Formulating and pursuing goals is part of being human. Goals structure our lives – they supply us with a vital sense of purpose, allow us to build self-esteem, and essentially configure the way in which we choose to spend our time. Many of us share common goals; we aim to complete a higher level of education, find a partner, and start a family. Many of us share the same goals of following our dreams while making enough money to financially support ourselves (while simultaneously saving for retirement). Yes, it is very normal to have goals. In fact, setting and striving towards accomplishing goals is quite healthy.
Oftentimes, we will begin believing that obtaining our external goals will lead to internal fulfillment. “Once I graduate from law school I will be happy.” “I just need to settle down and start a family; once I do, I will feel truly accomplished.” “I will feel better when I lose 10 pounds.” “Once I get a year of sobriety I will reach the level of self-actualization and serenity I have so long yearned for. I just need to make it to a year.”
The lie we tell ourselves – the biggest lie we tell ourselves – is this: reaching external goals will lead to internal peace. In reality, the opposite is true. Once we heal internally, we will be able to accomplish any goal we set in motion. Once we become healthy, contented, and whole, we will set forth on the path towards ultimate and authentic fulfillment.
Fulfilling Goals Builds Self-Esteem – Not Authentic Inner Peace
In addiction recovery, this is especially true. We tend to believe that reaching certain objectives will allow us the opportunity to authentically heal. Time in the program, sponsoring others, fulfilling commitments… while these are all crucial components of long-term and meaningful sobriety, they do not equate to emotional, mental, or spiritual health. They help, undeniably. But we cannot realistically expect that once we obtain one year of continuous sobriety, all of our emotional wounds will be sufficiently healed. We cannot expect that chairing a meeting will help reconcile long-standing, deep-seated pain. Time heals many things – trauma is not one of them. We need to dig deep, deep inside of ourselves, and commit to doing some difficult and exhausting internal work.
For so many years we have been lying to ourselves relentlessly, desperately attempting to convince ourselves that we were not teetering on the literal brink of death, that we were not incessantly burning bridges and causing immense devastation in all areas of our lives. The art of self-deception becomes second nature after awhile, and we begin to sincerely believe that we have everything under control. Because dishonesty is so instinctive for the active addict, developing a keen sense of self-awareness and a firm grasp on reality will take ample time and effort. We must work hard to obtain a clear mind long after we put down the chemical substance; we must work hard to maintain a clear mind for the remainder of our lives. Because our alcoholism does not lie in the bottle. Our addiction does not lie in the small plastic baggie or the pill or the syringe. The disease of addiction lies within ourselves – within our own minds. And we do not truly experience the symptoms of addiction until we decisively put down our substance of choice. Consider that.
Spiritual Sickness and Alcoholism Recovery
The booze does not make us alcoholic; we drink to excess because we are spiritually ill. If we do not strive to remedy this deep-rooted spiritual malady, we will search for fleeting relief in other external vices. Some may look for fulfillment in shopping or sex, others in gambling or food. Some may turn to their goals – but no. Health does not work this way. We must become internally healthy, and the rest will follow. It does not work the other way around. Take a moment to honestly consider what you are striving towards. Are you putting all of your energy into obtaining external possessions and accomplishing outward goals? Or are you allowing yourself the opportunity to heal from the inside out, while working towards coming to a place of acceptance regarding where you are and what you have? The biggest lie we tell ourselves is that we need more than we currently have; that we can be profoundly and internally affected by something that lies outside of us. Becoming rich will not eradicate our trauma. Losing weight will not supply us with genuine self-love. We must heal from traumatic experience before we can appreciate our existing wealth. We must learn to love ourselves as we are, before we truly care for the health of our physical bodies. We must take care of what is within before we can pay proper attention to all of the peripheral.
“Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally. If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of those three options, and you must choose now. Then accept the consequences.” – Eckhart Tolle