Into the Abyss Part IV

Step 2: Clarify your goal

As we begin the process of addressing unwanted habits, the first critical step is to clarify what we are working toward. At times the separation between bad and acceptable behavior is obvious (extremely black and white) but more often than not the separation is subtle. This fact can make things complicated, because ambiguity leads to confusion, and confusion leads to frustration and despair. On the other hand, clarity gives a vision and focus to move forward. Therefore, taking whatever time is needed to understand what our goals are, specifically, is the best way to start.

There are multiple factors to take into account when considering our targets for growth.;

First, we will need to put a finger on what our personal morality is around a given issue. We need to differentiate between goals that would be nice to achieve, those that we really must handle as soon as we can, and those that are of monumental importance. Having clarity of the influence and factor of morality on an issue will be critical as we move forward (this will also be important when we tackle guilt, shame and healthy regret).

Clarifying morals, around an issue we struggle with, can be complex, because it may mean facing ultimate ideals, especially those we aren’t sure we can uphold. Also, when the behavior in question relates to a religious violation this process of clarification often requires consulting with a spiritual guide or religious authority to better understand what the law actually expects. (Many times what we assume to be true, is not always the case.) In these circumstances it is important to consult with someone who understands the place that we are in in life, and one who we feel promotes an authentic but yet down to earth and balanced approach. Nonetheless, it is critical that we trust this individual and their guidance so that we don’t experience ambiguity as we move forward.

The next aspect of gaining clarity on our target is identifying exactly where we should start. As we mentioned above, understanding and clarifying our ideal  is critical, but that does not mean we can reasonably achieve that level right away. While eliminating a specific aspect of almost any problem for a short period of time is feasible with enough effort, if we want a ‘solution’ that will last, the work we have to do to get well is often more complex then that. Fixating on one area over another may be misguided, and trying to conquer everything at one time could be unreasonable. People seeking to address dependencies often times fall into the trap of  oversimplifying their ideal, lumping a variety of behaviors together. Then, when setbacks occur (as they often do), a fall in what often is an innocuous area can become a trigger to engage in all bad behavior. This thought process often leads to   a sense of  failure and self pity which begets further misbehavior. For this reason identifying goals and ideals for each aspect go the issue we are struggling with, and moving towards those methodically, is the sensible and sustainable approach.

Next, it is important to keep in mind that when aspiring to utilize an approach based in spirituality it is critical that we give priority to addressing those areas that legitimately create risk to our wellbeing, and or that of others. People who are lost in a pattern of dependency often lose sight of what is most important. For example, they might wallow in shame about a behavior that is mostly personal and harmless to their physical well-being, and instead obsess about the state of their souls. This all, while ignoring behaviors and activities that are inherently dangerous. In our understanding, this perspective is short-sighted (and is even outside of the frame of Jewish religious law). Giving priority to eliminating risky behavior (be it those that threaten personal safety or of ones family etc…) is of paramount importance. Endangering yourself, or threatening the wellbeing of your family or someone else can never be overlooked if you hope to utilize a spiritual approach. It simply will not work, because the greatest blocks to a spiritual life is selfishness. Without fostering a compassionate concern for the wellbeing of others, we can have no chance of success.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that exactly what we are working on can change over time. We might identify one construct of ideal, only later to find we sold ourselves short or vice versa. The main thing is to remain open to finding what will work best for us and jump into that with both feet, maintaining a willingness to adjust our ideals as we grow.

Practical Action: Write down exactly what you want to work on, being as specific as possible. As you notice subtle layers in the areas of focus, separate them into different categories assigning each its own goal. Identify areas of priority and focus, and acknowledge areas that are an ultimate ideal but not currently in your ability. Consult with guides or authorities about these so that you feel confident in your path forward.

About the Author
Menachem Poznanski, LCSW is director of The Living Room, a clubhouse for Jewish young adults in recovery from Alcoholism and Addiction. Menachem is co-author of Stepping out of the Abyss: A Jewish guide to the 12 steps (Mosaica, 2017) and the editor of both Consciously and The Light Revealed, two social media initiatives focused on the messages of Jewish recovery and spirituality. Menachem resides in Cedarhurst, NY with his wife Naomi and their children, Zoe and Tani.
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