As I've mentioned before, I have a painful physical condition that severely limits my ability to do the most ordinary things. I had surgery in June, but it didn't "take" and I entered December nearly as bad off as I was before. I receive my medical care from the VA, and while they do amazing work once they get organized, getting organized can take an extraordinary amount of time. Long story short, I finally saw the neurosurgeon again and he told me I had re-herniated the disk the operation had supposedly fixed, and now there was some concern about the disk below. This is why I keep falling over for no apparent reason and am occasionally having surges of pain that literally leave me on the floor. His recommendation? A second surgery.
I have said that if it meant I could walk to the back of the grocery store unassisted they could saw me in half, but facing a second operation on my spine in six months left me a little dazed. On top of that, with it being a holiday season, I assumed approvals through fee-basis (the section of the VA that handles paying for care outside the VA itself) would take even longer than usual. Instead, I had a call yesterday that I was "cleared for takeoff" and should be scheduled for surgery by the middle of January.
Oh, happy day! Things went perfectly this time around, no foot-dragging or second opinions or other red-tape. I could not be happier! But ... nothing is ever this easy. Something will go wrong. There's a shoe out there to ready hit me in the head and ruin everything. What will I do then?
Do any of those thoughts sound familiar? They are very common in early recovery, as women start to feel stronger--only to have old negative ways of thinking start jumping up and down in front of them. In other words, they panic because they can't believe they are actually doing what is needed to become sober. Many of us come to the moment of choosing life over alcohol having tried and failed before. We dredge up old memories of thinking things were going right, only to be shot down for some reason or another. We are so conditioned to look for the negative that seeing an open road before us is terrifying; our minds start creating all sorts of "what-if"s that must be hiding in the bushes waiting for us to take the next step forward.
Negative thoughts destroy only myself. I'm not suggesting that recovery is free of pitfalls and challenges. There will be many along the way. What is important is that we don't create even more by assuming the worst instead of embracing the best. Each step we take away from a life controlled by alcohol makes us stronger; it is up to us to recognize that we are indeed living a New Life and that what has happened in the past is not a wrecking ball certain to cause us to fail in the future. One of the issues we face in early sobriety is known as "awfulizing", where we convince ourselves that a future without alcohol will be much worse than what we are accustomed to. Removing those negative thoughts is vital in assuring our success. As my grandmother used to say: "Don't be so convinced the fox will get the hens that you don't bother to close the gate." Don't let "what-if"s wreak havoc because you can't believe they won't.
In other words, don't panic when things go right! Learn to live in the now, to accept and relish success in this moment instead of looking to the future or past. The past is gone forever, and without alcohol in our lives, we are no longer those women. We have changed, and so what happened then can't be a guideline for what happens now. You have certainly heard commercials for investments that say "past performance is not a guarantee of future profit." Indeed, no matter how much a situation appears to parallel something in the past, important variables have changed. Our judgment is no longer clouded by alcohol, we have seen what doesn't work, and we are actively seeking a better life.
Looking to the future can also be dangerous. If we assume a future failure, there is little reason to enjoy the present. Instead of believing that good things in the present can translate into good things in the future, we dismiss what has gone right and start looking for what will destroy our forward motion. Recovery is very much based in the now. We are sober this breath, this moment, this hour. What has happened before is gone and what might happen in the future cannot be predicted. Instead of panic, we should embrace our success--no matter how small--and see that success as building our inner strength. The stronger we become in the now, the further away the past becomes. The stronger we become in the now, the more likely we are to be successful in the future as well.
If you find yourself looking for negative outcomes to present success, try this: Close your eyes and imagine yourself overcoming any obstacle that might come your way. Focus on the inner satisfaction and pride that being successful brings. Now look at what steps you took in your imagination to reach that goal. Even if they seem silly or impossible, they represent your ability to choose how to face difficulty. If you can imagine being successful, you can be successful. This exercise can be difficult at first; breaking through negativity is not always an easy process. If you find yourself struggling with thoughts such as, "I can't do this" or "Nothing I do will change my future", take a deep breath and kick that thought to the road. That's right. You can be the shoe, only what you destroy isn't your success, it's negativity. Turn the tables and be the one in control of your thoughts and actions!
It is reality that things won't always go your way, regardless of how much visualizing or planning you do. There will be times when the only thing you can control is your own reaction. In my case, I can't magically make the pain go away. I can't cure myself by simply visualizing being cured. What I can do, and what is important, is that instead of panicking because things are going well I can embrace the forward motion. What happens after today is out of my control, but for today I can recognize that right now, right at this moment, things are going well. I am what I think; I can choose whether to be a victim or a warrior. I choose to be a warrior. I choose to face the future knowing that no matter what happens, I don't ever have to give up. Ever.
Think about that concept today. In your recovery, are you a victim or a warrior? It's up to you whether to assume you will fail, or to gird yourself with the knowledge that things do go right and face the future strong and determined. Life can be ordinary, or life can be great. Don't panic when things go right--recovery is an ongoing process and the only true failure is surrender.