“Just Say No.”
If I say that cliché most people’s first thought is a failed political movement started by Nancy Reagan that only furthered stigma against addicts and alcoholics. “What’s wrong with you? Just Stop ALREADY!” That mentality doesn’t serve those of us afflicted with addiction nor does it help those who surround us.
“Just Practice No.”
Now that’s a lot more helpful of a motto for us in recovery. Developing a personal practice around Impulse Control has been monumentally helpful to me and when I remember to “Just Practice No” the easier my life seems to become.
In early recovery we all seem to struggle in one way or another with Impulse Control. We just can’t seem to say No. If someone offers us substances or we are around people using, it can feel impossible to say that simple word “No.” Especially if we’re dealing with Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, this can feel incredibly difficult and frustrating to manage. Everything feels like a crisis and so we act out accordingly. Someone else telling us “No” may feel like a personal attack, or may kick start another downward spiral of apathy and feeling like “Well what’s the point then!?” Something not going the way we wanted or the way we expected can certainly feel like the end of the world. But it isn’t. It never is.
Wouldn’t it be nice to step off this rocketing roller coaster? Always riding between high flying ecstatic pink clouds followed by deep depressive doldrums? It doesn’t have to be this all or nothing feeling where either things go exactly how we want immediately or otherwise we feel doomed and hopeless. I have found an escape route off this exhausting ride that works for me, and it might just work for you too. “Just Practice No.”
Everyone makes thousands of daily decisions about how they spend their time and how they feel about the time they spend. The problem for anyone is: what’s stopping us from buying that thing we know we don’t need and can’t afford? What holds us back from eating an entire bag full of cookies? What keeps us true to ourselves when we have to set uncomfortable boundaries with friends or family? If we can’t say “No” in little situations, how do we expect to fare when someone puts a bottle or a bag in front of us? If we cannot say “No” to ourselves or others we will continue to struggle in recovery until someone else firmly tells us “No”.
Part of growing up into a mature consciousness is learning: “I will not always get my way, perfect plans can fail completely, and nobody is responsible for my own happiness but me, feelings and thoughts are not facts.”
The voice of addiction sounds like: “I will get my way no matter what, ONLY if I control everything and everyone then will I be ok, and I don’t need to take responsibility for my actions or feelings, feelings and thoughts are all that’s real.”
For me, I have recently begun to Just Practice No. Three habits I am focusing on are: Saying No in small safe situations, Repeating Personal Mantras to myself, and Meditation.
My Daily Goal is to say “No” to a request or a situation or a thought at least three times in a day. Sometimes it could easily be more, but at least three times today I want to pause and internalize what I am doing, that I am developing a personal practice and saying ‘No’ with intention. Making a point to say ‘No’ at least three times a day in small situations helps me get used to saying it in other situations when I really need to.
But just simply saying ‘no’ isn’t the real goal for me, the goal is to understand myself and situations better and take responsibility for how my attitude towards these things can change my experience of them. So I try to remind myself about what I am trying to accomplish with Personal Mantras as well. “Hey, I’m setting a boundary here, this is good. This is growth. ‘No’ can feel good.” Another mantra that helps me with differentiating my own issues is “This is not my problem, this is not my issue, I do not need to fix/manage/control anything here.” Another one that is helpful to me is “I cannot be all things to all people, and thank goodness for that.”
Besides saying “No” in small situations and reminding myself with personal Mantras, the other thing that helps me with Impulse Control is Meditation. Every time we are sitting quiet and still and we feel our muscles ache or our skin itch or our stomach growls while meditating, we have been given the opportunity to practice mindfulness and tell ourselves “No. At this present moment I am okay and I don’t need to fidget or scratch or eat. I am okay. This moment is okay. There’s nothing I need urgently to do that cannot wait 15 minutes.”
What I do when nobody is watching, when I don’t get any compulsory prodding, whatever I am willing to do without fear of punishment or observation, that is what I will continue to do no matter the circumstances. If I can make a daily effort to “Just Practice No” I will seem to magically find myself in less compromising situations, I will have more energy to follow my wants because I have already handled my needs, and I can start to feel a deep satisfaction that I am not merely living life by default, but I am confident and content and clear-headed.