Episode 7

How Change Happens

June 26th, 2020

Announcer: Welcome to Addiction and the Family, “Episode 7: How Change Happens.”

Casey Arrillaga: How has addiction affected your family?

Female Speaker: It robbed me of my father.

Female Speaker: Addiction's affected my family in absolutely every way.

Male Speaker: It has caused a lot of turmoil.

Female Speaker: It goes back to what I understand is at least three generations.

Female Speaker: It robbed my daughter of her mother. It robbed my mother of her daughter.

Female Speaker: Addiction has made our family quite challenging.

Male Speaker: Addiction has affected my family tremendously.

Male Speaker: It's affected my relationship with my sister where I wouldn't – I'd go for months without talking to her. It's a very difficult thing for everybody involved. It doesn't just affect the one individual. It's a disease that affects the whole family.

Male Speaker: Addiction is spread not only genetically through some of my relatives and I assume ancestors.

Female Speaker: It's generational.

Female Speaker: I think of him every day.

Casey Arrillaga: Welcome to Addiction in the Family, a podcast by and for family members of anyone with an addiction. My name is Casey Arrillaga, and I'm a social worker and addiction counselor at both Windmill Wellness Ranch and InMindOut Emotional Wellness Centers in Texas. I've led hundreds of family workshops, but I've also lived the experience of being family to addiction as both a child and adult. My wife, Kira, and I were in our addictions together for over a decade and now have been in recovery together for almost 20 years. Join us as we offer experience, strength, and realistic hope about how you and your family can find recovery together.

Kira Arrillaga: Hi, this is Kira. One thing that can help both family members and people with addiction is better understanding of how change happens. In this episode, we will be tackling that very subject by exploring a theory that is pretty well-known among recovery professionals but is not discussed enough with family members. Throughout the episode, we will hear the voices of people in recovery from various addictions about how each stage of the change process looked and felt to them all with the goal of helping people with addiction and those who love them to understand more about recovery. All this after a quick break to hear from one of our sponsors.


Welcome back. I talked with Casey about how people change, and in the discussion, he drew on not only theoretical knowledge but also years of teaching these ideas in family workshop, and we both got a chance to reflect on how change has happened for us in our own recoveries. Let’s hear that discussion now.

We are talking about the stages of change today. Sometimes there are six, but today there are five. Casey, tell me about the first stage of change.

Casey Arrillaga: Absolutely, and you’re right. There are six stages of change. If you talk to the originators of this theory, that’s two guys named Prochaska and Diclemente, and they came up with this idea of studying how people quit smoking, and when they recognized the pattern, they started to work out there were five stages, or originally they would say six – the sixth stage is optional. We’ll get to that at the end. They looked said, you know, some of these things might apply for other addictions. What we’ve come to find out is it applies not just around addiction recovery but also how people change, how families change, how societies change, how organizations and communities change, and we start to see these stages of change.

The first stage is called pre-contemplation. The second one is contemplation. Then we get into planning or preparation, depending on who you talk to. It’s the same thing just two different names. We get into action, and then the holy grail that everyone wants to get to is called maintenance. Then the sixth optional stage is relapse. We’re going to talk about the first stage of change and that is pre-contemplation.

Kira Arrillaga: Hey, Casey.

Casey Arrillaga: Yeah?

Kira Arrillaga: How many social workers does it take to change a light bulb?

Casey Arrillaga: I don’t know. How many?

Kira Arrillaga: Only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change.

Casey Arrillaga: That is a beautiful illustration of pre-contemplation.

Kira Arrillaga: It is. That’s why I said it.

Casey Arrillaga: It totally is Nicely done.

Kira Arrillaga: That’s why I thought of it. Pre-contemplation, I will divert the conversation over to a joke.

Casey Arrillaga: That could be something people do in pre-contemplation. That’s true. The whole idea in pre-contemplation is that this is before you are contemplating the idea that you have a problem. If you’re noticing any issues around behavior and stuff like that, your first thought is it’s not my problem. It’s someone else’s problem. An illustration I use all the time when I’m teaching this to families is to say if I notice my jeans are getting tighter, I think huh, it’s the dryer. It’s not me. It’s not the donuts. It’s not my eating habits. It’s nothing like that. It’s just the dryer. That’s pre-contemplation.

Kira Arrillaga: Been there.

Casey Arrillaga: Many of us have had that experience, yep. In pre-contemplation what we’re often doing in working with clients and working with people is helping them to find their internal motivation because they haven’t found it yet. Contrary to maybe some older thinking around this, it’s not about slapping them upside the head and saying wow, can’t you see you have an issue because it turns out that people move out of pre-contemplation not because enough people are pressuring them or yelling at them but because they themselves come to the conclusion. As a family member, if you’re noticing that your loved one is in pre-contemplation, as much as you may want to just shake them by the shoulders and say can’t you see it, can’t you see it, can’t you see it, what you actually would want to do is get out of the way of their natural consequences. You don’t have to create any consequences, but you don’t need to shield them from their consequences either.

Kira Arrillaga: Never get in between a drunk and rock bottom.

Casey Arrillaga: Exactly. Sometimes, for a lot of people with addiction, that idea of hitting bottom is what we need to get out of pre-contemplation into contemplation, but before we jump into contemplation, what that’s all about, let’s hear from some people who are in recovery now about what pre-contemplation was like for them.

Can you describe your thinking and behavior before you had even considered recovery?

Female Speaker: Aggressive, disrespectful, dismissive of others and myself, and oblivious to any internal dialogue really and completely in disconnect and in disharmony with myself and others.

Female Speaker: I would deflect a lot of blame onto others. If only they would do this, then I would be better, or it would just be that negative thought of myself like not knowing who I was, not knowing my identity, not knowing my strengths even, right, and so because I relied so much on people to give me that, I was always just completely lost, and I didn’t have any self-confidence.

Female Speaker: Yeah, irrational. There was not a lot of thinking that went into much. I was a runner. I ran from all problems, all responsibility. There was very little thinking that went into it Most of it was about myself, selfish thinking. Most of that was – it was all about me. I was not thinking much about anybody else or any kind of consequences or anything.

Male Speaker: Yeah, it was pretty much suicidal depression, anxiety. It was bad.

Female Speaker: My state of mind before I even considered recovery was that of a delusional person. I was miserable. I had run out of resources. I had ran my mom’s side of the family out. I used and abused all of that, so I basically said well, I’m going to call this man who is my biological father, and I’ll just see what I can get out of him, and that’s where I was at.

Female Speaker: Pretty much insane, neurotic. I basically would get into loops in my head over something that somebody may have done that I took personally, and I’d have arguments in my head with these people and conversations that never happened in real life. That was pretty insane, and before recovery, I also didn’t have any impulse control.

Male Speaker: I tried to recover on my own several times. The first time, I attempted at recover was 1999. I hadn’t had any real recovery until 2016, but from ’99 to 2016, it was all pre-contemplation. I knew drugs and alcohol were getting in the way of my connection with my fellow man and my beliefs.

Kira Arrillaga: I have a question.

Casey Arrillaga: What’s that?

Kira Arrillaga: Our last speaker was – it seemed like he was in contemplation and pre-contemplation almost at the same time.

Casey Arrillaga: Yeah, that’s a really good point, and this is a good thing for anyone to be looking at this. In the way people change, we don’t always change the same way about all things at the same time. What I was hearing in that last quote is that he was in contemplation, that is he’s thinking about it, contemplation about the idea that drugs are causing a problem in his life, but he’s in pre-contemplation about accepting help for it.

Kira Arrillaga: Okay.

Casey Arrillaga: This happens to people all the time if you think about some things in your own experience. We might be in contemplation about this is a problem but pre-contemplation about accepting the solution. For example, if I go back to my jeans and donuts and dryer example, I might say you know what, maybe it is my behavior. Okay, I could see that. Now I’m in contemplation about I’m contributing to the problem. Then somebody says, hey, you know what works really well? Cut out the donuts, add vegetables, exercise more.

Kira Arrillaga: Nah.

Casey Arrillaga: Exactly.

Kira Arrillaga: I can’t do that.

Casey Arrillaga: One thing that can happen is that I can stay stuck in the middle. Another thing that often happens for people is that we will jump back and forth between stages. I’m in contemplation briefly, and then I jump back to pre-contemplation. If I’m a person with addiction, for instance, I might say maybe I do have an addiction and this is causing me a problem, but that thought becomes too painful or too difficult to deal with or I feel hopeless, so I go back to thinking, no I don’t have a problem. It’s society’s problem. If people just didn’t judge me, I’d be fine, but a family member can do the same thing.

As a family member, I might recognize my son or daughter or cousin or parent or spouse or whoever it is man, maybe this is getting out of hand. Then some little voice pops up in my head and says not in my family. Can’t be my kid, right? Then I think nah, you know, this is just something people do. It’s normal. They’re in college, whatever it is that I tell myself. As a family member, I can also jump back and forth between those stages really easily.

Kira Arrillaga: So can I . I remember thinking he’s an artist. He’s a musician. He’s going to be a little wild. For me, yeah, jumping between contemplation, pre-contemplation, a few times with accepting that you were an addict, because you got there first with your realizations, but also, I went between contemplation and pre-contemplation with my own addiction when I first found out my first addiction was to sugar, let alone other food, but just sugar. I had to quit sugar for a medical reason, and I discovered that I had a – I had crazy withdrawal, and I went oh, my God, I’m an addict. What do I do? I have to quit. I guess that was my ah-ha moment, but before that, I was trying to make it as a rockstar.

The extra weight was not helping, and looking back, it wasn’t just the extra weight. It was my fears and all these things that I’ve since dealt with in program I still was carrying around with me along with the extra weight, but I would try diet pills. I would maybe lose weight for a little while. Then the diet pills would stop working. Then the weight would come back on, and I would try a crash diet or something, and I was really terrible at losing weight. It was impossible for me to keep it off.

Casey Arrillaga: Did you find yourself in those times where it was difficult and you’d try new a solution then you’d stop a new solution – did you ever find yourself going back to the mindset of hey, I’m not going to look at this or it’s not a problem?

Kira Arrillaga: Yes, absolutely.

Casey Arrillaga: That’s the jumping back and forth between contemplation and pre-contemplation.

Kira Arrillaga: There you go.

Casey Arrillaga: As far as any of your addictions, in every single case, I was in pre-contemplation around your addiction the whole time. Never saw it, didn’t think about it. Like many people with an addiction, I was very self-focused. I was thinking I’m the one with the problem. Not like it’s a badge of honor, but I was the identified patient in the family. I’m the one that we need to work on, and then you’d pop up and say hey, I figured this thing out. Then that would spur me into contemplation, which is what we want to look at next.

Contemplation is exactly what it sounds like. It’s when I’m starting to think about it and think maybe this is a problem, maybe I do need to deal with it. That’s the moment where, for instance, I say wow, it’s not the dryer. It’s the donuts. What do I do? Sometimes I can just sit in that recognition without jumping into making a plan for a while. I can just sit in that recognition, and often people flip flop back and forth a number of times, contemplation, pre-contemplation, contemplation, pre-contemplation, contemplation, pre-contemplation until that starts to become so difficult or painful or unmanageable or unworkable that I’ll say okay, I do need to do something. I think maybe this would be a good time to hear from our person on the street interviewees about what it was like to get into contemplation for them.

You remember the moment when you thought no, I really need to change?

Female Speaker: Yes. I had a God’s intervention in Travis County Jail. It all hit me at once that the time is now. I had a choice to make either go on and ultimately probably die or change my life, turn it around, and make this something positive.

Female Speaker: I didn’t know what recovery looked like, and I didn’t know what that even was. I just knew that I didn’t want the consequences, and I knew that I didn’t want to keep having this sickness through my alcoholism and addiction, and so I feel like for that, my ability to really make any logical decisions on what my next step would be was difficult to see at that time, but at the same time, I feel like I knew that I just didn’t want what I had.

Female Speaker: Man, I was just an angry person, and so my aggression just got so bad that I would push people away. I would have walls built up. I was about to lose my fiancé at the time, and even my relationship with my kids, I was just missing that connection with them, and my relationship with my parents, and so I was just constantly in fear mode.

Male Speaker: Even more suicidal depression because I didn’t see a way out of what was going on with me.

Female Speaker: I think there was desperation in that time period where I knew that my old coping behaviors weren’t working anymore, so I was still having that pain that I was trying to eat over. Even the eating wasn’t taking that pain away, so there was probably a lot of confusion, too, and going okay, why is that not working? I didn’t have a new way of being yet, but the old way wasn’t working, so there was a bit of despair and confusion.

Male Speaker: I think that’s where the pain came in. I knew I needed to change, but I hadn’t done anything to change.

Female Speaker: I was in a detox treatment center at the time detoxing off of heroin, so I opened my eyes, and I see this man who has the same eyes as me. We’re staring at each other, and he says this is my fault. I know why you have this disease, and I want you to come to San Antonio. I’m going to help you, and so that’s what I ended up doing, but it took a couple more years of me quote unquote doing research.

Kira Arrillaga: What really jumped out to me on that more than anything else was the fact that out of several people only one person talked about losing relationships. That’s how it was for you, right?

Casey Arrillaga: Yeah. A lot of my contemplation was recognizing that addiction could possibly apply to me. I’d always told myself I’m better, stronger, faster, smarter than everybody else, and so I’m going to hold myself to a different standard. These were all the justifications I used to keep myself in pre-contemplation, so contemplation was a big step of humility, but I’m very fortunate in that it was recognition of what I was about to lose rather than recognition of what I had lost. I didn’t lose much on the outside, but I had long since lost a lot of stuff on the inside. I had lost self-trust and self-respect and the trust of others and things like that. I had damaged relationships. I had not lost a whole lot if that’s what you’re asking.

Getting into contemplation started for me with a therapist in the first few minutes of the very first session saying so, have you ever heard of sex addiction, and I hadn’t, but as soon as she said it, I thought that’s me. Contemplation hit right away where I was thought is this me and I have to go to meetings and is this is the rest of my life. Immediately, I started trying to think of all the ways I could get back into pre-contemplation but part of me just knew the gig is up. That’s contemplation, but contemplation within itself can be exciting for family members. They finally get it, but nothing has changed yet. There’s an old joke in AA where they’ll say three frogs are sitting on a log. Two of them decide to jump off. How many frogs are still on the log? Three.

Kira Arrillaga: They’re all still on the log.

Casey Arrillaga: They’ve only made a decision. Nothing’s actually happened yet. That decision, here’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to jump off the log, that moves us into the preparation stage. Preparation is where I am starting to make a plan, and that’s why some people refer to it as planning. That’s where, for instance, if I’m a person with an addiction and I’ve accepted yes, this is really going on, that’s where I might start saying okay, let’s look for some of those meetings we’ve heard about or let me see if I can find a treatment center or I’m just going to quit on my own. That is a plan, and it does work for some people, but it’s the beginning of thinking how am I going to do this. Notice, again, no action’s been taken, and sometimes, just looking at the plan is scary enough that we go back to pre-contemplation.

Kira Arrillaga: A lot of people leave treatment in their first week. They might not even get through detox and change their minds and coming in off their own volition and backed right off and went all the way back.

Casey Arrillaga: It looks scary. As we’ve mentioned in a previous episode, it’s simply difficult to change human behavior. People like to do what they’re used to doing even if it hurts, and this goes for family members too. Family members can make a plan. You know what? I’m not going to let them back in the house. I’m not going to give them money. I’m going to start going to a recovery fellowship myself. All these plans, and then just don’t follow through or it’s difficult or they were crying, so I gave them 20 bucks, whatever it is, and in my example of the donuts and the dryer and the jeans, this is where I think okay, this is it. I’m going to join a gym, and I’m going to eat healthy, and I’m going to start running every day and all these kinds of things, and then I get up the next day and maybe I’ll do it tomorrow and maybe I’ll do it tomorrow and maybe I’ll do it tomorrow.

Kira Arrillaga: I’ll start my diet on Monday.

Casey Arrillaga: Exactly.

Kira Arrillaga: I’m sure this one will work.

Casey Arrillaga: Monday never comes.

Kira Arrillaga: Monday never comes.

Casey Arrillaga: Worse yet, it comes. It goes. It keeps on going.

Kira Arrillaga: Yeah, well, I already forgot on Monday morning, and I ate the bad breakfast, so I guess I’ll start next week.

Casey Arrillaga: Totally. Again, as a family member, tempting as it is, you can’t do it for them. What we want to do is maybe hear from some of the people in our interviews talking about what it looked like when they started to make plans.

Kira Arrillaga: Alrighty, let’s do it.

Casey Arrillaga: What were your early plans or recovery?

Female Speaker: I thought that if I could just physically get off of the substance that I would be fine, and I planned a detox for myself, made it about ten days, and within that ten days, I feel like I couldn’t break it. My plan was to be like I’m going to be totally fine as long as I can separate myself, but on the tenth day, all I could do was be right back in the same cycle, so most of my plans were very futile.

Female Speaker: I think it was just I wanted answers. Once I identified all my codependency traits, I’m like wait, there’s solution to this. I wanted something to change. At this point, I didn’t have any specific expectations of what that change would look like. I just wanted some sort of happiness.

Female Speaker: I didn’t really have any. I think that’s why it might’ve been detrimental when I first got into recovery because I didn’t have any plans. I was really unsure of what the program was and what it was supposed to do for me, so I was thrown into this huge recovery scene in Austin and a sober living home and didn’t know anyone and was just trying to wing it really.

Casey Arrillaga: Maybe that was your plan.

Female Speaker: Maybe that was my plan. I don’t know. Didn’t work out too well, but that’s my journey, right? It’s part of my story.

Male Speaker: When I got into treatment, I just did whatever they told me to do. I didn’t have a whole lot of plans other than going to sober living afterwards and then doing AA, doing 12-step recovery.

Male Speaker: [24:18] recovery was just to leave it alone. I was just going to work, get a job, mind my business. I was going to leave everybody alone. I didn’t really need help. I had made my mind up, and I was going to not do drugs anymore.

Female Speaker: My early plans. I was going to get thin, and I was going to be happy, and everything was going to be okay, and it didn’t quite turn out that way. I actually did get thin, but the problems didn’t go away, and I thought that they would, but they didn’t. They only became more intense without the food to numb me out, so I actually had to deal with them.

Kira Arrillaga: You don’t have to necessarily rush out and decide what your career choice is. Let things happen as they do.

Female Speaker: One day at a time.

Kira Arrillaga: One day at a time. Absolutely. Amen. There’s a reason that we say that.

Casey Arrillaga: That’s the preparation or planning stage. What did you think?

Kira Arrillaga: I thought it was striking that one of the guys was saying I really had no plan whatsoever or I had this vague idea that I was going to go to sober living, or I was going to hit some AA meetings. We’re so used to winging it.

Casey Arrillaga: I went into recovery with really no solid plan beyond I think I’ll show up at my first meeting and let’s see what happens. This is where a lot of recovery fellowships turn to mentorship to listen to what have other people done and what’s worked for other people, but in the general scheme of things, what I heard in some of the examples is there may not have been a really solid or great plan, but there was still somewhere in the mind I’m going to do something. I’m going to show up at that first meeting. I’m going to go to rehab. I may not know what’s involved there, but I’m going to show up. Maybe that’s as far as the plan goes.

Once we’ve done the planning, though, then everybody gets really excited. It’s time for action. This is often where both the person heading into recovery and the family members and people that love them get really excited. You’re finally doing it. This is the moment where in our original example I get that gym membership. I sign up for a bunch of – you can see this coming already. I sign up for a bunch of personal training. I start eating salad for lunch every day, and I’m like man, I’m all about this, but what’s the catch?

Kira Arrillaga: You’ve got to keep doing it.

Casey Arrillaga: It’s really easy to go from here back to pre-contemplation. In fact, the business model for a gym is based on the fact that people don’t keep it up. If everybody who signed up for a gym membership actually showed up to the gym, there wouldn’t be room. The same thing happens for a lot of people about recovery. In fact, there’s an expression, the pink cloud. You may have heard this one. A pink clod is when somebody first shows up to the rooms of recovery, and they are all about it, and they have found their new way of life, and nothing’s going to stop them, and they’re hitting like a gajillion meetings, and they’re going to work through all 12 steps in a day. Unfortunately, sometimes the people who have been in long-term recovery and been around for a while are just like looking at their watch and marking their calendar.

Kira Arrillaga: Yeah, it’s unsustainable, generally.

Casey Arrillaga: For family members, the same kind of thing can come up in your own recovery. I had a lot of family members that would go to an Al-Anon meeting or to a Smart Family and Friends meeting or something like that while their loved one’s in treatment, and then as soon as their loved one gets out of treatment, they’re like oh, I guess I’m done too. Alright, cool. I don’t need to do those things. I’ve seen family members relapse back to their old behavior as fast or faster than the person with the addiction because it’s easier to go back to pre-contemplation. Nonetheless, obviously, we need to go into the action stage to get anywhere. Let’s hear the voices of some people that have some experience with this in their own recovery whether they’re family members or the person with the addiction – we’re going to hear from both – about what the action stage looked like for them.

Kira Arrillaga: Alright.

Casey Arrillaga: What got you started into taking positive action?

Female Speaker: It got so bad. I remember this one time it got so bad at work when I was feeling so miserable and out of control. It had to get to that point of desperation for me to seek an outside meeting, and I reached out to a friend in recovery and asked her if I could join her to an Al-Anon meeting, and there was some comfort that motivated me to go back.

Male Speaker: I had a suicide attempt, and it put me in the hospital and then in a spot where they introduced me to what drug addiction and alcoholism really looked like, and that’s what got me going.

Female Speaker: I felt this overwhelming feel of – sense of purpose. I felt like I have something bigger to do with this part of my life. Ultimately, I knew I wanted to help people, work in a treatment center. It’s hard to explain, but I just got this overwhelming motivation. I guess you’d call it a spiritual experience. I just felt like I was missing out on helping.

Female Speaker: All I wanted to do was just not have these negative consequences. That sounds really horrible, but I just didn’t know what – that life could be so much better than what it was. I just didn’t want all the issues I was having, and so when I was trying to make a decision on what to do, I didn’t know what that was. I just knew that – I didn’t know if I wanted to quit. I just didn’t want the consequences.

Female Speaker: I knew that I was out of control. My body was telling me that I was out of control, and I just was waking up to the idea that I couldn’t control it. Nothing that I was trying was working, and at that time I was only focused on my weight and how much weight I had gained. Then I was talking about it with a program friend from another program who also happened to be in Overeaters Anonymous, and she heard me and invited me to come to a meeting, and that was the turning point for me.

Male Speaker: I attended a DTP program, which is a drug treatment program when you’re incarcerated. This is in 2010. I remember a person telling me when you burned all your bridges and you have nowhere else to go, there’s always AA. I say that because in 2016, April 27th, I had just got out of jail for like the 30th time, a young lady picked me up, and I’ll tell you this is how God acts. I was in very bad shape, and she offered me things that I usually like, and I remember just being so angry and upset. I couldn’t believe she’d offered me drugs and other things, and I had been sober for two days in jail. I took off walking, and I ended up walking about a mile and a half, and I ended up at a AA club. I just walked in. I didn’t even know the place was an AA club. I just walked in there. I’ve been there ever since.

Kira Arrillaga: Let’s take a quick break to hear from one of our sponsors. Then we’ll be back to hear more about how change happens.


Welcome back. We’ll continue with our discussion starting with some reflection on the interviews we just heard.

Casey Arrillaga: What’d you think about our action speakers?

Kira Arrillaga: I just loved it that our last speaker was sharing about a very rough car ride when he was leaving jail, and he took off walking because somebody offered him drugs after two whole days of sobriety, and he just walked in the door of some building, and it turned out to be an AA room.

Casey Arrillaga: Yeah, and that moment of the action phase of him knowing this is no longer what I want and then taking action on it. That’s the important thing is we can plan all day, but now we’re taking action. Usually, at this point, people get really excited. We mentioned that. Family members will think wow, this is it. They’re finally doing it.

Kira Arrillaga: Pink cloud time.

Casey Arrillaga: Yeah, and I often say that in treatment, the action phase is about as far as you can get.

Kira Arrillaga: Which means?

Casey Arrillaga: Which means that there’s still another phase to go.

Kira Arrillaga: Then if there’s another phase to go, then why is the action phase as far as you can get?

Casey Arrillaga: The next stage is called maintenance, and this is when it’s just part of your life. Since you’re not going to live forever at a treatment center, it’s hard to say this is just how I live now. You can get maybe a little taste of it if you’re in treatment for long enough, but most people aren’t, just reality, and you’re going to leave from there, and then you’d be kind of starting all over again. The maintenance phase in our example of the donuts and the dryer and the jeans, this is the phase where exercising and eating healthy is just part of your life. Nobody’s cheering when you say you’re going to go to the gym. Nobody’s saying hey, you’re finally doing it. You’re losing the weight. That’s great. It becomes just part of your life. This is the holy grail of recovery. This is where everybody wants to be. There’s not a moment where you think I was in action, and now I’m in maintenance. It’s just more that you notice over time that neither you nor anyone else is surprised when you engage in your recovery.

Kira Arrillaga: I’m not craving the donuts every day.

Casey Arrillaga: Yeah. It doesn’t feel the same.

Kira Arrillaga: How long did it take you to get, you think, from action to maintenance?

Casey Arrillaga: That is a great question for which I do not have a great answer.

Kira Arrillaga: I was thinking about it, and I don’t really know for sure. I just know that when I joined my first 12-step program, I was really ready, and yet I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t go treatment or anything. I just went to one meeting a week, and it was very seat of my pants recovery.

Casey Arrillaga: That’s all action. That’s where it’s new, or it’s exciting or a bummer, or you’re testing the waters. I wonder if I may ask for you as a family member, what’s the point where you started just rolling along with or taking for granted that I was going to meetings?

Kira Arrillaga: I started taking for granted that you were going to continue going to meetings and continue improving when you seemed to have relaxed. You had a very tough time at the beginning of your action phase, much tougher than mine. I was very relieved when you got into meetings, but between the beginning of meetings and both of us having some kind of confidence that this was helping – I don’t know if it was weeks or months, probably months – that’s where the line is, I think, that line where you wake up one day and you realize I didn’t think about using yesterday.

Casey Arrillaga: It’s no longer exciting.

Kira Arrillaga: Yeah, it’s Thursday night. That’s the night mom goes to her meeting. It’s Tuesday night. That’s the night dad goes to his meeting.

Casey Arrillaga: It’s just what we do. We take it for granted. As a family member, you can find the same thing in your own recovery. When it stops, for instance, being about I’m doing this so my loved one can do better. I’m doing this so my loved one can recover. First, you’ve got to get to that point where you’re doing it for yourself, and then also, as you’re going along, you might find that you just take for granted that you’re going to go to your meeting on Thursday nights, or you’re reading your daily reader, and maybe you’re not thinking so much about what’s this doing for my loved one, what’s this doing for my family. It’s just becoming this is what I’m doing.

Kira Arrillaga: When I started going to a program for families, you had already been in recovery for a long time. I had already been in recovery from my addictions for a long time. I didn’t go in because I was desperate. I went in because working on myself had made my life so much better that I was ready to graduate and go onto my master’s program, really, my master’s in recovery.

Casey Arrillaga: What I’m hearing in there for you and your story is that you were in the maintenance phase of one aspect of your recovery, and that allowed you to enter the action phase of another part of your recovery and get to the point where they hopefully both became maintenance.

Kira Arrillaga: Yeah, and they have.

Casey Arrillaga: Let’s hear from the voices of some of our guests who are going to talk anonymously about what the maintenance phase looks like for them.

How do you maintain positive changes in recovery?

Male Speaker: Okay. That’s [37:55] called maintenance. How I maintain positive changes in recovery that is going to have to be is do what I was told, and that’s service, unity, and recovery, so I do a lot of service work. I do service work now for the clubs I’m a member of. I sponsor several people. I get a new sponsee – a new sponsor once a year to work my steps so I can stay fresh in steps. Here recently I just got a new sponsor, and he’s fricking awesome. Actually, we’re going to meet today so we can start step one because I’ve been having problems with managing my life. For me to stay with the maintenance stage of my recovery, I have to stay in recovery. The moment that I put my recovery last, or I put anything before my recovery is the moment I lose it, and I could lose everything else I’ve gained so far in life.

Female Speaker: I try to keep my life pretty simple. I know that I have to stay meditating, and I have to pray constantly, but I don’t try to do too much. I’ve got to take care of myself. Self-care is hugely important, but I know I have to keep my recovery first and take the suggestions and do the suggestions. Yeah, just keep God close, ultimately.

Male Speaker: Through working 12-steps, and yeah, working through 12-step stuff. I can apply that to most aspects of my life, and helping other people is huge, always trying to help other people out.

Casey Arrillaga: How often do you need to work at your recovery to keep it going?

Male Speaker: Daily. I don’t have to work 12 steps in a day, but that acknowledgment and the maintenance work that goes into a program is pretty important on a daily basis.

Female Speaker: Definitely I have to maintain my spiritual fitness. I have to do my morning prayer meditation time and my daily readings. I need to do meetings and talk to program people and maintain conscious contact with my higher power all throughout the day. I have now a routine where I have time in the morning that I do that, and then I have time in the afternoon when I do that, and then definitely before I go to bed.

Female Speaker: Obviously, I work a 12-step program, so I have a lot of outlets of meetings and my sponsor and working with others. Then on a more personal note, I do a lot of meditation, sponsorship, meetings, helping with others, but then finding a personal journey with a higher power through a spiritual relationship, and I have a really big community of people that I’ve built up within recovery that care about me and that I care about, and we support each other. Not only do we care for each other when we’re doing well, but we also pick each other up when we’re struggling.

Male Speaker: For me, part of the program in the maintenance is keeping my mind positive and being more worried about what I can do for someone else rather than what Stephen needs. If I’m away from that for long enough, then I’ll forget.

Female Speaker: I use about four different books. I read out of those. I read out of my Bible, and then I read out of the big book, just starting my day off like that. Then, also, I try to limit my social media. I do have an addictive personality, so things that I know are going to draw me in and distract me from my sobriety and believe me, there’s times that I find myself not in such a good place, and I have to look at what is taking my time up, and sometimes it’s Facebook, and sometimes it’s comparing myself to others. I have to really at the end of the day evaluate where I’m putting my time.

Female Speaker: I think it’s just reminding myself that this journey doesn’t end. There’s no graduation ceremony that I’m aware of so that I want to be teachable, and so when I can grasp onto that humility, it gets way easier than me trying to think that I know it all or I’ve got it because, man, I know that pride can take me back to old behaviors, and so just being open and willing to keep learning and keep seeking counsel, that’s what keeps me sane.

Casey Arrillaga: There’s some folks talking about what helps them stay in the maintenance phase. Now, something to recognize about maintenance is just like all the other stages. It’s possible to go from there back to pre-contemplation, but here’s what’s cool. If we go out, the longer we’re in maintenance, the easier it is to get back to maintenance, so for instance, if part of me says, hey, you know what? I want to go back into my addiction. Then I think that’s probably not a great idea. Maybe I should go to a meeting or call my sponsor instead and then I go and do that, what I’ve just done is I’ve gone into pre-contemplation, I’ve gone into contemplation – maybe that’s not a good idea – preparation, make a plan – I’m going to call my sponsor, go to a meeting – and then I take action on that plan, and bingo, I’m right back in maintenance, and the whole thing might’ve been over in just a minute.

Kira Arrillaga: When you talk about going back into pre-contemplation, I am thinking about the sixth stage of change, the optional change, which is relapse.

Casey Arrillaga: Prochaska and Diclemente in their original model had the stage of relapse. The reason we call that optional is because while some people say relapse is just part of recovery because it does happen a lot – the relapse rates for addiction are comparable to most chronic relapsing diseases like diabetes or heart disease or all kinds of things where we know that a certain percentage of people are going to relapse, but we say it’s optional because there’s a certain number of people that never will, and unlike some of the other diseases because it’s a brain disease and because it centers in the part of our brain that helps us make decisions, we don’t want to encourage people to relapse because that part of our brain that makes decisions that gets addicted will say hey, maybe we can go back to the pre-contemplation stage. Wouldn’t that be great?

Some people say relapse is a part of recovery. Others say well, it’s something that happens, but it’s certainly not a necessary stage in the stages of change. Just like a family or an organization or an individual never needs to go back to their old behavior in the same way somebody with an addiction has no obligation or will necessarily ever relapse.

Kira Arrillaga: Those are the stages of change. Whether you are someone in active addiction, in recovery, or a family member, we invite you to take a moment and ask yourself where you are in the stages of change: pre-contemplation, contemplation, planning, action, and maintenance. As we heard, you may be in different stages for different issues, or you might find yourself bouncing from one stage to another around a particular issue. Wherever you are in the process, think about how you might move yourself forward to where you want to be in your recovery.

Casey Arrillaga: Thanks for being with us through another episode of Addiction and the Family. As they say in many recovery meetings, take what you liked and leave the rest. Go out and explore the possibilities for recovery in your life and give your loved ones the space and dignity to make their own choices. If you liked this podcast, please subscribe. It means a lot to us. If you know anyone else who could use what we have to offer, please tell them about Addiction and the Family. If you have comments about this podcast, have a question you’d like answered on the show, or want to contribute your voice, or just want to say hi, you can write to us at We're also happy to be your friend on Facebook, and we can be found tweeting on Twitter.