Addiction Recovery and Stress Management: Throw Away Your To-Do List

A look at how creating a process in recovery may be better than setting goals…

minute read

Rid Yourself of Stressful Goals and Create a System In Recovery!

When you first get sober, being free of the obsession to use is exhilarating. Each new day in recovery gives testament to endless possibilities and growth. These new feelings help you blossom, grow, and transform into the best version of yourself. You’re inspire to go after your goals with vigor and adventure.

Yes, getting sober is an exciting time. Maybe this is the first time you’re living life on life’s terms. No longer reactionary, blaming, denying, or feeling you have all the answers. Now it’s up to you to do the work to live sober and happy in recovery.

But where do you start?

In rehab, you were given a list of tasks to complete your first year in recovery.  But a gigantic to-do list can make you feel overwhelmed every time you glance at it. Even when each task is valid it’s unfortunate but a to-do list can create unwanted stress.

Some of your needs in early recovery can include:

And the list goes on and on, but you haven’t a clue which is crucial and what can wait. Or is every task equally important. Confusion, frustration, and disappointment can set in. Even though you’re overwhelmed just looking at such a list, you must try to accomplish these tasks. Your process of recovery depends on it.

The Dangers of the To-Do List

Do you wake up each morning and while having your coffee and start writing a to-do list of the tasks you have to perform? For you, staying sober means following a checklist. But at the end of the night you feel like a failure because once again, you failed to complete your plans for the day.

In my last post, I discussed how trying to maintain your sobriety via a to-do list can be dangerous. Fear of not completing the list creates a feeling of stress, anxiety, and frustration. When new to recovery, you know you have to make changes in your life. The thought of change is overwhelming. Managing your recovery by using a to-do list sets you up for failure before you begin.

I’m not saying that writing a list to help you manage your daily tasks isn’t beneficial. I’m saying relying on a list to maintain and thrive in recovery is scary. Instead focus on building, a system makes reaching your goals an automatic process. Living life each day trying to complete a to-do list is overwhelming for anyone not just those in recovery.

Is Life Like a Treatment Plan?

When you were in rehab or an outpatient program, it felt good to do the work because you followed a detailed plan. Each day was engineered to help you learn about your addiction. If you went to an inpatient program or outpatient program, you met regularly with your clinician and followed a detailed client-centered treatment plan. Understanding your process of addiction assisted you in developing your unique system of recovery.

In treatment the process of recovery followed a plan. This is because a treatment plan guides you toward your treatment goal while you’re in a residential facility. For those in recovery, who never attended treatment or a quick refresher a treatment plan was set up in a way to help you achieve individual goals by listing the steps you and your clinician would take on the path to achieving the goal.

But does such a plan extend to real life?

The goal of recovery isn’t just staying sober. The purpose of treatment is to learn to live life without the constant obsession to use, understand the addiction process, and create your personal system of recovery.  Learning to live life in recovery is the system you build to achieve this goal.
The plan is formatted and can include ways for treatment to assist you to:

  • Develop coping mechanisms.
  • Establish connections with sober support.
  • Educate and understand addiction.
  • Engage and  interact with family.
  • Maintain emotional and mental stability.
  • Achieve optimal physical health through exercise and nutrition.

Your treatment plan is unique to your needs wants and desires, in regards to learning to develop a process not just to stay sober, but developing an elaborate system to maintain happiness, health, and freedom from the obsession to use.

Finding the Process that Works for You

Do you have a process to stay sober, a system to nurture your recovery daily, so you don’t become complacent? May the following sounds familiar:

You thought your goal was to get sober.
You followed a plan and achieved, but now something is missing.

In fact, you’re craving a better system to live happily in recovery.

Setting Goals In Recovery

Achieving goals is a great feeling. You’ve pushed through adversity, challenge, and barriers and won. There is nothing quite as if getting sober, especially after you’d tried so many unsuccessful attempts. When you finally got sick and tired and proclaimed enough is enough with your body, heart and soul you committed to do the work. Maybe this is when you learned addiction is a complex process.

If this is true, then recovery is a complex system which needs nurturing. It maintains your new found freedom.

The moment you believe you have reached your goals in recovery and are finally free from addiction is when you endanger the new life you have created. Chances of relapse increase when you stop putting in the work to maintain your sobriety. Relapse is also a process. It doesn’t start the moment you use. It starts when you stop working the system you created to maintain your new life in recovery.

What happens when you try to maintain your recovery without a system to stay sober?
Remember the goal of recovery is not to remain abstinent. The goal is to create new habits, a new lifestyle, happiness, and freedom from obsession.

Sobriety is a bonus.

3 Reasons Why Creating A System For Recovery Is Safer Than Goal Setting

1. Stress caused by urgency puts sobriety at risk.

Choosing to use a to-do or by setting goals cause stress and burden. When you set goals, you are putting time constraints on your life. Not completing a goal in a specific amount of time set for the target is dangerous.

One relapse trigger is anxiety and stress. Just as if a to-do list is overwhelming a goal with a time constraint might be a trigger. For example, I have failed to get several SMART goals I aimed for over the years. It didn’t end in tragedy, but I did suffer negative self-talk and feeling of failure.

The take away is this: When you create a system in recovery to follow each day you remove expectation. Following a system allows you to work at your own pace eliminating stress causing urgency.

2. A completed goal signals the end.

Goals fail to work for long-term success. Once a target is achieved motivation to proceed is reduced. Once you’ve completed a particular goal, you feel accomplished. When you are working on finishing a goal you create habits for learning, studying, or training. You schedule the time to do the work to reach the goal. But reaching goals can also create a feeling of overconfidence, which is another relapse trigger. We all know becoming overconfident in our recovery is dangerous. It creates a sense of needing less work, diligence, or support.

What usually happens once the goal is complete?

Unfortunately, the habits created to achieve this goal usually fade into the background, losing significance, because a completed goal marks the end of a process.
I worked in an outpatient program that refused to give clients completion certificates. I completed the discharge and asked my director why she didn’t award certificates? Her reply was a certificate signal in mind a completion. We are training our patients to continue to learn, grow, and use the coping skills for long-term recovery. Subconsciously a certificate could mark the end of the patient’s growth in recovery.

Fad diets are the perfect example for the loss of motivation. When a person tries a new fad diet, it seldom works to maintain weight loss over an extended period. You might lose the 15 pounds you want to lose, but once you reach your goal, the weight comes back.
Using a system creates a mindset change. Instead of building habits to work for short-term success, develop habits to ensure daily activity, to keep you motivated, and focused on the process instead of the result.
Remember: Recovery is a process, a system of long-term success, so if setting goals only work in the short term.

3. The goal adds to the pressure of fearing failure.

Setting a goal creates a sense of purpose. Goals lead to success and help us learn to live through failure. A problem arises when a person has not yet discovered to work through failure. However, fear of failure can create a feeling of not being good enough. It can start the process of negative self-talk, doubt, and limiting beliefs to cause frustration, annoyance, or anger and trigger a relapse.

A system in recovery allows you to work at your pace. Taking your time and putting in work each day to enhance your process of recovery. Systems work for long-term success because you begin to understand how daily efforts build upon itself.

Over to You

There will always be relapse triggers. It is not fair to blame the process of setting goals for creating dangerous situations and triggers of relapse. Banishing the process of setting goals cannot work because or goal in recovery is to develop a method to maintain a new lifestyle free from the obsession to use.

Instead, being able to examine your recovery puts you in control of your process. A process is a system and building one to maintain your recovery is beneficial.

Creating short-term goals aids you in

The ultimate goal of recovery is balance and building a system to maintain recovery is the key.

How have you created your system of recovery?

About the author
John Makohen is a clinician in New York State, CCAR certified recovery coach, as well as a life coach. John is also a freelance content writer assisting drug rehabs to ethically build rapport and nurture lasting relationships with digital marketing efforts. His personal blog is Year of the Johnny.
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