I can’t see a way through,” said the boy.
“Can you see your next step?”
“Just take that,” said the man.
– Charles Mackesy
When we feel lost, afraid, or unsure of what the future holds, we may find our thoughts getting way out in front of us and spiraling out of control, into worst-case scenarios and panic. We sometimes dive into deep fear about “what could happen,” where we can get stuck in a loop of worry and anxiety. This is sometimes referred to as “future tripping.” When we project fearful outcomes onto the future and can’t stop thinking about it, we suffer in the present moment. This anxiety and fear can feel paralyzing, and can also trigger us to start grasping for something to make us feel better, more “in control,” or to give us an escape from uncomfortable feelings. It is important to recognize these thought patterns, and to have resources and strategies in place when they come up, to better avoid harmful or destructive behaviors that could lead to relapse.
In recovery, we learn skills and strategies that help us stay calm and grounded while navigating the ups, downs, unexpecteds, and unknowns of life. We also learn that we are not alone, and that we never have to try to navigate these challenges all on our own. A profound gift of recovery is real community: people who understand what each other are going through, people who can provide guidance and support through tumultuous times.
Here are some reminders and suggestions for moments when we feel stuck, overwhelmed, or uncertain:
The next step is all we can take
Often, people in early recovery cannot fathom living without their drug of choice for the rest of their life, which is why phrases like “One day at a time” and “Just for today” are so helpful–a whole lifetime may not feel possible, but a day, an hour, or even a minute at a time feels much more manageable. This practice of narrowing our vision and honing in on what is nearest to us applies not just to lengths of time, but to actions as well. When everything feels like too much or we don’t know where to begin, all we have to do is take the next step. What does that look like?
It looks like waking up in the morning feeling so overwhelmed that you don’t want to get out of bed. Then asking yourself, What is the next step? Putting your feet on the floor is a next step. Can I do that? Yes. Ok. Then, making the bed is a next step. Yes. Brushing your teeth is a next step. Steadily, one step at a time, we get where we need to go.
The present moment is all we ever have
When we spend time ruminating on the past or living in anxiety about the future, we are missing the only thing that is actually happening: this moment. Life has a funny way of unfolding in unexpected ways, and often, inexplicably, things end up working out better for us than we could have imagined if we’d tried to control it all ourselves. It is very difficult to stay in an energy of possibility and open mindedness when our mind is spinning on all the odds stacked against us, all the ways a situation “will never work out.” It is when we can get present–exactly where our feet are— look around us, and choose to focus on all the things in this moment to be grateful for, that we begin to recognize and receive the abundance of gifts, vast and small, that surround us.
Seek a new perspective
Sometimes when we’re feeling ungrounded and stuck in our thoughts, we need a new perspective. When we are deeply immersed in our own situation, it can be difficult to see with the clarity of someone who is further removed. Talking to a counselor, mentor, or supportive loved one or community member can help us see and navigate a situation in ways we never would have thought of on our own.
Getting into nature–feeling our feet on the earth, looking out the immensity of mountains as far as the eye can see, watching a star shoot across the night sky–can help gently guide us back to a place of appreciation, connection, and awe. Nature reminds us to slow down, breathe deep, and deepen into the expansive beauty of pure, present life.
An exercise for grounding: 5, 4, 3, 2,1
Look at your current surroundings.
Write down, or simply name:
- 5 things that you can see
- 4 things that you can hear
- 3 things that you can feel
- 2 things that you can smell
- 1 thing that you can taste
If you or your loved one are in need of a supportive treatment environment that is experienced in guiding addicts and alcoholics to clarity, healing, and freedom, download our free ebook “15 Q&A TO GET STARTED ON A JOURNEY TO A MINDFUL RECOVERY” or click here to book a free consultation call.