Values are much more than words or objects we pick up along the way. Rather, values are chosen life directions. They are intentional qualities that join together a string of moments into a meaningful life path that has direction.
Reflecting on my own recovery I recall my fearful experience of saying NO to people instead of my predictable “people pleasing” response of saying YES, even to strangers and bullies. I didn’t realize it, but I had embraced a new value in the process of learning to say NO.
According to Steven Hayes, founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, values are verbs and adverbs, not nouns or adjectives. Values are something you DO or a quality of something you do, not something you HAVE.
The process of moving from a lifestyle of addiction to a lifestyle of healthy recovery is profound. And it’s observable by people who have known you and been part of your journey. If the quality of your life is based on the reality of “doing your values” then your recovery will be marked by new ways of being, thinking and acting.
If values are something you do (or a quality of something you do), then they are ongoing in many situations. So, if honesty is a value to me then I will be honest in my recovery and other areas of my life as I grow. If I value “acting with respect” (or love, or integrity) then such values will inform my interactions with all types of people.
Values are also choices in that you can change direction, from simply avoiding pain or pursuing pleasure to pursuing meaning or accomplishment or service. Outcomes of our acting from our values can be positive or negative, good or evil.
Living a valued life does not mean we have the skills to fulfill all our goals or that we can overcome every obstacle. In valuing success, it doesn’t mean you won’t fail along the way. In serving you may slip into unhealthy enabling.
But you do have what it takes to choose a direction in life and to develop in accordance with what you value. And if we find that our life path has taken us in an undesirable direction that no longer suits us, we can alter our direction.
So how can this help me in my Recovery Journey? The word “value” comes from a Latin root that means “worthy” or “to have strength”. It also means “to wield”. To wield means to bring to bear forcefully or effectively as in “He wields his tools with skill”.
We are meant to wield our values in service of what is worthy and important in our lives. We are strengthened when our actions reflect what we want our lives to count for.
Our values are the basis of a rich and meaningful life despite adversity. Take time to reflect and ponder your own values, for the values we embrace inform the arc of our lives and the legacy we leave behind.