The Best Time to Plant a Tree

Have you ever sat and thought about that project that you “should have” finished ages ago?  It could be something small, like organizing the last 15 years of your family photos which are stacked in piles in the bottom corner of the living-room bookshelf, or maybe it’s repaving the driveway that, had you done it two summers ago when it first was needed, would have cost you half the price it’s going to cost you now.  And who can forget the term paper that’s due in 3 hours and nowhere ready to be submitted?   The truth is, we can all look back and recall those moments of impaired procrastination with a twinge of regret, embarrassment and disappointment.   The end result might have had negative consequences (or not), but in the grand scheme of things, likely didn’t rock the world around us.  But what happens when the project you’ve been putting off is your recovery?

How many times have you heard yourself or someone else, say about getting help for their addiction, “I should have done this 5, 10, 15 years and two failed marriages ago”?  This can be quite a powerful statement to make to ourselves and others because it can indicate that we’ve actually begun to break through the fog of denial that has kept us from seeing the truth and devastation of our disease.  Our family members, if they’re privy to this quiet admission would surely jump to their feet with joy, climb to the rooftop and scream to the world “Yes, yes, finally!  You could have prevented this vast destruction in our lives if only you had done this earlier!  This is what I’ve been saying for years, you blockhead!”

This realization can be an important period in our recovery process because in those lucid moments of reflection we’re recognizing the severity of our problem and, in doing so, helping ourselves to move forward to begin to change.  But, our inability to let go of the fact that we didn’t do this 5, 10, 15 years and two failed marriages ago can just as equally, hamper our long term recovery from addiction.  Quite often we choose to ruminate on the feelings of disappointment, embarrassment, shame and regret and stay stuck in the unchangeable past.  In fact, for some, the very fact that they realize they “should have” made changes earlier, can contribute to them not seeking help now and moving towards positive change.  It’s almost as though they think “well, I should have done this years ago and didn’t, and now it’s too late”. Thankfully, we know better.

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says:

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now”. 

This rings true for our recovery experiences whether we’re talking about our first, third, tenth attempt to find recovery, or as it relates to our ability to sustain our existing recovery.  We often hear from alumni who, somewhere during the course of their recovery journey, stop using the proactive steps in their recovery program. They stop calling their sponsor.  They may attend meetings but perhaps not as regularly.   They let go of their prayer and meditation practices.  Days turn into weeks, followed by months and with each passing day it becomes harder to pick up the phone, to get to that meeting, in part, because “I really should have done this earlier”.  In other words, they focus so much on what they didn’t do that they fail to take action.

If we would only truly internalize the second part of this proverb “the second best time is now”, we could free ourselves to get back on track and save ourselves a lot of time and more accurately, we could save our very lives.  Sure, recognizing that we’ve been procrastinating may be the first step, but it doesn’t stop there.  Keep moving and take the action that you know is needed, not because of your regret and embarrassment, but because your recovery a.k.a your life depends on it.   Plant your tree today.

And hey, if this motivates you to organize those family photos and fix the driveway, that’s an added bonus.  Ask yourself, what tree am I prepared to plant today?

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