Are You Leaving? Or Are You Going?

Posted on January 6, 2015

Making Something Important
by Hank Robb, Ph.D., ABPP

A person was walking down a street and saw two women sitting with wool yarn and knitting needles. Curious, our observer asked, “What are you doing?”

The first said, “I’m making one stitch after another.”

The second answered, “I’m keeping my child safe and warm from the winter wind.”

Which of these two would you rather be?

Building and maintaining motivation is the first point in SMART Recovery’s 4-Point Program®. Changing your behavior isn’t very likely to happen unless there’s a point to doing so which is the last point in SMART Recovery: building a balanced life. “Giving up something” isn’t much to build a life around. It’s just one stitch after another. As the psychologist Ogden Lindsey once noted, no goal a dead person can accomplish is that great a goal for a living one. Dead people never drink, snort, shoot up or place a bet. “Not doing” is something all dead people “do” quite well.

When you go some place you consider worth going, you inevitably leave some place else, your home, your place of work, etc. And the “leaving,” in and of itself, isn’t what’s important. Going is what’s important. You can’t go without leaving and you can’t leave without going, but which one is getting emphasized – going or leaving? What’s getting the emphasis in your life – leaving your addictive behavior behind or going in important directions? “Going some place worth going to” will provide much more motivation because abstaining becomes just a side effect of making certain things important in your life. It’s keeping your child safe and warm from the winter wind rather than just making one stitch after another.

Consider being at a stinky, ugly garbage dump. You get in a car and drive away – keeping your eyes glued to the rear view mirror. “I’m getting away! I’m getting away!” OK, you are getting away. But if you keep your eyes on the rear view mirror, what is likely to happen at the front end of the car? As a wise person once noted, “There’s a reason they make the windshield much larger than the rear view mirror!” Are you looking where you want to go or where you want to leave? If your “eyes are on the prize,” you’ll be looking out the front of the car!

Well, where do you want to go? What might you want to make important? If you don’t know, here’s something that might help. Keep a pad and pen by your bed. Each night before you go to sleep, think back through your day with this question, “What did I do today that was actually worth my time?” The answer is not, necessarily, what was “fun.” Cotton candy may be “fun” but it won’t sustain you. Vegetables, whether you like them or not, will. And, properly prepared, many vegetables are delicious in the moment you eat them as well as actually being “worth your time.” As you think back over your day, what experience, or experiences, can you find, that on reflection, (not before and not during but at the end of the day) were actually worth the time you put into them? Write it, or them, down. Then write down one thing you are willing to do tomorrow just to see if tomorrow evening, on reflection, you also rate it to have been worth your time.

Do this for thirty to sixty days and you will likely have a fair number of activities that you, not some one else, rate as actually worth your time. Then, concentrate on doing these things. You will likely find that “leaving” your addictive behavior happens much more readily because “going” rather than “leaving” is now getting the emphasis. You are no longer just “knitting one stitch after another.”

When you are motivated to make something important, you are much less interested in doing things that “don’t fit,” including addictive behavior. Each time we move, or fail to move, our hands, arms, feet and mouth, we make something important. So, what will you make important – going or leaving?

9 thoughts on “Are You Leaving? Or Are You Going?

  1. Richard H.

    My thoughts when I first started my journey on the road to recovery, where not on leaving my ways, my addictions, my habits, but were on a past time… when I was living in comfort, clean and sober. A time that I was truly at peace. That was a place I was leaving too, that gave me comfort. I place I wanted to be again.

  2. daniel

    Where am I going is a good question. I hold on to the past for fear that someone will take my place. my ex wife has a boyfriend that she uses as a surrogate father, she pushes him off on my boys. So I feel if I move forward he will take my place. This makes me angry and I start smoking again. then I quit only to hear of another situation/event that she trying to have him replace me as a dad. So I start smoking again. I am in a circle and do not know how to get out.

    1. Lisa

      Daniel, by moving forward you become the better father your children deserve. The surrogate father may or may not be a lifelong person in their life. what is important is that you are a positive lifelong influence in their life. Focus on what you do have control over, which is choosing to be the kind of man that you want your children to have for a father. Reach out in positive ways to slowly erode the old reputation and create a new better you. It is ok to be angry, but I would encourage you to channel that anger into action related to being a great man and father.

  3. Lori

    Addiction is so limiting. Breaking away from these ties by moving towards positive goals opens so many doors and introduces so many opportunities. Keep those goals in mind … Soon they transform into tangible rewards, not only for the formerly addicted, but for every person in his ( or her) life!!!

  4. Sherry

    I have looked in the rear view mirror far too long which has kept me just driving back around in circles in the recovery/relapse cycle.

    I’m going to try and focus on the future and the destination as this article makes pretty good sense to me.

    Thank you.

  5. Brian Burgess

    Self-compassion is essential from the beginning of the recovery process. This can lead to you getting overwhelmed and feeling that you can never make it right.

  6. Bill D.

    It isn’t the going that seems to be the problem. I have a fear of leaving. I had a fear of leaving my DOC, but finaly did. Now I’m not sure in my “going” that I have gone anywhere! As I look in my rearview mirror I see where I’ve gone and see things I’ve enjoyed, perhaps the gone isn’t the reward, but the going. Maybe the going doesn’t have to be movement, but mental growth.

  7. Debra L.

    I want to change my life & not have to continue to go backwards everytime I remember something from my past. I have finally stopped continously going in circles. Leave it behind you, learn from it and make a better choice the next time around. THAT”s how I found peace in Recovery this time around.

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