Some time ago, I was taught how to evaluate someone’s recovery in terms of “Stages of change”. I found the information extremely useful to my own life. Possibly more for my own life than for studying others. Today, I will share how to analyze what stage of change you’re in and what you can do about it.
There are officially five states of change. They are:
If you think that evaluating everyone’s recovery story into five categories is oversimplified, you’d be right, but pigeonholing is still useful for setting a general approach.
“Precontemplation” is a fancy word for “Denial”. Denial is a word we try to avoid in the mental health system because it’s stigmatizing. It also may seem a bit arrogant to look at someone else, say you know what’s up with them, and then when they disagree, you just say they’re “in denial” about their own mind. As rude as this may seem, sometimes the truth is rude. I don’t advocate telling anyone they’re in denial. Those aren’t words that get you very far, but it’s useful to know that this stage exists. If you’re in Precontemplation about something, then introspection is unlikely to be directly applicable until you enter into at least Contemplation.
This is the stage of change where you realize there’s a problem, but you don’t have any immediate plans to do anything about it. I’ll give an example from my own life: Mountain Dew. I know it’s a bit of a cliche, but I’m a geek who is entirely addicted to Mountain Dew. This has serious problems for me. For one thing, my teeth are an absolute mess. I had something like 18 cavities recently, and I’ll probably need at least one root canal. I’m lucky to have my teeth at all, and I’m pretty young to be having these issues. It also leads to sleep deprivation, an emotional dependence on drinking mountain dew, and even some benign heart issues. I am fully aware that this is a problem, but right now I’m not doing anything about it. I hope to quit Mountain Dew someday, but I have other priorities and this is staying here in Contemplation. The Contemplation stage is useful in that it’s easier to move forward from Contemplation than from Precontemplation, but staying in Contemplation forever perpetuates the problem nearly as much as simply staying in Denial.
The Preparation stage is difficult to describe. It’s like taking action to prepare for serious action. I like to think that I’m in Preparation stage regarding going to church. I am very religious and love my church, but I have a pretty serious trauma history with churches I went to before my current one. Emotional responses to trauma history are, well, emotional. They are not rational. I am intellectually fully aware the the church I go to now is wonderful to me, but emotionally, I’m terrified of church. I feel they they judge me and look down on me and shun me, despite the mountain of evidence that my church family is loving and patient. They love to see me and think nothing less of me for my struggle.
As of this writing, I’ve not been in church this entire year. I missed the Nativity this past winter, and I’m afraid I’ll miss Pascha (Easter) in a few weeks. I don’t even know exactly how far we are into Lent because I’m so separated from my church. And remember, I deeply love my church. My priest is one of the best influences I have and he inspires me endlessly.
So how do I get to church? Well, I pray. I try to win the mental battle. I try to get my heart in a place where I feel safe instead of judged and shunned. I know the truth, and I work and pray to get my heart to believe it. One might say this is Preparation to try to win the mind game so I can go. On the other hand, a fuller Preparation might involve me calling my priest and talking to and texting people in my church. Maybe proper Preparation involves more than just trying to win the mental battle. I’ve told myself that when I go through a daily prayer ritual that has been recommended to me, then I will truly be in Preparation. So Preparation is a sort of action, but it’s not fixing the problem yet.
Action is doing the hard work and fighting to live a better life. You’ve prepared and now you’re ready to take the fight to your struggle. Once more, I have an example. I feel a great amount of shame for many things. That probably came out a bit when I talked about church. I feel unworthy to darken the doorway of a church, and I feel so much less than other humans. To be honest, I think pretty much every person alive struggles with these feelings to an extent, so I know I’m not alone. But I’m also taking great action. I have an ongoing thought control campaign. Every single time I feel some shame, I look inward, find out what bothers me, and shed some light on it and speak the truth. Did I do something awkward a few years ago? Cool, humans do that all the time. I’m normal. Did I say a silly thing that hurt people’s feelings? Maybe I really didn’t and need not read into it and worry. Or maybe I did hurt someone, and once again I’m human. In fact, I might be better than certain other humans because it’s important to me to be kind to others. I fight these thoughts of shame with all my strength, and it’s working. I seriously like some of my traits now. I’m building two businesses at once. I’ve been doing that for a while, but recently, I don’t feel so hopeless. I feel like I’m actually worthy and that I have a lot to offer. This is Action. Action is a glorious stage, but once complete, it leads to Maintenance.
Eventually, when you’ve taken Action for long enough, you’ve won. I’m not there yet with my thought life, but one day, I’ll be pretty comfortable in my thoughts. When that happens, I’ll need to keep an eye on my thoughts. I’ll need to remain vigilant about shame and awkwardness. With the power of introspection I can ensure that once my Action phase is complete. I don’t have to collapse back into contemplation and Preparation all over again. I can truly take my life back.
I hope by showing how I apply this knowledge to my life, I’ve given some insight into how you, Gentle Readers, might do the same. You won’t have exactly my struggles or fears, but we’re all human and likely share in a lot of these things. If you know what stage of change you’re in, you can figure out how to move to the next level. I talked about how I’m in Preparation stage with church going, but maybe what I described is more Contemplation. Because I know I’m between the stages, I can motivate myself to be truly in Preparation. I know a difference would be prayer routines, so I set my sights on that. That’s my new goal. So look inward. Find how to get to the next stage, and push for it!