What does the tidiness of your room have to do with staying sober? A lot.
If you want to re-organize your life, start with your room. It is our belief that responsibility is the long-term antidote to relapse. There is nothing more destructive than a life of addiction. It is destructive to ourselves, our families, our friends and our communities. No sobriety attempt is going to be successful unless the individual eventually adopts a sense of personal responsibility - keeping our side of the street clean, to use a common recovery phrase. Because this process is often a slow one that unfolds over time, the best way we know to begin the process is starting with our own rooms.
Clean up your room. That's a good start. Organize your local landscape. Only by taking care of your immediate environment can you then move on to bigger challenges. In a distracted age, our inability to focus our attention on the small things that we have control over leads, over time, to an increase in anxiety and depression. How could it not? It is very difficult to feel any sense of control in a world where we do not even have control over our own immediately living space.
A room is manageable. It is yours, and if it's not clean and organized, there is no blame to redirect to someone else. You need to have somewhere to go that is worthwhile. You want to start and end your day with some semblance of order. The world is a chaotic place with countless moving pieces and regardless of how stable we are maintaining our lives, the chaos can become overwhelming. Let your room be your refuge, and treat it that way.
You want your room to be set up so that when you walk in there, you feel more ordered and stable than you were five seconds before. An organized room is an appropriate metaphor for an organized mind. The room is a symbol for your habits. When you're walking into your room, you're either walking into chaos or you're walking into order. There is a French culinary phrase that applies here:
mise en place: everything in it's place.
Often people who are just trying to get started on the 'sober thing' are doing so in an environment that would be considered anything but ideal. You may be living in a sober living facility, a half-way house, or simply in a terribly disordered household. You may be sharing a room - that's no problem, just clean up your half of the room. None of these situations should interfere with your ability to organize your own room.
So straighten up your room. See what happens if you fix it up - you'll be simultaneously fixing yourself up. The first time might take a little bit of an effort, but after that it will be a small daily maintenance.
I've heard a great analogy about getting sober: when we were drinking or using, every problem in our life got thrown into the back seat without a second glance, and then when we get sober, it's like we slam on the breaks, and all those problems we were avoiding come crashing forward front and center.
Getting and staying sober is not easy. It feels like there is chaos all around for a long time, and having a neat and clean space to retreat back to - however small or confined that space may be -makes a big difference.
Addiction is a life of irresponsibility. Whether or not we believe we are the cause of this life or we are mercilessly in the grips of an overpowering affliction makes little difference. Deep in the heart of every active substance abuser he knows he is living an irresponsible life. Irresponsibility is only combatted through daily, intentional and responsible action. This doesn't start by changing the world. It starts by cleaning our room.
Post-detox disillusionment is a phrase we coined after years of observing the behavioral and psychodynamic fall-out following a successful detoxification. For many chemical dependents , the final months and years of one's active addiction can only accurately be described as literal hell. One's life narrows and becomes very small as the motivating forces in his/her life consist almost entirely of avoiding chemical withdrawal and ensuring the substance is obtained at any cost. Any preexisting conditions, psychosocial difficulties, past traumas or neurotic temperaments which may have lead to the beginning of substance abuse are clouded out of the mind, and all one's problems and difficulties seem to be solely related to the chemical addiction. As difficult as this phase of the addiction is to overcome, and as seemingly hopeless and insurmountable the dependency feels at the moment, many users have an intuitive feeling that if he were somehow able to detoxify completely from the substance, all his current difficulties would vanish, and life would be simple and joyous.
Whenever I speak to individuals in the detox setting, I will always say that although detoxification may be the most physically painful part of the recovery process, the most difficult part for many tends to be the period immediately following this. This is the time when most begin to realize that there is a long road of rehabilitation ahead, and detox is simply the ante in the poker game. If the hardest part of drug rehabilitation were making it through a detox, everyone who makes it to thirty days continuous sobriety should stay sober. If you're closely tied to the world of recovery, you know this is hardly the case. We see many, many people celebrating thirty days of sobriety but relatively few celebrating nine months.
To get sober is an admirable goal and a significant accomplishment in itself, however the main achievement is in the recovery. By recovery we mean that the spiritual life of the individual becomes higher than it was prior to the illness. The positive impact that a successful recovery has upon the world is incalculable but ripples out far beyond the immediate scope of one's life. This is the initial meaning of a life of recovery. This is the meaning in the suffering. It is the suffering that becomes a springboard towards a life of purpose, and the positive impact that one recovering individual can have upon the world is beyond imagine. Dr. Viktor Frankl says in Will to Meaning that "suffering is not necessary to find meaning, however meaning is possible even in spite of suffering."
If there is one thing a chemical dependent truly understands, it is suffering - emotional, physical, and spiritual suffering. However, suffering in itself is not catastrophic if one can wrestle meaning from the suffering. For every individual who has successfully recovered, the day will come when looking back on his experiences, can no longer understand how he endured it all. The memories almost feel dreamlike - like it were one long nightmare from which one was finally and mercifully awaken. It appears that those individuals who are able to begin establishing a purpose for their lives and begin actively moving towards fulfilling it, have a much better chance of successfully moving through the "post-detox disillusionment" phase and truly begin to recover.
Dr. Frankl, coined the term "existential vacuum". It refers to what he considers the great collective neurosis of our time, an "inner void". That is to say the individual's lack of meaning in his life. Although this deep feeling of meaningless is impacting people across the spectrum, no where is it more prevalent and pervasive than in the world of drug addiction. A famous study was conducted by Annemarie von Forstmeyer and Stanley Krippner in the early 1980s showing that 100% of individuals suffering with chemical addictions admitted that they believed their lives were void of true meaning. How can this be overlooked? To this day, the number one predictor of long-term successful recovery is an individual's belief that his life has meaning and purpose. If one remains trapped in the "existential vacuum" for a long enough period of time, temporary sobriety may occur, but recovery is NOT happening.
It manifests itself as boredom and apathy. Incidentally, boredom is one of the most common complaints during the first several months of sobriety. Active drug abusers may be a lot of things, but bored is not typically one of them. Not only does the substance itself relieve feelings of boredom, a lot of time is spent getting and using the drug. When the detox period is over, and we start thinking about a lifetime without drugs or alcohol (although we will repeat "it's just one day at a time"), it feels overwhelming. Time seems to slow down, and each day can feel like a week. Working through the existential vacuum and moving towards a purpose is absolutely necessary if we expect to have any degree of comfort and actually recover.
Drug addiction is a life of suffering. We have met no one thus far who has said otherwise. Simply putting down the drugs does not relieve this suffering. We know that it doesn't because if it did, you would have done that a long time ago. The disillusionment that persists when the pains of detox are over can linger on for months and years. The 12 Rules are designed to help stay balanced, but it is up to you see the purpose in it all. Dostoevesky said, "there is only one thing I fear; not to be worthy of my suffering." We believe that it is the manner in which a man accepts his fate, how he carries his own cross, with all its inescapable suffering and courageously pursues purpose and meaning that defines recovery. This might be considered the moment that your sobriety turns into your recovery. Then it could be said that if you are recovering, you are worthy of your suffering. It has become a spiritual achievement that can not be taken away.
Successful recovery is the move from a life of complete irresponsibility to a life of responsible action; it is carrying one's own load and becoming part of the solution rather than part of the problem. One begins moving from a life of meaningless towards a life based upon values.
This is another reason it is necessary to surround oneself with strong mentors and teachers who are familiar with drug recovery. Harvard Professor Huston C. Smith, in his article, Value Dimensions in Teaching, said that values can not be taught; they must be lived. Nor can meaning be given. Therefore, the mentor can not give the recovering individual meaning but rather through his own example and lifestyle, provides the vision of what is possible.
Happiness is not the goal of recovery. Rather, happiness is the by-product of living a life of purpose and meaning. Individuals recovering from addictions have an unhealthy and often immature pursuit of expedient pleasure at the expense of responsibility and duty. For example, caring for the needs of an infant can be difficult and emotionally challenging, but this wouldn't indicate that these tasks are without meaning. On the contrary, this is one of the most responsible and dutiful tasks you could take on.
If one is suffering in a "post-detox disillusionment" and is not feeling as "happy" as one would like, this doesn't indicate that anything is wrong - you are simply moving along the road towards meaningful recovery! I cringe every time I hear someone say, "I didn't get sober to be miserable." What I hear that person saying is, "I'm not feeling happy right this second, and I want to feel happy all the time." No, you got sober because your addiction was destroying your life. There would have been no other reason to get sober. The Buddhists say that life is suffering, and the goal is to find meaning in the suffering. Sometimes the right move is to talk and meditate about a situation, sometimes it is time for directed action, but always it is about moving from the dark clouds of self-obsession into the bright light of life.