How Do You Stay Motivated in Addiction Recovery?
It’s often said that recovery from addiction is a marathon, not a sprint. As in a marathon, there are plenty of opportunities to give up in recovery and the people who do well aren’t necessarily the ones who come blasting off the start line, but the ones who can keep themselves going when they feel totally exhausted. There is no easy trick to staying motivated, but some of the following strategies might help.
Understand that Motivation Is Variable
First, understand that motivation is not some intrinsic quality and it’s not something you can do equally well every day. Motivation is a skill and sometimes you can do it well and other times you just have to be content to make it through the day. The good news is, that like any skill, the more you practice motivating yourself and creating the right conditions for motivation, the easier it gets.
Identify Your Core Values
When you’re trying to keep yourself motivated, it helps to have a clear vision of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Otherwise, you don’t have much incentive to persist through tough times. While it may be hard to picture your perfect sober life, you can certainly identify some of your core values and how staying sober relates to those values.
For example, many people decide to get sober when they realize what their drinking and drug use is doing to their family. For these people, it’s important to keep the value of family clearly in front of them. You can do this in various ways. You might keep pictures of your family around you, where you can see them easily. You might periodically write about why family is important to you. Studies have found that this practice--called self-affirmation--can help you make healthier decisions and improve your relationships.
Create Good Habits
As discussed above, motivation goes up and down. Therefore, it’s important to create structures in your life to hedge against the risk of relapse on low motivation days. Part of that structure is made of healthy habits and routines. It typically takes about two months for a new behavior to become automatic, but after that, the healthy behavior is on autopilot.
This may be one reason people new to recovery are often advised to attend 90 12-Step meetings in 90 days. If you commit to that, then going to your meeting should be automatic by the end of the 90 days. That’s a major piece of your recovery plan that you won’t have to put any thought or effort into--you just go. The more healthy habits you create, the more the odds are stacked in your favor.
Build a Great Sober Network
Another big part of creating a structure that will keep you on track is creating a great sober network. This includes sober friends, supportive family members and friends, and fellow 12-Step members as well as your therapist, your doctor, your sponsor, and anyone else that has a special interest in your recovery. A sober network helps you in many ways.
It helps reduce stress because there are people who will listen without judgment and who can offer advice and support. You have more resources to deal with any problems that arise and you feel a greater sense of accountability. The last thing you’ll want to do is go to your 12-Step meeting and admit that you slipped up. That can be a powerful incentive to stay sober even when you don’t feel like it.
Find Ways to Cope with Doubt
Learning to deal with doubt is crucial for staying motivated because nothing kills your motivation faster than listening to that little voice that asks you, “Why are you putting yourself through this? You’re just going to fail anyway.” In order to stay motivated, you have to have a reasonable expectation of success. The problem is that it’s hard to judge what’s reasonable, especially when you’re just starting out.
The other strategies described here can help you cope with doubt. Having a strong sober network is especially helpful since you’ll meet people who have succeeded despite significant challenges. It’s also important to learn ways to push back against irrational thoughts. For example, if you think things like, “You’ll fail at this because you fail at everything,” you might recognize this as an overgeneralization and push back with a thought like, “Really? Everything?” and think of some evidence to contradict your overgeneralization.
Take One Day at a Time
This may sound cliche, but it’s a cliche because it works. If you think that you have to motivate yourself to keep going forever, it will feel exhausting. However, if you only think that you have to make it through the day or even through the hour, that typically feels more manageable. You can only act in the present moment, so if you can motivate yourself to not drink, to go to your meeting, to call your therapist, or whatever else you need to do right now, that’s really all you have to worry about. If you can do it today, you can do it tomorrow too.
Play the Tape
Finally, in an emergency, you can always play the tape. This is where you think through the consequences of drinking or using again. Typically, when you have a craving, you’re only imagining the immediate gratification of drinking or using again. Unfortunately, that gratification only lasts a short time and then you have to deal with the consequences of relapse. Instead of focusing on the relapse itself, think through the entire thing--the next hour, the next day, the next week, and so on.
Imagine how you’ll feel about relapsing after so much hard work, how disappointed your family will be, how hard it will be to tell your 12-Step group, and so on. Think about how bad things were in active addiction when you finally decided to get help. Picturing all of this clearly can make the momentary gratification of relapse seem small by comparison.
Motivation is a single thing, but rather learning to select and use a range of skills appropriate to the situation. Identify your core values, create good habits and routines, create a good support system, and learn to play the mental game.
At The Foundry, we believe that recovery from addiction entails a set of skills that anyone can learn. We use a variety of methods, including dialectical behavioral therapy, mindfulness meditation, yoga, and lifestyle changes to help our clients learn recovery skills and build a sense of self-efficacy that will serve them long after they graduate from our program. To learn more, call us at (844) 955-1066.