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The Courage to Change

This word regularly creates the same response in recovery settings: “Ugh! I hate change!” This is an interesting comment, since all around us, the universe spins faster than we can perceive, with change being the only thing going on at all times, without end.

It sounds like work to recovering addicts. After all, isn’t their life now upside down, in seeming chaos, because of a change they made, from active addiction to recovery? And that does not look so great in the beginning. There is a lot of wreckage to clean up and a lot of work that they see necessary to maintain their abstinence. And now, talk of change as well?

Visions of many things may come to mind when this word is introduced: That they must somehow become “good” instead of such bad, bad people. This is a change they do not begin to know how to make. Thankfully, it is not a necessary change. Mostly, they want to change the way they are seen by those who have despaired most during their addiction. This is the family and friends who watched them go from beloved son, daughter, wife, husband, mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, employee, friend and become an untrustworthy, manipulative, dishonest, selfish and inconsiderate addict. This change resonates with them. But how does one do this? What must change first?

Old ideas are one thing to start with. It will take many years to rebuild broken relationships. The idea that it will happen quickly just because the substance abuse has stopped is not going to work. First of all, there may be a relapse in substance abuse. This will destroy the work if those in relationships believe it was only the substance that created the problem. Smash that idea immediately!

Practicing becoming honest, trustworthy, respectful and emotionally available to these relationships takes a long time to learn, even longer to practice, and longer than that to trust for those who have been involved with anyone’s substance abuse. Learning to let go of doubt and anger and to believe in their loved one again takes as long as it takes. Dispel the notion that it will happen NOW or even Soon. It will happen slowly, over time, as they begin to see and believe that the changes you are making are real and viable. That you are becoming the person they could always see inside you that was being destroyed by the addiction.

Other changes that will be necessary, over time are those more subtle that are part and parcel of the addict’s arsenal of survival skills such as blaming others, being the victim, being emotionally unavailable and taking without giving back. These are frequently behaviors that addicts adopt to keep others at arm’s length, especially if it threatens their addiction. Now that the addiction is gone, they need to uncover behaviors that supported their addiction and distanced others in relationships and change them. This is different with each person, and sponsors, mentors and therapists can help with these behavior modifications.

Recovery is all about change. From beginning recovery to the many years that may be in store for an addict, it is the adventure of becoming the person they only dreamed of being. One change at a time, they blossom and thrive. It is, as is said in 12-step meetings “an inside job.” While not as difficult as feared, it is the reason for the second part of the Serenity Prayer, which asks for “the courage to change the things I can.”

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.

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