"As you become more comfortable in your relationship with your Higher Power, day-to-day tasks begin to evolve into the pursuit of your life purposes."

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Episode 111 -- May 6, 2021

Purpose and Persistence: Moving Beyond the Limits of Addiction

Anyone in longtime recovery from addiction to drugs or alcohol knows that getting sober is only the beginning. Building a program of ongoing recovery by working the Steps, patching life back together, and living sober are where the real work lies. In their book Six Essentials to Achieve Lasting Recovery, authors Sterling Shumway and Thomas Kimball identify six essential values, or principles, that reinforce the Twelve Steps and are key to achieving lasting recovery.

Their list includes hope, healthy coping skills, a sense of achievement and accomplishment, a capacity for meaningful relationships, developing a unique identity, and reclaiming one's agency. Using research, personal stories, and guided journals and exercises, Shumway and Kimball provide practical steps for understanding these principles and applying them to our lives.

This excerpt focuses on how the early phases of recovery lay the groundwork for reclaiming purpose and a sense of achievement in our lives through honest assessment of our gifts and refusing to compare ourselves to others. According to the authors, Step Two—Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity—is where our unique and personal paths to this reclamation begins.

This excerpt has been edited for brevity.

Early in recovery your Higher Power offers you a life preserver of sorts. This life preserver represents your Higher Power's more accurate, kind, and loving perspective of who you are and what you are capable of. As with the lifeguard who throws the life preserver, all that is required of you, the drowning victim, is that you reach out and grasp ahold of the offering. In this offering of grace, an exchange between you and your Higher Power occurs. Your God reveals the truth about you, unimpeded by the personal criticism and failures of your past. Through this process, your gifts are uncovered and your potential revealed. This is only the beginning, providing the initial momentum for the day-to-day work required ahead.

As you become more comfortable in your relationship with your Higher Power, day-to-day tasks begin to evolve into the pursuit of your life purposes. In the early stages of recovery, you will find yourself in survival mode. Survival mode is accomplishing the moment-by-moment, day-to-day essentials of life without using. Just making it through the day can be an important achievement. Getting to work on time, paying your bills, and managing the triggers of addiction may seem basic, but they are extremely important to building a foundation of recovery. Being able to take care of your own stuff—"keeping your side of the street clean"—helps you feel better about yourself and begins to change your identity.

After establishing this foundation, the dialectic between you and your Higher Power will eventually produce "higher order," or more meaningful, accomplishments—in essence, your life purposes. Your Higher Power will help you define and highlight the right kinds of accomplishments, to punctuate what is right and good, compelling you toward the right kinds of achievements. As you continue to move forward, your goals will be based in a sense of purpose, a greater vision, and will include more lofty objectives. The basic survival accomplishments, centered on staying clean, evolve into pursuits that allow you to thrive in recovery. For example, thriving pursuits may include gaining a college degree, getting married, obtaining family and relationship success, finding a profession, and attaining financial security.

In the early phases of recovery, you turn your will over to your Higher Power and are coached from above and by those you trust (sponsors, counselors, home groups, the key persons in your life, and so on). The first time you rode a bike, someone was holding you up, pushing you along, and helping you to find your balance. Your journey was guided by those external to you (such as parent, brother, sister, or friend) until you became more steady and competent in your riding skills. Just as with learning to ride, the longer you practice good recovery behaviors and follow the healthy example of others, the more you become capable and better able to determine your own path and unique destiny. It is important to note that this destiny is nurtured by three key factors: (1) the pursuit of God's will in your life, (2) the mentoring of others, and (3) your own life experiences through trial and error.

This process of moving from a place of inexperience and fear (such as riding a bike for the first time) to a place of learning, doing, and accomplishing can be illustrated in an analogy we refer to as the "lone cyclist."

In the early stages of writing this book, we were sitting at a local park talking about ideas and noticed a cyclist pedaling his way up a long hill. He appeared to be motivated and focused on getting to the top. Judging by his effort and progress, he seemed determined to reach his goal despite the myriad of speeding automobiles racing closely past him. In addition to these challenges, he was also riding against a strong West Texas headwind. It was the contrast between the cyclist and the cars around him that most caught our attention. He was undeterred by those who were moving faster and more easily up the hill. When at last he reached the pinnacle, we couldn't help but think how his journey mirrors the journey of those in recovery.

Like the cyclist, the addict has a long and difficult journey ahead. Life is hard, and there are many distractions. Focus is essential if you are to reach your goal. Others will try to convince you that their way up the hill is better or that you should trade in your bike for something faster. Wouldn't it be easier to push the gas pedal to the floor and let the automobile do the work? Or is there something in the one-pedal-after-another focus of the cyclist that is beneficial to you and your recovery?

As with the cyclist, you may feel that you have the whole world buzzing past you in life's journey. You will be tempted to compare your "bike" with what you consider the "luxury vehicles" of those around you. Try to be content with your own gifts and talents and avoid unfair and distracting comparisons. These types of comparisons will destroy your peace and serenity. Like the cyclist, you need to be confident in who you are and what you are trying to accomplish. Make sure these accomplishments allow you to stretch yourself, yet are reasonable and can be attained. This consideration of attainability can be aided by being realistic about your abilities and drawing upon the gifts given to you by your Higher Power.

As we observed this cyclist, it became obvious to us—due to his physical conditioning—that this wasn't the first hill he had attempted to conquer. He had obviously conquered many others in the past. Be patient with yourself. In achieving and accomplishing your dreams, start with small hills and build up to the longer and more difficult ones. You will become stronger and stronger over time and become more capable of taking on the most challenging purpose-driven goals. As the cyclist did, if you stay on the path you have chosen, you will remain motivated, undeterred, and content with the joy that will result upon reaching the top of the hill. This joy will become the springboard for your next journey and success.

Questions for Reflection

  • What is it like to consider yourself in the place of the "lone cyclist"?
  • Do you ever compare your "bike" to what you consider the "luxury vehicles" of others?
  • Contemplate and then list your gifts and talents. If you have trouble coming up with your gifts, ask a trusted sponsor, mentor, therapist, family member, or friend to help you.
  • How does practicing good recovery make you stronger for the "long hills," or life's challenges, that lie ahead?

About the Author:
Thomas G. Kimball, PhD, LMFT, is an associate professor at Texas Tech University and the associate managing director for the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery. He teaches family dynamics of addiction at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels. In addition, he is the clinical director of the outpatient program and co-facilitates multi-family groups at The Ranch at Dove Tree—an inpatient alcohol and drug treatment program. Tom has been married to his wife, Melissa, for twenty years and has five children.

Sterling T. Shumway, PhD, LMFT, is a regents' professor in the Department of Applied and Professional Studies, Addictive Disorders and Recovery Studies Division (ADRS) at Texas Tech University. He currently serves as the program director of the Addiction and Recovery Studies Program. In addition, he has a private therapy practice where he sees individuals, couples, and families and also co-facilitates multi-family groups as the family program director at The Ranch at Dove Tree. Sterling has been married to his wife, Valerie, for twenty-nine years and has five children and three grandchildren.

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