Celebrating Life without Drugs and Alcohol

Celebrating Life without Drugs and Alcohol

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My search for meaning and purpose in recovery from addiction

One of the biggest questions that I had before I was able to get sober was: “Is it really possible to celebrate life without the use of drugs and alcohol?” Because quite honestly I was so used to using drugs and alcohol all the time that it really felt like my life would be empty and boring without them. I genuinely wondered how it was possible to celebrate anything or have any sort of fun without getting drunk or high as part of the routine.

Will I ever have fun again without my drug of choice?

Maybe this was selfish of me, but I was seriously worried that I would never have any fun again if I got clean and sober.

I was basing this on the fact that, during my addiction, the only way that I could ever have any fun in life was to be drunk or high at the time. But this wasn’t really “fun,” this was simply the demands that the addiction was placing on my life.

In fact, what was going on was a subtle reversal of this–if I did NOT have alcohol or drugs on a given day, then I was miserable as a result. Withdrawal is no fun. But I had long ago passed the point where getting drunk or high was really not that exciting for me any more, and in fact it was just enough to maintain, to get by, to not feel sick.

This of course is what addiction does to you over time–it takes away the fun part of “partying” and eventually you have to get high or drunk just to feel normal. Hence, using your drug of choice is no longer really “fun” in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, you have to drink or use drugs just to avoid feeling miserable. Big difference! My denial kept me confused about this and I really thought that everything in my life that I did was “more fun” because I got drunk or high first.

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No, instead I was simply avoiding the discomfort of withdrawal. So watching a movie, for example–hey, let’s get drunk and or high first! That will make it so much more fun, more interesting, it will be so much better if we are medicated first!

Well, not really. It is only “better” because you are avoiding the discomfort of withdrawal, the discomfort of not being sober.

When you drink or use drugs every day, eventually that becomes your new “normal.” Now it is weird to be sober. It is weird to go to the movies and be sober there. It feels weird to go through any part of your life sober, eventually. And in the end an alcoholic will have to start drinking when they come to in the morning, first thing. Then they drink all day long.

I even met alcoholics in rehab that had to wake up in the middle of the night and take a swig of booze, just to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Imagine, having to constantly feed that chemical into your body around the clock, even during sleep, just to feel normal! That is truly horrifying.

And eventually we all get to that point, given enough time and the “luck” to keep drinking and self medicating over the years without dying as a result. In other words, addiction is progressive, and it just gets worse and worse over time. Never better.

So what does this have to do with celebrating life?

Just that there are better ways to celebrate life than to dump toxic chemicals into your body and get addicted to them, to the point where you feel miserable without them.

I was terrified that I would never have fun again in recovery.

I was scared to get sober because I was still clinging to the memory of when drinking was fun.

Think about that carefully because it is at the heart of your denial.

The alcoholic is clinging to the memory of when drinking was fun, when drinking was easy and everything turned out great in their life.

The alcoholic is hanging on to a memory of when they drank alcohol and everything turned out fine and no one got hurt.

Those days are gone forever.

You can never get them back. Ever.

Tolerance has cheated you out of those “good old days.”

Actually, there is a way to get that feeling back for the briefest of instants. You can feel that pleasant and happy euphoria of being drunk again, for like half of a second.

Here is how you do it:

Sober up for a few weeks. Take at least two full weeks off with absolutely no drinking or drug use whatsoever.

Then, relapse. Go get a bottle of booze and have at it. Start drinking again after at least two full weeks of complete sobriety.

For maybe an hour or so you will be “happy.” You will be euphoric. You will remember the good old days, and you will say “This is what drinking should be like! This feels good. I want to feel like this all the time. Every day!”

And this will last for maybe an hour or two at the most (if you happen to be alcoholic).

And then you will realize that the euphoria is gone. So quick too! Not fair. That only lasted for an hour or so.

Let’s drink more, get that feeling back…..

And thus you can see and start to realize how your tolerance has betrayed you.

In the good old days you might drink all day long and feel “happy.”

But after your alcoholism has progressed you will feel that “happiness” for shorter and shorter time frames. In the end it will only last for about an hour or two at the most, and then you will be miserable again and chasing after that feeling with more and more booze.

Not only that, but after you do this little experiment, you will realize that in order to achieve that euphoric happy feeling again, you are going to have to take another two weeks off of all drugs and alcohol in order to “reset your tolerance.”

This actually works, because I tested it a few times.

And when I got done testing it, I realized the conclusions that I explained above–that you can only get that “happy” feeling for about one or two hours every two weeks.

Do the math on that. Two weeks of misery for maybe 2 hours of happiness.

Is that worth it to you?

To me it wasn’t worth it. And that realization suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized that I could not really have instant fun any more by drinking. I realized that my disease had progressed to a certain level where I couldn’t be happy just by medicating my way to happiness. It didn’t work any more. It was over.

2 hours of happiness each week was not enough to keep me on this crazy hamster wheel of chaos. I wanted out.

And that was when I surrendered.

Breaking through my denial had to do with taking a look at my happiness. It wasn’t worth it for me to only be happy for 2 hours every 2 weeks, and to be miserable the rest of the time.

And I was finally able to see that. I was finally able to get a clear glimpse of that reality.

That was what led to my surrender. I had to get honest with myself about how unhappy I was, even though I was drinking every day.

Shifting priorities in recovery leads to a deeper life experience

When I got clean and sober my priorities shifted. This led me to greater happiness eventually.

But it took a while. When I first got into treatment I was a bit miserable, because I was still judging the amount of “fun” that I had in my life based on my old ideas that were left over from addiction.

In my old life it was only “fun” if you got really drunk and high all at once. Period. Sure, you could do things on top of that, like getting drunk and then going sledding, or going to the movies. But the “fun” part was in simply being intoxicated. That was what my world consisted of. That was what my model of “fun” was based on in my addiction. If I wasn’t drunk or high then I wasn’t technically having fun. It was impossible.

So when I got clean and sober this mindset was still in place. I looked at my new life in sobriety and I thought “this is sort of lame. No fun! No one is having any fun because we are all clean and sober now. We may go to the movies or go sledding, but it isn’t really fun and it is all sort of lame because we aren’t intoxicated.”

Of course that was simply my perspective left over from addiction. Today I can see that getting wasted just to “enjoy” an activity is actually pretty lame, especially given that in many cases you can no longer even remember the activity! When I got drunk and high in the past and then went sledding, I don’t even remember a lot of the details, or any of them at all from those experiences! Today when I go sledding I am sober of course and I can remember everything and thus keep “enjoying” the sledding even after it is over with and in the past. I can remember things today because I am not doing everything while drunk and high.

In this way you get a deeper life experience than if you are using drugs and alcohol while doing things. Someone could argue that if you get drunk or high that you get additional or unique perspective on a particular experience, and they may be right in some ways. Altering your brain is going to give you a different perspective, no doubt about it. But is that new perspective better necessarily, just because it is different? Is it better to handicap your mind by doping it with drugs or alcohol, just so that you can numb yourself and be more surprised at the world when you are looking at reality? Is it worth it to trick yourself into thinking everything is new and interesting again, when in fact you just bombed your brain with chemicals in order to give yourself a different perspective on things?

I used to think of those things a lot in my addiction, because I felt like using drugs and alcohol was a gateway to an enhanced kind of spiritual exploration. I wanted to believe that I was on a spiritual quest when I was getting drunk and high. I tried to combine different drugs and explore different experiences that I fashioned to be “mystical” in some way.

In reality I was fooling myself. Of course you will feel like you had some sort of jarring experience if you bomb your brain with chemicals to the point that you freeze the neurons almost completely! (Or whatever was going on with various drug combinations, I have no idea really). I wanted to think that I was achieving some sort of transcendence, but it was really just pathetic. I wasn’t really any deeper in thought because I was doping my brain with chemicals. It was all just a big sham, an excuse to make me feel better about the fact that I was hooked on chemicals and had to keep putting them into my body every day just to feel normal. I wasn’t on a mystical journey. From a biological perspective my body was hooked on drugs and I had to keep feeding it. Sad and pathetic.

Once you remain sober for a month or two you will realize that it is possible to have fun in recovery without putting chemicals into your body.

This is a key point because, quite honestly, I did not believe it at first:

* You can have fun without getting drunk or high!

Sounds lame, right? But when you are addicted, your mind has to think of that as being really lame and boring. That is a defense mechanism. That is how your brain justifies its obscene use of drugs or alcohol. So the idea of something having fun while being completely clean and sober has to be lame in order for you to feel good about yourself in addiction.

But it’s true, and anyone who goes through the recovery process can confirm this for you if you doubt it. Just find anyone at an AA or NA meeting with a year sober or more, and ask them if they ever have any fun in recovery.

Seriously. Go take an informal survey. Ask a bunch of recovering alcoholics and addicts if they ever have any fun. People who have been clean and sober for a year or more.

Every single one of them will say something like “Oh yes! Definitely. I have fun all the time!”

Sobriety is fun. Life is fun. If you are living any kind of decent life in recovery you are going to have fun. In fact, even if you screw it up pretty badly, you will still manage to have fun in sobriety. It is part of life. Having fun is a natural part of simply being alive. We just think that we will be miserable forever without our drug of choice, but this simply isn’t true.

So if you doubt this, go take a poll. Go ask people in sobriety if they have fun today. And then realize that you are not special, you are not unique, you are not fundamentally different than any of these people are. You can (and will) have fun too in recovery. You will learn to be happy again, even without your drug of choice.

As I said, I did not really think this was possible.

I thought I would be miserable forever if I got sober.

I was wrong.

Everyone can have fun in recovery, no matter how different you think you are.

Enjoying life is a choice based on the right attitude

Happiness is a choice.

Sounds a bit cliche, right?

But the research suggests that this is true. And the way to choose happiness is by altering your attitude.

The same event can happen and two people can react completely differently. For example, it could start to snow outside. And one person could be absolutely ecstatic about it, going on and on about how pretty it is, how nice it is to see a change in season, and so on. Another person may be angry about the snow and go on about how much they hate it.

How can this be? Same event, but completely opposite reaction.

The truth is that you get to change how you think about things, if you want to. You have a choice.

And even when a raw emotion blindsides you and smacks you upside the head, you can still choose how you want to react to that emotion and think about it.

For example, you can step back from your fear and just look at it for a moment, and notice that the fear is there inside of you, and notice that it is really not you. You are not the fear, but your mind is running this little worry loop, it is worried about something, and the fear is really separate from you.

This is very different from accepting the fear and running with it, obsessing over it, even letting it grow and multiply. You don’t have to feed into the negative emotions that may pop up in your life. You can choose to redirect your mind, you can choose to practice things that will counterbalance the negativity.

For example, maybe you notice that you are feeling sorry for yourself lately. So what do you do? Do you feed into that feeling, come up with more ways that you are a victim, come up with more reasons to feel bad for yourself, and so on?

No, that is feeding into the negativity. You have a choice today. You can choose happiness, you can choose to fight back against that negativity.

How do you do this exactly though? you may be wondering.

If you don’t know how, then go ask for help. Ask someone who has significant sobriety how they did it. Maybe they can help you, maybe they haven’t had that experience. Find someone who has had that experience though.

I happen to have gone through that problem myself regarding self pity. I know that it can be overcome through a decision that you make. You can choose to defeat self pity.

Here are some of the steps you might take to do so:

1) Learn to recognize when you are slipping into self pity. If you can’t do this consistently then you may need to meditate each day so that you learn how to observe your thoughts more directly. Become the watcher who sees your thoughts. Practice this through meditation. So that you can instantly say to yourself “aha, my mind just started to play the self pity tape again, that is interesting….” If you can’t notice it then you can’t fight it.

2) Learn to redirect your mind when you notice self pity. Force yourself to use techniques such as gratitude. Say a prayer of thanks, right then and there, for example.

3) Train yourself to practice gratitude daily, which is the antidote for self pity. Make lists every day of what you are grateful for.

Those three steps alone are enough to overcome self pity.

And there are other ways to deal with other forms of negativity, such as shame, guilt, resentment, fear, anger, and so on.

You can learn those techniques by asking questions, talking to others in recovery, seeking advice and feedback, working the 12 steps, and so on.

We learn to celebrate recovery when we do this sort of work, when we learn to practice gratitude every day rather than expecting our needs to be selfishly fulfilled.

No matter what happens in life we can learn to appreciate the little things.

It is through this shift in attitude and perspective that we can be joyful and happy in celebrating our recovery.

What about you, have you found ways to celebrate life in sobriety today? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!

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