Paving a New Path
by Cole Timonere, JD, MA, NCC, PhD Student
“If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one.” -Dolly Parton
A repeated theme amongst folks who struggle with addiction is the report of feeling “stuck.” Unfortunately, recovery is something that is not always achieved on the first try and when there are multiple attempts, people are often left to feel as if each additional attempt will end on the same note as the attempt that preceded. We hear clients and their families refer to this as a “loop” or “shuffle.”
Often, the culprit of this stuck state is that folks are of the belief that continually exercising the same state of mind will yield different results. While the big book makes mention of this and refers to it as insanity, the reality is that more often than not, this thought is not a conscious one, and so there is a lack of insight on the need for change internally. Rather than considering one’s mental state and the need for a shift, the focus tends to be on outside changes. In treatment, there is a lot of conversation about learning tools and skills to cope with cravings and red flags to avoid. While these are necessary topics to cover, they are merely the tip of the iceberg. The real work is gaining insight on all that lies beneath. We know that deeper work has not taken place when client’s say things like “I have the tools, I just need to learn to apply them.” Yes, tools are absolutely a necessary part of emotion regulation and abstaining from harmful behaviors, however the utilization of said tools does not just happen without deeper emotional work and healing.
Consider this metaphor. In a field of tall grass, a walker treks the same route repeatedly, causing the grass beneath them to become worn down over time. A path forms and continues to become more defined, where the walker notices the ease of utilizing the well pronounced walkway. In fact, it has become so comfortable to use this path that the walker may even enjoy walking it despite the negative place to which it leads. Eventually, despite realizing that the path always leads to a place of misery, the walker is of the belief that it is the only path and destination that exists. This is the state of being “stuck.” We become of the belief there are no other routes or experiences. The first step is to gain the insight that we are in a field, or rather world, of endless possibilities filled with countless paths to countless places. This is usually the stage of learning tools, skills, and gaining insight into our red flags. The second step is much harder, which is to begin forming, or as Dolly Parton eludes, “paving” a whole new path. This is a difficult step that can be draining, emotional, and arduous. In fact, in a field of tall grass, walking outside of the worn grass is painfully uncomfortable and may, in some respects feel impossible or wrong. The reality is, we must have faith that there is another way and allow others to assist us in gaining the insight and facing the difficulty that comes with paving a new path toward freedom and peace.