Posted on May 17, 2017 in addiction recovery
How Recovery Can Help You Live a Better-Than-Normal Life
By Justin Steen, LCDC, Addiction Counselor and Regional Director of Outpatient Services for Promises Austin
A big part of recovering from addiction and living a sober life is being good to yourself — in every possible way. For many people in recovery, taking care of your physical, emotional and spiritual health becomes the focus of daily life. A benefit of applying this level of focus on self-care as a tool for sobriety is that you end up having a better life experience.
Rebuilding your life after addiction involves taking positive actions that reinforce your sobriety, and also allow you to feel fulfilled and to experience life in a way that, very likely, is better than it was when you were in active addiction.
If you recently completed addiction treatment, congratulations! You have gotten over a major hurdle and set a good foundation for a sober lifestyle. As you progress through your recovery process one day at a time, consider incorporating each of these seven positive actions or elements of recovery to help you create, and live, a better-than-normal life.
#1: Be good to yourself — your body, heart, mind and spirit. The cornerstone of your new sober life is being good to yourself. First, take positive action to achieve your health goals with dedication. This is especially helpful in early recovery when eating well and working out is sometimes the only thing standing between you and a relapse.
Many people in recovery replace addiction with a diet and exercise regimen. That’s OK — a fitness program helps you feel better. But being good to yourself is more than physical fitness. You should also do things that keep you emotionally centered, psychologically healthy, and socially and spiritually connected. The goal is to eventually find a comfortable balance between several life areas: fitness-health-diet; family/relationship; fun-leisure-creative pursuits; social and community activities; spiritual-religious pursuits; emotional growth; personal finances, and career/work.
Hopefully, you are following an addiction treatment aftercare plan that includes ongoing counseling, support group meetings, a sober sponsor/coach, some kind of spiritual outlet, and any outside resources you might need to help you manage your life responsibilities with less stress. All of these elements are important in making you feel supported and fulfilled.
#2: Be mindful. Spirituality has been found to enrich the recovery experience, lifting people’s spirits and making them feel connected to a higher power. However, some people are not comfortable with the spiritual aspects of 12-step programs or with formal prayer and meditation.
Luckily, practicing mindfulness is an alternative way to get some of the same benefits. Being mindful as you carry out simple daily tasks can reduce anxiety, stress and restlessness, bringing a sense of calm. How does mindfulness work? As you are doing a chore (i.e., washing dishes or folding laundry), be in the moment and try to shut out worries. To quiet your thoughts and be more conscious and aware, turn your focus to what you’re doing. Tune into your senses, being mindful of scents, sounds and textures — perhaps the smell of the soap or the warmth of the clothes fresh out of the dryer. Breathe deeply and slowly and enjoy some peace in the moment.
#3: Be grateful. If you hit a rough patch in your recovery, perhaps feeling stressed or triggered to relapse, stop and take a minute to be grateful for what you have and what you have accomplished. Make a list of the people, places and things for which you are grateful. Being grateful for what and who you have in your life — despite how much or how little — raises your level of happiness. Research has shown that practicing gratitude on a regular basis improves your mood and makes you feel better about life overall.
#4: Be connected to others. Trying to get sober and stay sober is not something you should do alone. In fact, if a client just out of rehab is going to live alone and is likely to isolate, we see that as a risk factor for relapse. People in recovery should connect with others in recovery — usually through sober support groups and programs — to stay happy and motivated.
If time and transportation are issues, you can connect with support groups online, though in-person interaction is often more satisfying and inspiring. If you are able to continue group sessions with alumni from your addiction treatment program, that can be a good way to stay connected to people you already feel safe with. However, if you continue attending self-help meetings in your community, you can eventually make some good connections there and feel safe enough to share your feelings in that setting.
#5: Be forgiving of others (and yourself). Forgiveness is powerful and freeing. Forgiving others and accepting that no one is perfect, including you, is an important aspect of recovery. If you are working a 12-step program, the steps are teaching you how important it is to let go of old hurts and resentments. Even if you aren’t following a 12-step program, your sobriety and happiness depend on practicing forgiveness and letting go of old baggage. When you do this, you will feel remarkably lighter, as though a weight has been lifted.
#6: Be of service. Doing good deeds to help others, without expecting anything in return, makes you feel useful. Being of service to others also has the surprising benefit of improving your self-esteem. Addicts often feel shame due to the stigma of addiction, and also due to memories of their past addictive behaviors that were hurtful to themselves and others. Shame is a killer of self-esteem.
A sober counselor once told me, “If you want to improve your self-esteem, do esteemable acts.” Try it and you’ll understand the truth of this statement. For example, if you help out at the local soup kitchen by serving food to the homeless, you’re probably going to feel pretty good about yourself afterward. Figure out how you might be of service to others or can somehow make a difference in improving someone else’s life, no matter how small the gesture. Then go do it.
#7: Be purposeful. Remember when your sole purpose in life was to get your next fix, or make it until your next drink? Now that time and energy is freed up for better things. It can now be used for purposes that give you joy and bring meaning to your life. No clue what those might be?
Here is a tip. You can’t figure out a purpose by thinking about it. You have to take action — start doing some things that interest you and stop doing things that don’t. The next time you are sitting around watching TV and eating potato chips to fill the time, ask yourself what you could be doing in that same space of time (or on a regular basis) that feels creative, helpful, important or meaningful.
For some people, being purposeful is as simple as taking good care of their children. For others it involves learning to play a musical instrument or volunteering their time at an animal shelter or another charity. (For some of us, it means becoming a sober coach or counselor to help others who are struggling with addiction.) If you can’t figure it out, don’t sweat it. Finding things to do with your time and talents should be an enjoyable journey of exploration where you try different things until you find what you’re good at or what brings you happiness — and then keep doing those things. That is being purposeful.
The surprising outcome of taking these seven positive actions as you progress through your sobriety? They make you feel content and happy — happier than you were before you got sober. In this way, recovery can help you live a better-than-normal life.
Becoming Happy in Recovery: Five Action Steps. Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S. I Love Recovery Café, October 2016.
Zen and Washing Dishes: How to Be Mindful in Everyday Tasks. Journey Healing Centers, March 2017.
Life on Purpose: 15 Questions to Discover Your Personal Mission. Tina Su. Think Simple Now, 2016.
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