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Achieving Excellence in Recovery
by Mark Sichel, LCSW

Now that you're sober and free to explore, grow, and develop, the first step to achieving excellence is admitting that you are not powerless in your quest to be the best you can be.

How do I know that you are not powerless? You were an addict, and I've never met an addict who was not exceptional. By that, I mean that an active alcoholic, drug addict, sex addict, food addict, or enabler will go to great lengths to meet their addictive needs. You all know your own histories, but I would dare say that each and every one of you was able to perform miracles of sorts when you needed your substance.

This level of determination, commitment, and perseverance -- which I have found in every recovering person -- can be transferred from your former quest for addictive substances to your current quest to be exceptional, whatever your goals may be in recovery. Your determination can be applied toward career goals, interpersonal relationships and spiritual development as well.

Case Histories

One of my clients in his second year of recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous discussed his marital problems with me. He told me that his wife felt that he didn't pay sufficient attention to her needs. She complained that he forgot to call her during his workday, as they had agreed he would do. I asked the man if he ever forgot to make plans for his cocktail hour when he was active. He responded with a knowing grin.

Later, the man told me he was too tired to be involved with his family at night. I asked him if he was ever too tired to go out drinking with his friends. I also reminded him that he never seemed too tired to go out late at night to buy cocaine. Again, he responded with a sheepish, but knowing, grin.

If this man learns to put energy and commitment into his marriage with the same fervor that he put into his addiction, his marriage will become stronger, more alive, and more gratifying for him as well as for his family. He is only one example of recovering addicts who seem unwilling to apply the same dedication they applied to their addiction toward achieving excellence in their personal lives and recovery.

Other clients tell me they want to work hard at their therapy, but then they arrive chronically late due to whatever the excuse of the day might be. I ask them if they were ever late to meet their drug dealer. The answer is, of course, a definitive no. No addict is ever late for an appointment with his or her dealer. Alcoholics never forget to purchase alcohol on Saturday if they live in a state where liquor stores close on Sunday.

Characteristics of Active Addicts

One of the most positive characteristics active addicts develop is that they are able to focus on the process of feeding their addiction, rather than on the outcome. They are, of course, concerned with the outcome (procuring the addictive substance), yet he or she is able to give total attention and devotion to each step of the process with total assurance the outcome will be achieved.

Oddly enough, active addicts develop many other positive characteristics through their addiction that they can apply to their personal life goals and their recovery:
  • Addicts put 100 percent into their addiction.

  • Addicts will go to any lengths to meet their addictive needs and goals.

  • Addicts show phenomenal tenacity, persistence, perseverence, and focus in their involvement with the addictive process.

  • Addicts will walk on water, if necessary, to procure their substance of choice.

  • Addicts will embrace any challenge, meet any adversity, and use all available psychological muscle to meet their addictive needs.

  • Addicts show tremendous bravery and fortitude when meeting their addictive needs.

The point I am trying to drive home is that each and every one of us has the capacity to achieve excellence in our lives and in our recovery by applying the same exceptional effort to our recovery goals that we once applied to our addictive goals. I believe that acknowledging these strengths that may be lying dormant inside of us can provide the hope and courage necessary to achieve excellence in all areas of our lives and recovery.

Were you a highly successful addict who struggles to achieve excellence in your personal life? Make a list of the qualities that made you exceptional in meeting your addictive needs. Think about how highly functioning you were when it came to your addiction. Then, look at your life and your recovery work. Think about ways in which you could apply this same focus and drive to healthier goals.

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