Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying, “Giving up smoking is easy. I’ve done it a hundred times.” Most people take this quote to mean that this clever author was making reference to just how difficult it is to give up an addiction. We may make up our minds to quit, night after night, only to wake up the next day and pick the habit up again.
That isn’t to say, though, that simply having the thought of quitting isn’t a good thing. Entertaining ideas of life without the influence of an addictive substance is actually the necessary precursor to making the plans to quit. After these plans are made, we can begin to take our first, solid, steps toward sobriety. It is taking these steps that Twain apparently struggled with.
Stages Of Change
In order to perform a self-check our progress toward recovery, it is useful to understand the process that occurs while removing ourselves from a life of addiction. While there are some variations to this formula, most substance abuse treatment programs recognize five basic stages of recovery. If you are struggling with addiction, the fact that you are reading this article indicates that you are already – at the least – in the second stage.
Those who are in the precontemplation stage of recovery are recognizable due to their having no real desire or intention to get out of their addictions. They are apparently unaware of the damage that their habits are causing, both toward themselves, and toward their loved ones. Consequences of the substance abuse are dismissed and minimized, and the only real plans made are those surrounding how to continue to use, and continue to get away with it.
In the contemplation stage, we begin to take note of the destruction that our substance use and abuse is causing. We may start to feel sadness and guilt over our lack of sobriety, and may start thinking twice before indulging in a substance. We may begin to confess our inability to stop using to those closest to us, and may begin to talk about our desires to quit using.
During the planning stage, our contemplations have grown loud enough to spur us toward making a change. Making resolutions is a hallmark of this stage, such as with our deciding that this time of using the substance will be our last. We may begin to engage in research toward into how we can gain the tools necessary to quit our addictive behaviors, and begin to daydream about how much better our life will be without being under the control of the drug or alcohol. The viability of the plans that we make during this phase can mean the difference between success, and failure, in our recovery.
Up until this point, all of the stages of change have taken place in our own minds and hearts. The action phase is where our first, concrete, steps are taken toward sobriety. The action phase consists of putting our plans into place, and making the life changes that are necessary for removing ourselves from the addiction. We may let our partying friends and acquaintances know that we won’t be coming around, anymore. We may begin attending support groups, or finally enroll in a substance abuse treatment program that we have been considering.
The maintenance phase of recovery is the gold star, and a culmination of all of the hard work that you have put into crafting your new life without the substances. The maintenance phase is the time where only small tweaks in behaviors, and easier decisions toward avoidance, are utilized to keep you on your positive life course. The maintenance phase allows you to use the tools, successes, and triumphs experienced during the action phase as a means to keep the temptations at bay.
Taking Action Steps
Taking those first, concrete, steps toward sobriety is often the most difficult stage of recovery. It is much easier to think about doing a thing than it is to actually do a thing. As previously mentioned, making solid plans – which include utilizing the support of those who are knowledgeable and skilled in the process of recovery – can make your action phase a much more productive, and successful, venture. Once your plans are in place, your main task will be to muster up the courage to take action toward fulfilling them.
For some, the first action step is to enroll in a treatment program. This step takes a fair amount of courage, as there are many vulnerable factors involved. First, there is the fact that we must be willing to be vulnerable in admitting that we need help to remove ourselves from our addictions. Secondly, there is the fear of change that can arise, as we agree to upend our entire life structure in our pursuit of making things better. Thirdly, there is the anxiety that can accompany entering a new, unfamiliar, environment. Deciding to enter a treatment program can feel as though we are putting our lives into the hands of others, which can be a scary experience.
For those who are not quite willing, or able, to immerse themselves into the full experience of an inpatient treatment program, outpatient options are available. In addition to local meetings, county and local nonprofit organizations offer substance abuse disorder treatments as well. The important thing is that steps forward are made, in whatever form you are able to make them. Whichever road you take, you can end up in a sober living home to help facility recovery as well.
If you have previously made plans to get help, and then backed down from taking the concrete steps, there is no need to fret. The stages of change are often not linear, and a person who is destined for recovery can experience several attempts toward the maintenance goal before finally succeeding. If you are ready to put your plan into action – for the first time, or again – it may be helpful to seek the assistance of a qualified intervention specialist. Having this concrete support can help you to stay the course.