How Understanding the Window of Choice Aids in Recovery

“If you don’t know someone who’s had a problem with addiction, you will.” –Dana Boente

Working in the addictions field is not easy.  It is not predictable either.  Some of the people who start treatment and sound like they are making healthy choices in their lives, end up relapsing, while others who struggle to start suddenly have a turnaround.   Recovery is a journey and every person dealing with addiction and recovery need to forge their own road to determine what works for them.  As I work with clients I discuss their window of choice and help clients to figure out what stretches it.

I define addiction as both a choice and disease.  As I envision it, there is a window of time when a person has a choice, but once it reaches the threshold, it flips into a compulsion.  At that threshold, the disease of addiction takes over and there is no longer a choice in the matter.  During active addiction, the window of choice is minuscule.  There is not much time from when the person feels the urge to the time they start using.  Recovery is about stretching the window of choice.

So, what stretches the window of choice?  Whenever a person does something that brings them peace and joy they stretch the window.  When they feel connected with someone or when they are able to shift their perspective of a situation they gain more power to choose.  Every time a decision to not use is made and honored the window gets bigger.  I encourage my clients to make a list of things they can do to stretch the window of choice.  They may listen to music, take a walk, journal or draw.  It may take a lot of slow work to stretch the window of choice out enough to abstain or the window can seemingly stretch in the moment that the person hits rock bottom and decides that they need to change.

Recovery is about continuing to stretch out the window and adding more time of choice before hitting the threshold.  Stress shrinks the window of choice.  When someone has a setback or faces the pain of confronting the repercussions of addiction it causes the window of choice to get smaller, which leaves them closer to the threshold of relapse.  Understanding this balance is critical.  The window can shrink slowly or it can vanish the instant a certain person, place or thing appears.  The key to recovery is understanding the window of choice and continually monitoring the growth or reduction of the window.  When the window begins shrinking, self-care is critical to stop it.  I encourage the clients to revisit the list they created and encourage them to choose at least one thing to try from their list.  If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, become curious about the window of choice and have a discussion about how to support its growth.  It could be the key to change!

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