You may have a vague idea that your life somehow gets better in addiction recovery, but if you happen to be a struggling drug addict or alcoholic who feels totally hopeless, do you really have any idea how this is supposed to happen?
I bring up this topic because I personally had no idea.
In fact, I flat out did not believe it.
I can remember sitting in a rehab center, long before I actually surrendered to my disease, and I was listening to some guy talk to me at an AA meeting. This was the person who was chairing the AA meeting, they had brought the meeting into the detox center for us. And he was talking on and on about how great his life was in sobriety, and how amazing everything was and how thoroughly he enjoyed his life now.
And part of me was sitting there thinking “wow, that would be so nice.”
And another part of me was basically saying “nope, won’t happen. I am unique. I am different. Whatever happened to this guy won’t work for me. I love alcohol more than he does. I am just wired different. I wish that were not the case, but I don’t see how I could ever be happy while sober.”
I was stuck.
I was still in denial. And I could not get past the idea that I might be happy one day in sobriety. I just couldn’t see how it might work. It was not for me. The universe had no place for me being sober. It made no sense in my mind. How would I ever be happy?
So I stayed stuck. I left that treatment center and I drank again and I was miserable for a long time.
But obviously at some point I turned that all around. I somehow found this great new life in recovery, and I am here now to tell you all about it.
And to try to do what that guy in AA was trying to do for me all those years ago: To convince you that there is a better life in sobriety, if you are willing to work for it.
I never believed the guy. I thought I would be miserable in recovery.
I was wrong.
How to get through your darkest hour and surrender to a new life
There are really only two options when you are facing what feels like completely hopelessness, or your darkest hour in life.
One, you can press on and just keep doing the same insane things that you have always done. This is like pouring gasoline on the fire. You spiral further and further out of control until you hit yet another bottom, or end up with very severe consequences.
Or two, you surrender to your disease and you ask for help. That is how you should get through your darkest hour. By reaching out and asking for help.
You may believe that no one cares. You may think that no one could ever understand you.
You would be wrong in those assumptions.
People do care and people do understand. You just have to find the right people.
They do exist.
I would argue that you could find such people in one of two places, and quite easily at that: One is at rehab, the other is at AA or NA meetings.
Those are the people who can help you if you reach out to them. Either go to a 12 step program or go to a treatment center.
In reality there are other solutions out there. In reality there are other programs that actually do work. But I am talking about quick and dirty solutions here that can get you into action quickly. Call up a rehab center or go to an AA meeting. Simple. Get yourself into action.
Neither of those things are a cure but both of them can lead you to a life of sobriety if you are willing to work for it.
Of course there is work involved, but let me tell you a little secret: It is work to keep drinking, too.
It is hard work to keep your addiction going. It is a tough life and it never gets any easier and the addiction just spirals further and further out of control. The amount of “fun” that you have in addiction keeps going down and down over time. If you think about it carefully you will realize that this is true: It was always better in the good old days. Your best drunks and your best highs were always way in the past. It just isn’t as much fun any more. Now it is work.
So if it is going to be work either way, why not set yourself free? Why not escape from the madness of addiction? Why not build a new life for yourself, one in which you actually get to enjoy some happiness, and even remember it too?
Something you did not expect: Your priorities will change in sobriety
Here is what I was missing when I was stuck in my addiction and stuck in denial.
I believed that if I got sober my priorities would remain unchanged.
I really thought that I would still sit around and dream about getting drunk and high all day, even after a months or years of sobriety.
And people in recovery tried to tell me that this would go away, that the obsession over drugs and booze would eventually leave me, and that I would be truly free and happy one day.
And I did not believe them. I said to myself: “They don’t understand me, I love alcohol and drugs so much, they cannot possibly imagine what it would be like for me to be sober. Those people must be different. They must not have loved alcohol as much as I did.”
But they were right. I finally got sober, and I stuck it out for a few short weeks, and suddenly my whole world changed. It happened so fast that I almost missed it.
I would say somewhere around the 4 to 6 month point of my sobriety journey I had this miracle day where I realized that the obsession was just…..gone.
I had not thought about drinking all day long. Not even once! Nor had I thought about getting high at all. Not once.
This was a miracle. A flat out, real, genuine miracle. Because I said that it was impossible, and that this would never happen to me. Because I was so unique, and so different, and I thought that I loved alcohol and drugs so much. What a bunch of garbage! I was kidding myself. I was being a big whining baby, thinking that I would be miserable forever in sobriety, and that the only way that I could ever be happy was to get loaded every day for the rest of my life. What hogwash.
So my priorities shifted. Suddenly I was enjoying life again, I was caring about people and relationships, and I was excited about very different things now. Everything had changed. Everything had shifted. My entire life was different now and it was because I was staying sober and doing the work in recovery. In fact things were not so much different, it was really my attitude and my mindset that had changed. Coupled with sobriety, this was a major change in my life. It was a change in my personality, really. It was a vast improvement.
Because now I could get joy out of the little things. Now I could get happiness from the people in my life and the things that they accomplished. Now I could feel happy and joyful when I helped someone else through a struggle of some sort. These things became as important to me as the drugs and the booze had once been. This was the personality shift that they talk about that is necessary to save the alcoholic. This is the personality shift that they talk about in AA as well. The selfish part of you that wants to drink all day somehow goes away, and it is replaced with another part of you that wants to help others.
I did not think that this shift in priorities would happen for me. I did not have any hope that it would happen.
But I got sober, and I put my head down and struggled through the early days of sobriety. And it got better. And all of these changes happened for me too. My version of “happiness” changed drastically, and very much for the better.
The holistic path to healing in long term recovery
Quitting drinking and quitting the drugs is great. That is a strong foundation for building a new life.
But it gets better. It gets far better than mere sobriety.
Because in order to remain clean and sober you have to do the work. You have to take action. You have to heal your life in a number of different ways.
And this gets you rewards. You benefit from this path of growth in recovery. It is not just about abstaining from alcohol.
Your whole world opens up to you. Personal growth becomes the vehicle for long term sobriety. You are on a path of change.
My life got better in so many ways as a result of this journey in personal growth.
There is, of course, the obvious. You stop putting harmful chemicals into your body. No more drugs or alcohol.
For me, it went a lot further than that as an extension of my recovery. For example, I eventually quit cigarettes as well. This took me about four or five years, but I finally pulled it off. Obviously that had huge health benefits for me as well.
I started exercising. Again, this took several years before I “got it,” but I eventually started pushing myself to take better care of my body. I started exercising on a regular basis. So today I have lots of energy for a variety of reasons, and one of them is that I continue to exercise on a daily basis. I try to push myself a bit. And now I’ve been doing that for about a full decade.
That is another important point about a lot of these changes that I am mentioning. I have been exercising now for about ten years. I quit smoking about 9 years ago. I quit drinking and doing drugs 13 years ago. And so on and so forth.
When you stack up the years like that and are consistent with these changes, the rewards of doing so multiply over time.
Personal growth and multiplication of benefits
My life is a lot better today because the rewards of sobriety continue to multiply for me.
I started exercising a long time ago. I quit smoking a long time ago. My sleeping habits have been really healthy over the last decade or so.
When you have healthy habits like some of these examples, they benefits of those habits build up over time. Not only that, but they often lead me further down the rabbit hole.
Let me give you an example. There was a time in my sobriety when I wanted desperately to quit smoking cigarettes.
I was clean and sober, but I was still a smoker. I wanted to quit. I knew that it was the healthy thing for me to do.
But I couldn’t do it. I struggled for a long time to quit. A couple of years actually.
And finally I figured something out: I had to replace that nicotine buzz. I had to find a way to get “high” without the cigarettes.
And so I discovered exercise. Vigorous exercise. Distance running actually. And so while I was still smoking a pack and a half each day, I started forcing myself to jog.
And I jogged further and further, even while I was still smoking. And after a few months of this, I was up to six miles of jogging at a time.
It was then that I was finally able to quit smoking.
This was part of my solution. I couldn’t just quit smoking cold turkey. It wasn’t working for me. I had to do more than that.
And so the solution was holistic. My solution involved exercise in order to walk away from the nicotine addiction.
I can look back at my journey in recovery and see many examples like this. How everything all worked together in a holistic manner.
How, for example, after I started jogging every day in recovery my sleeping habits improved.
This is not something that I could have predicted. I did not set out to improve my sleeping habits by taking up jogging. It just happened. One healthy choice in recovery positively affected other areas of my life.
And as I move through life in recovery I notice this happening in many different ways. Success in one area of my health will spill over into another area in an unexpected way.
You cannot necessarily predict this every time.
Which is an excellent reason why you should take suggestions from other people in recovery.
That probably sounds like a weird idea–to take advice and suggestions from other people, simply because you cannot predict the positive rewards of your actions.
But it is true. You can’t plan out every positive benefit that you will get in sobriety. You can’t possibly see all of the positive connections that will form in your life if you start on a path of holistic growth.
I would be very stuck in my recovery today if I had never taken any suggestions. I never would have gone back to school, quit smoking, taken up exercise, eaten healthier foods, and so on. Those were all suggestions that led to new insights into other healthy choices. In that way, the positive rewards of recovery tend to snowball over time. The rewards of sobriety multiply as you remain clean and sober. Of course this assumes that you are “doing the work.” If you want the rewards of recovery you have to put in the effort to get them. You have to do the work. You have to face yourself and get honest and push yourself to make improvements.
I split my life into two broad categories: The internal and the external. So the internal work that needs to be done in my life are issues like guilt, shame, anger, fear, and self pity. I need to be aware of those things and work hard to eliminate them. If I am struggling with those internal issues then I need to ask for help from my peers, my sponsor, or a therapist. I need to address those things in order to be at peace with myself.
That is the internal landscape in recovery. But then there is also the external. My real life, my outside life, the people, places, and things in my life. My job, my daily routine, the physical things that I interact with every day. My external world. Those things may need to be addressed as well in order to maintain my sanity in recovery.
And obviously there can be a lot of interaction between your external circumstances and your internal problems. Sometimes one can lead to the other, and vice versa. So it is important to address both of these areas of your life, both your internal world and your external circumstances.
And again, when you are taking positive action in all of these areas of your life then the positive feedback loop really takes off and starts to create unpredictable connections. Good things will happen and you will feel like you are “lucky” in recovery all of a sudden, when in reality you are simply setting yourself up for success by taking positive action in so many different areas of your life. Essentially what is happening is that you are taking care of yourself in many different ways, and luck favors the prepared. Therefore it seems like you are getting extra lucky when in fact you are simply doing the things that you need to do in order to remain sober and take care of yourself in all areas of your life. You appear to get lucky because you are actually doing the work.
Becoming the person you were supposed to be all along, before you discovered your drug of choice
I believe that each of us has been on a path in life where we were destined to become a certain sort of person.
We each have a certain amount of potential. The potential to do good things, to become a better person, to make a positive impact on the world in some way.
And when we discover our drug of choice, this path in life gets seriously derailed. Suddenly we are consumed with our addiction and we stop becoming that person that we were supposed to be.
This is the ultimate gift in sobriety, that you get yourself back. Not only do you get to enjoy life again once you are sober, but you also get back onto this path of personal growth. You get back to becoming the person that you were meant to be. You get back to making a difference, doing the things you are most capable of, and leaving a positive impact on the world. This is the whole point of sobriety, the whole point of going to the trouble to get clean and sober in the first place. All of us have a way to give back, all of us have a way to pay it forward in recovery in some way. You may be working directly with struggling alcoholics, or you may find some completely unrelated way to make a positive impact on the world. It doesn’t really matter so long as you are taking positive action and feeling good about yourself again in recovery.
Everyone who stops drinking does so for a reason. Everyone who sobers up eventually finds that their sobriety serves some sort of purpose beyond their own personal enjoyment in life. Everyone who gets clean and sober can look back one day and realize that their sobriety has made a real difference, that it has turned something negative into a positive. As they say in the fellowship, “no matter how far down the scale we have gone in addiction, we will see how our experience can help others.” This is the great hope in recovery, that we can be happy and content and have purpose again in our lives.
This is how our life really gets better. We become sober, then we get honest with ourselves and strive for improvement, and finally we find that we are giving back to the world in some way and making a positive difference.
And that feels good.
What about you, how has your life improved in recovery? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!