What is hope, exactly?
And why are we –addiction treatment professionals – wanting to mainline this powerful feeling into our clients? What’s commonly defined as “a desire for something to happen,” most people don’t realize what hope is really about.
Girls want to hang it in the kitchen right next to their Live, Laugh, Love wall sticker because it’ll look cute. Guys, on the other hand, call upon it every day with expectations of becoming millionaires, rockstars – or both!
But hope isn’t some flippant feeling to be taken lightly.
Hope is one of the most dangerous, powerful, and important tools we can possess in today’s world. And if you’re struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, hope might just save your life.
The following article will address what hope means for someone recovering from substance abuse and how it can be used in order to achieve a happy, healthy life in recovery.
What is Hope and How Is It Different from Optimism?
In the Journal of Psychological Inquiry, Professor C. R. Snyder says this about hope:
“Hope is defined as the perceived capability to derive pathways to desired goals, and motivate oneself via agency thinking to use those pathways.”
As you can see it’s more than just a positive outlook on life. In fact, hope seems like a lot of work, doesn’t it? And that’s the point! Hope is a proactive process than a passive one.
More clinically, hope is a cognitive process that can be broken down in two distinct ways. This thought process helps people (1) set goals and (2) start planning ways in which to achieve those goals. By doing this, we characterize hope into agency and pathway thoughts.
We say someone exhibits agency when they are motivated to undertake the routes necessary to achieve their goals. Are you motivated to stay late at night to get that promotion? Do you have that internal courage to ask that girl out? Or more importantly, do you have a single ounce of drive to put down the drugs and get sober?
Even if you’re just 1% motivated to get sober, then you’re halfway there.
We say someone is having pathway thoughts when they start planning ways to get out of a jam or ways to achieve their ultimate goal. In other words, to get that promotion should you pitch Project A to the team or Project B? Should you DM that girl or go up and talk to her? Or should you go to inpatient or outpatient treatment to get sober?
By joining these two factors together, researchers can actually quantify how much hope you actually have. Specifically, they use a 12-point Adult Hope Scale to measure your level of hope.
And, don’t knock the science behind this tool!
Higher levels of hope are related to better outcomes in academics, athletics, and psychological health. And one study in Psychosomatic Medicine showed that men with low levels of hope were more than 3x more likely to die from violence or injury.
So, no, I wasn’t lying about the powerful nature of this feeling seeing as hopeless men actually die at higher rates than certain reference groups.
Just don’t get hope confused with optimism… Whereas hope is more goal-oriented and motivation-based, optimism is more passive. Optimism is the generalized belief that good outcomes instead of bad ones will occur.
In sum, hope is more active and event-driven. It’s shaped by the situation you’re in – like struggling with chemical dependency. It’s a feeling or emotion that leads to goal-setting and action planning, which is so vital in getting sober. Optimism, on the other hand, is more of a mental outlook or attitude and doesn’t depend on your external situation.
Although having both is important, especially in recovery, I’d be willing to wager that having hope is better. Most people struggling with substance abuse don’t have a positive outlook on life. They’ve been hurt, sexually abused, manipulated, etc. So, positive feelings alone don’t make a difference.
But, combine this positive outlook with a goal and that goal with an action plan, and you’re on your way to success and lifelong sobriety.
What Does Hope Have To Do With Addiction Recovery?
People struggling with addiction aren’t just plagued by the physical symptoms of substance abuse. During their use and for quite some time after, they often experience a multitude of co-occurring mental health issues, which can further complicate their recovery process.
In fact, many users report feelings of depression, anxiety and other comorbid psychiatric conditions upon admission to drug rehab.
Another common feeling that users experience is being hopeless. Or feeling that there’s nothing they can do to get better. They look back on all the failed attempts at getting clean and think there’s no solution for them. So, why even try again?
This thought process can repeat over and over again for addicts, and, undoubtedly makes recovery attempts much more difficult.
For instance, one study aimed to figure out why heroin addicts have had an exceedingly high rate of suicide since the 1980s. Using instruments such as the Multidimensional Health Questionnaire (MHQ) and the Beck Hopelessness Scale (BHS), they found some shocking results.
The more hopeless people felt, the more likely they were to commit suicide and use substances.
Comorbid mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, self-blame, and negative thinking were all positively correlated to hopelessness levels. The more hopeless people felt, the more likely they were to commit suicide and use substances.
This shows the importance of assessing hopelessness as a criteria for admission into a place like Stonegate Center, an addiction treatment facility just west of Fort Worth, Texas. But we – as treatment professionals – need view hope as a tangible and measurable thing that our clients can attain.
We can encourage our clients through motivational interviewing as well as goal-setting in order to help them get sober. With therapeutic practices aimed at helping our clients self-actualize, we’ll better be able to shake them out of that negative, recurring thought process and on to more productive thoughts.
Frankly, without addressing someone’s hopelessness, we may be missing a huge puzzle piece in drug addiction treatment.
Hopelessness Can Affect Your Physical and Mental Health
The stigma of mental health disorders is very powerful, and not in a good way. The assumption and judgement is that you are weak, crazy, and unable to handle simple life tasks.
These thoughts are unacceptable, however, and are preventing people from getting the help they need. Mental health wellness is very important. If you are not talking care of yourself in this manner, hopelessness is a very possible feeling on many different levels.
Once this occurs, you will begin to experience many negative thoughts and potentially start some self-destructive behaviors.
You will have no direction or feeling of accomplishment. Depression will kick in. Negative self-talk will start, and you will start seeking out others who feel how you feel. This will become your only goal. And ultimately, these thoughts will affect you mentally and physically.
Your need to feel validated that life has wronged you will be at your focus. You will feel a lack of motivation, be unproductive, and essentially desperate.
So, just how can feeling hopeless affect your mental health? Well, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (DSM-V) hopelessness may lead to the following issues or conditions:
- Create higher levels of anxiety.
- Suicidal ideation, thoughts, and attempts.
- Substance abuse and dependence.
- Lack of motivation in your personal, and professional life.
These issues provide us great insight into how someone is really feeling. Although cognitive behavior and physical health are interrelated in complex ways, noticing some of these symptoms could be key in identifying the underlying issues surrounding your loved one’s drug or alcohol problem.
No one is going to come out and say they’re hopeless, and most people don’t know how to define it properly. That is why it is important to pick up on subtle clues – like what people say. Below are some of my favorite examples of hopeless statements that may help you in identifying this feeling in others.
- My situation will never get better.
- I have no future.
- No one understands me.
- No one can help me.
- I feel like giving up
- I have no hope.
- I will never be happy.
- I am a loser.
- I am useless.
If you are experiencing any of those listed above, I want to challenge you to explore what is behind those symptoms. What has led you to the feeling of hopelessness? What are you willing to do to create change? How can you ask for help? How do you need support?
Answering these questions will provide you a blueprint to create your path to wellness, and your journey to a new you is going to begin. Trust me, it may not be as easy as it sounds, but when you’re ready to take the first step, the potential consequence will be hope. You got this!
Remember how we said hope is action-oriented and can be changed? Well, that’s exactly what I want you to start doing if you’re feeling hopeless. Here’s your first piece of homework: change the aforementioned statements into hopeful ones.
I’ll even give you the answers! Here are new, more powerful hopeful statements than those listed above:
- I am in control of my actions and responses to situations.
- I am excited about my future and where it takes me.
- I am taking the steps needed to help with my personal growth.
- I am going to keep pushing forward to accomplish my goal, no matter if I fail.
- I will learn from past mistakes, and failures and keep moving forward.
- I am hopeful.
- I am happy.
- I am useful.
- I got this.
With that being said, what fuels your fire? What pushes you to be the best version of yourself?
From Becoming Hopeless to Hopeful: How I Attain Hope
For me, I have 1 daily goal: to help someone in need. That could be as simple as buying someone a cup of coffee, a smile, or getting them resources to improve their quality of life. If I am lucky, I will give someone a slice of hope in seeking their next step with recovery and accomplishing their own goals.
Feeling accomplished gives me even more motivation to have a better day tomorrow.
I know what some of you may be thinking “How can I be goal focused and driven when my life is spiraling out of control?” The solution is much more complicated than what I am about to suggest. Just surrender. Tell yourself enough is enough and I am done suffering. This is where you will find a slice of hope.
It forces you to get into the goal mind set. Take your life back and let’s create some solid goals. Start practicing self-care by going to treatment, cutting out sugar, setting boundaries, going to the gym, or becoming more organized are some possibilities. These are all accomplishable.
Three Tips on Setting Goals
- Set a reachable goal. For example, if your goal is to start working out more, and this is new for you, set your goal at 3 days a week rather than 6 days a week.
- Celebrate the small victories. It’s simple. When you notice a shift and a sense of accomplishment, and you’re in your element, celebrate it. Jump up and down, give yourself a high five, scream as loud as you can. Commemorate where you are. This little jolt will keep pushing you forward.
- It’s okay to fail. How you react to the failure will speak volumes. Let’s be honest. Nobody likes to fail. We all struggle with this. I have failed many times in my life, and I will admit, I’ve let those failures impact me negatively as well. What I have learned is to look at each “failure” as an opportunity for growth. After I was able to do this, I was able to stay focused on the overall goal and find another way to reach it and was prouder of myself once I accomplished it! There is ALWAYS more than 1 way to your destination.
Remember This Equation: Goals + Drive = Hope
Sure, there are times when you really will want to eat that cupcake, give your loved one money, or take that drink. That is why it is important to seek out like-minded people who have a focus and goals like yours. Individuals who want to lift you up and encourage you to be a better you. Having a relapse in old behavior happens every day.
The game changer in those moments are what defines you and your motivation to maintain focus. In those moments, ask yourself “Do I want to be hopeful or hopeless?”
If it is hopeful – make a correction, be honest, and get refocused on your goal. If it is hopeless – you will find discomfort, feel uneasy, and ultimately lose sight of why you were working towards a goal to begin with. Essentially, you will be miserable.
Hope is the absence of personal drive and goals. You have the power to determine your quality of life. Do you want to end the day thinking “I did the best I could today?” or “I didn’t do anything today?” Nothing changes if nothing changes.
I believe in you. The question is, do you believe in you?
Goals + Drive = Hope. Find love and compassion within yourself and others, stay focused, be honest, and always be kind.
-Kensie Lyon MS, LADC
Kensie was born in Nebraska and moved to Oklahoma in 2010 after graduating with her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor with 10 years of experience. Kensie has been successful in guiding those who have been affected by addiction, to a place of sustained recovery. Her passion is helping those in their darkest moments, find hope and happiness. Kensie believes that when people find purpose and hope, they find happiness and self-worth.