Recovery Help Now | First Step to Recovery & the Stages of Change
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First Step to Recovery & the Stages of Change

First Step to RecoveryThe first step of recovery is admitting you have a problem according to the AA tradition.  Sometimes, this isn’t the first step for individuals new to recovery.  The first step for some individuals might be increasing awareness, which will hopefully lead to admitting there’s a problem.  It’s easier to work towards a goal when you can clearly indicate a problem or barriers to the goal.  Realistically, it isn’t where everyone starts.  I think this is a huge problem in the recovery community.  Many clinicians, therapeutic communities, families and friends want the addict to identify having a problem.  The addict doesn’t admit the problem and the family find themselves frustrated and defeated.

According to researchers Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, who developed the Stages of Change, the first step of recovery is Pre-Contemplation.  Pre-Contemplation is when someone isn’t aware of the change that’s needed.  Many say these folks are in denial or lack insight.  Denial is a defense mechanism in order to avoid negative emotions.  This coping mechanism can be conscious or unconscious.  I think denial has a bad reputation.  We are mammals and it’s instinctual to protect ourselves when we feel threatened.

The next stage of change is Contemplation.  This stage indicates the individual is aware there’s a problem and considers dealing with it, but hasn’t made a commitment.  There’s no real action taken during this stage.  You may experience pain, but aren’t able or have the desire to change.  You may find yourself continuing the behavior despite the consequences.  So you know you should stop or start a behavior, but you don’t take any action.

The third stage is Preparation.  There is a stronger desire to change the behavior.  You might find yourself scheduling an appointment with a therapist, researching ways to address the issue and asking for help.  This is a touchy stage, because some folks can get discouraged and return to contemplating the problem once again.  I encourage you not to give up during this stage.  Keep on the path.  Keep seeking answers until you find something that works.

The fourth stage is Action.  During this stage one will take steps to change the behavior.  You will attend appointments to address the issue, actively participate in homework, and ask for guidance and support from others.  You find yourself making real substantial change in your life.  Most treatment works when someone is in the Action stage.  The first step of AA is an Action stage.  The first step of the AA program is admitting there’s a problem.  Acknowledging you are powerless over a behavior and your life has became unmanageable.  This is a huge step for many and not likely to be the first step.  I think this is important to be aware of when you are a family member or partner of someone who is addicted to a behavior or substance.  This isn’t going to come easy for many.  As a family member, your job is to take care of yourself and set limits wherever possible.  CRAFT is an excellent method to use when communicating with a loved one who is not conscious of his or her behavior.

The Final stage is Maintenance.  This stage focuses on managing the tools learned during Action stage and you are learning how to avoid relapse.  Many people relapse in this stage, and that is normal.  Of course, you want to avoid relapse, but it is a process towards recovery.  Learn more about relapse.  You are learning a new way of life and developing stability in this stage.  You have acquired tools and you know what to do if you get into a pickle.  This will be a process and isn’t going to change over night.  Your brain is still wired to find pleasure or satisfaction in the maladaptive behaviors you participated in in the past.  It is important during time of stress to seek out additional support in order to avoid any potential relapse.

So we learn today, that the first step of AA is not necessarily the first step towards change.  Change is a process.  I encourage you to be kind to yourself during this process.  Shame and guilt tend to pull us back to maladaptive behaviors.

Elana Clark-Faler
elana@recoveryhelpnow.com