By: Rick Fannin, Port 45 Recovery

January is in mid-swing, but the beginning of each new year is typically a time to reflect on the past and plan for what lies ahead.  One tradition prevalent during this changing of the year is setting new year’s resolutions.  It may be dropping twenty pounds, going back to school, paying off debt, or stopping the use of drugs or alcohol that are selected as these new year’s resolutions. 

However, research on new year’s resolutions shows that most people, regardless of the resolution that was set, break or give up on the new year’s resolution within 12 days (1).  Research also shows that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February (2).

The intention to change does not result in the actual behavioral change (3).  Intention precedes action; therefore, one must act on one’s intentions to effectively change behavior (3).  Transforming intentions into actions can be challenging and, for those trying to overcome addiction, thinking of long-term sobriety can seem overwhelming. 

Overcoming the damage caused by addiction and living a life free from drugs or alcohol is like climbing a mountain.  Climbing a mountain, as well as overcoming addiction, takes planning, preparation, skill development, practice, hard work, courage, commitment, and teamwork.  However, no mountain is ever climbed, or addiction overcome without taking the first step.  

Every mountain top is reachable if you just keep climbing, and sustained recovery from addiction is possible if we follow a plan for success keep taking steps forward every day.  Sure, there may be slips along the way, but no longer living at rock bottom and from the summit of our recovery, the view sure is beautiful. 

Getting started:  Choosing Goals for Addiction Recovery

Naval officer, and aeronautical engineer, and author Robert Heinlein said, “In the absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia.” This quote about living a life without clear goals is strikingly similar to life adrift while in addiction.  We once had personal goals that were put aside and often forgotten while lost in addiction.  We were adrift without a clear direction in our life.  Overcoming addiction is about far more than just stopping drug or alcohol use.  Certainly, sobriety may be our overarching goal.  However, many other goals and objectives are necessary to reach the peak in our recovery.  Some of these may include addressing legal issues, repairing damaged relationships, learning healthy ways to regulate emotions, and finding a purpose in life that makes it difficult to return to addiction. 

Setting goals allows you to define and focus on what is important to you, breaking this goal into the steps (objectives). Determining the necessary sequence of these objectives provides a roadmap to successfully reaching your goal.  By defining these objectives, it allows you a realistic opportunity to achieve these goals with the least amount of stress along the way. Completing each of these objectives along the course enables you to see the progress made and gives you a sense of accomplishment.  

Addiction has an impact on all areas of life.  Addiction is defined as a BiopsychosocialSpiritual impairment (4; 5).  Addiction impacts our physical, psychological, social, and spiritual wellbeing (5).  An effective plan for success in recovery should include evaluating each of these domains, identifying the areas needing improvement, setting goals, identifying, and prioritizing each goal’s sequence of objectives. 

Counselors will partner with you to create a personalized treatment plan to you and the goals and objectives that you want to achieve in your recovery.  As you prepare this plan, it can be helpful to think about:

  1. What is important to you?
  2. What do you want to accomplish?
  3. What you want out of your life?
  4. What specific areas do you want to improve?
  5. Which goals are most vital for my health?

The chart below can help you identify how satisfied you are in different areas of your life.  From this, you can decide whether you want to make changes and then set some new SMART goals to achieve these changes to improve this area of your life.  It is essential to look beyond what we want to do or change and identify why we want to do so.  When we identify the “why” associated with “what”, it prompts us to start thinking about our values and the most important things.

Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals and Objectives

People who are most effective in achieving what they want usually set S.M.A.R.T. goals.  Smart goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant/Realistic, and Time-bound goals.

Specific Goals and Objectives

A general goal is to dismiss, procrastinate, or make excuses that block you from attaining your goal.  Identifying what you want to accomplish and why this is important to you and writing these out in specific goals is a valuable aid to your recovery.  Overcoming drug and alcohol addiction can feel overwhelming at times.  Creating specific goals and objectives helps to stave away the feelings of hopelessness or impossibility and reduce the stress by seeing and following your roadmap to success. 

Measurable Goals and Objectives

You must structure your goals and objectives to measure them to determine if you have met your goal.  You can only know when you have made progress towards a goal if you can measure that progress.  Measurably structuring your goals and objectives allows you to track the progress that you have made, reduces stress, and provides motivation as you move closer to your goal.

Attainable Goals and Objectives

Your recovery goals should be attainable.  If our recovery goals are unrealistic or too difficult, we often get frustrated, lose hope and motivation, and risk a relapse.  When setting achievable goals, it is vital to think about the obstacles or barriers that might get in the way of achieving that goal.  If a goal is too big, then break the goal down into smaller SMART objectives that are achievable.  Sequencing these objectives and then completing them provides you with a mark of progress towards your larger goal.

Relevant Goals and Objectives

No matter how good they are, goals are meaningless if they are not relevant to your life.  Creating relevant recovery goals and objects are the ones that help you to stay clean and sober.  These should be meaningful ones that are specific to you.  Your goals need to be in line with your life and your values.  Your goal must also be realistic.  A realistic goal must represent an objective toward which you are both willing and able to work towards.  There are multiple pathways to recovery, but you should define the specific recovery plan that is tailored and relevant to you, your values, your life, and your abilities.

Time-Bound Goals and Objectives

Time is our most precious commodity, and unlike money, when time is gone, it is gone.  Consider for a moment time spent in our addiction.  We dedicated so much time getting the money to buy the substance, getting the substance, being drunk or high from the substance, time spent recovering from the substance, or locked away due to our addiction.  Addiction separated and isolated us from the things that mean the most to us in life.  We can have the best goals and objectives but never make any progress if our plan every day is to start doing things to change tomorrow.

When creating your recovery goals and objectives, be specific about the commitment to yourself about when you will achieve the goal or objective.   This time boundary helps to stop procrastinating and start taking steps of action towards our objectives and in pursuit of our goals.

Summary

Let us look at an example.  Maybe your goal is, “I want to stop using fentanyl.” While this is good, we can make this better by making this a S.M.A.R.T. goal with objectives that help achieve the goal.   Here is an example:

Goal:  Continuing to use fentanyl puts my life at risk and further damages my relationship with my wife and children (The Why).  My goal is to engage in treatment and live a sober supportive lifestyle that will allow me to obtain from drugs or alcohol to achieve my first 30 days of sobriety by 3/1/2021 (The S.M.A.R.T Goal). 

               Objectives:

  1. Within 48 hours, I will have a sober family member help me remove any drug or alcohol and paraphernalia from my home, and I will have this family member destroy it.  I will meet with my counselor as soon as possible to process my thoughts and emotions about getting rid of these things.
  2. I will attend 3 hours of group counseling five days per week for the next four weeks.
  3. I will meet for one hour of individual counseling each week for the next four weeks and identify 3-5 triggers that place me at risk and develop 3-5 healthy coping skills that I will utilize. I will provide open and honest updates to my counselor each week about my cravings, triggers, and my use of healthy coping skills.
  4. I will provide weekly random urine screens for the next four weeks to validate that I have successfully abstained from drugs and alcohol.
  5. I will meet with my physician weekly, learn about medications that can help with my recovery, and I will consistently comply with all prescriptions for the next 30 days.
  6. I will grow my sober support by identifying 3-5 supportive people to reach out to when I am struggling with my emotions or recovery.
  7. I will identify 5-10 people and 3-5 places that I should avoid in my early recovery, which place me at risk. I will provide honest and open updates to my counselor each week on my progress of avoiding these risky people and places.
  8. Over the next 30 days, I will sample 2-3 different types of outside support groups and attend 10-12 outside support meetings and will provide an update to my counselor on this experience.  To hold myself accountable, I will get meeting slips signed at each meeting and review them with my counselor.
  9. I will maintain a daily log of any triggers or cravings that I may have, and anytime my cravings are higher than an intensity of 6, I will call each of my sober, supportive resources until I can talk with someone. I will be open and honest with them about my cravings.  I will openly and honestly discuss my cravings and triggers in my group and individual counseling sessions each week.
  10. Within two weeks, I will collaborate with my counselor and create an action plan of things that I can do to start to repair the damage done to my relationship, and I will do at least 3-4 items from this list each week for the next 30 days and will provide open and honest updates with my counselor in each counseling session.
  11. I want to start attending church again as I used to, and I will attend at least two church services with my wife over the next 30 days.

At Port 45 Recovery, we believe that your treatment planning should be customized and tailored to you, your values, and the goals and objectives that are important to you and your recovery.  In addition to individual and group counseling, our case managers work with you to address barriers to your recovery

Making goals is the easy part.  Sticking to your goals can be much more challenging.  When people surround themselves with supportive others, they are often more likely to reach their goals.  The staff at Port 45 Recovery is here to support you, encourage you, help with accountability, empathetically understand your struggles, and celebrate your achievements.  At Port 45, we care about you and your goals for your recovery and your life.

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References

1. Resolutions, ambitions, and action plans… Shrewsbury, D. 2019, The Clinical Teacher, pp. 93-96.

2. The value of New Year’s resolutions. Gale, J. 2020, Vet Record, pp. 74-76.

3. Goal setting and action planning for health behavior change . Bailey, R. R. 2019, American Journal of Lifestyle medicine, pp. 615-619.

4. Brain disease or biopsychosocial model in addiction? Remembering the Vietnam Veteran Study. Becoña, E. 3, 2018, Psicothema, Vol. 30, pp. 270-275.

5. SAMHSA. Enhancing Motivation for Change in Substance Abuse Treatment. Rockville, MD : Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 1999.