moment unfolds, we can intentionally act in the present to influence the future yet to come. However, we cannot act in the present to influence the past; nor can we ‘remember’ the future. Or… can we?
I’ve come to understand that as my reality and future potential unfold, there are limitless possibilities of what might occur in my life. In fact, I have amazing choices of how my life can be, as well as how my recovery can be. The only actual limitations are those I set myself.
It’s helpful to understand the hazards of the future, especially in early recovery. Too often, the future is associated with feelings of anxiety. If something went horribly wrong in the past, we dwell on the possibility that it will happen again. This prays upon our fears, and our minds make this feel as real as if it were actually happening in our world at the present moment. Is it? No! By predicting a future based on memories of the past, we can actually change our physical state to feelings of agitation and discomfort. Anxiety—the bodily sensations like pounding heart, upset stomach, sweaty palms, tremors and even a useless adrenaline rush (the body’s emergency response)—is merely the product of thoughts, feelings and negative emotions. A list of things over which we are powerless need not include anxiety… We have a choice!
If our thoughts have that much power over our physical state in such a negative manner, why can’t we seize the opportunity to use that in a positive way? With a little practice, this loophole of our minds’ control of our bodies can work for us instead of against us. I use my vision process toward this end.
I spent considerable time giving serious thought to my vision for my life and recovery. The goals, defining characteristics, even how I will think, feel and act are very clear in my mind. Completely setting aside the ‘how’ for the moment, I worked on the what. This is creativity in its truest and highest sense; as AA’s Eleventh Step refers to it, “constructive imagination.” In fact, I became so clear and specific on so many aspects of my “upgrade” that I moved beyond mere visualization. In the same fashion that anxiety changes the bodily state, my mental rehearsal of my future self begins to change my present physical self. Because my body doesn’t know the difference between thoughts that result from my external environment and the thoughts I generate myself, my physiology (all my bodily processes) starts to become the physiology of the upgraded version I’m imagining. I’m getting actual benefits ahead of any experience in the real world.
In my addicted way of being, I lived by cause and effect. The world around me dictated what happened inside me. The only way I knew to control my internal state was through drugs and alcohol. As I physically transform into that upgraded version of myself, my external environment will transform to reflect my new inner state. No longer living as a victim of cause and effect, I’m now literally causing an effect. As I draw different experiences, relationships and opportunities into my life, I move toward the future of my choosing; I actually draw that possible version of the future to me.
It’s helpful to keep some principles in mind in this process. I’m not in charge. Something greater than me is. It’s okay to want a better life, and it’s even okay to have specific ideas about how that might look, but I have to keep it right. Also, this is more than just the power of positive thinking. My thoughts and actual feelings have to be absolutely aligned. I can’t just have a thin layer of positive attitude whitewashed over a quivering mass of fears, doubts and insecurities. So I need to have a belief system that supports this, and I have to be committed in a substantial way. Finally, I have to be completely open and flexible to “the how” part of this, because it’s going to happen in ways I could never anticipate.
As I connect to an amazing future, I am now doing the extraordinary. Where I pointed out that we can’t remember the future, I am in fact becoming someone with the thoughts and physical body of someone who has had some future experience prior to that experience actually happening. In a sense, I am ‘premembering’ the future. As my new life unfolds, my valuable insight and experience from the past will guide my thinking and choices, and my gratitude for this will further alter my perception of the past. Since my perception is my reality, I am effectively altering the past. Most importantly, I need no longer fear a predictable future based on a known past. Thus liberated, I have absolute freedom to live more fully in the precious present moment.