Inner Change and Long Term Recovery
For a person in recovery, it is essential, though not easy, to stay motivated and committed to a better, healthier mindset.
Long-term change starts with surrendering to the fact that there is a problem, and acknowledging that change is necessary.
Although the road of change is lifelong, there are small, immediate changes that are essential and could even serve to expedite the journey. Drawing a map for long-term change will be necessary even if you end up straying from the path or finding a clearer one along the way.
In this article, we show that there is a difference between long-term and temporary, immediate changes and that both have a purpose; we cover how to recognize inner transformation, and we answer some frequently asked questions regarding long-term recovery.
Long-term versus short-term, immediate changes
There are two major types of changes that affect a person's recovery process. Short-term changes almost always come before long-term changes.
Short-term changes are practical or immediate changes that occur once we recognize that a particular issue is present and needs resolution. The problem could be as insignificant as a trash bin that needs emptying or as big as a substance use disorder; either way, there are small, immediate changes that can improve the situation. In the latter example, the act of taking the trash to the curb for pickup solves the problem entirely; in the case of addiction, small changes are considered steps in an ever-lasting climb toward recovery. Thankfully, there are support systems for those who need to make a long-term change like recovery from a substance. Small adjustments over long periods are what helps strengthen our resolve to make the best choices possible.
Long-term changes are those that eventually establish a state of consistent well-being. They usually require healthy habits developed and practiced over time. Such changes include: establishing healthier nutrition and exercise habits, attending therapy sessions or group meetings you have committed to, increasing productivity, and taking any necessary medications as prescribed.
If the lasting impact is worth the effort, as in the case of recovery, committing to these daily habits is necessary even when it feels uncomfortable, unnatural, or uncool. Emotional discomfort during recovery is natural and is made easier through counselling and peer support. Eventually, those feelings will go away and reveal the freedom that long-term recovery has to offer.
It is important to remember that both short-term and long-term changes are highly conducive to strengthening anyone's mental health. In the life of the recovering person, however, it is vital to employ both types of change. Attempting immediate, long-term changes (while they are admittedly tempting to make) is too overwhelming and is sure to put a person's recovery efforts at risk. Instead, changes should be made one step at a time, with small, immediate changes eventually becoming a long-lasting evolution.
How to recognize an inner change
Inner change is what sets the pace for long-term recovery. It helps to rebuild the environment of the recovering person so their life is recovery-centric. Inner changes offer an opportunity for introspection and self-evaluation, which in turn increases self-awareness. However, make no mistake, internal change isn't a conversation between the left and right side of an individual's brain, or between their head and their heart; it must involve other people.
Inner change isn't something we can measure with a scale or tape measure; we must look at the changes in the people around us to gauge our results. Recognizable changes may include the stabilization of moods, improvements in our thoughts of self and others, and a reduction in the severity of emotional triggers and environments.
When we accomplish change, we see that inner change reflected in the people around us. If we are re-establishing emotional honesty, we also start receiving more sincerity; if it is inner peace we are inching toward, our peers become more peaceful around us.
How else do we change in recovery?
When a person has both an addiction and a mental health condition, any changes they make—positive or negative—will almost always affect both disorders. Daily intentional recovery from something like alcohol or gambling will, in turn, positively affect a person's mental health in a variety of ways. They will make meaningful connections with recovery-friendly peers, they will actively replacing compulsive thoughts and actions with productive ones, and those under the influence of a substance will begin to think clearer for as long as they abstain.
In addition to inner change, we must also look at our behaviours and personality traits if we want to make long-term changes. (1) Behavioural changes are the adjustments we make to our habits and attitudes, as well as how we conduct ourselves. They can directly impact our responses to our environment and other stimuli that may be challenging or problematic. Behavioural changes take time and commitment but are ultimately worthwhile because they can help us stay active, healthy, and productive. Personality changes are the adjustments we make to our treatment of others. (2) Personality changes occur with the ultimate goal of enhancing a person's life in a healthy, positive manner. That means acknowledging and excavating our negative, relationship-destroying patterns and replacing them with those that nurture a healthy inner circle. Personality changes help us treat people with more respect while developing our character.
It may be that someone else gently suggests that we make such changes in our life, but ultimately the impetus for the transformation and those ways in which we execute the change are up to each of us as individuals. Once we decide to make a change, the next challenge is to stay motivated. (3) If achieving and maintaining a healthy body, mind and spirit is essential, then we have more than enough incentive to start changing today.
How can long-term changes maintain health?
Our habits must evolve as our needs evolve; those needs change with age, as we marry, have children, move locations, and change careers. Good health is a lifelong pursuit, similar to recovery from a mental health condition. The small, daily commitments that we adhere to make significant transitions feel much more manageable. Where there's a commitment towards a healthier life, both physically and mentally, there's a more apparent path to lifelong recovery. (4)
Ultimately, long-term changes, when supported by commitment and dedication, will promote a better quality of life and speed up the recovery process.
It is important to remember that all systems—mind, body and soul—are connected and that positive changes that we perform on one system ultimately affect the whole. Addiction and mental health, for example, go hand-in-hand. (5) Here are some of the changes we can choose to make daily and how they affect the "big picture" of our whole body health.
● Nutritional changes: dietary changes can boost our immune systems, mental clarity, and physical health.
● Physical activity: regular exercise can help us reduce stress, increase mobility, and maintain a healthy weight. Plus, it releases several brain chemicals that are essential to mood regulation.
● Stress management: reducing anxiety in a variety of manners helps us connect with others, or nature, or yourself.
● Community support: having a peer support system can be valuable to anyone who is undergoing a turbulent time in their lives, especially where their recovery process is concerned
● Positive mental reinforcement: meditation, positive thinking, and other mindfulness practices, such as yoga (6), can help establish positive attitudinal changes in the longer term.
Inner and long term changes are worth the challenge
The most critical element to any person's recovery—beyond sobriety itself—is having a support system that serves as a reminder that long-term recovery is an attainable goal, and we're not alone on this journey. When challenges arise regarding a commitment to long-term change, a professional counsellor or peer support group can offer the additional support needed through tough transitions. Self-care techniques must also be in practice to create positive inner changes, and the overall health and wellness that will ultimately lead towards long-term recovery.
All aspects of good health require a plan and recovery is no different. If we can create a recovery plan (7) or stick to one that has already been created, you can maintain other aspects of your health too.
The barriers to long term changes can include people, places, and things that serve as triggers, reverting to previously destructive or problematic behaviours. But if recovery is crucial, the commitment to specific small changes, and ultimately to a life change, should seem worthwhile. Remember, our good health affects those around us, as does our poor health.
Changing behaviours requires time, work, and patience. Upgrading our lives will be difficult at first, but with practice, reinforcement, and commitment, new habits will become normal, and the necessary changes will stick. The most important message is never to give up, because the moment we decide not to continue to make positive changes, our negative patterns get the chance to sneak back into our lives.
1. The Neuroscience of Change. McGonigal, K. March 21 2017.
2. 20 Simple Activities That Science Proves Can Change Your Personality for the Better. Inc Magazine. November 12, 2018. https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/this-is-how-to-change-your-personality-for-better-according-to-latest-research.html
3. Motivation. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/motivation
4. Health and Wellness in Recovery. American Addiction Centres. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/wellness-recovery
5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues. Help Guide. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/addictions/substance-abuse-and-mental-health.htm
6. 7 Ways to Improve Your Life in Long-Term Addiction Recovery. Psychology Today. Jun 03, 2016. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ending-addiction-good/201606/7-ways-improve-your-life-in-long-term-addiction-recovery
7. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/lifestyle-changes