People in active addiction are often caught up in the moment, but not in a healthy way. Marc Lewis—neuroscientist and author of the book Memoirs of an Addicted Brain—said about people in active addiction, “You can’t think about tomorrow or next week. You’ve lost the idea of yourself being on a line that extends from the past into the future. You’re just drawn into this vortex that is the now.”
Part of recovery is learning to tolerate the moment without needing to “fix” it with alcohol, drugs, or another addictive behavior. In early recovery, it’s often recommended to take things moment by moment so as to not overwhelm yourself.
Being Sober Makes it Possible to Think Ahead
But it’s a balance. You can learn to take things as they come while still working towards goals. A wonderful thing about being sober is that it gives you the capacity to look ahead, so that your plans for the future don’t stop at your next drink or hit.
This is true at the neurological level. Addiction alters functioning in the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain involved in planning and decision-making. As your brain heals, you will be able to see yourself “on a line that extends from the past into the future.”
Making Short-Term Goals in Recovery
That said, if you’re early in recovery, it might feel less overwhelming to start with short-term goals. Often newly sober people are faced with many big and small responsibilities they neglected in active addiction.
Repairing relationships, careers, finances, and other things that might have suffered in addiction takes time. Start with the small. Do you need to renew your license? Update your resume? Perhaps try journaling about the administrative tasks you need to accomplish and set a schedule.
Planning for the Future in Recovery
This doesn’t mean you can’t have goals for farther ahead in the future; it just means that you don’t need to race to the finish line when it comes to accomplishing your goals in sobriety. Try journaling about what you might want out of the next years or months. Give yourself prompts like, “If I accomplished _____ in five years, I would feel good.” “I am happy when I’m doing ____ and would like to do more of it.”
Planning for a future that’s months or years ahead inherently helps you figure out your values, which you might not know after years of prioritizing alcohol or drugs. For instance, if one of your goals is finding a partner or repairing relationships with friends, you know that love and connection are deeply important to you. You might check out the SMART Recovery Toolbox, which helps you clarify your values.
I’ve been sober over five and a half years and can attest that you keep gaining mental clarity the longer time you spend in recovery. This makes it easier to see where you need to go—and how you might get there.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. Amatus Recovery Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you plan for a future of long-term recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.