One of the most annoying things about talking to a counselor is that we’ll often answer a question with a question. The best of us do this because we seek to foster increased confidence and improved insight in decision making. If I answer a client’s questions for them (personal ones like life choices) I teach them to depend on me and not themselves. Worse, I allow them to make me an authority figure. Most folks in recovery tend to have rough track records with authority figures (usually long before we started using).
We do so much of what we do without consciously choosing it. We fear making decisions and so we surrender choice and personal power to others. Most often we delegate a lover or a close family member to defer to. We see them as being more grounded, more experienced, or wiser than ourselves.
The biggest downside of this approach is that over time we come to resent the very people we give power to. Assigning decision making means we won’t take credit for successes and are more likely to avoid taking accountability when we fail. In order to build faith in our decision making, we must learn to utilize effective problem solving strategies and to connect to our intuition.
Stop Asking for Advice
Advice is what we ask for when we know the truth and we hate it. Most often we’re ashamed of the problem and afraid of the solution. We go to others with hypothetical questions and veiled issues because we fear the vulnerability of admitting where we’re at and showing how we feel.
Asking for advice is most often a covert means of seeking reassurance. What we’re really looking for is for someone to come up with the same solution we have, but without half the facts or history of how we got there. The better strategy is to lay our cards out on the table and share the decision we’ve come to. Passive approaches never work. We have to ask for what we need.
Self doubt plagues us. Most of us learned from an early age not to trust what we perceive. This occurred frequently and insidiously in our childhoods. We were invalidated, disaffirmed and disempowered. We were told well meaning lies (“He’s not drunk he’s just being silly.” “Dad’s not passed out. He’s napping”).
Through the course of addiction, our ability to trust was systematically undermined by every lie we told ourselves and others. Minimization, rationalization, justification – they’re all nice words for lying.
I worked with an old timer in AA years ago who dispensed common sense solutions to personal problems. She’d tell folks, “No matter how healthy I get, I still assume that if something’s wrong, it must be me. Instead of wrestling with self-doubt, I maintain three or four very close friendships. Whenever I’m unsure, I call one of them up and just tell them what’s happening in my head and then I trust them to either challenge my thinking or tell me I’m okay.” That’s as solid and as real as it gets.
Get to the Root
Even in recovery we have a propensity for rearranging the patio furniture on the Titanic. When we’re uncomfortable with what’s really wrong, we sometimes agonize over decisions that really don’t matter. Example: I’m afraid of working my fourth step in AA so I reconsider my choice of sponsors. If I can convince myself that I’ve chosen the wrong person; I can find someone new and start over.
I’m a huge proponent of the Keep It Simple System (K.I.S.S.). If ever we’re in doubt as to what the root of any problem is, it’s because we’re conflicted. Fear, shame, and the desire to avoid pain accounts for nearly all of our turmoil. Perspective is the key to any decision. Being conflicted within ourselves causes us to lose perspective.
Moving Out of Black and White
The hallmark of addictive thinking is that everything is an equal and opposite dichotomy. Everything is all or nothing, now or never, good or bad. Fear narrows our perspective and limits what we’re able to perceive. Coping needs to come before decision making. It’s simple: We make better decisions when our thoughts aren’t overshadowed by negative emotions. Utilize your support system and you allow good folks to help you gain clarity.
Trust Your Instincts
My experience is that the best decisions come when we choose to follow our “gut feelings.” Each of us has strong intuition. Nearly all of us had to learn what counselors call “survival skills” in order to endure the dangers of our childhoods and/or our lives in active addiction. We have the ability to sense how things are and how they’re likely to unfold. One of the greatest areas of growth in recovery comes when we transform the skills we used to survive into strategies that improve our quality of life.
Jim LaPierre LCSW, CCS, is a recovery ally, clinical therapist, and addictions counselor. He publishes weekly for the Recovery Rocks section for the Bangor Daily News and welcomes your questions and concerns via firstname.lastname@example.org.