Three Ways to Cope When Change Goes Into Overdrive

By Dawn Roberts 02/18/15

If anyone can identify with the notion of wanting everything to be different, it’s those of us with addictive natures.


“I wish life could be simple again, like it was on Addison Road.”  When I read the text, I knew something was seriously wrong. One of my closest friends is considering the end to a long-term relationship. 

I’ve known Alex my whole life. According to our parents, we were walked up and down the street, side-by-side in prams. She is my closest friend, the one who knows the good, bad and ugly in me and still takes my calls. 

Regardless, we go forward. Growth is painful, but stasis is deadly to the soul.

One thing I know for sure, Alex is a master of understatement. During the course of her lengthy marriage, I have never heard her utter a negative word about her husband. I have always considered this a bit of a red herring. Sometimes, maintaining a friendship means respecting “yield” signals and boundaries along the way.

After high school our paths diverged. I went 3,000 miles away to pursue school and a career, and Alex got married. In the years I spent doing upside down bong hits in my dorm hallway, she was having children, becoming an elegant decorator, hostess, and chef. The upside of being a young wife and mother is that when your kids leave to start their own lives, you are still vital and can have a renaissance of your own design.

Alex’s design is to get out of Dodge...NOW. She wants to shed her handsome home and successful spouse to find her muse. Right now, she isn’t sure what she wants next, but like any obedient civil servant who has done a 20-year stint in a job, she’s ready for something different. 

If anyone can identify with the notion of wanting everything to be different, it’s those of us with addictive natures. My wanderlust recurs on a regular basis. I wake up some days and simply want to start a new life somewhere. Cut and run is my go-to reaction to unpleasant feelings. I’ve learned over time not to act on these impulsive thoughts. I’ve also found a richer and more satisfying life when I learned to stay put through ups, downs and monotony, which is by far the worst instigator.

In recovery, we change and change goes into overdrive. A revolution touching every aspect of our lives and perspectives occurs. During that process, pieces of our very core may no longer feel like a good fit. What are we to do?

I attempt to stay focused on my goal to live an authentic and purposeful existence. Wrapped in the knowledge that however I feel right now is going to change. It might not be tonight or this week, but from experience I know that any sudden and intense feeling is evidence of a phantom that may always live in the shadows.

I tried to give my friend the best advice I could muster. She’s taking a three-month hiatus to a warmer climate where she will have the space to sort through some of the changes she’s going through. The truth is, every word that came out of my mouth sounded like a pitiful platitude: “Give it some time...find your passion...imagine the life you’d like to have.” All of those may be true, but when talking to someone who is in pain and deeply confused, none of these suggestions hit the mark.

I’m no relationship expert. I had one miserable marriage and a subsequent divorce that drove me back into active addiction. I’ve lived with the man I love for 10 years now, but for some reason our intent to marry has been put off no fewer than three times. Today, I’m happy. I’m closer to my extended family than the one of my origin. However, even on the sunniest days, I still picture that other shoe making its inevitable way to the floor.

That said, I’m still here. I’ve learned a few things along the way that are pertinent when drastic change seems to be the only solution.

1. Giving Feels Good

Somewhere in Fairytale Land, I bought into the idea that the person I loved would fix everything in me that hurt or felt hollow. Today, I know that feeling fulfilled is something I have to take responsibility for. I’m most content when I’m giving my time and attention to someone else. The act of getting out of my own head is healing.

2. The Other G Word

Yes, gratitude. My nature can be selfish and petty. I used to keep a running mental list of the material things I had to have. When I look at life in terms of what I can add to it, rather than what I want from it, the old list dissolves. Instead, I think about experiences I want to share with others. When I am feeling especially ratty, I write a list of things I am grateful for by hand. I may never be a candidate for sainthood, but my daydreams are certainly more interesting.

3.  Happiness Is Your Mental Real Estate

There’s strength in knowing that the only person I can change is myself. Waiting for the world, or anyone in it to change is pointless. It is, however, helpful to know what we’re angry about, and what needs we have that aren’t being met. I’ve noticed that the thing I am mad at someone else for is a mirror of my own shortcomings. While the revelations may not be cause for celebration in the moment, it's an important tool. When I discovered that I was capable of making myself happy, I actually started doing it.

No matter how great things seem today you can count on one thing: It may be different tomorrow. Nothing stays the same, and keeping up with that can be exhausting, even depressing. Alex sees her recently emptied nest as a crypt that she can’t return to. I don’t know what the future holds, but I am sure there’s no way to return to a moment that has passed. We stumble towards our destiny, sometimes with purpose and other times blindly. Regardless, we go forward. Growth is painful, but stasis is deadly to the soul.

“Time may change me, but I can’t trace time.” - David Bowie

Dawn Roberts is a writer and media consultant. She lives in the Catskill Mountains with two dogs, a cat and a recording engineer. She last wrote about options to quit Suboxone, interviewed Bob Forrest and looked into the rehab abuse of adolescents and about insurance companies denying psychiatric treatment.

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