We do not succeed in recovery from addiction by creating a stress free life. We succeed by being resilient in the face of life’s stresses and strains. Resilience requires maintaining lifestyle balance, and restoring it when it is lost
People have many different kinds of needs beyond basic survival.
We need meaningful work, involvement with people, physical activity, novelty, creativity, and for many a spiritual connectedness.
When we let go of one or more areas of our life for too long our life becomes unbalanced. We lose perspective and we are at risk for chaos, burn-out and relapse.
Resilience involves coping effectively with stresses that are likely to throw us out of balance. Here are some of the things you can do to avoid the conditions that undermine resilience and threaten lifestyle balance.
1. Identify your own “early warning” signals
Things usually start to get “frayed around the edges” before they get outright unmanageable. Dr. Patrick Carnes developed a system for people to keep track of early warning signs that life is becoming chaotic or out-of-control called “The Personal Craziness Index” or PCI (Carnes P. Facing the Shadow p.203).
The PCI is a way of identifying what you do when things are starting to go south even before anything major goes wrong. It involves identifying your own individual indicators like the neglect of your bills, failing to eat right, letting the car run out of gas, or whatever it is for you that signals you are approaching burn-out.
Letting things get away from you may mean that you are experiencing stresses in your life that lead to more serious imbalance. The process is much easier to reverse if you catch it early.
2. Look for signs of substitute addictions
One way your life can get totally out of balance is allowing one area of your life become a consuming focus. If you work all the time and neglect other areas of your life you may be achieving great things but you are in danger of substituting workaholism for sex addiction.
I know a lawyer who began devoting every spare waking minute to his hobby of writing and recording songs. His wife is now leaving him and he is running out of money. The problem is that all addictions operate in the same way and letting any activity become an addiction can lead back to your other addictions.
3. Don’t get overburdened
Take a good look at all the things you have on your plate. This includes not only work but other obligations, projects and volunteer work. Anything you have to focus on and deal with that takes up your time and energy, even if it is worthwhile. Look at the time commitment connected with each one and when it will be over.
If you are feeling used up you will be susceptible to feeling deprived, as in “I’m so wiped out I deserve to indulge in my addiction.” There is nothing wrong with giving up some commitments at least temporarily. When you’re out of balance it’s OK not to be the world’s most responsible worker, caregiver, group member, student or activist for a while.
4. Don’t isolate
This one should be obvious but it’s not. Withdrawing from people in general, or withdrawing from friends and holing up alone or with your spouse or roommate is OK for a while but eventually it takes away energy.
Withdrawing can lead to more withdrawing, which in turn can lead to drifting back into addiction. We all need connection, and addicts need to stay connected both socially and with their recovery support system.
5. Make space for serenity in your life
A life can be so full of meaningful activity that there is no time for reflection, rest and rejuvenation. Being excited about what you are involved in is a great thing but you can’t stay balanced without down time.
Sometimes it is necessary to schedule time for doing nothing, for meditating, for romantic closeness. Unless you replenish yourself you will be running on empty.
I have found that at certain points in life a very good yardstick for deciding whether something is a good idea or a bad one is to ask yourself “will this add to or take away from my serenity.” Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource