Reimagining Recovery

By Ken Wells - 10/27/2020


Series One: Blog Sixty-Three

“After a cruel childhood, one must reinvent oneself. Then reimagine the world.” ― Mary Oliver

Recovery is about reimagining the personal reality in the world you live. “The first step towards reimagining a world gone terribly wrong would be to stop the annihilation of those who have a different imagination. An imagination which has an altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfillment”. (Arundhati Roy). In addiction and destructive behavior, it becomes easy to conclude that those who do not approve of your actions, the way you live or the way you see the world become enemies to be avoided and resisted. As an addict it is difficult to imagine that happiness and satisfaction could possibly be attained other than through your drug of choice. Reimagining the possibility of a drug free life with no medication or process to escape for many seems inconceivable. 

Visualization is a crucial skillset to cultivate in recovery. Whenever faced with crisis and chaos, it becomes tempting to lock into a mentality of working through the crisis so that you can return to what was experienced as normal from the past. The idea is to hang on and survive until the crisis has passed and then things will get back to normal. This certainly is true about navigating through and around COVID-19. Yet, what is necessary for all is to reimagine a new world with a new understanding of what “normal” is to be. The old normal is over and the future will never be just like it once was. That’s the way it is with the chaos and crisis that is created from a life impacted by addiction. What once was will never be again. It is absolutely necessary to reimagine a new reality. Those who do not often become stuck and resort to numbing out with addictive acting out. This all seems the same as past, yet, the return to addictive acting out is entering a continuum of downward spiral that accelerates the clutches of intensity of addiction. You never re-enter the same place you left in addiction recovery and relapse. 

To stop this vortex of destruction it is necessary to embrace and practice the skill of visualization.  Many years ago I worked as a youth pastor with junior high kids, alongside a colleague. We had a rather large junior high youth group of about 150 kids. In the summer time we conducted a youth camp with the Lone Tree Bible Ranch camp. While there we would do a number of different outdoor activities. One was that we would take all the kids in hay wagons over to the Glendo Reservoir, not too far away, and let the kids cliff jump into the reservoir. Depending upon the farmer’s need for water, the cliff could be anywhere from 15 to 60 feet. It was interesting to watch the kids. Fearlessly, some would jump immediately and do it again and again. Some were fearful and needed to build up the nerve to jump. There were a few that never jumped. Our fearless leader who was my colleague did not know how to swim. Yet, he thought that if the kids were jumping he needed to as well. So, he would stare down at the water for the longest time. There were excellent swimmers treading water waiting for him to jump. Finally, 30 minutes later after visualizing success, he would jump and when he came to the water’s surface the expert swimmers would grab him and make sure he got back to shore. Kind of crazy but that’s what happened every year I worked this camp. He even jumped when it was 60 ft. Miraculously, he never drowned!

A sixty-foot cliff jump is 6 stories. It is far enough to think about it on your way down. My colleague would tell me that as he stood there on the edge of the cliff thinking about jumping, it was always the kids who jumped that inspired him. He figured that if they could jump so could he. Eventually, he took the plunge. He was the only one who jumped who could not swim. Yet he visualized that he could and went through this ritual each of the 15 years he was the junior high leader. 

I have learned so much about recovery from those days at the Glendo Reservoir. Visualization has become a mainstay in my life of recovery. There have been many times that I have told myself if “they can do it so can I”. Visualizing a new reality has helped me to build a foundation for recovery. It has been crucial in reimagining a new world of sobriety and serenity. I have thought about my colleague reimagining something different than the paralysis of fear that dominated him at the edge of that cliff. Visualization has helped me many times take the plunge of recovery task when hesitant or feeling overwhelmed. Through visualization, I have been able to imagine the tasks of recovery as if I were running a marathon, coming into the stadium for the final trip around the track and notice those who were in the stands cheering me on. I would be sure to place those inspirational people who are in my life in the stands cheering me on to completion. I would put historic figures who have long since passed in the stands. They would be the ones who took their stand for principle and rightness. I would see them in the stands cheering me on toward completion of a very difficult recovery task. Visualization has always been a helpful tool.

Here is a list of tools that help to cultivate visualization:

Gratitude: Whenever you are stuck with feelings of overwhelm, it helps to work through the difficulty with the practice of gratitude. Worry and fret takes what is and makes it less. So when you are overwhelmed with fear of failure in your recovery, fear of COVID, fear of the economy, global warming or the violence that might come from riots across America, these thought and feelings will take whatever resources you have about what is and make them less. Yet, gratitude— the act of being grateful for all the riches and resources that are at your disposal will take what is and make it more! It fuels positive visualization that supports an addict working through doubt and despair. 

Reframe —  The art of reframing is absolutely necessary to support the skill of visualization. Reimagining a new reality as an addict relies upon being able to take disappointing news, rejection, trials and tribulation and reframe your perspective so that you do not become ensnared by victim posture, perspective and behavior. This will take hard work. It is not about embracing the improbable and ignoring the obvious. Shit does happen and can roll downhill. Rather, it is about disciplining through practice to choose an option that will inspire and invigorate a solution to move forward without giving your power away to another person, place or result. This art form will accelerate reimagining an infused life through visualization. 

Community Connection— you have to hang out with people who visualize and think the way you want to be. If there is no one in the group you attend that is so inspired, then you be that one who absolutely refuses to be defined by the behavior that victimized you. Live your life in such a way that you give up the power of your story line of victimization. Create a community of inspiration and determination to reimagine a new world not dominated by addiction or negative beliefs.

Acting as if”– This is an old tried and tested reality necessary for visualization to be effective. Motivating speeches and inspirational environments are ineffective without this component in your life. Hanging out with powerful people is no substitute. When you are down and burdened with misbelief and discouragement, you will not think your way into a better action. You will act your way into a better way of thinking. In recovery, I have learned to pay attention and to be plugged into my feelings. To do otherwise is disastrous for recovery. That being said, once I have learned what is needed to meet an emotional need that is hidden under the addictive urge, then “acting as if” I have already met that need and living according- not allowing the feeling of discouragement, neediness or anything else to dominate is the only way to make the visualization of sobriety and serenity become a reality. Belief is an Anglo Saxon word that means to “live in accordance with”. It begins with inspired visualization and is completed with unfettered action. 

Reimagining an existence of peace and serenity within the context of today’s crisis and complicated struggles will require that each of us exercise the power of visualization in order to establish a brave new world. 

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