Hope for drug addiction: 5 short exercises for hope

Addiction does not have to be a life sentence. Life as a recovering person can be exciting and rewarding. Getting clean and sober is not easy, but you can do it! There is hope. All you must do is begin.

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Are you short on hope? Here, Paul lets you in on a few secrets that have helped him. If you’re still looking for some recovery tips for addicts, or are looking to relate (in general), we invite your feedback and comments at the end. In fact, we will try to respond to all comments personally and promptly!

For years, I was hopeless

I can vividly remember a time in my life that I believed I could not live without drugs and alcohol. My entire life revolved around getting high and drunk and staying in a fog fueled by whiskey and cocaine. Since I was a very young man – probably around 12 or 13 – I was high on something. Drugs and alcohol gave me a sense of belonging. Drugs gave me comfort and confidence.

My routine was much like the routine of any other addict: wake up, score my next fix, take several pulls off the brown bottle and spend the rest of my day finding ways to stay in the fog. I was scared to face life and scared to face myself. I could not leave the house without something in my system.

For years my friends, loved ones and employers would tell me that I needed help and needed to stop chasing the dragon. I would laugh them off; say that I had things under control and that my using wasn’t really causing that many problems. Inside I was terrified at the prospect of getting clean. Who would I be? Would I like myself? Would others like me? How would I cope with life? How would I spend my time? These were the kinds of questions which ran laps in my mind.

Deciding to do something different

I finally came to the decision that I had to do something differently. I had been jailed, hospitalized and nearly lost my life more times than I would like to admit. Nothing scared me more than the idea of getting clean but I did it – and so can you.

Many of the ideas for bringing hope into your life are taken from my book, Chopping Wood and Carrying Water: One Day at a Time. These are not terribly complicated ideas. Most good ideas are simple but require work. Keep in mind that I use these concepts in my own life – and so countless other individuals – and they will really work for you if given a fair trial. I hope these ideas inspire you to do something differently, just for today. What do you have to lose? Let’s get busy then.

1. Change your thought (what are you feeding on?)

What you habitually think about eventually manifests in your life. If you are constantly thinking negative and self-defeating thoughts, you can only have a negative and hopeless state of mind. It cannot be any other way.

Think of your diet: if you gorge on pizza, soft drinks and candy bars all day, how do you feel? If you are anything like me, you will feel terrible. If you were to change your diet and ate only fresh produce, healthy lean meats and drank plenty of water how would you feel? My guess is that you would feel much better. I know I do when I eat a balanced diet.

Now consider your thoughts: what are you feeding on? Guilt? Shame? FEAR? Worry? If your thought-diet consists of guilt, shame, fear and worry, you likely feel emotionally drained, depressed and hopeless. I would challenge you (whether you are newly sober, thinking of getting sober, or already sober) to change your though diet just for today.

  • Think positive thoughts.
  • Think of what you have to gain by getting clean and sober.
  • Think of the possibilities.
  • Think of how much better life will be.

Whenever a negative thought pops into your mind, deprive it of life by replacing it with something positive. Does this sound a little corny or too simple to work? It might. I can assure you it WORKS. Try it today.

2. Get moving

A body in motion tends to stay in motion and a body at rest tends to stay at rest. If you are sitting home alone and are stuck between your ears (my term for obsessive thinking) you are behind enemy lines. Remember the famous slogan nothing changes if nothing changes? It is true. I do not care what you do, just do not sit around and think. The more you think, the more you think. Got it?

Instead, get up and go for a walk. Go to a 12-step meeting or meet with other recovering folks. Find someone who has what you want (sobriety) and ask them how they did it. Take a shower. Clean your room or home. Make a call to a 12-step hotline. Attend an online meeting or join a recovering chat-room. If you are reading this, you are already doing something different and positive for your life – you have not found this site by accident! Keep reading. Take notes. Make use of all the resources that you can. JUST DO SOMETHING DIFFERENTLY.

3. Make a list and check it twice

The bread and butter of my own program of recovery are the 12-steps and the Serenity Prayer. Try this simple exercise for starters: Take a sheet of paper and fold it lengthwise. On one side, clearly write THINGS I CAN CHANGE. On the other side, write THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE. Take some time and write an exhaustive list of the things you CAN and CANNOT change. After you are satisfied with your list, take one thing you can change and write it down on a separate sheet of paper. Keep reading. It will get better, I promise.

4. The #1 thing you have decided to change

Underneath the thing you can change, I would now ask you to write down the steps you will need to take in order to make this change a reality. What will you need to do in order to begin the process of changing this thing? What is the cost of not changing? Are you willing to make the changes necessary? Just because you can change something does not mean you are willing. Willingness is the key to this simple exercise. If you are reading this, my bet is that you are willing. Taking action on this change takes you from the victim role into a role of taking ownership of your life and your future. Get moving. All you must do is begin. I did it, so can you.

5. Accept the rest

Reflect back on the list of the THINGS YOU CANNOT CHANGE. If I was still a gambling man, I would bet that much of your pain and despair is fed by worrying and over analyzing the THINGS YOU CANNOT CHANGE. I know that in my life prior to entering recovery this was certainly the case. The crux of reflecting on the THINGS YOU CANNOT CHANGE is to move towards an attitude of acceptance. You cannot change other people. You cannot change how they think or behave. You cannot change how others think of you – besides, what others think of you is none of your business! If you are struggling to accept the things you cannot change, try saying the Serenity Prayer. Write it down and carry it with you if you do not already know it. Say it again and again, out loud or to yourself. Begin to pray for acceptance of the things you cannot change. It sounds too easy to actually work, but it does. Try it now.


Above all else, please remember this: If you are unhappy with anything in your life, DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. Just begin.

About the author
Paul J. Wolanin is a professional addictions therapist living and working in Northern Michigan. He is author of Chopping Wood and Carrying Water: One Day at a Time , a 30-day recovery devotional available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble. He also runs a website where he offers tools and tips to keep your recovery on track. Sign up for his newsletter by visiting him at Paul Wolanin's Author Site.


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  1. Addiction is very serious and can lead to a lot of negative outcomes in your life like you said. I think that changing your thoughts like you said is one of the most important aspects of helping to overcome an addiction. If someone were to repeat that they can’t do something over and over again, they will eventually believe it. Making sure to harness positivity and hope that you can change would be necessary to be able to break your addiction.

  2. i can’t automatically change right now i wan’t something to guide me to reach the goal i wish to change drug addiction.

  3. I am 45 and been in multiple rehabs. This last time I thought I had it…I was doing very good. I have 2 kids ages 12 and 10 who live with their dad. We have been separated for 4 years due to my using and I am very ashamed to say and realize I took another man and the drug life over them. My husband has moved on but is bitter. He is also verbally abusive. I am dual diagnosis too. I left program and live a block away but am drinking again and witnessing the problems my son is having or my daughter seeing her hero not make it is killing me. I can’t face the shame and I go back to my room and splice my arms. I can’t stay at their house long because when my husband kicked me out it triggered a whole bunch of issues from my childhood and I suppressed that with using. I am so disgusted with myself. People laugh at me because I am always going back to see my kids these past 4 years and only worse. Older, no car, beauty fades. I don’t know where to begin …I need a car, I need to stay sober, I need a place eventually because my kids need and miss me. I was a very good Mommy. I put my husband on a pedestal and gave away my power. My esteem is very low. I want to do it on my own because when I was in programs my kids were far and me being there helps them. I don’t drink there. My daughter has a trundle bed so I sleep there sometimes. Where I rent a room is not great for my kids because the person I rent from is dirty and smokes cigarettes and Spice. I look for rooms to rent close to them but they are expensive. I have pushed everyone away in my life that loved me because I was mean while using. Yet my behavior has been awful too when I was young. My mother told my then boyfriend now husband I was rotten. My dad lives abroad and my half sisters are the successes. My brother won’t have anything to do with me. My dad has dementia and my sisters shunned me off and are materialistic and phony people. I know I am a really great woman and sweet at best but I have self sabotaged everything good in my life. Please help. I have high anxiety and panic right now. I woke up from worry.

  4. Hi Sharon,
    Thank you for your comment. Firstly, if you believe that your son is in need of professional services this should be your first order of business. I am sure you have already explored some of these options. Secondly, all I can do is suggest what has worked for me and for others I have worked with: start small, but START SOMEWHERE. Any positive change is movement in the right direction. Remember this: Old behaviors can take a very long time to change and some may not change at all. Making a long term recovery goal and breaking it down into managable, daily steps might be a good place to start. Pick one thing per day and just work on that. Above all else, remember that recovery is a ONE DAY AT A TIME endevor. Best to you and yours.

  5. Thank you for sharing this book. But I have a question? Because of the psychosis effect of the drugs my son has been finding it very difficult to concentrate on anything positive. Any ideas how to get him to focus on what will help change?

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