5 Stages of Recovery: Precontemplation


Welcome back to The A Word, my series on addiction. Last week I talked about the different stages of recovery. This week I would like to zero in on the first of the 5 stages of recovery, precontemplation.  Fun fact, as I was researching more about this stage, and recovery in general, I found out that these stages are not specific to recovery but for change in general. I found this interesting because I know that not everyone has addiction issues, yet this information can fit and form into areas of your life that you wish to change!

What is Precontemplation?

To recap from last week precontemplation is what I like to think of as the actual addiction or pre-recovery phase.  All of us start in this stage, no question about it. In this stage, the addict is either not aware that their behavior is problematic or they ARE aware but refuse to admit it. 

 If they aren’t aware, this is the stage that loved ones would probably end up considering an intervention. Perhaps friends are dropping hints or making jokes about the substance abuse or, as in my case, making light of peculiar eating patterns.  In my situation it was family, sometimes well-meaning, politely inferring as to my weight and what I was doing to battle the issue.

Of course not being aware that I was actually battling an addiction to eating, I didn’t realize that I had a problem other than I was fat. Therefore, the questions and the ridicule often made me feel worse about myself. Which in turn caused me to reach for food for that emotional uplift.  Sometimes it had an opposite effect, and I would double down on restrictive diets, setting myself up for failure time and time again.  Yet again leading to an inevitable turn to binging and giving up on myself.

If they are aware that their behavior is out of hand, they tend to dig in and live in this realm of denial.  Sometimes this awareness is brought on by an external stimulus.  Such as an intervention from friends/family. Sometimes it’s due to getting into some financial or legal issues due to the addiction.  A person in the precontemplation stage would go through the motions of being aware of a problem but they have no intention at this point to really do anything about it.

always hope

Addictions have Consequences

When it comes to food I can’t think of many situations that have legal consequences from binging or compulsive eating. On the other hand, financial issues can be abundant. Spending money you don’t have or should be putting away on food can add up. 

I can recall sitting down to do my budget, always wondering why I’m living paycheck to paycheck and barely at that! Struggling week after week to make sure my bills are paid and barely having money left over to do anything but stay home and watch tv.  So I took an honest look at my expenditures.  I pulled up a single month’s statement and realized I was spending 400-600 PER paycheck on eating out. That turns into 800-1200 a month for me just in feeding my addiction.

That was mind-blowing to me. I spent my life struggling financially, only to really have no one else to blame but myself.  You would think that little epiphany would stop me, or at least cause me to pause in what I was doing to myself, however, it didn’t even seem to phase me. I’m not proud of this fact, but I can’t count the times I dug through my change drawer, purse, couch, and car just to find enough coin to hit a drive-thru for a value burger or a handful of chicken nuggets and a coke. 

 Addiction is Ironic

The irony of it all is that struggling financially caused me to stress out. Stressing out caused me to have emotional highs and lows, and those emotional triggers sent me straight for food. The same food that added up in financial costs that kept me stressed out.  In other words, my addiction inadvertently caused my stress that triggered my need for my addiction in the first place. What a cycle of destruction! No wonder it’s so damn hard for us to break free from our addictions.

What are the signs that you are in the precontemplation stage?

For those looking on from the outside, it may be pretty obvious that someone with an addiction problem is in this stage.  It’s easier for them to see the behaviors of someone who hasn’t acknowledged they are practicing harmful behaviors. Unfortunately, most addicts aren’t going to be quite as self-aware about being in this stage. In fact, most of us in this stage live in a state of denial and blame.

Denial and Blame

As stated before, the easiest way to tell someone is in this stage is that they aren’t aware their behavior is a problem. Or if they are aware, they are in denial.  In this stage, they have no intention of taking action to change their behaviors. An addict in the precontemplation stage will most likely avoid people or conversations about their behavior.  It’s part of the denial behavior.  

They may just be coming into some awareness that what they are doing is harmful. That doesn’t mean they are ready to face it by any means. Consequently, this leads to a major lack of accountability.  Justifications for poor judgment and choices are quick to spring to the defense of a person in the precontemplation stage.  Blame runs rampant. It’s easier to blame outside reasons for why we choose to turn to our DOC, than to face the painful reality that we do it to ourselves. 

 Work stress, family problems, even genetics all take a turn at having a starring role in our blame game.   Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that these things don’t have a part to play.  We all have reasons why we turn to substance abuse.  We all have a pain or stress that we are trying to bury and hide from. 

Yes, this could easily be a work stress or perhaps you have a family that always makes you feel bad or you struggle to understand. Maybe you don’t feel like you fit in. Or as I was often told and soon began to believe, It’s just how my body is built. I have no control because I’m genetically designed to be like this.

There are always outside factors, but the painful truth is we make the CHOICE to turn to what numbs us, or comforts us. The substance that soothes that pain, stress, and loneliness away.

The Precontemplation stage can feel hopeless

Often times, those who have gone through the 5 stages of recovery, precontemplation represents a hopeless or dark period in their life.  It’s easy to see why.  It’s the dawning awareness that something else has control of us.  With no foreseeable way to regain that control, it leaves you feeling hopeless.  During this time period, the person struggling will underestimate the benefits of making a change in their life and what recovery can bring into their world.  However, this is also the birthplace of hope for an addict. It’s at the end of this stage that they realize they CAN make a change to their lives. That taking control back is something obtainable. 

It’s around this time that you begin to transition into the next stage. Once you’ve been able to admit to yourself that you have a problem then that allows you to move forward. To start thinking about how to create change in your life.  It opens you up to all the possibilities an addiction-free life can have.  When hope sparks again and starts to return then you know that you are ready to move to the next stage, contemplation.

The Bottom Line

In the 5 stages of recovery, precontemplation can be the hardest to move out of. Whether it’s a lack of awareness or unwillingness to admit to yourself that there is a problem, some people spend decades in this phase.

I know I have spent the majority of my 39 years somewhere in this stage. Moving fluidly through life, either blissfully unaware that I was losing myself to an eating addiction, or becoming aware and painfully facing the truth.  The latter came at a cost. I fought with myself long and hard about whether I had a problem or if it was everything else around me that I couldn’t control. 

 It was a struggle for me to transition from this stage into the next.  I had to give up my justifications, stop blaming others around me, and realize the only person I could hold accountable was myself.  Once I accepted this it was easier for me to push my energy into forming a plan of action.  

So we’ve covered the first of the 5 stages of recovery, precontemplation. Next week we will look at stage two, Contemplation. While we are going through these next few weeks I would like to put up a disclaimer that I am not a medical professional, just a woman sharing her story and her experiences. If you are struggling and are looking for more information for yourself or a loved one about recovery I would suggest reaching out to Recovery.org for hotline and counseling help.  Until then, as always, be safe and remember you are NEVER alone! 

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Tired of battling low self-esteem, zero self-worth, and an emotional eating addiction, Amber created Amberable to share her journey with those who may be struggling. Hoping to empower, inspire and heal others like herself