When it comes to abstinence, “Just Say No” has been a battle cry against recreational drug use for more than a generation. Yet, teenagers are still saying “yes” to peer pressure. Not to mention the youth and adults who say “yes” to the substance siren call that promises instant pleasure and confidence; easy relief from stress, anxiety, boredom, and physical pain; and—once habit takes hold—a familiar comfort zone. If it can be hard to say “no” to a friend’s “Oh, don’t be scared, just a little won’t hurt you,” it’s nothing short of agony to say “no” to your own mind and body when they’re screaming for their accustomed fix. Especially since there’s no walking away and they may take days to shut up.
The main problem with “just say no” lies in that little opener “just.” A word of many definitions, it carries here the sense of “only, no more than.” In other words, all you need is a negative, a rejection, a deprivation.
Abstinence: Nature Abhors a Vacuum
The saying “Nature abhors a vacuum” goes back to Aristotle, yet we still ignore its implications for our lives. Open an airless compartment, and outside air roars in like a hurricane. Leave important things for “whenever I have time,” and your time will fill up with busywork. Count it too much trouble to figure out your own purpose and values, and you’ll soon believe everything you read on the Internet. Try to lose weight by starving yourself, and even if you make it, your next step will be right back into overeating and accumulating pounds.
Try to fight substance abuse with a head-on “I’ll never touch it again,” and your resolve will only last to the first crisis point.
Making Goals Instead of Focusing on Abstinence
Don’t delude yourself that that crisis point won’t come; life is not known for its interest in making things easy for us. The old temptations and frustrations, the overload and delays and unneeded e-mails, are not going to unanimously agree to go on hiatus until we build our willpower up to full strength. And if they did, our willpower would only grow weaker, not stronger, for absence of exercise—unless we gave it something else to exercise itself on. Something such as learning a new skill, building a healthy habit, or getting active in a good cause—something that would make our lives more effective and give us something stronger to live for than easy escape from negative circumstances.
That’s the real secret of walking away from substance abuse: before relapse or something else easy-but-mindless jumps into the vacuum left by abstinence, take proactive steps to fill the vacated spot with something that really makes life worth living. Override the negatives in your life with a positive, not another negative. You’ll probably need to take serious stock of yourself and figure out what major positive is most meaningful to you; if you’re on a 12 Step recovery program (and even if you aren’t), the “searching self-inventory” of Step 4 will be helpful.
Avoiding Common Pitfalls
Once you pinpoint a major goal or two, do not look at it and moan “impossible” or “it’ll take years.” And don’t fall into the “victim” trap that stalls most people (with or without substance-abuse issues) in the “safe, boring, and meaningless” stage. Although it may seem as if “I want to write a book/go back to school/walk the Appalachian Trail, and it’s all the fault of life circumstances/other people’s demands that I can’t fulfill that dream,” the truth is that if granted a year off from work and an unlimited supply of money for that year, the majority of dreamers would still spend their days on whatever looked immediate and interesting rather than take the trouble involved in planning and effort toward significant goals.
They don’t really want to achieve; they just want what they see as the problem-free results of that achievement, and will always find excuses to blame life for not giving it to them without any effort on their part. If something isn’t important enough to you that you’re willing to make time for it wherever you are now, you’re not going to make time for it when circumstances improve.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Abstinence
We’ll talk more about coping with impatience and procrastination over the next few weeks, but right now, here is the step-by-step approach to changing your life focus from negative to positive through abstinence:
- Write down your biggest dream(s). Set your mind free; don’t even think about whether your dreams are “practical” or “possible.”
- Visualize how wonderful it will feel to live for your dream, and make up your mind that achieving it is worth giving up anything else—from evening television to alcohol and opiates, to others’ approval, to “security.”
- Pinpoint a series of specific and measurable goals that will move you closer toward your dream.
- Break these goals into action steps—specific things you can do to achieve the goals segment by segment. Ideally, choose steps that take only fifteen minutes to an hour, so you can make time to do something on them every day.
- Schedule the action steps—either the full list from the beginning, or (if you tend to overestimate how fast things will get done) as you finish each preceding step. Have an official calendar for this; hard-copy calendars written in ink are especially good if you’re serious about fully committing yourself.
- (Optional but highly recommended) Find someone to hold you accountable to the goals and encourage you to stay the course.
- (To borrow another popular motto) Just Do It!
Following the above program will not only help you accomplish something meaningful, it’ll keep your mind on better things than substance abuse or “just” saying no.
Recovery Involves More than Abstinence
Abstinence isn’t enough when it comes to achieving lasting sobriety. Located near Houston, Texas, Kemah Palms Recovery offers high-quality addiction therapy services to clients in search of change. Our methods include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Family therapy
- Group therapy
Regain control of your life today. Call Kemah Palms Recovery now at 866.604.1873.