Healing•Recovery • 5 minutes to read
Summer is considered by many to be a time of celebration marked by backyard BBQs, picnics, and family vacations. On the Fourth of July we celebrate our nation’s birth through concerts and fireworks shows. Often families celebrate the end of the school year and the resulting summer break by taking a family vacation together.
Growing up, I had many pleasant memories of our vacations to different parts of the United States. When I was in elementary school, we drove to Oklahoma to visit my aunt and uncle. During junior high school, my dad bought a travel trailer and we took a three-week trip to Yellowstone National Park and the Canadian Rockies. In high school, we spent many summers together at our lake cottage in northern Michigan. Perhaps you have similar memories. During each of these experiences, I would purchase mementos to remind me of our adventures together.
When I retired from the Navy, a retirement ceremony was held to celebrate my 27 years of service. Friends, colleagues, and family attended the ceremony representing the various duty stations where I had served throughout the years. This was a time of remembrance of both the good and bad: the accomplishments and friendships that marked this season of life and the lengthy deployments away from family. I received a medal from the commander commemorating my service, which also served as a memento of my accomplishments.
In recovery, it is important to celebrate our accomplishments. Alcoholics Anonymous uses different slogans to help participants remember fundamental principles of their recovery. One of these is “progress, not perfection.” When one of my group members has a relapse, I encourage them to take a self-inventory. Usually they are discouraged and plagued by various cognitive distortions telling them they are worthless or sexual purity is hopeless. I take them back to the beginning of their recovery and ask them to reflect on how their current relapse compares to before they began recovery. Often their acting out is a shorter duration of time. In the past, they would have covered it up, but now they are now living in openness and honesty in confessing it to the group. These are all signs of progress and should be celebrated! And while we are never content to remain where we are at in our recovery, it is essential to show ourselves grace and recognize that we are steadily moving forward.
One technique used in couples counseling to celebrate the progress made in relational recovery is a Joshua Memorial. This concept is taken from Everett Worthington’s Hope-Focused Marriage Counseling and is based on the passage out of Joshua 4 where God tells Joshua to erect a memorial of 12 stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel who crossed over the Jordan into the Promised Land when God rolled back the waters. It was to be a reminder to the people for all generations from where God had taken them and to where He was leading them. Likewise, Joshua Memorials can serve as reminders of the transformational work God has done in our lives and our marriages through the recovery process. Some examples the author uses are writing a song together, creating a piece of art, getting a professional picture taken, or creating a memory box containing homework assignments and memorable scriptures. For the single addict, this could be a tactile memento of their recovery such as a challenge coin or pin that they place in their survival kit.
In addiction recovery, emphasis is often misplaced on the behaviors we should not be doing instead of the healthy behaviors we should be practicing. Research has shown that it is very hard to discipline the brain to stop thinking undesirable thoughts, but much easier to dwell on desirable thoughts. For example, see how long you can go without thinking about a polar bear. Pretty difficult, isn’t it? This is also true when it comes to behaviors. This is the purpose of the Three Circles Tool (Sexual Integrity 101, Session 5). Instead of focusing on stopping the relapse behaviors in the inner circle, healthy recovery focuses on doing the self-care activities in the outer circle.
One of the defining characteristics of addicts is a lack of self-care, often born out of feelings of self-hatred. Subconsciously, addicts don’t feel that they deserve to be cared for, but God desires us to be healthy in each of these areas. The remedy is to begin practicing care of our body, soul, and spirit. When we do this, it brings our life into balance. When we don’t, we tend to careen out of control and engage in unhealthy coping behaviors. We should celebrate the lives God has given us and how we do this is through self-care.
An important piece of our self-care is relearning how to have fun. Unfortunately, many addicts have forgotten how to have fun and be playful, because they have trained themselves to isolate into unwanted sexual behaviors often to avoid intimacy. I know this was the case in my healing journey. I had to relearn how to have fun. This required me to think back to a time before my addiction and remind myself of the activities I did to have fun. The next step is actually going out and doing them. I find that when I am scheduling fun into my week, I experience a more positive mindset, which is critical to maintaining sobriety.
The other aspect of this is relearning how to play. One of my limbic lies is that real men don’t play. Dr. Mark and Debbie Laaser encourage their clients to play at ages appropriate to where they feel developmentally stuck. If you are a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, these moments can be redeemed through the children in your life. Use them as your play consultants. If this is not an option for you, then I find that Legos can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Relearning how to have fun and play again is a form of celebration.
A key component of the recovery process is celebration! As we enter into this season of celebration, let’s not forget to celebrate the progress we have made in our recovery and our relationships. Invite the important people in your life to be a part of this celebration. Remember that addiction is an intimacy disorder and isolation breeds unwanted behaviors. We were not created to do life alone, so find someone to celebrate with.
Happy Independence Day!