This discussion topic about reactive vs. proactive recovery is from one of our friends in recovery, Sam. Thanks to Sam for contributing to the group discussion and for the time he put into collecting his thoughts. If you’re interested in sharing a discussion topic, please reach out to me here.
I’ve been doing daily check-ins every night with my wife for several months. However, this last week she got on me a couple of times about how I was doing it. One day I told her how I was triggered at the store by the magazines at the check-out. She said she doesn’t want a list of triggers, but wants to know what I did to protect myself and to respond to triggers. The next day we were watching a movie, and it was triggering, but I didn’t do anything (e.g., I didn’t turn off the movie, leave, or go make a call). Initially she apologized for the movie, but then later became angry realizing that she isn’t responsible for my recovery. In essence, accountability to me has just been reporting triggers, etc., not being responsible for actually dealing with them in a healthy way. It became apparent to me that I am being reactive rather than proactive in my recovery.
Here’s more evidence of this. I frequently talk to my therapist about how I feel a lot of fear and anxiety about all the attractive neighbors I have, the attractive women at church and work, etc. I joked about how I wished when I moved to a new home we would have searched for the ugliest neighborhood around. I essentially feel like a victim of circumstance. She responded that I was being acted upon, rather than acting. This goes against all the scriptures that talk about how we have agency and should act, rather than be acted upon.
I remember a workshop awhile back with Adam Moore (a well-known local sex addiction therapist). He gave guidance on how to do a check-in with your spouse. He said when accounting to your spouse each day, you report the trigger (but not in too much detail), and then what you did about it (e.g., journaling, making a call, praying, redirecting, etc.), and perhaps what you commit to doing in the future. I have just been doing the first part (here’s the triggers I had today), but not the latter (I wasn’t doing anything about them). This is not effective recovery.
So, my question for you all is what you do to be more proactive in your recovery, rather than reactive? I’d like this blog post to be about your mindset, habits, dailies, bottom lines, rules, routines, commitments, practices, resources, etc., that help you be more proactive in recovery.
Thanks for sharing this Sam. I think for me, it’s very often a back and forth game with my recovery being proactive and reactive. Some days I act like the victim, and some days I stay ahead of it by being present to myself and my feelings. I know an important tool for me has been developing a healthy routine. And by healthy routine, I mean that I learn to live with certain priorities that are the same each day. I actively work my recovery each day because I give it priority. This often consists of reading, studying, and writing down thoughts from recovery-focused books and writing about my feelings and thoughts in a journal most morning and nights. These are tools that I have found help me each day to remain aware and grow. It’s not a check list for me. I try not to wake up and say to myself, “Alright, I’ve gotta get my reading and writing done before I can get to my work stuff.” In my past, I would often approach things with that checklist mentality and end up acting out as soon as I was finished checking it off.
Another habit that I’ve just recently started developing is checking in with my wife multiple times during the day. And not just about triggers or struggles, but just with my plans as they change during the day. How long I will be working, where I’m going, who I’m meeting with and why. All of it. In the past I often felt I had the right to just keep my things to myself. “She doesn’t need to know about everything. She’s being so co-dependent!” This has been a great tool for both of us as it helps me to stay in the light, and it helps ease my wife’s fears that I may be hiding something. There’s been improved trust on both sides.
Awesome thoughts Sean. I agree so much about the checklist and then acting out soon after: that was me too. It’s like I would check off the “good guy” card and then do whatever I wanted to.
I too can get reactive in my recovery some times. Generally this looks like me focusing on what someone else said in a meeting, how someone else is doing in their recovery, or how I can’t believe what that person said/wore/etc. NONE of these things are helpful, ever. They are rowing others’ boats and not looking at the beam in my own eye.
Thanks again for you comment.
I have nothing of value to add to this post other than to thank Sam for bringing to my attention how completely reactive my recovery is. I guess the beauty of ‘one day at a time’ is that you get to recognize or learn from others where you are dropping the ball in your attempts at sobriety. I’m glad God is a patient man..
Here is a cool metaphor I found while considering this principle, it is a good one for me to see myself in.:
Let’s take the example of the two swimmers on the choppy seas: The difference between them is that the proactive swimmer anticipates that there will be waves, whereas the reactive one is painfully surprised by each wave.
The difference is one of perspective. The proactive swimmer sees the big picture: each wave is not an isolated incident, but is part of a pattern. While there is stress in dealing with difficult circumstances, there is a consistency and a logic to the environment. There’s a degree of predictability.
With this bigger picture in mind, the proactive swimmer is able to adapt to the ups and downs. As he does so, he “learns” the patterns of the waves from inside out, so that his reactions become more and more spontaneous, more and more in tune with the rhythm of the waves.
So, being proactive means being able to anticipate what the future will be, and to react accordingly before it actually happens.
What is it that prevents the reactive swimmer from doing so? It could be lack of information. There are plenty of events in life that we simply cannot predict. It could also be lack of intelligence: some people are better than others at thinking in terms of patterns.
But let’s assume, for the moment, that our two swimmers have both the same levels of information and intelligence. Then, the difference between them would simply be that the proactive swimmer has enough energy to take in the available information and adapt to it. In contrast, the reactive swimmer is exhausted and overwhelmed (“Somebody get me out of here, please!”).
Great analogy. I totally see this in action. Proactive recovery involves a lot of planning ahead, being aware, being “mindful,” etc. It isn’t just going with the flow. I think, though, it is more than energy/motivation. It is also humility and honesty. I usually am more reactive because I think it will be fine. I over estimate my abilities and under estimate triggers. When I am proactive, I come up with a game plan anyway, even if I feel like it will be fine. I am also having to learn to be comfortable but prepared for the ups and downs of life. Even though this last 6 months have been great, it hasn’t always been great. I’ve been off sometimes, and needed to correct my course and get back on track. In reactive recovery, I would know something was wrong, but wouldn’t do anything about it, until after relapse. In proactive recovery, I come to a point of humility where I admit to myself, God, and others that I am not doing well and need to dig deep to figure out why, and to get back on track.
Thanks for the comments brothers. I see now how I have been reactive rather than proactive in my recovery. One proactive activity I have been learning, and that my wife made one of our boundaries from the very beginning was checking in. If I do it correctly and truthfully, it is a great way to keep me from acting out, and for her to feel safe. I check in when I get to work, let her know if I’m going anywhere, and why, and check in when I get back. This helps prevent me from veering off the path. I also do the daily check in on the drive home from work to let her know how my day was, what anxieties or stress, or negative emotions I had. But I also let her know the good things, what scriptures I read, and what I did that day to work on recovery. This has helped me learn how to communicate with her. I now need to learn to do this with my sponsor more often. I still struggle to keep constant contact with him. That is my goal.
This is an interesting topic. Like many others, I find myself waffling between being proactive and reactive. Luckily, I think I am more proactive than reactive. I am more than three years sober and more than two years in recovery and I do not experience triggers much anymore. Or rather, I do not experience many triggers to act out in lust anymore.
I might be tempted to think I don’t experience triggers anymore, but the reality is, I do experience triggers to follow my character weaknesses. I believe that the farther I go down those paths, the closer I get to triggers for lust. I am triggered to act in avoidance, to escape reality, and those types of things.
How do I address these triggers? First, I try to be consistent in my daily prayers, scripture study, and planning in the mornings and my evening inventory and journal writing. These are my proactive approach. I especially find help in my journal writing where I ask myself pointed questions like, “What are my feelings today?” and then spend time prayerfully writing to answer the question. I find that I often see things and write about them that I had not recognized until I asked the question and prayerfully pondered it. Another question is, “What does God want me to recognize and understand today?” I share all of this material with my accountability partner, my wife, my sister, and one of my brothers. It keeps me doing it and makes me be more sincere. Seldom does it inhibit what I write, though sometimes I think of how my wife will react.
My reactive approach, when I have these triggers which are still present even when I am following my proactive approach, though to a lesser extent, is to talk to others about how I am feeling. Since these triggers are not triggers for lust, but my character weaknesses, I can talk freely to anybody about them and not fear outing myself to somebody that would be inappropriate to confide in that I am recovering from an addiction to lust.
With all that said, I do struggle with the triggers for my character weaknesses, especially avoidance and a desire to escape reality. But I fight these before they build into triggers for lust.
Thanks Sam, this was a great post. I think one of the best things I can do to be proactive in my recovery is to be very mindful of my emotions and of how I feel physically. If I notice I’m extra tired and I’m wanting that lunchtime soda before lunch then I know I need to be vigilante about my thoughts and surroundings. Likewise if I’m feeling stressed about work I need to be very careful about where my thoughts are. It is easy for my thoughts to wander towards negative feelings, or anger, or blaming, and even resentment. If I’m tired or sick, or stressed I know that I need to be mindful of where my mind is and that helps me to reach for positive coping strategies, rather than reactive coping!
“In reactive recovery, I would know something was wrong, but wouldn’t do anything about it, until after relapse.” – This helpless victim mentality is quite familiar to me, I have been slipping into this pool of deception recently, even got my head underwater a bit. Gratefully I have many things lined up to help me including a weekly therapy session and I went even though I didn’t want to. we talked about it. We talked about the cravings and patterns of relapse. I recognize that I want to relapse, or a huge part of me does, I want to be a victim so that I can justify relapse. I have found myself thinking “Maybe a relapse will motivate me to work on my recovery harder…” I picture riding a bike. It makes sense…. to race down hill and then have momentum up the other side… except for the bog at the bottom. How many times have I tried this approach? make myself feel worse to help me work harder, get a bit of a thrill on the way down….only to find myself stuck in the pit.
proactive recovery- as my therapist put it is offense instead of defense. Make a plan, stick to it. review what happened make more plans. surround yourself with a team. It requires humility and honesty. Mindfulness.
reactive recovery for me has been to believe I am too tired, or too busy to work on recovery or my favorite one “I just don’t have enough time” which… is victim mentality. I am also a victim of my own feelings “I don’t feel like writing in my journal”
One more thing I wanted to share.. I made the mistake of sharing triggers with my wife, we were at an event… I thought I was being honest, trying to be open and not to hide from her. so I shared… I was pleased with myself it had been a huge effort on my part. Her reaction wasn’t at all what I expected…. didn’t she realize I was trying to be honest… I had recently listened to an Adam more mp3 talking about this very thing.
It took us some time to navigate through this emotional mine field but we finally figured out that I had only shared the triggers, which in itself didn’t add to my wife’s security, she needed the plan. what am I doing or going to do about the triggers, how can I fix it. How am I going to be proactive.