First Segment - SMART Recovery Handbook - Chapter 2 (Part 2)
Stages of Change
It's difficult to change long-standing behaviours, even when new ones are better for you.
James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente developed the Stages of Change model in the 1970s. They found that people who stopped smoking usually tried to stop several times before they permanently changed their behaviour.
As you read each stage description below, think about which one you're in today and remember that tomorrow you may be in a different stage. For example, if you're in the preparation stage today because you're sure you want to change your behaviour, tomorrow you may be in the contemplation stage because you had doubts about changing.
Identifying the stage you're in can help you work out what to focus on.
This stage describes people who are not currently intending to take action and may not be aware their behaviour is problematic. Precontemplators may show up in therapy or mutual-help groups under duress pressure from spouses, employers, parents, or courts. They resist change and usually place responsibility for their problems on external factors such as genetics, family, society, the legal system, etc. They don't feel they can do much about the situation.
- How much of your recovery is for yourself and how much is for other people? Has the ratio changed during your recovery?
People start weighing the benefits and costs of change and may experience the mixed feelings - ambivalence or procrastination - that people normally feel about change. Many find that writing down the benefits and costs of change help them decide.
- Do you still struggle when dealing with change in your recovery? Is your recovery rooted in routine or is it flexible? How do you deal with life when your routine is disrupted?
At this stage, a person has decided their life needs to change and are open to seriously considering options. They gather information. evaluate alternatives, and take small steps toward changing their behaviour. They start looking toward the future and less at the past.
- Are you looking toward the future and less at the past? Have you experienced issues in recovery from being stuck in the past? Can you now look back but not stare when it comes to the past?
Here's where a person takes the plunge. Action can take many forms, from the controlled environment of inpatient treatment, to working with a professional counsellor, to attending mutual-help groups, to working on their own or some combination of these. Here's where people try new ways to handle old situations, uncomfortable emotions, urges, and other challenges. This stage requires the greatest commitment of time and energy, but also is where new changes start to be visible to others. People in this stage usually need supportive relationships. They start substituting some new, healthier activities for old ones. Some people experience anxiety at this stage, but learn to accept a certain amount of discomfort in return for achieving their long-term goals.
- “Faith without works is dead.” What does that mean to you? Can you resolve to work on something that is upsetting you by spending just ten minutes of time on it? Do you find more solutions to your problems when you put some leg work into it?
People continue building confidence as they progress on the new direction of their lives. But challenges remain; unexpected temptations may require new thinking or approaches. People usually keep seeking support from those they trust and keep doing healthy activities to cope with stress.
- How have you maintained the positive direction of your recovery, especially in times of crisis?
This is not a stage, but rather an occurrence. After a long period of maintenance, most people adopt a new lifestyle consistent with their "new normal" behaviour. Old, harmful behaviours no longer have a place in their lives. They express confidence and self-control, and live healthier, happier lives.
- How difficult was it for you to accept this occurrence of believing in what you were doing in recovery? How did you come to accept expressing confidence, self-control and living a healthier and happier life?
Lapse or relapse
While not a stage or necessary part of change, lapse and relapse are common and may occur at any stage. They do not need to be an excuse to continue addictive behaviour. If a lapse or relapse occurs, it doesn't mean a person has to restart their journey. They can identify which strategies helped them and which ones didn't, using that knowledge to move forward with their recovery.
If you lapse or relapse, don't let it lead to crushing self-reproach and guilt. It's better to accept the temporary setback as a normal part of change and growth rather than to call your recovery a failure and give up. Handled well, a lapse or relapse can be brief and provide another opportunity for self-empowerment.
After all, when learning to ride a bike, we fell many times before we knew how to balance and control the bicycle. Not all of us pass our driving test the first time.
- How have your attitudes changed towards relapse since you have been in recovery?
A journal or recovery diary may be one of the most important tools in your recovery. It's a record of your progress, accomplishments, setbacks, stages, etc, and a private place to document your experiences and emotions as they happen. By writing in a journal you will deepen your learning and may make fewer miss-steps.
There are no rules to journaling. Some people like to write in journals with favourite pens, some keep them on their computers, some use spiral notebooks, some don't like lined paper. Some people write every day as a discipline, some only write when they need to work through an issue. You can draw pictures and doodle. You may want to keep your journals forever, or eventually throw them away. It's completely up to you.
A journal of your recovery can serve many purposes. It reminds you what stage of recovery you're in, what you've been through, what accomplishments you've made, and what changes you still want to make. You can:
- Keep daily notes about what you're thinking, how you're feeling, and what you're doing.
- Break down overwhelming complex problems into smaller parts.
- Plan activities and set short-term goals.
- Identify what's helping you recover and what's not helping.
- Chart your progress along your recovery journey.
Your journal is your space. You may choose to share it or to keep it private. If you're afraid to keep a journal because you think someone will read it, make it clear that your journal is off limits. You may feel more comfortable keeping it with you at all times, or finding a secure hiding place for it. Reading someone else's journal - unless you think they are in eminent danger of hurting themselves or someone else and their journal might provide information - is never okay.
- Has writing or journaling been a big part of recovery? If so, since when and how has it helped? Is this something you suggest to other people in recovery?
Behaviours, even good ones, become addictive in nature when they become our priority, throwing our lives - and our thinking - out of balance. Addictive behaviour can cost dearly in terms of relationships, careers, freedom, and independence.
Recovery is a journey in which you learn to substitute short-term gratification and irrational thinking with rational perspectives and a focus on your long-term goals. Keeping a journal can be very helpful. It's your place to record your achievements, setbacks, thoughts, and emotions.
You may be ready to commit to a life of abstinence and balance, or you may be questioning whether or not you have a problem with substance or behaviour abuse. Whatever stage you're in, we welcome you to SMART.
While SMART is an abstinence-based recovery programme, you may not be sure yet if abstinence is your goal. You're welcome to participate in SMART while you determine what's best for you.
Second Segment - Quote of The Week
“Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young, nor weary in the search thereof when he is grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul.”
Epictetus (AD 55–135)
Seeking is in style, no matter what the season. Maybe old dogs can’t learn new tricks, but we’re not dogs, we’re homo sapiens with 85 cubic inch brains. When we were getting sober, few of us expected to hang around with this group of losers any longer than we had to. When we’d been around for a few months and noticed other members still going to Meetings every week after years in the fellowship, we wondered if they lacked imagination or got some sick satisfaction from watching the younger members vibrating in discomfort.
For some, Twelve & Twelve meeting attendance is a finite commitment until we get our bearings. For others, recovery is a way of life, a life-long learning program. Those who quit Meetings are not closed-minded and have not stopped growing. This is an individual journey and where our roads take us and how we manage is so unique, it could take a lifetime to find someone working the program exactly the way we do. Many of us may mimic someone in one aspect of their program but are worlds apart in another aspect of recovery.
Relapse can happen—how many times will it take to get this thing? Relapse is a characteristic of the disease more than a statement about how willing or hard-working we are. They don’t tell a cancer patient to come back when they are serious about getting well after they fall out of remission. Sobriety, like life, is something we just keep working at. If sobriety comes quickly we can’t forget that there will be other challenges ahead.
- Did I think I would get this thing in a few months at most? The great thing about having more to learn is it keeps me engaged. Do I fancy myself the teacher or student?