Commitment to recovery is crucial for long-term sobriety. As part of a lifelong journey, it’s important to be regularly reminded of what that commitment entails. If the plan is to never drink or use again, an addict should be prepared for the fact that as time wears on, the motivation to stay sober can wear off. It wears off particularly fast in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges and inordinate stress.
Recovery programs and the encouraging words of addiction specialists help us confront our demons and deal with the challenges of early, short-term recovery. But what about a year after going clean? Two years? Five? Goal setting is an important part of long-term recovery because it keeps recovering addicts focused on the goal – maintaining a lifelong commitment to sobriety and avoiding not just relapses themselves, but the factors that lead up to a relapse.
But goal setting is much more than an arbitrary practice. More than simply writing out a yearly resolution, it’s crucial to engage the goal-setting process with a clear plan and structure in mind – one that applies solely to you, your aspirations, and your interests. Before we get into the specifics, it’s important to observe a single tenet. Be specific. Vagueness makes goals irrelevant – try and specify what exactly you need to do to fulfill a goal.
Instead of striving to do more for your body over the year, set a goal of losing a small amount of weight (2-5lbs) within the next month (or gaining said weight, if you struggle with a smaller frame). Instead of hoping for a raise or promotion, set a goal related to factors you can control, such as improving your skills, learning a new language, picking up an activity related to your line or work, or something entirely different. Specificity is important, because it gives you a clear indication of where to go, rather than a vague cardinal direction.
Don’t Make Goals Purely Recovery-Related
There aren’t many goals related to drug addiction recovery past “maintain sobriety for a month/half a year/a year”. But besides that, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to center your goals around not using drugs.
Recovery goals should largely be goals of self-improvement, because these are reliant on factors you are more likely to be in control of, and because making progress while working on yourself is critical to improving your self-worth and feeling better after an arduous addiction period. Many addicts feel shame about what they did and how they struggled with drugs – having reasons to be proud of the progress they’ve made since those days is important.
You can also create goals built around doing something for others. You could make it a goal to interact positively with a different stranger each day, make new friends outside of sober circles, or do something nice and thoughtful for your friends and/or family once a week.
Make Smaller Goals
Smaller goals are far more digestible, achievable, and most importantly, they are much less intimidating. Many people set goals for themselves with a vague idea of who they want to be in the future, rather than focusing on who they are now, and how they might improve on themselves in smaller, yet much more realistic ways. It’s not a good idea to challenge yourself to read a hundred books in a single year when you’re not much of a reader to begin with.
Smaller goals can often be more challenging that we might realize, but because they’re more achievable, we are more likely to fulfill them. Fulfilling a goal also makes you more likely to pick up a new goal, as the feeling of fulfilling a goal is often enough motivation to keep going and set your sights on higher aspirations. Larger, more vague plans are more likely to lead to incompletion and frustration. But by stringing together shorter goals, you’re making consistent progress and you’re feeling excited by it – even months after recovery has begun.
Create a Long-Term Plan
Bigger goals are harder to fulfill, describe, and stay motivated for, but having an overarching plan is still important. You should strive to learn a new language or be well-read – but that plan should come in the form of many smaller goals related to it.
Pick a long-term, 1-5-year goal that excites you, and then create much smaller, month-to-month goals you can fulfill on the road to achieving that first overarching dream. Examples may include: reading 100 books, or finishing your first written book, learning to speak a foreign language, traveling once around the globe, mastering a series of dishes, finishing school, and competing at a sporting event or pageant.
Account for Mistakes & Delays
Life rarely goes according to plan – and we should plan accordingly. While sticking to your goals is important, you also have to recognize when a goal can’t be completed because you were putting it off for too long, and when it can’t be completed due to uncontrollable circumstances. Sometimes, life throws a curveball at us and many of our plans and aspirations are put on hold. It’s moments like that when you should remember to pick up where you left off, however, and keep trying.
This goes for relapses too. One of the central goals to recovery is to stay sober forever – or at least, beat the addiction and never relapse. But it’s important to remember that the majority of recovering addicts relapse at least once in the year after completing their first recovery program. That rate drops year after year, the longer a person stays sober, but the first year is the hardest.
Many addicts feel that relapses are signs that an attempt at recovery has failed, either due to personal weakness or unexpected challenges faced during recovery. However, relapses are simply part of the chronic nature of addiction. Overcoming them is an important step in treating addiction in the long-term – and that means recognizing them as part of the process, and finding ways to turn them into learning experiences, rather than examples of failure.
Track Your Progress
It cannot be understated how important it is to keep track of your progress in recovery. The trick to staying committed – the reason why goal-setting is so important – is consistently finding new ways to motivate yourself to stay sober. Seeking that motivation out consistently over many years can be exhausting, and difficult.
At some point, sobriety does become the norm – but it’s crucial to never take it for granted, lest you lose it. By tracking your progress, you’re keeping a record of the progress you’ve made over the years to reflect on, as a way to realize how far you’ve come and how much has changed in little time. As time goes on, this becomes your main motivator – to continuously strive to improve and lead a better life and move onwards in spite of your past.