How to Build Resilience in Recovery
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and perhaps even become happier, smarter, stronger, and healthier than you were before. There is no shortage of adversity in addiction recovery. You may have your own demons to slay, you may have family and friends who actively try to undermine your efforts, and you may slip up or fully relapse several times.
The good news is that none of these setbacks have to be permanent. Like all of recovery, resilience comprises a variety of skills that you can improve with practice and persistence. The following are some tips for becoming more resilient in addiction recovery.
It may sound counterintuitive, but the first way to improve your resilience is to expect challenges. Too many people think they’re going to enter treatment or their loved one will enter treatment and everything will turn around right away. In reality, every phase of recovery presents new challenges. If you expect too much too soon, you’re likely to be discouraged.
Life will improve when you’re sober but it will take consistent effort. When you inevitably encounter challenges, if you are expecting them, you know that’s normal and you may even have a plan ready.
Have a Team
Social support is one of the most important parts of recovery in general. It helps you feel connected, it increases your feeling of accountability, and it makes you more resilient in the face of challenges. Your sober network can be a source of moral support, practical support, and good advice from people who have been in your place. Remember that no one succeeds alone. Even if there’s only one person you can confide in, whether it’s your best friend or your therapist, it lightens your load considerably.
Banish Black-and-White Thinking
Watching out for distorted thinking is one of the most important ways of regulating your emotions, which is why learning to identify and challenge cognitive errors plays a central role in cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy. One common cognitive distortion that can torpedo your resilience is black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking. This is the belief that if something is not a total success then it’s a total failure.
Nearly everything you do will actually be somewhere in the middle. Watching out for black-and-white thinking is especially important after you’ve had a slip. A lot of people will slip up and have a drink or something and then think, “Well, I’ve already blown it, so I might as well go all the way.” Instead of trashing your whole recovery over a small mistake, keep in mind that there’s still a lot to gain by minimizing the damage and getting back on course.
Look for the Silver Lining
When something bad happens, it’s natural to fixate on the negative consequences. Most of us are naturally wired to spot threats. That’s great for keeping you alive on the savanna but it can also blind you to a lot of good possibilities.
Few situations are completely bad--see above--but when we fixate on the bad aspects, it’s easy to feel hopeless. Whenever something bad happens, even something small, challenge yourself to find something good about it, even if it seems slightly absurd.
Figure Out What You Can Control
Often, what’s most demoralizing about a challenging situation is that you feel like you have no control over what happens. It’s often true that you have little control--like when you get laid off or your house floods, for example--but it’s rarely true that you have no control at all. Finding something you can control--anything at all to improve your situation even a little bit--can be a way to both reduce stress and get yourself into a situation where there are more options.
Even when you can’t see the whole solution, doing what you can with what you have is the first step in finding your way out of trouble. It also affirms that you haven’t given up.
Affirm Your Values
Feeling connected to your values is often a key factor in persisting in the face of setbacks. This is called self-affirmation and research shows that it helps you better cope with negative feedback and make healthier decisions in general.
You can do this by taking a few minutes to write about your core values and why they matter. For example, a lot of people decide to get sober because they realize their family’s happiness is at stake. Regularly connecting to that value of family can help you persevere in the face of setbacks.
Take Care of Yourself
When challenges arise, they are always easier to deal with if you are healthy and rested. That’s why self-care is so important for resilience. Sleep is particularly important because sleep deprivation or chronic sleep deficit erodes your resilience on two fronts--the parts of your brain responsible for identifying threats become overactive and the parts of your brain responsible for emotional regulation, attention, and problem-solving become underactive.
In other words, when you are sleep deprived, you are more likely to see any given situation as threatening and less able to come up with solutions for actual problems. It’s also important to exercise regularly since that reduces your reactivity to stress while increasing blood flow to the areas of the brain responsible for planning, self-control, and emotional regulation.
Finally, when facing a tough situation, it’s crucial to stay present. Typically, people have two kinds of unhelpful reactions to a crisis--they either try to ignore it and pretend it’s not happening, or they catastrophize and imagine all the horrible consequences it will have for their lives. Neither is helpful. You can only act in the present, which means you need to pay attention to what’s going on.
Also, you can’t shoulder the responsibilities for whatever will happen in the future. Thinking about that will only overwhelm you, which is why they say in AA “One day at a time.” This is especially true with anything having to do with recovery since it’s a challenge you have to deal with every day. If you think too far ahead, you’ll only feel discouraged. Do today’s work today, then rest, then do tomorrow’s work tomorrow.
Some people just seem to be more resilient than others, but most of the time it’s because those people have faced adversity that you don’t know about. Bouncing back takes practice and the more you practice the better you get.
At The Foundry, we know that emotional resilience is at the core of a strong recovery from addiction. That’s why we’ve designed our holistic program around building and nurturing our clients’ resilience through evidence-based therapeutic techniques as well as positive lifestyle changes such as exercise, mindfulness meditation, and social connection. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.