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The Role Of Self-Improvement In Recovery

After years of active addiction, life after treatment can feel daunting and filled with challenges. Adding to the stress of life in recovery are the obstacles that many will face for the first time without the assistance of drugs or alcohol. While these fears are valid, they are often misguided. Recovery should not be looked at as a frightening challenge, but rather, as a beautiful opportunity for self-reflection and change- a second chance to be a better, stronger, and more grounded person. “Recovery is a life-long self-improvement journey,” starts Charlie Clements, the director of the Vertava Health’ aftercare program, A Balanced Life. “We don’t ever really stop growing and changing.” With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that self-improvement often goes hand in hand with addiction recovery.

Setting Goals In Addiction Recovery

“When people come out of treatment they want to improve everything about themselves,” says Charlie. “It can be challenging to get them to settle on concrete and actionable goals.” While improving in all areas of your life is a great idea in theory, Charlie argues that this thought process rarely brings forth any substantial changes. Instead, he suggests finding an area of your life that you want to improve on the most and making SMART goals.

  • S: Specific
  • M: Measurable
  • A: Achievable
  • R: Realistic
  • T: Timely

[middle-callout] Instead of creating broad and unattainable goals, setting SMART goals helps clients focus their efforts on achieving what means the most to them via clear and measurable objectives.   “To set SMART goals, I first ask clients to take some time and assess where they are in their life right now.” Charlie begins. “You need to understand your starting point before you can decide on a destination.” Although he stresses the necessity of SMART goals in recovery, Charlie believes that change begins with being honest with yourself. “If I’m willing to be honest with myself, then I can be more aware of my faults,” he states. “If I am more aware of my faults, I can begin to change them.”

Reaching Goals In Addiction Recovery

Once clients have made their personal assessment, they can begin to build a plan of action. “The first thing I do with clients who are in the planning phase is I ask, ‘Where do you want to be?'” says Charlie. “From this big picture, I’ll walk clients backward and help them see what this overarching goal will look like during each month of change.” When clients have a clear vision and identifiable benchmarks that they are working towards, it makes the overall goal seem less overwhelming. Breaking down large goals into a series of smaller, more easily attainable goals can be especially helpful for those in early recovery who are still learning how to manage feelings of stress or anxiety without the assistance of drugs or alcohol. Charlie doesn’t just stop at monthly goals though. He likes to break down a client’s objective even further in hopes that this will motivate them to work on their self-improvement daily. “Once the client is able to set a specific goal and has determined what this goal will look like each month, they can start making smaller weekly or daily goals,” Charlie states. He sees these small but consistent daily goals as the driving force behind progress and change. “We often mistake self-improvement as something that happens in leaps and bounds. Self-improvement happens when you’re committed to making small changes to better your life every day,” Charlie concludes.

Staying On Track To Reach Self-Improvement Goals

Setting goals is only half the battle when it comes to self-improvement in addiction recovery. According to Charlie, staying on track to reach these goals can be challenging and, at times, disheartening. “We all see ourselves in a certain way and we make assumptions about ourselves based on our personal understanding of where we are and who we are,” he begins. “So when I see clients struggling with their goals, I tell them to seek outside feedback from someone they know and trust.” While inviting feedback can be a scary process, it can be an integral part of the journey of self-improvement. Charlie mentions that an outside perspective can often give clients a clearer picture of where they are, what their strengths are and what areas they need improvement in. Charlie encourages open conversation in hopes that it will lead to a positive transition, and he’s seen it happen before. “Having a conversation about change is often the beginning of actual change. Sometimes people just need a helping hand, or a push in the right direction,” he states. Additionally, Charlie sees a vast improvement in clients that are regularly checking in with someone else on their progress. Not only does accountability help clients stay on track to achieve their goals, it also gives them someone to cheer them on, confide in and celebrate with. After spending years in active addiction and isolation, these connections can provide a much-needed support system on the journey of recovery and self-improvement. Despite stressing the importance of receiving feedback from a trusted advisor, Charlie understands that most people coming out of treatment have broken social relationships and have a limited number of people they can turn to for advice. “At Vertava Health, we have long-term case managers and coaches to provide that relationship of trust and honesty with clients that may not be available to them when they leave treatment,” he starts. “The hope is that, as clients start to participate in their recovery and with others in recovery they’ll begin to organically build healthy and safe relationships with others.”

Willingness To Change

“We are all presented with opportunities for positive and negative change. Many people who come to treatment are at this crossroad,” Charlie says. “They’ve made a lot of negative choices in their lives, but they have a decision to make. ‘Do I want to continue on this destructive path, or do I want to make a positive change?'” At its core, this is the starting point of any great self-improvement journey: making the decision to choose positive change even if it means leaving behind everything we know.