How can you focus on generating positive energy in addiction recovery? Is this even a worthy goal to have?
And what will you do with such energy once you have it?
Why you need positive energy to begin with. Who cares?
My belief is that we all need to build and maintain some of this positive energy stuff in our recovery journey.
Because if you don’t feel good about yourself or get excited about your life, then you are in danger of going back to your drug of choice.
Relapse happens when people get bored, when they get frustrated, and when they have no passion in their life.
I think deep down we all want the experience of feeling alive. We want to be stimulated. We want to feel passionate about something. We want to feel alive in some way.
Our drug of choice did this for us (in the beginning). When we first discovered it, the drug (or alcohol) made us feel uniquely alive. We fell in love with the way that it made us feel. We liked it so much that we were passionate about using it.
When you get clean and sober this passion is gone. You can no longer use your drug of choice in order to feel excited about your life. And I am contending that each individual is going to have to find some other way in recovery in order to feel alive, to feel some sort of passion. They have to find something to get excited about, some way to get excited about life in recovery, or else they will eventually return to their drug of choice.
You can’t stay clean and sober forever and be bored and passionless the whole time. It just won’t last.
Because every addict and alcoholic knows in the back of their mind where they can get some excitement. Every one of us knows that there is a wild adventure just around the corner if we choose to go relapse. Now it may be a very short-lived trip that ends in us being miserable again, but at least we know that we will feel alive again in the short run. A relapse may end in misery but every addict knows that they will feel passionate and alive for a short while at least. And of course this is what makes it so darn tempting to relapse–we know the results that we can expect and we know that we can alter how we feel (in the short run). Of course it is a foolish thing to do because in the long run the drugs and the alcohol will let us down every time, and they will stop working for us very quickly and we will be completely miserable again, wondering where all the passion and excitement went.
Therefore I believe that each addict and alcoholic has a very clear path to relapse prevention. It is not necessarily about just identifying triggers and coming up with a plan for how to cope with life and when to call their sponsor and all of that. I think that relapse prevention is better served up as a long term strategy than as the list of tactics and responses that you encounter these days. In order to prevent relapse we need to rebuild our lives in recovery from the ground up. We need to find that passion again in our lives, the same level of passion that you had for your drug of choice when you first discovered it.
Think back to when you first started using drugs and alcohol. Think back to when it all started for you and everything was going great and you were falling in love with your drug of choice. Remember how excited you were to have discovered this wonderful new drug in your life and how perfect everything was. This is the state of mind that you need to return to in addiction recovery. This is the feeling that you must be able to achieve in sobriety if you want to have a chance at preventing relapse.
Because think about it: if you are bored and miserable in recovery, then how could you not compare your state of misery to how you used to feel when you first started using drugs and alcohol? As part of our survival mechanism our brains are hard wired to forget the bad times and remember the good times (they think this is so mothers will forget the intense pain of childbirth and eventually have more children in spite of the pain).
If you get clean and sober but do nothing to rebuild your life and find new passion in it, then you are going to be remembering the good old days when your drug of choice was actually fun, and you are going to compare your current reality to those fond memories. Who do you think is going to win in that mental battle if nothing changes? Relapse will win every time unless you take action to prevent it.
This is why relapse prevention is best described as being “creative recovery.” What are you creating? You must create a new life in sobriety that is full of passion, excitement, or joy. If you are not pushing yourself to create those positive experiences then you are just going to keep comparing your miserable boredom in recovery with the good times that you used to have in your early days of addiction.
I sort of figured this out the first time that I went to rehab, but alas–I was not yet ready to get clean and sober just yet. I had not yet surrendered and I was not yet done drinking. But while I was there I met a guy who was chairing the AA meeting (in-house) and he was so fired up about life that it really inspired me. And I wished at the time that I could get that fired up about life in sobriety. But at the time I just was not feeling it, I did not have the energy or the enthusiasm (perhaps the desperation?) to be able to get that excited about life in recovery. I just wanted to go back to self medicating. And so I did. But I never forgot that guy and his message about how awesome life could be in recovery if you were passionate about it.
Of course years later I finally “got it” after going to a few treatment centers and experiencing a whole lot more misery due to my drinking and drugging.
So I eventually figured out that if I was going to remain clean and sober that I was going to have to build a life that was worth living in sobriety. It could not be this boring state where I actually wished that I was experiencing the excitement and chaos of addiction. If I wanted chaos in my life then I would have to create it in some other way. If I wanted passion or excitement in my life then I would have to take action in order to feel those things. I had to take responsibility to create what I really wanted in my life, so that I did not have a constant excuse to go back to my addiction.
If you are bored in your recovery–or worse, miserable–then you are always going to be in danger of relapse. Therefore it is your responsibility to create, to take action, to seek out new passion and excitement in your life. This is going to vary from person to person and there is no exact prescription for how to “create a new life of excitement and passion.” I can give you general suggestions (keep reading!) and I can also tell you what has worked for me in my own journey. But ultimately the act of relapse prevention is an individual act of creation. It is up to the struggling addict or alcoholic to take the reigns in life and create a new reality for themselves.
How to create the life that you really want
The first thing that you have to do in early recovery, which is a bit of a mixed message I realize, is to let go of all of this creation stuff for a while and simply surrender. Ask for help and go to rehab. Do the AA thing or the religious based recovery or whatever they suggest to you. Do not try to control all of this, simply accept whatever help is offered and go with the flow. If you cannot just accept the help that they are offering then you are likely not in a state of full surrender anyway, and you probably are not done using drugs or alcohol yet. You may have to come back and try again at a later time.
So you must start from a point of full surrender. This means that you are not making demands from other people. Instead you are desperate to change your life. You will accept any help that is offered. My suggestion to anyone at this point is to simply go to drug rehab. Get to detox. Get to professional treatment services. This is the start of your journey and there is no need to complicate it. Just get to rehab. Simple as that.
After you leave rehab and are back out in the real world, you will face the immediate challenge of making it through each 24 hour period without relapsing. My suggestion is that you hang on to the principles that they tried to teach you in rehab and use the tools that they have taught you about. Short term recovery is a very difficult period of time, and you need all of the help that you can get. Most people relapse within the first 90 days of leaving rehab. In fact nearly everyone does. Use this information to spur you into action. Dedicate your life to recovery during this time. You are going to need every advantage that you can get.
Hopefully during this first year of recovery you will gain some stability in your recovery and be able to get through your day without an immediate threat of relapse. If you are not at this point yet then you need to surrender more fully and go back to treatment again.
Once you are at this point of basic stability, your long term sobriety is by no means insured forever. That is where our long term strategy comes into play. That is why we are talking about the need to create this “positive energy” in your recovery. After you have found some stability and made it through the first few months of early recovery, you are going to need to start rebuilding your life in order to prevent relapse.
If you do not rebuild a new life in recovery then your old life will just slip right back into place, and you will relapse.
You have to care about this new life. You have to find something to care about, something to be passionate about, other than getting drunk and high all the time.
For some people this may be 12 step work. In a way this has become a large part of my life, though I do not carry out 12 step work in the same way that most traditional people do in recovery. This would be the idea that you can find meaning in helping others get and stay clean and sober. This should be possible for nearly any addict or alcoholic who has found sobriety because they themselves have experienced this miracle in their own life. It is only natural that they might want to return this favor to others and give back. But obviously from the standpoint of getting excited and generating passion in your life, this idea will carry more weight with some than it will with others. And that is OK. We don’t all have to become crusaders for sobriety and recovery, though some of us certainly may find meaning in that!
And so what I am suggesting is that you have to take deliberate action in recovery. You have to make a real effort to create the life that you really want to live in recovery, rather than to just follow someone else’s agenda and hope that things get better. In order to do this you are going to have to experiment a great deal.
So one question is: “How do you experiment in your early recovery so that you can discover the life that you want for yourself?” One way is by getting involved in a recovery community and seeing what sort of lifestyles are available. You can talk with others and see what they are all about and if anyone is living the sort of life that you want. If you can find someone who is walking the same path that you want to be on, then you can ask that person to help you, sponsor you, or just talk with you. Thus you can help to define your future life in recovery by seeking inspiration from other people. You can model the life that you want to create on other’s examples.
Another way you can explore this new challenge for yourself is to simply talk with others in recovery and seek feedback from them. Ask their advice on what they think you should be doing with your life. But don’t just ask one person–ask several different people who you trust and value their opinions. Thus you can get a bigger picture of what everyone thinks would be most helpful and beneficial for you to be doing in your journey.
Take suggestions from other people and experiment with what they tell you to do. I did this myself in my own journey in terms of trying new things. For example, someone told me to meditate at one point because meditation was such a big part of their own recovery and was very important to them. So I tried it myself for about a month and I really got into it. In the end I decided that it wasn’t for me and I eventually moved on to more of a “moving meditation” in the form of distance running. But I had to try something new, I had to experiment in order to discover what really worked for me.
So don’t think that you can just decide what you want in recovery and then grab it and you are all done with the process. It doesn’t work like that. You have to become open to the possibilities and open up to the idea of change. You have to be willing to take some suggestions and try some new things. Of course most of what you try will probably not work out great for you, which is OK. You can simply discard the stuff that doesn’t help you on your journey.
But I found a few things in my journey that have reshaped and defined my life. Distance running was one of those things, and I am just lucky that I discovered it. Writing about addiction and recovery was another thing that I just happened to stumble on. But I had to be willing to take suggestions and try new things in order to discover my real passions. I had to give myself time in order to find what really gets me excited in life.
Celebrating your wins in recovery and building on this momentum
I think recovery should really be a series of “wins” for you. If you can organize your life this way then recovery is exciting and full of passion. There are some days when I wake up in recovery and I am actually excited to see what the new day will bring for me. If you never have that level of excitement or giddiness in recovery then you may be in danger of relapse at some point. You have to get excited!
One way to get excited is to set a goal for yourself. This has to be a significant goal that you actually care about, something that would be life-changing if you achieved it, but also something that is going to be a bit of a challenge for you. And of course it has to be something that is attainable. Call it a “stretch goal.”
My opinion is that you need to have one of these goals in your recovery and then you need to push yourself until you achieve it. Call this a “win.”
When you do that you will feel good about yourself. And hopefully you will gain confidence and momentum in that you will want to set another challenging goal and then pursue it as well. I did this myself throughout my recovery and it is a very exciting way to live. You always have something to strive for and something to be excited about.
Each win that you experience in recovery should give you more excitement and fuel for future changes. The goal is to be excited about life so that you do not get bored and return to your active addiction. At the same time, you want to be pursuing goals that are actually healthy for you and challenge you to become a better person.
My theory is that you should strive to:
1) Improve yourself as a person. Become a better human being. Become a healthy person.
2) Improve your life situation. Decide what you want in life and then achieve it, make it happen.
These are really two different ideas, but I believe that you will need to do a bit of both in order to be successful in long term recovery.
Generating positive energy in recovery is the strongest form of relapse prevention. Get excited about life in recovery and you will protect yourself from throwing it all away.