Change is Strange: Coping with Change in Addiction Recovery
What Are “Changes”?
For the past several months I have been experiencing a lot of change. But what does that mean? I’ve been asking some questions:
- What do we mean by change?
- How do we view change?
- What does change do to us?
Simply defined, change is, “the act of making or becoming different.”
Those are small words for such an often series of tumultuous acts. Change can be sudden and unexpected, or it can be thought out and planned. But no matter how much we plan for change, it can throw us in a loop. We can feel lost. Anxiety and fear can take over. In sum, change is strange.
Change is Strange: A First Hand Account
Take for instance how I have spent my life’s work working in the behavioral health care field, most notably in the addiction and mental health arena. I’ve spent decades either teaching on the university level or helping others to change. I have worked with thousands of students as well as hundreds of families whose loved ones experience the maladies of abuse. This has included:
- Chronic pain
- Disordered eating
- Disordered shopping
- Compulsive gambling
… other process disorders coupled with anxiety and depression. All the while, the name of the game is to motivate, facilitate, inspire them to change their behaviors. The goal is to fool those neuro tags and change the way one responds to life.
Well, let me tell you first hand, “Change is strange”. I travel for work. Over the last few months, I have worked in London, New York, Fargo, Clovis, Mountainside, Long Beach and Malibu. I have changed some of the work I do from consulting at one place to consulting at a few others. Consulting means you go into a center with essentially clean eyes and knowledge about the subject matter you are asked to look at. As such, one becomes a partial part of something.
As a consultant, one’s job is well defined. In my case, most of the time it centers around developing curriculum, training and working with others. As such, you must learn all about the entities and perspectives in the workplace. In other words, you must put yourself in their shoes. You must identity with and try to understand all the nuances of a treatment environment, even though you are not present all the time.
Looking at Attachment
This is a tightrope walk. I honor the professionals, the work they are doing, and their processes for accomplishing their goals. Nonetheless, in doing so, I find that I become attached to the people, places, and things I encounter.
When a consulting job ends, there is a little hole inside of me that misses that place, that staff, those people.
And so, faces and places change. I found this experience to be bittersweet, having learned tons about a new subject matter. Hence, whether it’s abrupt or planned, saying goodbye is difficult. Change is strange!
Moving to a New Home Shakes Things Up
Recently, my husband, dogs, and all our things were picked up and moved. The process has shaken up the molecules of knowing where everything is in its rightful place. It’s difficult to know where things are: from where silverware sits to where the best grocery store is to wondering, “Where did I put this or that?”.. to not knowing exactly where to go, what to do, or who to meet.
My sense of direction, belonging, and trajectory have all been thrown into a clothes dryer and the dial turned up to maximum spin. I don’t know where I’m going to fall when the tumble dry finishes. Indeed, change is strange.
Many of you know we have relocated to the desert. Mr. Wadas – my husband – as I affectionately call him, is happy as a clam after spending months making a new home. He can walk out onto our back patio and look up at the stars every night, see the harvest moon, and can play golf for a cheap ticket at the best clubs.
As a former athletic director, moves are a way of life for him. He changed university colors many a time. As an athlete, he learned that there is always another game to play. If you lose one you get up the next day, dust yourself off, learn from the plays, train harder, and go back out. His mantra is:
“Preparation plus opportunity equals success.”
He rolls with the punches, another way of dealing with the emotional highs and lows of transition.
How Being an ACOA Informs My Response to Change
For me, the adult child of an alcoholic and the daughter of a Loretta Young-type mother who vacationed and moved constantly, change doesn’t settle well in my bones. In addition to this, I’m a woman who experienced many sudden deaths of close family.
I don’t move.
In WeHo, my previous residence, I only moved two doors down from our condo to a home. I fell in love with the city, learned, laughed, walked everywhere in the neighborhood feel of WeHo, met so many new people, volunteered at the Sheriff’s station, tripped in disbelief over a growing homeless population, protested the marijuana stores, made friends with the doormen at Sunset Marquis, experienced the vastness of the treatment and recovery industry, hiked up to Soul Cycle every morning, riding alongside artists, designers, celebrities, etc., and felt a strong sense of community. I felt energized, activated and secure with the sounds of La Cienega roaring in the background.
And then life took some turns and we chose to move.
I have been coming to the desert for more than 35 years. I know the streets, have a few professional friends here, and can find my way around. Still, I don’t know all the places. There is a flood of new faces. Yet, there is a familiarity in unfamiliarity.
I Turn to the Tools of Recovery
What I do have that I embrace are the tools of recovery for any environment in the world. As such, this means that:
- I try six meetings and try six more.
- I try six spinning studios and try six more instructors.
- I use the telephone (I don’t know my landline number even that was switched).
- I reach out to new and old friends, suiting up and showing up.
- I trade Melrose Place for Lowes (really!)
More than anything, it means feeling my feelings.
I grieve the changes and welcome new beginnings. I shed some tears, write an article about FOMO (the fear of missing out), as I am missing all the L.A. events and its robust treatment community. It means facetiming with grandchildren instead of hugging in person.
And in the process, I am finding my groove.
This morning, as I see the desert sky come up… I am grateful. Grateful that I got to learn so much about chronic pain and how to work with families in that arena. I’m grateful for the synergy of the city, for learning about life in the fast lane, for traveling near and far in the pursuit of wellness, for learning from such great folks along the way from Sean Firtel to Brad Lamm, Jonathan Rauch, Jeffrey Merrick, James Flowers to Cole Rucker, Heather Hayes and Eve Ruff, Judith Landau, Denise Klein, Charlene Short Majors, Monica Phillips Priya Chaudri, Ed and Mary Ann Spatola, Dawn Hedgepath.
There are so many more!
How to Get Through Periods of Change
So, now I am here in the desert, being gentle with myself. I realize that I am in the process of becoming. “Be gentle with your soul,” I say to others. Now I am saying that to myself.
In this new chapter, the tools of recovery are important. Here they are:
- Establishing new rituals
- Feeling one’s feelings
- Peer Support
- Professional consultation
- Telephone calls
So, if you are in the midst of doing something different – taking something out of your daily routine or adding something in – please remember it takes 60-90 days to change just one behavior. When you are trying to adjust, adapt, or learn about so many new things… let those neurons fire off and remember you are attaching to new ways of being.
You will be OK.
Change is strange! As John West, Co- Owner of The Guest House . hared on Facebook:
“A shark in a fish tank will grow eight inches but in the ocean it will grow eight feet or more. The shark will never grow out of its environment. The same is true with you. Many times we are around small thinking so we don’t grow. Change your environment and watch yourself grow.”
How are you growing today?
How are you addressing change?
Let me know and I will compile your wisdom and share with everyone.