When a friend celebrates his or her first significant recovery milestone, signifying healthy recovery progress, their words of excitement are often infused with a bit of disbelief. Most express a sense of surprise and wonder at such an accomplishment. I am no exception. I felt the same silent skepticism when I shared similar news.
I don’t remember the specific words, something about gratitude for help I received from others, who only asked that I do the same for someone else, and appreciation of the overall program of recovery. I probably referenced the importance of patience because I needed a lot of that. I hope I acknowledged my sponsor; Lord knows she deserves every little bit of grace from God for relentless phone calls and questions about how to put one foot in front of the other. I remember the applause that followed what I said, smiles from the faces in that room, and tears that fell as I tried to focus on the miracle of the moment. Yet perhaps the most significant memory from that day was what someone whispered in my ear after a congratulatory embrace.
The words were, “Congratulations. Now, don’t get creative.”
I had no idea what that meant or how I might gracefully disengage from that brief and confusing conversation. I offered thanks for the good wishes and headed straight out to the door of my car. I feared more discussion of that comment with anyone who tracked more days in recovery than I. Back then I felt intimidated by those with long-term recovery. I had yet to learn that a simple conversation was not a test of my knowledge about topics of discussion in support group meetings.
When safely in my car, I called my sponsor. I iterated the situation and my confusion about what the person said. After a slow deep breath, my sponsor said, “Oh honey, that’s simple. He was suggesting you consider what you did to get from where you were to where you are now. Whatever those things are, obviously that’s what works for you. This is your positive formula. Don’t start thinking about how you might do things differently. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing so you can keep getting more grounded in your recovery.”
To date, I’ve not let go of my friend’s congratulatory suggestion. I don’t want to find out what might happen if I do. For the last 18 years, I’ve maintained the same recovery-focused things I did each day when I began this life-changing adventure.
As my mind circled back to the joyous atmosphere that surrounded my friend’s recovery milestone, I thought about other areas in my life that don’t need my creativity.
Over the years, I practiced a lot with what works and what doesn’t. For example, in my early days of recovery, people suggested—regardless of circumstance or pressure from others—that I didn’t belong in places where temptation looms. However, I figured after a few months without drinking, I’d be okay at a social function where alcohol was served. The reality was that I was embarrassed to say no to that invitation. I believed my absence would indicate I wasn’t strong enough in the presence of others who drank. I was wrong. I had no reason to subject myself to a white-knuckle night in an attempt to prove myself to others. I didn’t then and still don’t need anyone’s approval of my efforts to save my life.
Today my temptations aren’t associated with substances or unhealthy behaviors. Instead, temptations await when I want to say something I need not or try to control something that isn’t any of my business.
I couldn’t have imagined how those few words of encouragement many years ago would leave such a profound mark. Although the initial intention was to help me stay on track and maintain healthy recovery, those words prove invaluable when I face the many uncertain twists and turns of life.
A Moment to Breathe
Think of a few examples when you faced a repeated situation and then regretted your choice to deviate from a solution you knew worked before. Did you find yourself wishing you hadn’t been so creative? Often we do this when another option offers hope for a faster or easier path toward the end result. Take a breath and consider if the price you may pay is worth trying to fix what isn’t broken.
Alison Smela is a writer, speaker, and an addiction recovery and health advocate. Through her blog Alison’s Insights www.alisonsmela.com, Alison shares her experience overcoming alcoholism and life-threatening eating disorder in midlife and how she now faces everyday challenges using recovery-based solutions. Feel free to connect with her via Facebook, Twitter, (@alisonsmela), or Instagram (alison.smela).