Let the change in season fuel your recovery from addiction
In my mind, spring is the most glorious of seasons. I think of the beautiful blooms on the budding trees. The early flowers poking up, the daffodils and crocuses and the robins suddenly appearing, and all the little birds busily twittering and building.
I love that moment when the bleak landscape and stark, spiky branches first start looking sort of lacy -- fuzzy, with a tinge of green. Little patches of fresh, tender green new growth start showing. The buds on the trees swell and open and then burst into bloom and the tiny new leaves are everywhere, all at once, that unmistakable bright, fresh green.
But there’s another side to spring. It’s a tough season.
And sometimes nature is brutal. March comes in like a lion, as they say. The plants and animals have one foot still stuck in winter, with everything impatiently straining to run riot. Snow or ice can hit and wipe out all kinds of trees and little animals and disrupt everything up and down the line. Storms can be fierce, and much-needed rains can create floods and tear down tree branches and sweep away huge swaths of life. And unexpected weather systems or disasters can knock out plants (and cities) for a season or change the landscape permanently.
Perspective on Changes in Life, Changes in Moods
Our lives mirror nature. We have seasons and moods of vigor and joy and other times we’re hit with periods of seeming stagnation, discontent or even catastrophe. The causes can be internal and external.
It’s easy to feel like the things that happen to us and our reactions are immeasurably large. They’re shocking, because they’re new and unexpected and personal, and we don’t always cope the way we think we will (or should).
But we tend to judge ourselves so harshly and think we’re unique in our shortcomings. Context can help us realize that no one escapes life unscathed. No matter our pain, there are others suffering similarly (and worse).
Many people had terrible childhoods or were the victims of bullying or became immersed in toxic relationships, or dropped out of life in various ways, gave up their dreams, found life looking empty, or even unbearable. Sickness, mental health issues, loss, stress, anxiety and sadness. These are facts of life, much as we may wish otherwise.
We often hide our pain and yet long for other people to recognize it. And so does everyone else. Even those with the “charmed” lives.
For me, it’s important to remember that my life’s ups and downs are both transitory and cyclical. States of being, the seasons, the decades, don’t stay fixed. Life happens around us even when we’re not fully participating. New winds blow. Children grow. We work. We try to make meaning of our lives as we go. And our own moods change and shift around over time -- as does our sense of ourselves, our lives, and what’s important to us.
So what’s that have to do with addiction?
Ah, well, I believe that we tend towards and get stuck in addiction when we feel like our emotions, our circumstances, or our habits are overwhelming, that things can never get better and that it’s too hard to try.
But, like everything else in nature, we’re wired to grow, to try, to keep on going. Look at the little birds or animals. If something happens, there is an imperative to move on and try again.
Trying and Failing
We expect children to try and to fail. But somehow we lose that sense that experimenting and trying new things that we’re not good at is okay when we’re adults.
The stakes are higher, true, but not every little failure or mistake is terrible or insurmountable. We learn. We correct. We do better.
Think about any physical or mental skill. Playing the piano. Typing. Riding a bike. Playing a sport. We adapt to the circumstances and tap into our own strengths, and try to correct and minimize our weaknesses.
We can figure out what helps us live our best lives. Some of us decide we want to quit using drugs or drinking or disordered eating (etc.), and it can involve some mental focus -- to determine to try; and lots of practice, to overcome all the million little habits we’ve built in around our addictive substances or behavior.
Also, the willingness to rise again if we get off-track or we fall down or our motivation flags. To trust in the power of perseverance. To try one more time. To learn from where we faltered.
And think about measuring success in terms of “simply” quitting. Yes, quitting is hard. But quitting is removing one thing. The joy in recovery is finding new things to fill that space, and those are limitless!
We’re not perfect. Perfection is an unrealistic goal. Improvement. Progress. Excellence. Enjoyment of our activities. Now those are doable.
Being safe and comfortable
We have gotten very used to the idea that we should be safe and comfortable at all times -- to a degree way beyond that of survival and basic safety. We are so unaccustomed to the idea of being uncomfortable, that we start doing everything we can to stave it off.
We turn to things that hurt us instead of helping us, or we double-down on behavior that’s not serving us well, like drugs, alcohol or behaviors that help us calm down, tune out, and escape.
There are tons of legit arguments to be made with regard to the benefits and value of comfort and treating ourselves well. Sure. But we don’t have to automatically tune out life and experience in favor of, by definition, a distance in dealing with the world -- as through a fog.
It’s Too Hard
The more we give into the idea that it’s too hard to work at things, that there’s no use in trying, or that we’re bound to fail anyway, the harder it is to do anything, including deal with our addictive habits. In fact, they reinforce all of that and it can become a perfect circle.
I can’t deal with my stress, so I NEED to drink [insert habit of choice], which creates anxiety and stress, which makes me NEED it even more, which ...
Addictive habits provide an illusion of comfort that it’s okay. We’re too messed up. We wouldn’t be able to do it anyway. We can’t cope. We NEED it.
There’s a Better Way
We can look through a slightly different lens --
Trying and Failing
I can try again
I do NOT fail at everything. I’ve learned to read, tie my shoes, speak a language …
There are lots of things I’ve succeeded at, or I wouldn’t be a (reasonably) functional, alive human being right at this point.
Just because it feels bad doesn’t mean I can’t stand it
I can stand a little discomfort. It probably won’t be as bad as I’m imagining.
I can try new things
I can learn ways to cope better
It’s too hard
This is hard, but I can do it.
This is hard, but I can start by doing ____ for 5 minutes
I’ve done lots of things that are hard, and it feels good once I’ve done them
Even if it’s hard, I can choose what I REALLY want to do, what is better for ME, long-term
Create simple statements that are true and that you can actually believe. Say them in your head or out loud.
We Can Grow Stronger
Now, let’s go back to nature for a moment. Think about trees in nature.
They weather storms. They lose branches, sometimes brutally. Some of them become disfigured and jagged from nature’s insults, but they persist. Not all. Not always, but many. They grow new branches. They stubbornly grow and bloom and show new leaves with whatever they have left, season after season, relentlessly, and fearlessly.
They read the signs from nature that spring is on the way, that the days are warming up, best they can, but once they go, they go. New growth starts, relentlessly! And the resilient ones grow gorgeous and strong.
I think we’re like that too. Life’s blows are inescapable, and we wrestle with them the best we can. But in the end, we can keep on trying. There are great joys and fruits and beauty and blossoms out there. Life is hard sometimes, but we are blessed with many, many seasons and years and even decades. I find people amazingly resilient and filled with beauty, even if that isn’t always apparent at a particular point in time. We are ripe with possibility, just like all the rest of nature as long as we are alive.
Tuning into the seasons of nature helps me cultivate a perspective of seeing how life cycles through regular seasons and rhythms. In spite of all the day-to-day weather, in our lives, there is an inevitable rhythm and pull of time and experience.
It helps me envision continuing to strive, to grow, and to engage with life meaningfully, thriving in the many moments of pure joy available. In recovery, I’ve found nature a touchstone in so many ways.