Everyone knows that the best way you can accomplish something is by setting a goal to get there. Your parents, your childhood teachers, your boss, even your trainer gives you the same tome over and over: set a goal and make a plan to get there, and boom! Success will follow.
There are over 450 million results for “setting goals” in Google, so obviously, it’s something people research and dig into. I’ve personally set many goals, from cutting back on sugar, completing a 5K, finishing my master’s…and I’ll admit, it helps to know where I’m going and what I’m doing it for. It’s nice to have an idea of what I’m accomplishing and what all the hard work and effort is going towards. There’s a sense of direction, of purpose even, in getting to check off my lists and say, “I did that”.
I’m not telling anyone to stop making goals, of going after the things they want in a measurable and reasonable way. That would be silly.
But I want to be real with you for a minute. I work in recovery. I’ve seen a lot of amazing people come through my doors, sat with some beautiful families, made real friends and loved on people from all over the country. I’ve watched many of them metamorphose from feeling broken and small, reliant on drugs or alcohol to get them through their day into beautiful, free beings who knew they were never really broken, who saw life once more with childlike wonder and awe. These people left the care of my building to go on to lives that were once more fulfilling for the journey of each day, and hopefully our paths will only cross again in the future as friends.
There were a few people who left the care of my building who seemed to have it all together, who said and did the right things, things that showed progress, but for some reason seemed to still stumble. I’ve been thinking a lot about these people, and noticing there is a common theme among them: those people made goals. They made goals that would make Stephen Covey proud. They hustled and planned and wrote out mission statements that would make Renee Zellwegger leave Tom Cruise. It seemed like such a great idea at the time, such amazing plans with rosily optimistic outcomes. And these people went out and achieved their goal, which is the amazing part. They crushed it.
And then…they faltered. Unbeknownst to me at the time, they had staked their everything into their goals, which is what helped enable them to be so fantastic at it. But rather than looking into the mirror and clearly seeing the perfect being they already were, this human who had everything within to handle life and all its experiences, when they looked in the mirror they saw the perfection hidden behind the big huge #GOALS they had planned for themselves. They innocently got caught up in what they could now achieve, rather than seeing what they already were.
I don’t blame them. Our society demands that we set goals or we’re just aimless dreamers. Business meetings applaud last year’s earnings while demanding more this year. We count sobriety in days to earn chips, each one more precious than the last. Even Girl Scouts have a cookie quota. But when it comes to sobriety, when it comes to a person living their Healthiest, Happiest, Best Life Ever — it’s not a race. It’s not a competition. It’s immeasurable.
The goal itself isn’t even inherently bad. It’s good to have some semblance of an idea of what you want out of life. It’s the meaning that you place on that goal that can be dangerous. What happens if you slip up, even just once? What happens if you set the goal much too high? What happens if you actually meet your goal? Then what?
Ironically, it’s the last one that tripped up my friends. Like I said, they met their goals and felt amazing about it. But since they’d looked at the goal for their source of happiness, fulfillment, content, once it was past they felt…empty. They’d used the goal to fuel their fire and now that fire was out. They had essentially substituted their previous drug of choice for another—the heady warmth of reaching for success. On the surface, it seems crazy to equate the two: one is going after what you want and the other is using substances in an unhealthy way, but if you look deeper, it’s crystal clear. Achievement becomes the new way to get high, and you get encouragement from friends, family, and coworkers to keep getting another hit. But like with all drugs, once you hit the pinnacle there’s no where to go but back down to Earth, where you’re now left to search for something else to replace the rush.
I still like goals. They’re useful and fun to plan and create vision boards about. But now I’m careful to remind my friends that while goals are useful, they’re still just another tool, another “thing” outside the already-perfect beings they are. The sobriety we are reaching for is not measured in days sober, days not thinking about using, or days that went according to our “goal”. The sobriety we make way for is the amazing by-product of knowing who we are, of living the kind of amazing life we would wish for our children, of making the healthy choices we would choose for any of our loved ones. The sobriety we all crave is the sobriety that doesn’t have to be painstakingly measured minute by minute, day by day, but is instead an effortless fact of life, one where we can look straight into the mirror and clearly see the insane amount of potential there. The sobriety we long for is not about any drug or alcohol at all, but the assurance that we are healthy, without any tools, tricks, or steps to prop us up.
If you still need to make a goal, make a goal to be amazing. To be kind to yourself. To treat yourself well. To love.
And then forget about striving towards it and just live it.
For more information about our non 12 step, mindfulness based substance abuse recovery program in Roswell, Georgia, give us a call at 800.556.2966