What motivates you? What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning? Is there a reason or purpose that keeps you moving
forward in life? Why are you in recovery?
Most of us don’t think about it every day, but we all have a basic, underlying motivation for being in recovery. Whether I just want my life to suck less, or I had one of those inspired ‘lightbulb’ moments, there is something that drives me. Looking at this idea, it seems to make a difference whether I’m just trying to make the drama stop as opposed to having a divine visitation. Once the s&#% stops, the memory of the particulars of a calamity will fade. A true epiphany tends to have some staying power.
There is a hierarchy of motivation, and as it moves up the scale, so does the prospect of successful recovery.
In new and early recovery (and this was true of me), most of us either want trouble and problems to stop, or to get something we want or may have lost as the direct result of addiction. The expression, “getting back in the big bed,” is still heard frequently as a euphemism for fixing a troubled marriage. Legal problems, employment problems, marital or relationship problems are all examples of issues which act as incentive for putting down the drink or drug. This is the motivation of avoiding consequence or seeking reward. Sometimes it’s even a matter of survival when there are powerful health consequences.
The problem is that addiction is much more powerful than this form of motivation. No external incentive will compensate for internal lack of willingness to view and accept myself, my circumstances, and my life objectively and honestly. In essence, it has to be about more than material things. We see it all the time. People drink and use despite the certainty of a catastrophic outcome. If I’m truly going to change, I need to move up that motivation scale to something more powerful.
The next form of motivation is ethical. It can be as simple as thinking that recovery is the right thing to do. It becomes a matter of right and wrong. The problem with this is that it is rooted in fundamentalism, a very black and white way of seeing things. The psychologist Jean Piaget attributed this type of concrete thought process to 10-year-olds. Unfortunately, life is often quite gray, with no simple absolutes, and again, this type of motivation is small match for the insidious power of addictive rationalization.
Ethical motivation, while sometimes a belief that influences behavior, is usually too superficial to be a defining personal characteristic.
Personal conviction motivation runs deeper, and is a high form of motivation. Beyond merely deciding something is right, an emotional investment combined with a powerful decision is made. Gosh darn it, I said I’m going to do it, so I will!
The motivation that becomes part of us, all the way down to our personal identity, is the most powerful. This is the motivation of purpose. We have a mission in life. In the case of someone who wakes each morning knowing what their purpose is, this has become part of who they are. If this purpose is to change, grow and recover, this is the highest form of motivation for recovery, and characterizes many people with long, successful sobriety.
If the motivation of recovery was to end strife and restore normalcy, the mere fact of putting down alcohol and drugs will usually bring about the desired result. What then? The motivation will likely fade. Something else needs to occur. Whether it’s referred to as a psychic shift or spiritual awakening, it comes as a transformation of both mind and heart. While reason dictates that peace and serenity will result from the elimination of our drama, this is not the actual order of things. Instead, it’s when the inner state transforms that the external environment begins to change to reflect this. The basis of this idea is not so much powerlessness over people, places and things; rather the focus becomes the tremendous power we hold to change ourselves—how we think, feel and act.
We have capacity to change ourselves and our motivation ahead of the actual benefits, i.e. before the trouble stops, before the reward comes. It’s this simple: reward motivation is selfish. Purpose or mission motivation is selfless.
Think about how we feel when we experience the elevated and noble human emotions of empathy, compassion and gratitude. We can focus on commonalities instead of differences. We can understand that the universe is not on a mission to get us, and that no one awoke first thing in the morning with the intention of doing us harm. When that occurs, it’s because others have and respond to the same fears and insecurities that we have. When we can convert those negative emotions into understanding, it’s not a big leap to feeling grateful. Now we’re thinking positive thoughts; we will have positive feelings which reflect those thoughts, and our actions and behaviors will fall into line. How could the world around us help but to reflect that?
If we make a decision based on the power of those positive thoughts, feelings and behaviors, it’s pretty reasonable that we could form a personal conviction. Now we’ve moved up the scale to a more selfless form of motivation. But why stop there? We’ve started to see what’s possible. As our lives get better, wouldn’t we want the same for others? If my recovery is strong and I’m grateful for that, wouldn’t I want that for everyone, especially bearing in mind that my recovery is dependent on the collective good?
The worst problem in my life is that we still collectively suffer. When we solve the problems in our own lives, realize the promises, and know firsthand the meaning of peace and serenity, all we really want to do is give back. We’re on a mission, full of purpose, and our motivation is truly selfless.