By Gerald Daniels
It never fails that after a speaking engagement, or during one-on-one conversation with people who know my story that three inevitable questions will arise. The first one is usually, “What do I have to do to change?” The second one is, “Where do I get started?” The third question is my favorite, and it is, “When can I get started?” You can see the pattern — what, where, and when. I can answer any of these questions for most people with appropriate and accurate answers. Yet the advice we often give others on how to make changes in their lives usually lasts only for the moment. To make changes that are both positive and permanent takes a different type of commitment. The people who are truly sincere about change, invariably go around the what, when, and where questions and simply ask, “How do I change?”
Change was a challenge for me, just as it is for everyone. This past New Year I celebrated twenty-two years of unbroken sobriety. The desire to change this dreadful addiction to alcohol and drugs was very strong. Yet it was not until I learned how to change this behavior, that my commitment to sobriety became stronger than the addictions. Researchers have determined that there are six stages we go through when changing addictive behaviors: 1) Precontemplation is the stage at which there is no intention to change behavior in the foreseeable future, 2) Contemplation is the stage at which we are aware that a problem exists and are seriously thinking about overcoming it but haven’t made a commitment to take action, 3) Preparation is the stage in which people explore ways to take action to modify their behavior in the immediate future, 4) Action is the stage that involves taking steps to modify our behavior, experiences or environment to overcome problems, 5) Maintenance is the stage where people work to prevent relapse and consolidate the gains made during the action stage, and 6) Termination is the stage where there is no chance of relapse.
Stage six is the obvious goal, but as I look back over the years I see the necessity of stages one through five to build strength of character and dogged determination for the long haul. When I discovered my purpose for life I had about ten years of sobriety under my belt, and was willing to explore the process from the standpoint of how I could find and use my purpose to help others. Finding my purpose and embracing the call to action found in stage four have been two of the great motivators in my life. We’ve all experienced repeated discouragement and the road to permanent change can seem elusive for all involved, but don’t give up. My father-in-law is a retired business man and former State Senator. He has viewed life from its various angles — the good, the bad, and the indifferent as he puts it. He likes to help people, and pass wisdom along to those who will listen. A poem he has given his children and one he often quotes is by Ella Wheeler Wilcox. The last two verses read:
One ship sails east, and another west, by the self-same winds that blow
Tis the set of the sails and not the gales, that tells the way we go,
Like the winds of the sea, are the waves of time, as we journey along through life
Tis’ the set of the soul, that determines the goal, and not the calm or strife.
Like the two ships going different ways so it is with life. One life goes this way, and the next one another. Yet the course for our lives is not set by chance; it is set by the choices we make each and every day. Being willing to change the direction of our life when needed, or to help someone change theirs can be one of life’s most rewarding endeavors. The choice to make constructive changes gives you the power to change your destiny. Making the right choices can be a reminder for ourselves and a sign for others, that success in most any arena of life hinges on our ability to make good ones.