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Give Yourself the Time You Need to Create Change

Sometimes, we might be in a hurry to see our lives get better. We want to stop feeling anxious. Or we might want to stop feeling depressed. Or we might want to stop using drugs or alcohol as a means for feeling better.

However, it’s important to remember that change takes time. Even though you might be doing the best you can, it takes time for our lives to get to where we want to be. This is particularly true when it comes to addiction. There is often so much ambivalence to the idea of quitting that it takes a long time to finally make the decision to get treatment.

Ambivalence refers to the experience of feeling opposite emotions at the same time. You might feel like you want to stop drinking because of the ways it’s harming your life. At the same time, you might need to continue to drink because it helps relieve stress and emotional pain. The ambivalence can keep someone from getting treatment for some time.

In fact, because so many people tend to experience ambivalence, experts have mapped out the typical process that takes place when someone begins to think about ending their addiction. Typically, there are stages that a person goes through until he or she finally takes action and gets treatment. This process has been identified as the Stages of Change, which is described below:

Pre-contemplation: At this stage, an addict may not recognize there is a problem. There are no thoughts about making any change at all. If anyone points out a concern, anyone in this stage would feel that that he or she is exaggerating. The impact of the problem has not become conscious and there is no consideration to make any adjustment to one’s life.

Contemplation: Adults in this stage are willing to consider that there might be a concern. However, their ambivalence is high. They haven’t made a firm decision to change; rather, they know that the drinking or drug use is problematic and are willing to look at pros and cons to sobriety. At this stage, a counselor or therapist might accompany an individual through a risk-reward analysis. Together, they might examine previous attempts to change in the past, causes for failure, and benefits and barriers to change.

Determination: The hallmark of this stage is that a decision to change has been made. Although there continues to be some ambivalence, the determination to change is strong enough to outweigh any obstacles. There is a serious attempt to change with a realistic look at anticipatory problems, concrete solutions, and a sensible plan for recovery.

Action: As the energy of determination continues to build, an individual takes action and chooses to implement his or her recovery plan. A person might make their commitment to change public by telling friends in order receive external validation for their efforts. This stage might also include attending support groups, AA meetings, or individual therapy. As a recovery plan succeeds, emotional rewards might also become evident such as self-confidence, happiness, and optimism.

Maintenance: Although a recovery plan is in place and a recovering addict has taken action towards that plan, maintaining sobriety can be challenging. This stage might even include relapse, but the foundation for a sober life is becoming firm. The person in recovery is becoming more aware of old habits and is growing the ability to make healthier choices. The test of this stage is maintaining the new behavior in order to create life-long change.

Knowing these stages might be useful for someone who is considering ending their addiction. It’s helpful to know that it takes time. Sometimes when change isn’t happening as quickly as we like, it’s easy to beat yourself up. Yet, knowing that change will take time can make the process easier and even less stressful. 

 

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Chris Massman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. Chris' training includes Family Systems Theory along with numerous other theories. She believes therapy is an art and chooses the theory she feels will most benefit the individual sitting in front of her. Her specialty lies is in the field of Chemical Dependency and Addictions. Chris is currently seeing individuals, couples and families. Chris is a Clinical member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists as well as the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Chris has two locations including Tarzana and Agoura Hills, CA.