When I became clean and sober I found it necessary to change my definition of what “fun” was to me.
In my addiction I had developed my own version of what it meant to have fun. This was a twisted take on reality that basically said that I had to be as messed up and medicated as humanly possible at all times. If I wasn’t in that state of complete alteration then I wasn’t really having “fun” yet.
So when I got sober I had to change my thinking about this. Suddenly my option for having “fun” was gone.
The sudden loss of your emotional crutch in sobriety
There is a real sense of loss when you first get clean and sober.
I can remember wondering what in the world I was going to do with myself and with my life in sobriety that would be worthwhile.
The problem was that my “crutch” during my addiction was to fill my days with obsession over drugs and alcohol.
This went further than just using the substances. A big part of my addiction was thinking about drinking or getting high in the future. This was the obsession part of it. I was constantly thinking about what my next big moment to “party” would be and how I could potentially make that better, last longer, or get here quicker.
This is more than just self medicating with a substance in order to alter your mood. It is much deeper than that. In fact you are engaged in a daily ritual and an obsession that allows you to keep your mind occupied 24/7.
So when you suddenly remove this obsession with the idea of sobriety and total abstinence, it is like a complete shock to the brain. Your brain is grasping at straws, wondering what it is going to do with itself. If it is not allowed to obsess over drugs and alcohol any longer, what on earth is it going to think about? This may sound funny at first but it was a real moment of panic for me in early recovery. I was suddenly experiencing this loss of my best friend, alcohol. And to top it all off my mind was racing and I had nothing to really focus on, nothing to obsess on, nothing to take the place of the obsession over drugs and booze.
This made for a difficult transition into recovery. My brain prefers to obsess over something and when you suddenly strip away the addiction you are essentially leaving the brain defenseless. It has nothing to focus on and it will feel naked and vulnerable. At the very least it takes some courage to get through this part of early recovery and learn how to live again.
Why you feel like you will never have any fun in life ever again when getting sober
Due to my many years in addiction I put everything in my life in terms of how much fun it was and how much pleasure I got out of it.
And due to my chemical dependency the scale for this was totally and completely out of whack.
For example, I may have put “going to an amusement park” at like an 8 or a 9 on my “fun scale” in the past before my addiction.
But during my addiction this dropped to maybe a 2 or 3. And if I was in a situation where I could not use any drugs or alcohol then this activity may have even gone to negative on the scale. So instead of having even a tiny bit of fun it was just a major inconvenience to me because I could not easily get drunk or high. In other words, I would rather stay home and self medicate than go out and do something that used to be considered fun.
Regular activities in my life were then judged by how easily they would accommodate my addiction. If I could be drunk or high or both at a certain activity then that was really high up on my fun scale. If I could only get drunk at a certain activity then that was a little lower on my fun scale. And if I could not do either at something then it was down to zero or even negative on the fun scale because I generally did not want to do it at all.
My whole life started to revolve around whether or not I could comfortably use drugs or alcohol in a given situation. Then those situations were judged as “good” or “bad.” Or “fun” and “not fun.”
So when I first got clean and sober I still had this same set of definitions in my head. I was still judging the world and the various activities based on my old criteria. I can remember being in treatment and listening to what people did for fun in sobriety and thinking to myself:
“That is so lame. How on earth do these recovering alcoholics and addicts get excited about going on a picnic or going fishing or doing any of these boring things while they are sober? How is there any fun in this stuff at all? It all sounds so trite and boring!”
This was my perception when I had one week sober. I was still using my old criteria to judge things. I was still in the mindset of believing that if you were not completely drunk or high while doing something then it could not possibly be much fun.
So my definition of “fun” was all messed up. It was out of whack. The only way I could see anything as being fun was if you were drunk or high.
This obviously was going to have to change if I was going to make it in recovery.
The question for me when I had one week sober was:
“How am I going to change my definition of fun? When is this going to happen for me? When does life become exciting and fun again?”
Because to be honest, when I had one week sober, I was not very hopeful about this idea of “having fun sober.” I did not really think it was possible.
But I had been miserable enough in my addiction that I was willing to give it a chance. I was willing to tough it out in sobriety simply because I did not want to go back to the misery of addiction. If fun times happened in sobriety, I would be shocked. I just did not see how I could learn to enjoy life while sober again.
Of course, what happened is that over time I started to have fun again. Sobriety surprised me and I eventually found myself enjoying life again. Life got better and better, and I started to have real fun and joy in my life.
But it took time. And it took some work. Of course it was all worth it.
Peace, contentment, and joy replace your old version of what “fun” was in addiction
I don’t really know exactly when I started to have fun again in my recovery journey.
This is because I was not really aware at the time. I was just living my life, going through the motions, living in a long term treatment center, going to meetings, working on my recovery, and then one day I looked back, and realized that I was no longer miserable.
This was probably around the three to six month point in my sobriety. During my first year for sure.
And I had this epiphany, this moment of absolute clarity and amazement, in which I looked back at my journey in early recovery and realized how miserable I was at first.
And suddenly I was not miserable.
But the amazing part was that I had not been miserable for a while. That was what was so shocking to me. That was what made it real.
It wasn’t like I was miserable for the first six months of my sobriety and then one day I had a moment of peace and happiness.
No, what happened is that I was at about the six month point of my sobriety, and I realized that I had been happy and content for quite a while now. That I had been living this way, I had been feeling real joy and contentment and peace in my life for a week or two at least, and I had not even realized it until this moment.
BAM! It was like a big slap in the face. Wake up, guy! This is sobriety and you no longer hate your life! You no longer hate yourself! Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that worth being grateful for?
And yet I had been so caught up in the day to day process of simply living, of going through the motions, of writing a journal and talking with a sponsor and hitting my AA meetings that I was not even paying attention. I was so absorbed in the process of recovery that I had not taken the time to step back and gain this perspective.
This perspective in which you look back at your early days of recovery, the days when you still hated your life and you thought that you would never be happy again because you just lost the only thing in the world that makes you happy (your drug of choice).
This is perspective. You look back and see that misery, that hopelessness. And suddenly you cannot help but compare it to today, to how you feel now. And you realize that you have found new ways to be happy, new ways to find peace and contentment.
You realize that your values have changed over time.
When you were struggling in addiction you valued pleasure and instant gratification. You wanted to get as drunk and as high as possible and just float along on a cloud of pleasure where everything was right in the world and nothing bothered you. That was your highest value. You wished that everything would just work out perfectly and that you could self medicate forever.
But somewhere along the way in sobriety your values changed. It was no longer about pleasing yourself or getting what you wanted every day. That is what addiction is, it is “me, me, me.” But in recovery you learned to take pleasure in other things. You learned to take an interest in the welfare of others. You learned to get peace and contentment out of the process itself rather than from the outcomes.
My sponsor always likes to talk about how everything is a process in recovery.
In our addiction we only cared about outcomes. We wanted to get drunk, high, wasted. The process was just an obstacle, it was an inconvenience at best. We wanted the outcome, the result, the instant gratification.
So the shift that we make in recovery is to slow down and learn to enjoy the process. What addict or alcoholic enjoys the process of scrambling to score more drugs? They would never say that they enjoy that part of it, that is the nightmare part of addiction where you worry and obsess over your next fix. There is no enjoyment in that particular mindset. None at all.
But in recovery we learn to enjoy process. We learn to appreciate anticipation of something that may be healthy and happy for us.
We learn to appreciate the simple things in life. Our values change.
This is not necessarily something that you can just force on yourself during one afternoon and be done with it. This is a process that unfolds as you remain clean and sober. This is something that you have to discover slowly over time.
Life isn’t just fun in recovery it also takes on new meaning and purpose
Recovery is more than just “fun.” It also takes on new meaning and new purpose, which is fun in its own way.
When you were stuck in addiction your purpose was reduced to a single point of focus: To self medicate. It was all about getting that next fix, that next drink, that next buzz. It was all about making sure you got your buzz on.
That purpose gets discarded completely in recovery. Then you have to replace it with another purpose, or fill your life in with new meaning.
There are many different paths to do this with. Some people do it through AA, and giving back to the newcomer who is trying to get clean and sober.
But there are other paths. You certainly do not have to find purpose and meaning in AA if you don’t want to. There are many different ways to achieve purpose and meaning in recovery.
But this is part of the “fun factor” in recovery. It is not just about having mindless fun, it is about building a new life in which you actually care about the interactions you experience. It is about reaching out and helping others in some unique way and finding that you can have fun and excitement while doing it.
So I am not suggesting that everyone in recovery just needs to focus on finding new ways to have “fun.” It is about much more than that. But part of the “fun” comes from the excitement and the joy that you get from finding real purpose and meaning. This will often come in the form of helping others in some unique way, though that will vary greatly from person to person.
One key difference in sobriety is that you remember your fun times so they accumulate
One of the unique things about having fun in sobriety is that you start to accumulate it over time.
I can remember when I was using drugs and alcohol on a regular basis and I was still having some fun times with it.
The problem was that I could not really remember exactly what made the times so much fun. I was wasted on drugs or alcohol or both, so I couldn’t really remember the exact reason that I had so much fun.
I just knew that it was fun because I had bits and pieces of memories from the experience. But I did not have a complete memory of it.
And so this is part of what drove my addiction. I wanted to recapture that feeling of fun, even though it was so fleeting that I could not even remember. If I could stay medicated all the time then I would be able to remember what it was like to have fun!
This was some pretty twisted logic and it didn’t really work too well for me. Because what happens when you try to stay self medicated all the time is that you build tolerance. Eventually you reach a point where you are drinking and using drugs nearly every waking hour of your life, and yet you are almost never feeling happy or like you are having any real fun. It is just a drag and you have to keep medicating in order to feel “normal.” Now you are simply treading water or using drugs and alcohol to avoid misery.
And then even that fails. Eventually you are taking drugs and alcohol and you are still miserable anyway, in spite of your best efforts.
Part of the problem with addiction is that it is progressive. It gets worse and worse over time. It never gets any better.
And so the effect of this is that as your tolerance builds and you have to medicate just to avoid complete misery, you begin to notice something.
When you get so wasted that you are having “fun,” you are not really able to remember that fun time. You were far too wasted. This is due to your sky-high tolerance.
But then the flip side of this is that when you are miserable and trying to get into that “fun zone” by getting totally hammered, you are completely lucid. You are not messed up yet and you are trying to get messed up, but so far your tolerance has prevented it. So you drink and drink and take more drugs but until you cross that magic line you are really pretty miserable.
So think about this:
Once you tolerance advances to a certain point in addiction, all you can really remember is being miserable while trying to get totally wasted. Then when you finally cross that line and become “wasted” to the point of having “fun,” you are no longer able to remember it at all!
The disease has cheated you!
It lures you into the idea that you can just take a drink or use your drug of choice whenever you want and become “happy,” but this is not reality.
In fact what is happening is that you are feeling miserable while trying to get enough chemicals in you to get that “fun feeling,” and then once you finally achieve that level of intoxication, you can suddenly no longer remember the experience.
This is tragic. It is also why every alcoholic and drug addict should one day (hopefully) be able to see through their denial and realize that it just isn’t any fun any more.
In recovery, the opposite of this happens.
In sobriety, you get to remember every experience in which you have fun.
Not only that, but you get to build on that fun experience. You can then have another experience that is joyful, and now you have two memories.
Do this for a year of sobriety and keep challenging yourself to try new experiences, and you will realize that you are building up a lifetime of wonderful and happy memories.
This wasn’t really possible in your addiction, because you were far too worried about self medicating and once you were properly intoxicated you couldn’t remember anything anyway.
So the bottom line is that you have to give this a chance to work in your life.
Early sobriety starts out very slowly.
You are not going to just be suddenly happy and joyful during your first month of sobriety. It takes time to rebuild a life of peace and contentment.
What will happen is that you will look back one day during your recovery journey and realize that you have made this leap into happiness. Or rather it is a leap into peace and contentment, a place where happiness can then happen on its own, without trying to force it.
What about you, have you found new ways to have fun in recovery? Or does your brain still have the old value system in place that is left over from your addiction? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!