READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.
Every day presents a new set of circumstances and issues in addict recovery. Some days go smoothly without major conflict while other days are challenged with triggers, cravings, and stress that create feelings of insecurity, impatience, and overall struggle. There is no necessary rhyme or reason. It is the common thread of issues that addicts in recovery grapple with in order to remain sober. For sure, staying sober is a battle of resistance with the forces of life that tug and pull to numb out with a cocktail of addictive processes.
Addicts in recovery learn to create a sweet spot which represents a center of balance in life to respond to life’s provocations. In racquetball, the sweet spot on the court is the space maintained that gives the best vantage to respond to the opponent’s shot. The sweet spot in recovery is the space that an addict creates that offers the best possibility to engage tests and temptations from an empowered position and with poise. Trauma professionals sometimes refer to this space as a window of tolerance. This is a place you are able to self-soothe. You are able to maintain emotional self-regulation. It’s the position that you are best able to access resilience and flexibility. In the midst of everyday fray, you are capable of being connected to your mind, body, and emotions anchored in the window of tolerance.
Some days just don’t play out in the sweet spot. You scramble to keep up with a busy schedule. People criticize you for shortcomings. Life throws you one curve ball after another. The harder you try, the “behinder” you get. It’s just one of those days or one of those seasons in life. The build-up of stress with physical and emotional fatigue triggers cravings that push you to the precipice of relapse. It’s amazing how quickly you can be right on the edge of disaster.
This experience is what trauma professionals refer to as flooding which can be hyperarousal (fight or flight) or hypo-arousal (freeze). Addicts must pay attention to the warning signs to avoid the pitfalls of relapse.
Triggers are the memories, core beliefs, feelings, and body sensations which are connected to past traumatic experiences that have the potential to move you out of your sweet spot in recovery. Addicts benefit when they do the homework of identifying mistaken beliefs that block intimacy and monitor those beliefs daily. Rather than going all out to eliminate the belief, simply paying attention with a skillset to shift out of the mistaken belief that enervates and empowers addictive response, and shift into an intimacy-abling belief is all that is needed. It is important to become aware of life situations, relationship challenges, and mental states that fuel mistaken beliefs and address them daily.
Flashback memories of old experiences are just that! They are not reality in the present moment no matter how powerful they seem. They trigger maladaptive responses and require the grounding skill of “acting as if”, meaning that in spite of the felt struggle, you commit to act doing the next right thing regardless of feeling. It may require ritual breathing, keeping your eyes open, and grounded conversation. It doesn’t mean I must act out in old destructive behaviors.
Triggers can activate hyper arousal response including building anxiety, impulsivity, reactivity, anger, rage, nightmare, rigidity, and hyper-vigilance. You may notice difficulty in concentrating, obsessive-compulsive thoughts or behaviors or panic, and becoming easily irritated. Many addicts do program work without ever paying attention to these critical signs of hyper arousal that take them out of their sweet spot.
A hypo arousal response is also a sign of flooding which pulls you from your window of tolerance. This response includes depression, fatigue, not being present, dissociation, feeling numb, going on autopilot, and disconnecting from feelings. You may experience increased aches and pains and not be able to think very clearly.
It will be important for you to evaluate your typical response to the trials and tribulations of recovery living that pull you from your sweet spot. Managing your ability to return to the sweet spot in recovery requires that you discipline your awareness to recognize the warning signs of flooding.
Do you most likely respond with freeze or fight/flight given the description of both responses? Many clients have told me that their body experiences periodic aches and pains without ever considering that the source of this discomfort might trace back to a hypo-aroused response to the stressors of life that pull them away from their window of tolerance. Others think medication is needed to quell the anxiety and panic that dominates them every day. Still others are stupefied wondering why they are having nightmares, being so reactive with anger and rage. One reason you may find yourself emotionally eating is because of the fight or flight response to the stress and tension that exists within your life. You may need a prescription to alleviate the intense edge of anxiety that triggers a rageful response. It can be helpful to attend an Overeaters Anonymous group to stop destructive out-of-control eating. Yet, for sure, it will be critical to recognize the warning sign that triggers the emotional flooding. You will need to address the stressful situation and recognize the flood in your life which pulls you out of your sweet spot in recovery. Consider these steps:
1. What expectations do you have in your life and your recovery? Be clear and specific. Are your expectations realistic? We all begin with enthusiasm and a lot of fire in recovery. It will flame out if your recovery goals are not realistic. Be clear and accountable for your bottom lines. A contract without accountability has no bite to it.
2. Examine the Data. Project out a few weeks. When you get to a certain point in your recovery journey, evaluate if the results are what you intended. Like plays drawn up on the chalkboard at halftime in a football game, the way it works out on the field of recovery may be quite different than what you planned. Look at what you intended when you made your commitment to improve your behavior with your sponsor or in a recovery room. Are your results what you meant to be reality? Be honest, practical, and realistic in your assessment.
3. Make adjustments. This is key. Returning to your sweet spot will require that you work out of your rigidity and become flexible. Things never work out just the way you plan. What you thought would be easy will sometimes be hard. This is the way it is in life, not just recovery. Your working recovery from the sweet spot will require that you be flexible and make adjustments. Embrace a sweet reasonableness about your expectations. Know when to apply the strict letter of the law to your recovery life and when to be gentle with what you expect from yourself and others. This is a practiced art form.
The sweet spot for recovery growth requires gardening. Utilize your quiet time each day to recenter your focus. Know your tools for regulation and how to use them. I encourage addicts to create a plethora of recovery tools that are placed on the shelf for resources like a woodworker puts her tools on the shelf of her garage. Practice what you know. It will help you to return to your window of tolerance. It is the sweet spot that propels long-term growth and serenity.