Helping people think rationally about addictions and recovery, and especially how to approach and conduct recovery in a rational way is one of REBT’s most important contributions, in my opinion. Although Dr. Ellis, Dr. Edelstein and others have written about it, and in spite of the very fine organization, SMART Recovery http://www.smartrecovery.org/ which bases much of its approach on REBT principles, CBT and REBT are, I think, much more well-known as treatments for depression and anxiety. That is a pity, especially for many secular-atheist-agnostic people in recovery who find the religious approach of traditional “12 Step” programs unacceptable.
How far can you imagine into your future? For those suffering from addictions, alcoholism and depression, only about 9 days!
It’s Good To Think About the Future
In a study of heroin addicts in a treatment center near Burlington, Vermont, addicts were asked to write about the future and the results were compared against a control group. In brief, the control group typically wrote about events that might happen 4 1/2 years into the future, while the addicts were only able to project 9 days! Most of the addicts events concerned the very immediate future such as dental appointments the next day. This is hardly surprising for a population whose “lifestyle” becomes compressed into the immediate “survival” problem of obtaining drugs and alcohol, protecting their supply, recovering from the last drunk or stone, dealing with the immediate problems that drinking and using created such as family conflict and not having enough money for immediate needs.
That doesn’t leave a lot of room or energy for future thinking as those of us in recovery know all-too-well. However, these were addicts in recovery, they were turning their lives around, and what is striking is that this compressed relationship to time had become habitual , and was something they brought with them into recovery. It is also striking to note that the inability to conceptualize a future is one of the major symptoms/causes of depression. Not being able to see much of a future, or not being able to see a future that is anything other than bleak is damned depressing, isn’t it.
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From this, it seems pretty clear that an important, very important aspect of recovery–formal or informal, group or individual–is training (that’s right, “training”) ourselves to begin thinking about the future again in positive, hopeful ways, and to observe how the steps–perhaps little, tiny baby step–we make today, this week, this month are bridges that lead toward a more positive future. This may be extremely difficult and anxiety promoting for some people, which only underscores the importance of having support from friends, family, professionals and especially from others in recovery who are best able to empathize with what we are going through.
Finally, an in all due respect to the pop-philosophy you sometimes hear around some 12 Step groups, “being in the now” is short-sighted and incomplete if the message is that one should not be concerned about or think about or try to work toward a future. Thinking realistically-but-hopefully about the future is one of the most important steps on the road to recovery.
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Originally posted 2015-08-30 20:58:55.