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Secular Methods for Finding Answers/Making Decisions

Old 03-17-2011, 09:29 PM
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April 18, 2010
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Secular Methods for Finding Answers/Making Decisions

Hi secular people,

I've been going through a lot of stressful decision stuff lately. I am trying to determine whether to stay with my current job or go with something more stable, but the more stable thing is something that involves more of a time commitment and more accountability and that is not my preference (because it would take time away from the unpaid creative endeavors that matter more to me). I would be doing this because the stability it would give is a very strong trade off: security and long-term equity building, which I currently don't have at all and won't have otherwise. Add to this mix that it may involve relocation, and then it raises the question of commitment in my relationship. I am happy with my live-in relationship, but if I am asking my boyfriend to move somewhere far with me, it raises the question of whether we want to be in a more serious commitment. And, the idea of the move is daunting in itself for all the social reasons of starting over. So, these are the factors creating the stress.

My question is, how do you all who take a secular approach to recovery deal with this type of stress? I know many believers feel they can turn things over to God, but as a nonbeliever, I'm struggling here. I know I can't control all the outcomes, and I accept that, but I find it makes me hesitant and scared to face change and make decisions. Do you find it difficult to make big decisions sober? Do you see coping with stress as part of your recovery, and use particular tools to deal with it? And if so, what are these tools?

When I was drinking, I was mostly inert. Other than when I managed to pull myself up and quit drinking during the week for a few months to get into graduate school (which also meant moving), I basically made few or no changes / big decisions during my drinking years. Lived in the same place, kept a job even though the conditions were terrible, and kept carrying on with a man who didn't care about me. So, I guess this whole "making changes" thing is relatively new for me.

The other thing I wanted to say is that I am really glad this secular connection forum exists. Sometimes, I am too impressionable, and begin to doubt myself when I feel someone is arguing that there is a correct way to achieve recovery and that it's not the way I am going about it. I don't normally feel this way but I think because of all the stress I am particularly vulnerable right now.

Let me know if you guys have any thoughts . . .
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Old 03-17-2011, 10:24 PM
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Hi AG,

All decisions are stressful especially if they are going to have a major impact on your life. Basically I try to go about things in a logical manner and list pros and cons of the decision. As far as turning things over to God, you are still going to have to make the decision and live with it. I always hear people say they are going to pray on it or whatever. But with most decisions we normally know what we want, and once you put the thought in your head you brain is working on the decision even when you aren't directly thinking about it and even when you are sleeping.

What I have found in life is most decisions I make as long as I think about all the aspects normally turn out ok, infact better than ok. The things with decisions though is once you make it and you are tied to it, don't rehash what could have been. Keep moving forward, and if for some reason it didn't workout perfect remember that everytime a door closes another one opens. I am finding this even more apparent now that I am sober. Opportunities arise for me everyday as long as I am putting myself out there everyday and looking for them.

Do I regret decisions I made in the past? Yes, but many have to do with drinking, but the other ones I just let them pass and try to learn from them.

As far as dealing with stress, I workout and try to smile alot and try not to procrastnate and keep a positive mindset. I really don't think your question is pertinent to only alcoholics, because everyone deals with stress because stress is part of life. Drinking didn't help me cope with stress it just put it off then made it worse the next day. Once you make your decision decide then that you are going to love it before the changes are made. So much of our everyday happiness really becomes our own decision. If you want to be happy, smile and pretend like you are happy, smiling and acting happy is the major battle, once you start to act the mind will follow.

I now try to enjoy lifes stressors because in most cases when you look back at the things that stressed you out yesterday, they don't seem like such a big deal. Our mind has a way of blowing things out of proportion when they are still in front of us, but once we get past them they don't get a second thought.

Ok now as far as your major decision, security is great, but quality of life (free time, personal enjoyment etc), is what most of us live for. I would look for a happy medium. I don't know what your profession is and I don't know what you aspire to become. Although many will say that money can't buy happiness, there are alot of people with no money who would tell you otherwise. But no matter what you are looking for take some time look at both sides, weigh your options for a couple days, then make your decision and don't look back and be happy about it.

Good luck.
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Old 03-18-2011, 06:15 AM
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A tool that you could use from SMART is a cost/benefit analysis. Here is a link to the CBA worksheet. http://www.smartrecovery.org/resourc..._Worksheet.pdf

The objective of a CBA is to help you take a rational look at the decision you are contemplating (the pluses and minuses of each side of the situation) and hopefully help you to determine what would be the most rewarding/advantageous path for you to take. Once you are able to feel confident about what would be the best decision for you to make that should alleviate some of the stress you are feeling.
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Old 03-18-2011, 09:10 AM
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Thanks Supercrew & AnthonyV. After I posted this I did a lot of googling and came up with some interesting stuff, including Why So Many People Can't Make Decisions - WSJ.com . Basically, the article discusses how some people see in black and white and others in shades of grade (a binary distinction in itself, lol) and how there are benefits and disadvantages to both (not that they're really in my control anyway). It's ironic, because I've actually worked very hard to become a "shades of gray" type of thinker, but now I find it contributing to my difficulty making decisions.

I think I'll try that worksheet, Anthony. Another interesting few things I read is that you should consider the value of certain items more than others (not a big surprise, but kind of explains why straight lists are hard for me to visualize) and another thing suggested that you should settle on a possibility that has the least amount of negatives, not necessarily the one that is the mixed bag (pick the more tepid over the mixed bag). So, keeping all these things in mind . . .

SCrew, thanks for your thorough post, it really meant a lot to me. You words were extremely comforting, and you're right, it will be okay no matter what happens. I've been weighing this decision for weeks now and will have more weeks to think about it (which is why I'm posting here, I guess, it's been driving me crazy). And, when the time comes, I will make the choice . . I can't make it quite yet because there are still other variables up in the air/other possibilities. As for the money thing, it's more of . . if I stay where I am now, I will keep living with very little savings, but if I make the change to a better paying job, I will be able to get in a financial position to start a family. So, the trade off isn't just money, it's this bigger thing money can provide. But, for now I'll just keep getting my daily exercise and smiling and try not to overthink it with my shades of gray mind.

And you are both absolutely right about one thing in particular . . . that whatever I decide, accepting it is key.

Thanks!
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Old 03-18-2011, 10:35 AM
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Here's a good site University Counseling and Consulting Services: Student Academic Success Services: SASS from the University of Minnesota about stress and stress management.

Having stress wile sober feels like a teaching tool for me. I feel encouraged to take on the stressful matter knowing I will gain valuable experience. Experience I can rely on for the next stressful situation. And all that is a great confidence builder no matter what the outcome, because I did all the necessary work with my best effort to find and reach that solution. The end result will make for little regret along with an ease of acceptance.

Originally Posted by AG
The other thing I wanted to say is that I am really glad this secular connection forum exists. Sometimes, I am too impressionable, and begin to doubt myself when I feel someone is arguing that there is a correct way to achieve recovery and that it's not the way I am going about it. I don't normally feel this way but I think because of all the stress I am particularly vulnerable right now.
Sometimes I see that the other recovery camp uses recruitment techniques to discredit other recovery modalities than their own. It dose get a bit tedious having my choice in recovery modality's made light of. But its to be expected when others use a propaganda campaign to sway the opinions of others.
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Old 03-18-2011, 11:22 AM
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AG – The stress of making decisions is of your own making. Impact bias makes it feel like it is really important to make the ‘right’ decision. The truth is that in six months you are going to be about as happy as you are right now regardless of which choice you make. [I’ve linked to this before, but if you have not watched it is worth 20 minutes of your time Dan Gilbert @ TED: Why are we Happy]

Happiness is not dependent on conditions. The Buddha said it and I believe it to be true. Happiness is a state of mind, now that you are getting your mind back from using, it is time to decide how happy you want to be. I am in the same boat. I am facing all these choices that seem momentous, but the truth is it is mostly just stuff. Do your best, try to enjoy the process, and you can’t go wrong.
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Old 03-18-2011, 08:12 PM
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Hi Recycle, thanks for posting that. I did watch it last time you posted it, but it's good to be reminded of it. I may watch it again when I have 20 mins . . .

And thanks for your thoughts too Zencat !
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Old 03-18-2011, 08:58 PM
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Something I used to do when making decisions in the days before I drank was pretending I made a choice and living with it for a few days...if living with it felt wrong I would consider that a sign that it wasn't a good idea.

Also break things down to smaller decisions...don't link everything together but approach the decisions individually

....don't borrow trouble is another one
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Old 03-18-2011, 09:01 PM
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Also...I personally think the idea that God would want us to turn over our decisions to Him is silly...that whole "let go and let God" thing never made a lick of sense to me
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Old 03-19-2011, 11:40 AM
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I love everyone's response.

I used to flip a coin and pay attention to how I felt about the result. (Are you excited or disappointed by the result? Do you want to keep flipping the coin until you get a particular result?) I did not base my decision on whether the coin flip came up heads or tails, but I used my reaction as more info in making the decision.

Do you do anything that helps you feel more centered and grounded (or more in touch with your true self, essence, whatever you want to call it)? For me, being in nature or meditating helps me feel grounded and helps me get in touch with what I want to do.

I love the idea of a list of pros and cons to both choices. (cost benefit analysis) It often helps to get thoughts out of our heads and onto paper.

Focusing is a process developed by Eugene Gendlin. It is not specific to decision-making, but it might be helpful. It can be used to get more in touch with any issue that is bothering you. Six Steps (en)

Also, just remember that it would be a difficult decision for most people who are really considering all the ramifications.

My heart goes out to you. Although I am glad you have options, struggling with a big decision is hard for me too.
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Old 03-21-2011, 06:25 AM
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Wow, what a great thread! I'll add my two cents, although I'm not sure that I'll say anything that hasn't already been said.

First of all, I have to say that regardless of how we go about making decisions, it is one hell of a lot easier to make them without drugs or alcohol clouding the picture!!!

I was in AA for several years and did not find that program to be helpful to me when it came to decision making, so I came up with my own method. It wasn't until I left AA and looked into SMART Recovery that I realized that "my own method" was basically the same one SMART suggests: a cost benefit analysis in which both pros and cons are broken down by whether the cost or benefit is long term or short term. I've found that the last bit--looking at the long vs. short term impact of decisions--is really critical.

Another thing I do, which others have mentioned, is to pretend I've made a particular decision and then live with it in my head for a while to gauge my emotional reaction. There have been times, several times, in fact, when I discovered that a good decision "on paper" was totally unworkable in my heart.

And then...here's the tough thing for me...sometimes things don't work out the way I'd hoped. I'll make a decision based on faulty information or wrong assumptions. Or I'll make a decision that is reasonable at the time, then life will go in another direction. When that happens I have a hell of a time being kind to myself; I absolutely hate being "wrong". I will beat myself up for it terribly, much worse than any outsider or onlooker ever would. Countering those irrational, negative thoughts is SOOOOOO tough for me. I find SMART's ABC tool helpful, but sometimes I just have to feel like crap for awhile and process my feelings. I guess one benefit of long term sobriety is that I can do this without being triggered or tempted to drink, but it's still difficult.....

OTT
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Old 03-21-2011, 10:54 AM
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Hi guys . . thanks so much for these responses. Oak, the flipping a coin thing sounds really cool (and I think I read about it somewhere else too) and something I want to try when my heart and head are in the right place to really gauge my reactions.

LaFemme, what does the expression "don't borrow trouble" mean? I'm embarrassed but I don't know . . .

OTT, I know what you mean about beating yourself up for being wrong. I also know that right now I'm living in fear of having that feeling in the future. Which I know I can't do. And I appreciate your advice about looking at the long term. A lot of the things I want now have good short term benefits and the things that I am fearing are the ones that have the long term potential. I wonder if it's part of whatever's wrong with my brain that I am much more comfortable with the short term . . .

For a long time I have sort of believed that given options it's wiser to do whatever seems more challenging. The bigger challenges seem to have the bigger rewards. Giving up drinking was one of those decisions, and it was a good one. I could continue to suffer through alcoholism or I could do the harder work of changing that part of my life. Now that some time has gone by (11 months) the hard part is over (I keep thinking I need to change my tag line). I like my life better now. It was a scary, scary decision for me but I'm glad after all those years of considering it I finally followed through.

I also know that I am somewhat depressive naturally and can get caught up in negatives. I mentioned before that I'm worried about moving to another place for a job. The place is somewhere I have lived before and sometimes I get overwhelmed by thinking about being back there because I am socially anxious and it's a smaller town which means more running into people you know, etc. But by coincidence I found a video on my phone the other day from the last time I was there and it brought back really happy memories . . . so sometimes I think I work myself into a froth of worry and that's the really bad part.

I am going to keep coming back to this thread over the next few weeks and use the tools you guys have given me. . . thanks so much guys.
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Old 03-21-2011, 11:47 AM
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Don't borrow trouble means stop doing exactly what you are doing...lol

Worrying about running into people you know if you move back to this small town is a good example...you haven't even made a decision and you are already worrying about things...you are borrowing trouble from the future...trouble that might not even happen.

I hope that makes sense...I am sick and not that sharp today.
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Old 03-21-2011, 09:41 PM
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lol. It would have helped me to learn that expression ages ago . . .
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Old 03-22-2011, 08:27 AM
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Originally Posted by LaFemme View Post
Don't borrow trouble means stop doing exactly what you are doing...lol

Worrying about running into people you know if you move back to this small town is a good example...you haven't even made a decision and you are already worrying about things...you are borrowing trouble from the future...trouble that might not even happen.

I hope that makes sense...I am sick and not that sharp today.
- that is me to a tee. I think up every possible outcome and obsess over it. And then when it happens - well, often the outcome is something I didn't think about and usually not nearly as dramatc as anticipated.

I really have to learn not to sweat the small stuff.

I am finding though that I am less anxious now that I've stopped drinking.

This is a great thread and I am loving that I've found a group of people who like to use science, reason and evidence instead of superstitions.
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