Day 14: Aim Higher! No, Higher!

“It is better to aim high and miss than to aim low and hit.”
― Les Brown

Dryuary is about putting alcohol aside for a whole month and experiencing the benefits of a sober life. It’s a wonderful annual ritual that I take part in myself.

But believe it or not, recovery isn’t just about avoiding your unhealthy “addictive” behaviors. It’s about enriching your life, so you no longer want, crave, desire or need that which is bad for you.

The thing is that, for many of us, the idea of living a life that rich seems far-fetched. So let me tell you this – you should never settle for “okay” Because if that’s where you settle, that’s where you’ll stay… Imagine this instead: a life in which you are happy with yourself and are surrounded with positive people who support you and your dreams.

It may be difficult to fathom, but you can use this Dryuary as the starting point. If you imagine it and commit to the effort it will take to create this life, you can make it happen.

I know it because I’ve been through it myself and seen hundreds of people go through the same transformation. My client Paula was such a person – an incredibly successful executive who came to see me to reduce her drinking. She was drinking herself to pass out 4-5 times per week and had been doing it for years. She had no desire to quit because she couldn’t imagine her life without alcohol. She was using it to quiet the voice in her head that wouldn’t stop telling her everything was wrong and all the things she was failing in. She needed the help that alcohol provided. Sure, she had taken a few extended breaks in the past but felt completely miserable during them. Sound familiar?

When we started out, we put our focus squarely on the aspects of her life that Paula felt were causing her the most stress and pain. Paula had taken it for granted that those aspects couldn’t change, but we worked hard to create a bit more space and self-care (she hadn’t thought of that for years!) even in the midst of all the chaos. Paula managed to take a short break (14 days) from drinking as we started working together and wanted to extend it a bit. She noticed an improved relationship with her husband and improved performance and satisfaction at work. She didn’t want to stop drinking forever, but was using to the time to the best of her ability. During this time she started working out regularly, partially as a way to fill the time previously taken up by drinking and partially to deal with the extra energy she found she had. She also began applying some simple mindfulness work in her life. In the process, she started to trust and respect herself more. She hadn’t felt that way in years (despite her incredible success in her profession).

And then Paula relapsed and felt terrible. She was disappointed in herself and lost some of the trust she and her husband had built up. There were so many previous attempts that ended this way that both Paula and her husband were afraid the same old cycle had repeated itself. But unlike in previous attempts, Paula had not been working solely on her drinking this time. She had dug deep, looking at her childhood and need for perfection; her relationship and the avoidance of conflict; the over-commitment to others and under-commitment to herself that had become standard for her over decades.

Paula suddenly realized that aiming for being “okay” in life was setting the bar too low. When she recognized the improvements she had already made in her life and how she moved beyond searching for being “okay,” she chose to stop drinking for good. The decision was actually no longer about drinking, which she had used for years to avoid pain and reduce stress. Now her decision was about making choices she wanted to for herself – she was no longer avoiding drinking (or pain and stress) but instead set her sights on filling life with things that brought her joy while eliminating those things that caused the stress in the first place.

Not drinking became much easier.

While there were certainly other aspects we worked on (reducing shame, dealing with social pressure and more), Paula’s recovery became easy, even joyful.

She’s now been sober from alcohol for more than two years, and her quality of life has changed drastically. Gone are the nightly blackouts, the embarrassing parties that ended with her passing out and the slurred speech during nightly readings to her kids. Life is normal. She is finally happy.

The road to recovery can be hard work. Why bother with all the hard work if you just end up feeling ”okay”? Isn’t feeling mediocre or down about yourself the reason why you became addicted in the first place?

What if you were to look to the sky and reach for more?

You never know what’s possible if you don’t reach for it… But not believing that more is possible is the ultimate prescription for failure.

I know, because when I was released from jail, “okay” would have been a dream. Just being “normal” was going to be a victory for me at that point because of how far down I’d gone. I remember saying to myself, when I finally got out, that I would commit to doing anything that guaranteed me I wouldn’t be back there – clean toilets, stack shirts, mop floors – whatever. Average was fantastic at the time. But had I just stopped once I reached “okay,” I would have never looked up to the sky and done all of the work I did, stayed up late and studied, or filled out all of the applications that eventually allowed me to get to where I am now – a place I could’ve never imagined to be.

When you’re struggling with addiction, and you face a setback, it’s easy to feel like you’ll never amount to anything. But, if you never set goals any higher than just being “okay” you rob yourself of an excellent quality of life. So here are some examples to set you straight about just what is possible after ultimate struggles:

From Recovery to Success

J.K. Rowling was clinically depressed and suicidal, divorced, living in government housing and struggling to pay her bills. Even so, she wrote book after book. She faced many rejections on the path to publication, but she did not give up. Not only that, she believed in herself and her stories, and she knew they (and she) were more than ‘okay.’ She’s now the writer of the world’s most successful book series and a billionaire.

Before powerhouse Oprah Winfrey made it big on her talk show, she had a drug habit and an awful history of childhood sexual abuse. She was told repeatedly that she didn’t have the right look for TV and weighed too much to become popular. But she didn’t settle for an ‘okay’ life. She dreamt big, and she made her mark on the world.

Thomas Edison, known as America’s biggest inventor, is well known for “failing” at making a working light bulb over 10,000 times. But he was famous for saying that those 10,000 failures were simply his way of finding “10,000 ways that didn’t work.” Imagine the motivation it takes to try something 10,000 times.

Mind you; I’m not suggesting you aim for TV stardom or become a bestselling author! Just move those goalposts further afield and create your own reality. Imagine how easy it would have been for any one of those individuals to quit. No one would have faulted them with the odds stacked so high against them. But the world would now be a darker, boring and less inspired place without them. What can you create and make happen if you simply aim high enough?

In short, never settle for “okay.” Always reach for great, no matter where your “great” currently is. It’ll end up bringing you to the incredible goal you’re supposed to achieve, a place you probably can’t even imagine right now. Don’t worry about others. If you pay attention to your own progress, you’ll amaze yourself. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times, in my own life and in the lives of many of my clients. There is nothing that kills hope as much as playing down your own expectations for greatness.

The drive for great is what brought Paula to decide to stop drinking completely. It’s what allowed her to bring her husband in for work, taking their marriage from barely surviving to absolutely thriving. I challenge you to seek the same for yourself – whether it’s through listening to our podcasts at IGNTD or my book – The Abstinence Myth – or our online courses (for relationships or addiction). Whatever the route, found yours, so you can experience the life that currently seems unattainable by believing it’s there and working to achieve it!

Post Submitted by: Dr. Adi Jaffe
Dr. Adi Jaffe holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He teaches courses at UCLA that address addiction specifically, research statistics or biological psychology and behavioral neuroscience more generally. Well-known for his online and academic writing, Dr. Jaffe’s views on addiction and his research on the topic have been published on his own (a website he started publishing while still in graduate school) as well as Psychology Today and dozens of other journals and online publications. He has appeared on several television shows including Good Morning America and in documentaries discussing current topics in addiction.

5 thoughts on “Day 14: Aim Higher! No, Higher!

  1. Horse Lover

    At first I wasn’t convinced on this article, but as I read further, I got it. If we don’t aim high enough to challenge ourselves, we will never climb higher. And I would suggest that maybe we learn to aim not just higher, but aim different. So, for me, the aim has changed from “drink less alcohol” to be present for all of life’s events, small & large. The way to hit that target is by removing or reducing alcohol. That’s helpful for me because it takes my focus off of alcohol, putting it where I want to go…to a better life and a better me.

  2. Raul

    Great LONG article. Good ideas and things I can relate to.

    ** I have to say, some of the readings are way too long, enough to not want to read them sometimes. But I power through them anyway, others may not.

  3. Kary May Hickey Post author

    I love Dr. Jaffe’s post today because, I know, for me, I had to envision greater things to maintain my sobriety. Even though sometimes I chide myself and say, “You should learn to be happy with what you have and relax and just enjoy life.” I soon become bored with “relaxing.” I think there’s always going to be the pull to do more for me.

    So, if you’re imagining greater things this morning, good! What does your greater life look like? I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. One thing I’ve learned at MM is if I tell others my intent, it makes it a lot harder not to honor that intent.

    I’ve got a novel that I’ve been sending around to agents half-heartedly because I fear rejection. I fear a folder full of rejections will puncture that great big balloon of expectation I have for this book I’ve worked on for 8 years. But, you know what? I’m going to start sending out queries like a Nigerian prince pleading for a bank account to store his millions in. And, I’m going to keep writing. I’ve been getting up an hour earlier every morning to write. Striding toward greatness one word at a time.

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