Contrary action is a term that comes up frequently in the recovery community. A favorite amongst newcomers and old-timers alike, contrary action refers to the idea of doing the opposite or “contrary,” as to what one would normally or regularly do, most often impulsively or out of complacency. The idea of contrary action is particularly interesting because it can be left to mean many different things. A practical application of it would mean to do what is uncomfortable or unfamiliar and beneficial. Most often in recovery from drugs and from alcohol, the addict or the alcoholic rebels against changing their core beliefs and behaviors, as well as acts out on impulse or simply neglects responsibility out of indifference or complacency.
This is one of the reasons that most treatment centers enforce chore responsibilities for their clients, as well as sober livings having a curfew, among other reasons. Contrary action brings up a valid point implying that if the addict or alcoholic didn’t need to change, they could simply put down the drink or the drug and the affliction would be over. But by having what is referred to as a phenomenon of craving, the addict and the alcoholic has very little say in whether or not they will pick up again once faced with a craving. Contrary action acts as a behavioral work out to train the mind of the addict or alcoholic into not acting impulsively and realizing the benefits of behaving in a way that might seem foreign, uncomfortable, or irrelevant to them and their well being.
Accountability is a way to place healthy boundaries for the alcoholic or the addict to follow so that they gradually learn new behaviors and actions. These can be argued that they are not contrary, as they are not the opposite of any given action. This may be true, but can also be argued that because they are out of the nature of the addict’s core being, that they are by default contrary. Neither point is more right or more wrong in the scheme of things so long as the individual does the action and receives the benefits of changing their behaviors.
“All you’ve got to do is change everything.” This saying gets repeated in the recovery community as a bit of a slogan promoting growth and change. Changing everything though isn’t very practical and unless you’ve read between the lines it can seem a bit overwhelming and deterring from the goal of abstinence. A much easier and realistic approach than changing everything is changing the next thing that comes across that needs to be changed. For instance, when I don’t want to call my sponsor because I’m having thoughts of using. The contrary action to this would be to call my sponsor even though I don’t want to. Another example could be something as simple as not wanting to make my bed in the morning. The contrary action to this would be making my bed even though I don’t want to.
Progress Not Perfection
There are times where you may fall short or not want to change the behaviors you’ve been working on. This can be discouraging, especially when members of your support network confront you about seemingly lapsing in your progress or what is referred to as complacency. It’s important to remember that change doesn’t occur overnight simply because you want it to. In fact, change is a very gradual process that takes practice and dedication. In regards to contrary action, being aware and mindful of your behaviors throughout the day can be greatly beneficial in cultivating the awareness and discipline necessary to apply the principle of it into problematic behaviors or patterns. It can be difficult, which is where a support network can be crucial, particularly but not limited to the early days of sobriety. If you’re not changing your behaviors as they arise, perhaps going back to the basics and choosing one or two little ones can help you gain your stride.
Change is something that will come, whether or not you work for it. Negative change usually happens to those who don’t work for positive change. Positive change in most instances comes only when you’ve worked for it. Whether it’s a simple chore, a life changing revelation that needs to be shared, or even holding the door for somebody entering a store at the same time as you’re leaving, contrary action is an important habit to break into in early sobriety, as well as to maintain long term sobriety. When you think of the saying, “your best thinking got you here,” try to imagine the phrase, “and so did your actions,” following it. Our best actions got us to a place of submission and willingness to do whatever it took not to feel the way we felt or be in the situations we found ourselves in. Try to remember that over time, change will come naturally and contrary action will then simply be action.
About Elevation Behavioral Health
Elevation Behavioral Health is a mental health and addiction treatment facility in Agoura Hils, California. Offering a truly holistic model and alternates to traditional twelve-step treatment, Elevation strive to meet each client exactly where they are. With CARF accreditation and a license from the Department of Health Services and the Department of Social Services, Elevation Behavioral Health is one of the few facilities licensed to treat a primary mental health diagnosis. Steve Booth and Dr. Priya Chaudhri, the directors, have been working in the treatment industry for decades, and Elevation is the culmination of their years of expertise and experience.
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