by Jon Worlton, LCSW
LifeStar of St. George, UT
The creation of and commitment to a written plan of action is a critical component of the recovery process. Early in Phase II we ask each life star participant to take the time to think through activities and behaviors that are important to them, and that nurture their growth and development in the five important areas in each of our lives: our physical, emotional, spiritual, relational & social, and intellectual selves. Todd Olsen and Dan Gray point out in the Tool Box pamphlet that the Action Plan is a tool to help implement our goals in these areas in a “regular and organized daily program.” They also point out that, “Eventually, this routine will become a healthy flow, and will replace your old self-destructive behaviors.”
The most common mistake I see with the Action Plan is that we create a wonderful written plan, share it with a therapist, group, and / or loved one, check it off of the list of assignments to be done in recovery, and then file it in a notebook rarely to be looked at again. To avoid that common mistake, I suggest developing the following practices.
First, in the beginning find time to review this plan on a daily basis. As you develop the habit of thinking about and intentionally organizing your days and weeks around your most important values, you may move from a daily review to a weekly review. I find Sunday’s to be a good time for this kind of review. During these daily or weekly reviews ask yourself, “Where in my schedule will these activities happen?” Put them in your calendar and then stay committed to your plan.
Second, regularly evaluate the effectiveness of your Action Plan. During the first three months of your recovery you may do this on a monthly basis and then, as you get your action plan “dialed in” to those activities that will be most supportive of good recovery, move to a quarterly review. In other words, your Action Plan needs to grow and develop as you learn new things about yourself, your addiction, and the healing process. As you review your action plan you will want to ask yourself some of the following questions:
Have I been following my plans? Why or Why Not?
Are the activities I committed myself to strengthening and nurturing my recovery like I thought they would?
Are these activities helping me stay connected to the important people in my life?
Are my plans helping me live true to my most important values?
Am I having some fun and recreation?
Have some of the activities lost their effectiveness?
Do I need to change up my routine?
Are there new bottom lines I need to add?
Third, beware of shame. It is not uncommon for group members to over commit themselves in their first couple of attempts at creating their action plan. When they fail to implement the plan perfectly they experience shame and rather than adjusting the plan to fit the reality of their lives they hide. Shame can keep you from honestly evaluating your commitments and the reasons you failed to meet them. Some times we fail because we didn’t prioritize our commitments and we need to make changes in our lifestyle. Sometimes we fail because we were trying to be superman in recovery. Trying to be perfect or “shiney” in recovery is a manifestation of the old addict self. Our plans should challenge us, but they should not overwhelm us. When you fail to follow through with your action plan, be accountable with a group member, therapist, friend, or sponsor, and ask for feedback.
It is now the middle of April. Spring is upon us, the temperatures in Southern Utah are wonderful, and Easter is around the corner. There is much to remind us of fresh starts, a new beginning, and restorations. Of course this also means that the first quarter of 2014 has come to a close. I find that taking time on a regular basis to take a step back from our busy and hectic lives to evaluate the progress we have made over the past 90 days is a critical part of recovery. This evaluation should naturally lead to plans and commitments that need to be a part of our recovery for the next 90 days. A phase II client recently shared this advise in group: “A slip does not begin with the presence of slip behaviors, it begins with the absence of recovery behaviors.”