Recovery & Sobriety – Setting Short Term Goals in Early Recovery

Recovery & Sobriety – Setting Short Term Goals in Early Recovery
Recovery is about a return to good health and in order to return to good health you may benefit from setting goals to help you get there. I talk to lots of clients early in their recovery about the importance of goal setting to help them achieve what they really want out of life, which is often ultimately to achieve sobriety, repair relationships and get some control back in their lives.

Sobriety requires much more than just sheer willpower which can be the reason people fail trying to do it alone with no direction. It requires motivation, goals, support, time, practice, routine, focus, patience and positive reinforcement.

‘Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.’    -Tony Robbins

If you are starting to understand setting goals for your recovery then focus on sorting them into short, medium and long term goals. Short term goals are from day one to day ninety. Medium term goals are from three months to twelve months. While long term goals are from twelve months and into the future. Its important to set goals which are realistic, achievable and motivating. Working towards your goals then starts to become part of a new routine in the longer term. As you reach your goals you will experience positive reinforcement that you have completed something you set out to achieve along with the feel good factor. They helps to build your confidence and self-esteem and most importantly your belief in yourself. Good strong routines in turn are a great relapse preventative measure in the long term.

Firstly you need to make a very clear decision on what your basic ultimate goal is in terms of your recovery. For example, do you want to be alcohol free, drug free, stop using pornography or give up gambling for good? What ever your ultimate goal is, that is your finish line. Right now in early recovery your only thinking about running a race. Every single goal you set out will help to support and reinforce your ultimate goal.

What should your short term goals be in early recovery?

Short term goals are really about helping the individual find some kind of balance and routine in their lives. These goals are focused on the present and should be quite simple and achievable. Set both daily and weekly goals, one week at a time. I think limiting them to no more than ten goals can help prevent feelings of being overwhelmed. It is much better to do two or three really well then ten half hardheartedly. Short term goals are about helping the client stabilise physically, mentally and emotionally.

Here are some common short term goals my clients often set out in the first 90 days.

  • Committing to one personal therapy session every week in the first 90 days.
  • Going to a support group two to three times a week in the first 90 days.
  • Learning about recovery and reading a book every night about recovery and self-development can help you to focus and gain some personal insight or, reading one book a week.
  • Keeping a journal and once a day spending some time writing down your thoughts and feelings.
  • Keeping a diary each day and writing in it each morning the things that will help you to focus on your recovery and sobriety that day. One day at a time.
  • Choosing an exercise like running or swimming, something you know you enjoy which will help you to burn off stress, anxiety, tension, frustration and all the emotions your may start to feel as you change your habits and behaviors. Exercise clears your head, helps you to focus and improves your sleep. Try to commit to your exercise every second day or so.
  • Start thinking about housekeeping. Housekeeping means that you start to get rid of any triggers, paraphernalia or products which may lead you to acting out. This may be deleting email addresses and accounts, clearing the house of alcohol or cigarettes or removing traces of anything which may lead you to consider a relapse.
  • Setting some goals around relationship healing is often on most peoples list. This may be something simple like asking your partner to sit down with and start talking to them about what your goals and plans for sobriety. It might also mean sitting down with your partner and listening to their needs and feelings. It might mean inviting them to a therapy session or talking about going to relationship counselling together.
  • Listen to a podcast or audio book about recovery, motivation or personal development.
  • Start writing lists which you can bring to therapy or work through yourself. List of goals, lists of motivations, lists of regrets, lists of thoughts and insights, lists of relapses, lists of people to connect with, lists of triggers, lists of music to listen to that will inspire you, lists of emotions, lists of hurt, lists of pain, lists of plans for the future. Writing down your thoughts can help you put context onto what you have be going through and is a way of letting go and releasing emotional pain.
  • Finding ways to learn to relax maybe by going to a yoga class or having a massage therapy session once a week.
  • Write out some thoughts on medium and long terms goals for recovery and your personal life.
  • Short term goals may simply be doing the things you have been avoiding for a long time like going to the GP, dentist or getting health checkups.
  • Personal hygiene and self-care is often a good short term goal. It may be simply getting up earlier every day, taking a hot shower and getting dressed.
  • Write an activity list of things that you can do to help you work through urges. This is a kind of activity list you can practice when you are feeling triggered. It may include things like meditation, go for a walk, do press-ups, phone a friend, breathing exercises, stretching etc.
  • Find an app that you can use every day to help monitor and motivate your recovery.
  • Do some research online of support groups, resources, workshops or blogs that might help promote your recovery.
  • Do something different at the weekend from your regular weekends. This might mean not socialising in the same way or meeting with different friends or family or planing activities for early in the morning instead of later at night.

So you can now start to see that short term goals are about helping you to focus on all the things which will promote your sobriety one day at a time from week to week. As you reach your goals, set new ones, this is how you grow and change. Recovery really is a learning process that times time and persistence. The more time you give it, the more you will gain from the work you put into yourself.

I believe that support and connection with people is a major part of what gets people through the early days of recovery.  Addiction counselling helps you to work through all the challenges you come up against so that you can learn how to recover. Recovery is about returning to health and finding your true happy fulfilled self. Keep it simple. Achieve your short term goals. Sooth yourself in positive ways. Give yourself praise and positive recognition every single day. Stay strong one day at a time. Reward yourself for goals achieved.

The biggest mistake is that people try to do it alone. You alone can do it, but, you can not do it alone. Remember, keep up your therapy sessions and support groups in your early days no matter how good or bad you are doing.


Irish Country Living | Dear Miriam ‘I’m an addict living a double life’

In 2014, I spoke with Dear Miriam from The Irish Farmers Journal and Irish Country Living about the issue of Sexual Addiction and how to get help.

‘I’m an addict living a double life and I feel so alone’

Dear Miriam,
I read your recent column about living with addiction with great interest and intrigue. I don’t live with an addict, but could relate to what some of the people were saying.
The addiction that everyone is most familiar with is that of alcoholism, but people are not so familiar with other equally destructive addictions, such as food, work and gambling. Then there is the addiction I am battling with: it is that of sex addiction. Many will think this to be farcical, but in reality it’s not – it’s an addiction. When one is addicted, they are not in control, which in turn leads to the addiction taking over that person’s life – that is where I am.
I have numerous partners every week and I frequent places that I know I shouldn’t. I know what I am doing is wrong, not only for myself, but for everyone around me – for the hearts that I break, never allowing them to see this side of me, cutting them out of my life if they get too close. But I continue to do it, telling myself I will stop time and time again. I lead a double life. I live away from home and I don’t have one friend outside of work, which makes me a very lonely person. Because I prioritise my addiction, it rules my spare time.
I have now started to seek counselling because I want to stop, but even she tells me it will never completely go away. Am I going to be like this for ever? Will I grow into a lonely old person with no one noticing when I die? What would my family think if they knew? I have so many worries going round in my head every day, sometimes I feel so lost. I’m in my 20s and successful with my career, but my life is so empty.
Dear Anon,
Thank you for your letter. On your behalf, I have made contact with Orlagh Gahan, a psychotherapist at The Centre for Sexual Addictions in Dublin ( which provides one-to-one confidential and non-judgmental counselling/psychotherapy for those struggling with potential sex and pornography addiction, as well as to their loved ones.
As you rightly say, sex addiction is by no means “farcical” and, according to the centre, is a real and growing issue. As with all addictions, an unhealthy relationship with sex is developed as a form of coping or self-soothing. Though, unlike alcohol or drug addiction, sex (like food) is a basic primal drive, therefore making recovery slightly more complex yet absolutely attainable.
Of course a big problem is the stigma and lack of understanding attached to addiction, which can see people isolate themselves from their loved ones – a scenario that you describe in your letter.
It’s often this “shame barrier” that prevents people reaching out for help, but the fact that you have already started to seek counselling is a massive step and one that you should be proud of. However, if you feel you are not being sufficiently supported by your counsellor, it’s worth finding a counsellor who does have experience in psychosexual or addiction issues.
The centre advises that through appropriate counselling, you should get the emotional support you need to explore the addiction cycle, triggers and behaviours, as well as relapse prevention and recovery techniques. I know you fear that this problem will overwhelm you, but by getting the right support and learning to reconnect with yourself, you can overcome destructive or addictive behaviour and become capable of great things, including re-engaging on an emotional and intimate level with loved ones, thus reducing your sense of loneliness and isolation.
This addiction is only one small aspect of yourself and through counselling, commitment, support and personal understanding, a healthy balance and a healthy sexuality can be restored.
So please, remember you are not alone. Reach out for the support that you so deserve. I wish you the best of luck.
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