The Benchmarks of Early Recovery

BenchmarksBenchmarks tell us where we are, when we are being successful. As we move through the recovery process, we can observe trail markers or “benchmarks” that tell us we are successfully traveling on the path of recovery. They are progressively achieved. They reward our efforts, and indicate achievement and progress. They tell the addict that what he is doing is working.

Attaining the benchmarks builds confidence and faith and raises addiction recovery skills levels. Achieving the benchmarks tell those around the addict that change is taking place. These benchmarks become monuments of accountability, by reaching them we are testifying in a nonverbal way, that we are doing the work, that we are intent on personal change. As their achievement is observed by others, relationships and trust, that have been tested, can begin to be rebuilt.

The Benchmarks are:

#1. Establishing Sobriety: It is pretty simple. You say you don’t want to be an addict any more? Stop using your drug of choice and acting out. Many clinicians are unwilling to take clients into treatment relationships unless they have achieved sobriety. They recognize that healing isn’t an option as long as the client is in the grips of regular use. Not achieving sobriety is a roadblock to further recovery. We can’t go forward. We can’t jump ahead to work on recovery skills hoping they will help us find sobriety at a future date. It just doesn’t work that way. Our work is progressive and sequential, we cannot deviate from that. Sobriety must come first.

#2. Finding Hope: Finding hope is part of the equation that creates the Attitude of Recovery, Willingness. When enough faith and desire come together hope is generated. The absence of hope allows despair to flourish. It arrives in the addict after an uncountable number of failed attempts to quit using and change, it is energized and empowered by the addicts shame.

The adversary uses despair to bind hearts and minds in suffocating darkness. Despair drains from us all that is vibrant and joyful and leaves behind the empty remnants of what life was meant to be. Despair kills ambition, advances sickness, pollutes the soul, and deadens the heart. Despair can seem like a staircase that leads only and forever downward. (Uchtdorf, 2008) Nobody knows the downward staircase of despair like an addict. He has lost ambition, carries a deaden heart and lives a life with only empty remnants. Before recovery, the only defense has been to use and act out.

The coming of hope is a rather joyous sunrise for the addict. Feelings return that have been long absent. Leaving the dark heaviness of despair is exhilarating. Shame subsides, self hatred wanes, and the thought emerges, “Maybe I can do this. Maybe just maybe, there is reason for hope.”Recovery(LowRes)

#3. Willingness to Do The Work: When we achieve an ability to do the work we know we have achieved the Recovery Attitude of Willingness. We have gathered enough faith and humility that hope has been generated and a willing heart has emerged.

The indicator of willingness is humility. If it evaporates so does willingness and more importantly recovery progress. The absence of anger and contention indicate humility is present. When anger and contention dominate the addicts demeanor, humility is not present, and as stated, neither is recovery progress.

#4. Overcoming “The Wall”: Addicts often go on a confusing honeymoon with their recovery. The despair of addiction has been their lot. Why can’t I stop? What is wrong with me? Shame and self loathing cycles are common and feel like a tremendous weight, pressing down the addict. When change begins, the weight is lifted. The addict’s mood changes. Establishing some sobriety, killing secrets by confession, and feeling more hope than he can ever remember, is heady stuff. It feels good. Often euphoric.

That euphoric feeling leads to a mistaken belief of inevitable success. Sex addicts are especially susceptible to this. There is tremendous relief when they have finally made confession and been freed from the burden of their dark secrets. A feeling of invincibility and confidence ensues. Maintaining sobriety is not a challenge. This is the honeymoon period of recovery. It often lasts 45-90 days and can be so complete that the addict often wonders, “What is the big problem with addiction?” or “Did I really have a problem?”

As time passes, and the honeymoon ends, the addict inexplicably slips back into old acting out behaviors. He is stunned by the addiction’s return. Like the campfire that roars back to life after we thought it was “out”, the addict is caught off guard by the return of old behaviors. The experience devastates some. Old shame and despair return and eradicate the budding, newly established hope. The addict then faces the reality of what it means to be addicted.

The Matrix Treatment System, developed at UCLA as a treatment option for meth addiction, calls this phenomenon “The Wall.” It is the end of the honeymoon and is the demarcation point of the beginning of real recovery. Naivety about recovery is now gone. The true nature of the enemy is understood, we lost this round to the addiction, and now the real fight is on. For those who stagnate at this point or feel derailed, return to the beginning, reestablish the Attitudes of Recovery and begin anew.

#5. Making the move from Discovery to Recovery: There are several things that mark our passage from the Discovery to Recovery Phase of this healing process. Surviving “the wall” indicates we have truly come to understand our plight as an addict. If we have found “godly sorrow” and been able to establish and maintain sobriety, we have qualified ourselves for Recovery Phase.

#6. The Arrival of Serenity: Please recall The Big Book’s promise: If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and happiness…We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. The arrival of serenity is a very important benchmark. It validates our efforts. It gives new confidence, strengthens our faith and resolve, and brings us a new level of hope and comfort. We are on the right path. We can do this.

Serenity is the state in which spiritually we feel the presence of the Spirit of the Lord in our lives. We will have drawn closer to Him. Emotionally we have silenced our emotional storms, we are at peace. Mentally we are aware of a new clarity and a quiet confidence growing within us.Candels(lowres)

#7. The Regular Happening of “Aha Moments”: “Aha” moments tell us we are “getting” it. They are moments of clarity and new vision, the raw materials from which we build our bridge to recovery. “Aha” events are moments of new understanding, when we see things in a “new light.” They indicate growth and change are occurring.

#8. Completing Recovery Phase: The Recovery Phase is about change making, the remaking ourselves so that we can live without our drug of choice. We have extinguished the emotional bond between our feelings and acting out. We have learned new life skills and emotional management skills that allow us to participate in life in healthy, happy ways. We have moved closer to the Savior and feel His influence in our lives.

Again it is the continual presence of serenity that tells us when we are ready to move from Recovery to Maintenance. If serenity is our constant companion, we have made the changes that Recovery requires; we are ready for Maintenance.

#9. Therapeutic Resolution of Underlying Issues: Therapeutic resolution of underlying issues can amazing results for the addict. Often when resolution is found a myriad of behaviors fall away.

Jeanie was recovering from an alcohol addiction. One of the underlying issues for her was the physical and emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of her alcoholic father. She was very codependent and made bad relationship choices. Her friend kept harping at her about needing to set better boundaries. Jeanie never really “got” what her friend was talking about. As Jeanie progressed through therapy, began healing from her abuse and gaining new self esteem, she came to value herself, she also became less codependent and made much better relationship choices. She set much better boundaries without knowing that was what she was doing. It just felt natural to do with her new healing. Codependency, self-esteem, and relationship choices were never the central focus of her therapy, but all improved or fell away when the underlying issues were resolved.

Unresolved issues will always pull us toward our addiction. We can go forward much more efficiently without them.

#10. Accomplishing 12 step work…and starting over: The 12 steps are a work that is never done, accomplishing them to the point of enjoying the promised blessings is a benchmark of recovery. The 12 steps, even after we attain the benchmark can continue to bring us healing. When Albert Einstein was administering a test in one of his teaching assignments, his graduate assistant noticed that the test looked familiar.

“Dr. Einstein, isn’t this the same test you gave last term?”

“Yes,” replied Einstein, “it is.”

“But how can you do that, give the same test 2 terms in a row?”

“Because, [if they are learning], the answers change.”

So it is with step work. As we grow and heal, as our insight and understanding increases, our answers change. That pattern of growth can continue throughout our life. We need to revisit the steps often; we harvest healing each time we do.

#11. Continued Serenity and Sobriety: When we started this journey we learned that without sobriety there is no recovery. That truth never changes, and serenity prayerone of the benchmarks we look for in advanced recovery is the attaining of substantial time in sobriety. There is not a fixed date or amount of time, just continued, one day at a time, accumulation of sobriety without our drug of choice.

Perhaps the continued presence of serenity is an even more meaningful benchmark than sobriety. We achieve sobriety by not using, we achieve serenity by doing all the things that lead to the healing of recovery. If we have serenity, we have moved away from our addictive thoughts and behaviors and are walking down a different street; truly living in the safe Waters of Recovery.

#12. The Mighty Change of Heart: The capstone of recovery is the “mighty change of heart.”  It is the culmination of our work. Moving away from the life of “I want what I want, when I want it.” To a spiritually based life that seeks to keep the Savior’s directive to…love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first great commandment. And the second is like unto it,…love thy neighbor as thyself. (Matthew 22: 37-39)

When we move from the isolated, selfish life of addiction to the spiritual world of love and service to others, our heart undergoes a tremendous overhaul. Alma asks, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced the mighty change in your hearts?

Then he asks the question about Maintenance,….if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?