The story above is often referred to as the parable of two wolves and is a traditional story in the Native American culture. While it generally speaks to all people, it tends to have special meaning for those in recovery.
The dark wolf speaks to our mental illness and addiction whereas the light wolf speaks to the strengths we utilized to obtain and maintain our path in recovery.
Every day we fight the battle between these two wolves and every day we remain in recovery, we come out on top knowing that we fed the right wolf. Sure, there are days that feel like the darker wolf has won. But with the dawn comes a new day, a new step, and a series of new decisions to make in regards to feeding our internal wolves.
In the end, the parable really is focusing on the choices we make that feed one wolf or the other. What are some choices we could make every day that helps us feed the light wolf?
- Practice Daily Gratitude- studies have shown that simply thinking about the things you are grateful for can begin to change the negativity bias that we tend to have in our brains; meaning you will eventually find that it’s easier for you to think positively and feed the light wolf.
Some people choose to think about things they are grateful for at the beginning and end of each day. Others keep a running log throughout the day so they don’t forget the little ones. Whatever works for you is great! I keep mine in my daily planner. But this habit won’t come on its own. It’s one you will have to build up into a habit, to be intentional about.
- Label Your Wins- At the end of every day, it’s sometimes hard to think about the things that went well, especially if you spend your day helping people solve problems. Take a second at the end of each day and think of three things that went well that day. They may be super small, like you smiled at that coworker you do not like, but even small wins are wins!
- Live With Intention- This could be a whole lifetime of learning on its own! As Americans, we tend to be challenged when it comes to the concept of living with intention. Intentional living requires that a person is aware of their fundamental beliefs or core values and that they are willing to make an effort to have their behavior consistently reflect these beliefs. According to writer Joshua Becker, there are three steps to intentional living:
- Realize that life is made of choices. Attitudes and decisions do not have to be determined by our past experiences but instead can be chosen.
- We are surrounded by cultures. We can help determine the direction of these cultures and determine which ones we want to participate in. This includes family cultures.
- Know who you are and what you want to do, to communicate, to contribute, etc. Give time to your passions.
- Disconnect- We are constantly connected to the world via our easy access to social media and the internet. While these resources can feed the light wolf, there are times it feeds the dark. It’s hard to not feed the dark wolf when the focus is on tragedy, political arguments, or even simply the act of comparing your life to the seemingly fabulous (and highly edited) life of your peers. Take a second each day to simply disconnect from the internet, your cellphone, social media…any outlet in your life that feeds you an overwhelming amount of negative data and sucks a lot of your time.
- Reconnect- But wait…you just said to disconnect! After disconnecting from the streams of negative data flowing in our lives from external sources, take a chance to reconnect with the meaningful and fulfilling aspects of your life. This could be going outdoors and enjoying the breeze. It could be reconnecting with your kids, your pets, your loved one. It could also mean just sitting alone and reconnecting with yourself.
All of us have the fight between two wolves, however those living in recovery tend to be more in touch with the nature of both wolves. This provides a significant benefit to people in recovery because they can focus on which wolf they want to feed in a more conscious and intentional way. Take a second and think. Which wolf are you feeding today?
Brittany Lash is a counselor in Texas and is the director for the Professional Recovery Network (http://www.txprn.com) with the Texas Pharmacy Association. She has experience working in public mental health, mental health public policy, and in training first responders to work with individuals with mental illness.