Contributor: Paul Pound, MS, Mphil, LPC, LCADC, ACS, Private Practice
There are often moments during holidays when those in recovery are faced with the choice of attending a support group meeting or an invitation to a holiday party. The intention of the meeting is well known and the individual in recovery is aware of the support groups’ desired outcome of continued abstinence from their addictive substance or action.
Support groups provide an opportunity to meet and greet those with a similar intention however you don’t know what others will say until participation has been achieved. Parties come with a feeling of anticipation of an outcome.
Often the invitation of a party provides an opportunity for a “good time” to be anticipated through memories occupied by a life of addictive behavior.
Following Through on Anticipated Goals
When imagining an anticipated future the mind does not recognize that the anticipated event has not occurred. An expectation is created (I should be enjoying myself because it’s a party) and the individual in recovery is pressured to align their mind with the expected result.
This potential anxiety producing situation is common for those who look too far into the future and expend energy on creating anticipated outcomes. The individual who is looking forward to the party that is over a week away and talks often about how much he is looking forward to it happening, is falling into the trap of creating an anticipated goal (AG).
Successful recovery is the ability to remain present – focused with attention dedicated to intention.
Finding a Flexible Approach to Anticipation – Intention
Intention is an open – minded, flexible approach that defines the outcome while recognizing both uncertainty and desire. The lack of expectation of the process frees the individual to become aware of the possibility of change required to reach a desired outcome (I am not enjoying myself, maybe I could say hello to some of the guests?).
The individual in a support meeting with intention is open to others ideas that contribute towards the desired outcome of abstinence.
Goal Setting with Intention
Goal setting with anticipation of the outcome leads to a pressure filled individual attempting to achieve what they already believe they are entitled. Goal setting with intention (IG) promotes questions concerning how the goal will be achieved due to the possibility of not fulfilling the intended goal.
The example of our individual who anticipates a “good time” at the party highlights the importance of intended goals. If the party is not going well, the mindset of intention may decide to end their participation as they realize a “good time” may not be experienced without compromising their recovery.
Developing intention requires an individual to attend to the present moment through mindful exploration of the desired outcome. Imagining possible actions acknowledges the possibility of changes that can occur and the difficulty of reaching a desired result.
The development of intention helps to produce the required determination and commitment when faced with a challenge while anticipation disregards the challenge which results in high anxiety when faced with an unexpected challenge and prospect of an inability to fulfill an entitled goal. The narrow mindset of the anticipated goal setter leaves little room for change.
Steps to Develop your Intention:
- Preserve your outcome goal
- Remain present – focused
- Remain open to change in the route to the outcome goal based on new knowledge
- Emphasize the process
The individual in recovery who chooses to attend a support group meeting has made a deliberate choice with intention to surround themselves with those with similar intentions. The flexibility of intention allows the individual to be open to new information that will help them to maintain recovery.
The Effect of the Party Atmosphere
Those who party and anticipate the excessive moments of fun, surround themselves with many who do not share a similar intention and have also anticipated the fun of excessive moments. The individual in this position often pays with the regret of relapsing due to the belief they are entitled like those around them to “some fun.”
Often the party atmosphere promotes extreme stimulation of the mind while the support meeting encourages an inner peace. Buddhist teachings tell us “without inner peace, outer peace is impossible” (Gyatso, 2007).
When faced with the choice between attending a support group meeting or holiday party remind yourself of your intention and your route to inner peace. Abstinence is a road that leads to integrity and peace while the party seeker often finds what they had anticipated.
Maintaining Your Intention
There are also party situations that you feel compelled to attend despite your awareness of the conflicting intentions of the people attending the party. Parties where you are bound by obligation, provide an opportunity to practice maintaining your intention despite viewing behavior that is not aligned with your outcome goal of abstinence.
Maintaining Your Intention:
- Ensure your actions match your intentions
- Surround yourself with those who support your intentions
- Leave an environment that is beginning to compromise your intentions
- Mindfully reflect on your intentions
Holidays are opportunity to enjoy your hard – earned life of recovery. Circling yourself with those who hold a similar intention presents the freedom to share with those you have most in common.
- Gyasto, G, K. (2007). Transform your life. Tharpa Publications, Glen Spey, NY.