Over the years, I’ve met folks whose recovery looks more like a seemingly endless series of relapses than any meaningful sober time. Through coaching them, I’ve developed three cardinal rules for successful, long term sobriety. Break one and your chances of success drop dramatically. Successfully incorporate these, and your recovery becomes much more manageable. Here is rule number one:
You must be married to recovery, not date it. You’ve no doubt been to a wedding and heard phrases like “forsaking all others”, “till death do us part” and “for better or worse”. All those play a part in a successful marriage and a successful recovery. Many approach sobriety like a casual date. You know, “try it out and see where it goes, if it gets difficult I can just walk away.” Wrong answer and wrong thinking because unfortunately things get worse before they get better. As the detox finishes and you survey your life and all the wreckage, it is unfortunately only the tip. There are many things that won’t appear till a month or two down the road. When the going gets tough and the path seems incredibly steep, those that are dating sobriety cut and run back to the open arms of their substance. Those that are married to sobriety know they are building a new life together and that this will pass. Those folks go on to lasting, meaningful lives apart from substance use.
Sometimes people encounter negative consequences for their substance use (i.e. legal, family strife etc.). Those folks tend to treat recovery as a “rebound romance”. I’m mad at _________ it has caused _________ and so I’m hooking up with sobriety to show it. They almost always go right back once the heat is off. They never intended to be faithful to sobriety. That “forsaking all others” part plays a crucial role in a marriage and your recovery. You can’t keep old using buddies' numbers in your phone any more than you can keep old girlfriends' numbers.
The “till death do us part” gives a young couple the expectation for the length of their relationship. Most married couples know the divorce rate but they, at that moment, are committing to a lifetime together. That is their mindset, and it must be ours in recovery, as well. The fact is that I will never be able to drink again like I will never be able to date again. I’m married to sobriety and my wife... neither of which would be happy if I changed that arrangement. Another fact is that my life is incredibly more rich as a result of those two marriages. So, if you are having trouble with lasting recovery - quit dating it and put a ring on it!
I’m often asked about the tag line for Aim Point, “hit what you're aiming for”. I’m all about living life deliberately. To me, the tag line means live your life with forethought and purpose. I always want to be aiming for something bigger and better for my life. Aiming goes beyond merely hoping, it’s a deliberate act toward putting your efforts onto a target point. Unfortunately, too many folks I meet seem content with hoping to accomplish a goal without putting any effort into it. This will never work. I call these the “plinko” crowd.
Growing up we would always attend the local heritage festival each spring. The rides, food, and of course, the carnival games. You’ve no doubt seen them, brightly lit, loud music and of course the prizes proudly lined up just waiting to be won. While they may go by different names in your area, plinko and the duck shoot were always at ours.
Plinko is a game of chance involving a steeply slanted board with pegs jutting up from it. You pay your dollar and are given three disks. You then ascend the stairs to the top of the board. There is a cat walk that allows you to move across its length and the slope allows you to see the pegs that are placed, seemingly at random, between you at the top and the prize bins along the bottom. The bins always included a “grand prize” that paid like $1,000. There were other pay out amounts, as well as several “win another turn” bins. Also present were the “lose a turn” bins, located throughout the other options, at the bottom of the board. You would eye your prize and place your disk at what seemed to be the start of the optimal path and let it go. Counting the prize even as the disk careened downward interacting with the pegs in a seemingly random way until the disk finally entered a bin at the bottom... “lose a turn”! You’re perplexed and try another approach, only to experience the same result. With your last disk in hand you try yet another point on the board, all hope of the grand prize is now gone. Your only focus is one of the two “win another turn” bins. You leave a dollar lighter and not much wiser.
That’s why I was much more excited to try the duck shoot game. It’s a simple arrangement, there is an older BB gun affixed to the front counter. It’s loaded with 10 BB’s and in front of you is a series of ducks pulled along a track. Hit a duck, and it falls over scoring you a point. Get 10 points and a grand prize is yours. You walk up and hand over your dollar. The Carnie loads your weapon, and the ducks begin to march across. Your first shot is off, and the second only nicks the duck, causing it to wobble but not fall over. But you now have your aim point worked out. The next falls as do the following seven. Close, but no grand prize. As I walked to the end of the line, those waiting would ask, “How’s it shoot?” “Low and right,” would be my reply. “Aim high right along the beak, and pull as soon as the beak appears in the sight and they’ll go down.” Using my advice, there were several grand prizes handed out before my next turn. I would walk away with one large stuffed animal, as well.
Why did I give out advice and try to help others? Because there were plenty of prizes to go around. We should all get a prize... and if anyone can benefit from my experience, then let’s do it. That’s why I started Aim Point Coaching. There are plenty of prizes or goals for everyone. What is the worst that can happen, we all become better and reach for even more? But goals aren’t going to become reality by themselves. They aren’t going to be reached by simply tossing disks with minimal thought and effort. No, they are only reached by careful aim and deliberate action on your part.
Thom Straley - Thom is the Executive Director at Step Seven Ministries & is a certified life coach specializing in addiction recovery and small business growth as Aim Point Coaching. To learn more about Aim Point Coaching, visit Thom's website by clicking the link above!