Evolving Reactive Action Plans

Lesson 59 of Recovery Nation says: “There doesn’t need to be an exercise associated with this lesson. At this stage of your transition to health, you should be seeking out ways of strengthening your foundation on your own. And so, just by reading the above, you should already know what to do with it. How it should be applied to your existing reactive action plans.”

I think the best way to approach this is to go back to the five action plans I discussed in the previous lesson and see if I can develop a second level action plan as insurance, to strengthen each plan.

One. TL asks me for urgent action or discussion, and I am tempted to ignore her in favor of my routine or task list. Recalling that the consequences of not responding immediately greatly outweigh the costs of immediately investing time and energy into the issue, I will choose to respond immediately, adjusting the rest of my objectives and expectations for the day to something more realistic. After that good decision, I may initially feel stress, as I labor to shift my mind’s momentum. One potential mind game to avoid is the possibility I will tell myself, “Let me just finish this one thing.” Often that “one thing” turns out to take far more time than anticipated, or can lead to another “one more thing.”

If this action plan fails, how will I know? I think the clue would be that I would find myself engaged in that “one more thing.” I might find myself in the gym, tidying the house, or doing that one additional e-mail or routine task at the office. What should I do? Stop the workout. So what if I am standing around in my gym clothes while I engage with my wife? There’s nothing wrong with that. So what if I miss one workout that week. Often, I can lift more if I take an extra day off.  

So what if the house remains a bit untidy a bit longer. Having a tidy house is meant to make my life more convenient in the long run. But, having a tidy house should not distract me from the main point, which is actually having a life and living that life. So what if I don’t complete that one more e-mail or one more routine task at work. It seems to me that I am equally or more successful at work when I focus on quality instead of quantity. Instead of trying to do ten things every day, for example, I should focus on excellence, even if that means only doing eight things but doing them well. And, if something personal arises that reduces my work accomplishments to only one or two on a given day, I should just be sure that they are the most important one or two things and that I do them well.  

At times like these it helps me to mentally review my favorite parable. Put a cup of water into an empty pint glass. Add a cup of sugar, then a cup of marbles, then a cup of golf balls. It will overflow. Do it in reverse. It will not overflow, or at least not much. The big items will be in there. They are priorities. The smallest will probably fit too, if you add them last. And, if the smallest things don’t all fit, remember that they are indeed small things.

Two. Quite randomly, some topic of conversation arises that reminds me of something I once did that has remained hidden, and I am tempted to lie by omission. Recalling my promises to myself about integrity, honesty, and friendship, I will choose to tell my wife, TL, the story. As I have an internal dialogue, my emotion is fear, fear of what she will say or do. A mind game to avoid is the temptation to tell myself, “No, maybe she won’t find this topic to be relevant.”

What if this first line of defense fails? How will I know? After putting the thought out of my mind for hours, days, or longer, it may come back to me. At that point I must again recall values of honesty, integrity, and friendship, and weigh them against the temptation to listen to an inner voice saying, “It’s too late to mention it,” or “It’s no longer important.”

Three. During a move or other time of many changes, I am tempted to do other tasks before doing my daily recovery work and my monthly counseling session. Recalling that integrity means keeping my commitment and doing my responsibilities, I should choose to do whatever it takes to keep the daily recovery work and monthly counseling sessions at the top of my priority task list. As I do that, I will feel stress, as I struggle to remain the master of my task list, routines, and tidiness instead of falling back into being a slave to those things. As in my first example here, the dangerous mind game is the temptation to say, “I almost ready, almost done with this one last thing.”

I will know I failed at this if a week passes and I miss my self-imposed goal of spending a particular amount of time on daily recovery work each week. I will know if I don’t always have an upcoming counseling session on my calendar. If I miss my goal for daily recovery time, I should make myself do make-up work until I am caught up. If I don’t have an upcoming counseling session on my calendar, I should make it an urgent priority to talk to my counselor and get something on my calendar, or to identify a new counselor if necessary and schedule something.

Four. During a busy time, I am tempted to complain about lack of complete tidiness in the house, thereby making my wife feel I am blaming her. Recalling my value of empathy, I must choose to truly understand why she would not want to hear me say such things, and to keep my mouth shut. I will feel stress, wishing I could plead for help, for permission to indulge my tidiness compulsion. A dangerous mind game might be a temptation to tell myself, “Don’t worry, this is a general comment and she won’t take it personally.”

I’ll know I failed when the hurtful comment rolls off my lips. The next line of defense is to recognize what I’ve said so that I don’t continue and make it worse and so I might be able to repair some of the emotional damage. How? Maybe it would help to start reviewing every conversation in which I am speaking and my wife is the primary or secondary audience. Maybe I should ask myself whether I may have said anything that directly or indirectly reflects on her, our relationship, our lives together, or our agreement about goals and values. Did I say something that could imply dissatisfaction with any of those things? If so, I should stop and think about it, and then talk about it.

Five. Being alone during travel or some other occasion, I am tempted to use tobacco, alcohol, ruminating, or something else to alleviate my restlessness. By the way, I see an important thing I just said. I put ruminating in the same category or self-destructive, self-indulgent behaviors as alcohol or tobacco. Sitting around wishing to change the past, feeling sorry for myself, or focusing on retroactive jealousy is as unhealthy as substance abuse. Back to the topic at hand, faced with any of those temptations, I should recall my values of health, self-control, and accomplishment, remembering how those temptations are obstacles to those values. When I turn from temptations to values, in this case, I may feel anxiety. The mind game to avoid is the temptation to think that those indulgences will make me feel better. Invariably, they do not. Tobacco ruins my respiratory health and comfort. Alcohol is empty calories. And, ruminating or fantasizing have enormous costs in time and opportunity.

What if I fail at this? What if I catch myself in the act of buying a cigarette, opening a drink, or sitting and ruminating on some unhealthy thought? Recalling my values of health, self-control, and accomplishment, it may help to tell myself it’s not too late to change course. It’s not too late to trash the pack of cigarettes before even opening it, and then tell my wife or someone about it. It’s not too late to pour out the drink without finishing it, and then tell someone. It’s not too late to stand up from sitting and ruminating and do something physical or social (including a call to my wife) to reset my mind.

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