Positivity is crucial to recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs.
But what is it?
First, it’s a quality of hope, that maybe I can live a substance-free life. Maybe I can make it through a day without drinking or drugging. Just entertaining that hope takes a lot of courage.
After all, by the time people start entertaining hope, they’ve entertained a whole lot of despair. They’ve started to notice the wreckage stacking up in their lives: relationships, jobs, health, sanity, safety, freedom.
It doesn’t look good when they’ve been destroyed completely or they are seriously at risk. A manageable, clean and sober life can look pretty hopeless.
But something in our hearts holds out hope anyway. We hear about—we see for ourselves–people with 30 days sober. A year. Ten years. Twenty. More. Some of them look happy. Maybe even glowing. Maybe that could be us.
And in treatment, we get to combine hope with a track record of our own. One day. Two days. More.
But we also find our positivity challenged. “Stinking thinking” creeps in and tries to tell us that somehow the time we’ve racked up clean and sober doesn’t matter, it doesn’t count, we don’t deserve it, it just won’t last.
That’s when we need to bother other people’s positivity, other people’s hope. Counselors, sponsors, other recovering alcoholics ad addicts. Because they can see hope where we can’t. So we just keep coming back until we can hope again.
And after a while, very surprising changes happen, and positivity takes some unexpected turns. If we really work the program, everything looks different. Things we regretted or resented, things that made us burn with bitterness and shame, appear to us as blessings instead of curses.
The worst experiences possible, we start to recognize, led us, kicking and screaming, into the place where we could choose between the reasonable expectation of jail, institutionalization, and death, or the hope and promise of a life of integrity, love, and joy. And we chose integrity, love, and joy.
With that realization, all the possibilities of life burst open wide. Because we have learned the open secret we once kept from ourselves: Positivity is everywhere, and the best opportunities for positivity lie hidden in negativity.
Despair is an opportunity for hope. Dishonesty is an opportunity for integrity. Hate and alienation are opportunities for love. Misery is an opportunity for joy.
No need to take my word for it.
Just come in, and keep coming back. David Kerrigan, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., serves as clinical director at Changing Tides Treatment Centers. He is a licensed clinical social worker with a special interest in addiction, attachment, trauma, and spirituality. A meditator since the 1970s, he is particularly interested in the application of mindfulness to recovery.