My goal is to bring you one step closer to happiness and contentment in your recovery from addiction.
What is happiness? What is contentment? Are they the same thing?
I believe that in our active addiction and alcoholism, we tend to have a distorted view of happiness. Because we experienced extreme peaks of “happiness” on our drug of choice, we believe that true happiness is something far beyond what real peace and contentment is.
Does this mean that we have to “settle for less” in our recovery? That because we choose sobriety, we have to be miserable all the time? Of course not.
What it means is that our definition of happiness changes when we remain clean and sober for the long run. This happens for a number of reasons:
1) We realize that we used to be miserable in our addiction 99 percent of the time.
2) We realize that we would rather be peaceful and content than happy one second and miserable for most of the time.
3) We realize that true joy and gratitude do not depend on our immediate mood.
Let me ask you a question:
Can you choose to be happy?
I hear this stuff all the time and to be honest, I don’t really buy into it. I don’t buy into the whole “happiness is a choice” argument. I think it is all a crock, to be honest. Because I have been miserable at times in my life and there was just no choosing about it—nothing I could have decided in those moments could have brought me out of the funk. Nice try. You can call it a choice all you want, but I ain’t buying it. Sorry.
On the other hand, I do believe that you can take positive action and actively eliminate misery in your life. This is not the same thing as choosing happiness. What this is doing is to work on your life situation so that you eliminate your sources of misery. That way you allow happiness to occur.
Out of the chaos and misery of addiction
I don’t believe that you can choose to be instantly happy all of the time, and expect for your mood to transform on a dime. This is really what I wanted when I self medicated with drugs and alcohol—I wanted instant happiness. So when people tell me that I can suddenly “choose happiness” in recovery I do not necessarily believe them.
That said, you can make decisions that lead to a happier life. This all starts with the decision to get clean and sober. The problem with breaking through your denial and finally surrendering to the disease is that you may believe that you will never be happy again. This is what I truly believed when I first tried to sober up because I had been basing my happiness on drug and alcohol abuse for so long. So I believed that if I were to quit drugs and alcohol forever, that I would never be happy again. I really believed this, and I had almost no hope at all for the future.
I had to be willing to give recovery a chance. I was just barely at the point of willingness, because it was almost more desirable to keep self medicating with my drug of choice (even though it was no longer working so well). I figured I would give recovery one more chance, to see where it led me, even though I was convinced that I would be miserable without being able to get drunk and high.
My problem was that my only measure of happiness in my life was getting wasted. I had dropped all other forms of happiness, and I had no other outlets that were “fun” for me. All I knew how to do was to get drunk or high. Everything else was just a drag. This is what I had become over ten years of addiction. I did not want or care about anything else. Drugs and booze had become my entire world. Walking away from it all almost felt like an act of destruction. I did not know of any other way to exist, and certainly not any other way to be happy.
What keeps you clean and sober in recovery? Happiness, contentment
I think that some people who are stuck in addiction are confused about what is going to become their standard of happiness in recovery. It is impossible for such people to really predict what their life will be like and what they will enjoy in their recovery. They have no frame of reference for what “the good life” is in sobriety. This is a major hurdle because in this case they have nothing to strive for or look forward too. This was my problem as well; I had no hope at all for my recovery because I truly believed that I would be miserable forever.
But what happens in early recovery is this:
You start out in detox and you get clean and sober. At this point it is not uncommon to be fairly miserable. This is what makes us believe that we will be miserable forever in recovery, because we tend to be very uncomfortable during the detox process. So what happens is that many people in early recovery are projecting this misery on to the rest of their sobriety. Because they are miserable during the first few days of sobriety, they project this misery forward, forever. Of course this is not truly the case but it is impossible to overcome this until you stick it out and see otherwise.
And ultimately that is your only solution: to stick it out and see that happiness can occur without drugs and alcohol. Really that is the entire secret and the final solution right there. You just have to trust, to have faith that things will get better in recovery and that one day you will be happy again. This is the part that I never really believed—I truly thought that I would be miserable forever without my drugs. Luckily I was wrong. But I never really had hope for a happy future as I believed it was impossible. Luckily I was miserable enough in my addiction that I no longer cared about anything, and thus I was willing to stick it out and see what the results were.
I found myself in early recovery and I realized at about the 90 day point that I was no longer obsessing over drugs and alcohol. Suddenly I realized that this obsession had been lifted, and that I was basically “free” in that sense. So I was excited about that and I was also stunned because I did not believe that this was possible for me. I was also shocked that I got to that point so quickly in only a few short months.
At this point I was not what you would call “super happy” in life, though I was not really miserable either. But I wanted to sort of figure out recovery and figure out life to the point that I was a lot happier. After all, what is the point of being clean and sober if you are going to be miserable? In some cases I think you are better off self medicating. No one wants to be miserable.
So I set out to discover the secret of happiness at this point, and I believe that I can get you one step closer to real happiness as well, based on what I discovered. What I have for you here is a real strategy, rather than a tip or trick. In other words, this is a guide for early recovery rather than a quick gimmick.
Here is how to bring yourself one step closer to happiness. You may notice that some of this mirrors the concepts found in the 12 step program:
1) Sit down and write out a list of all the negative things in your life that you want to fix. Include things from your life situation (like a job that you hate) and also things about your personality (like your tendency to engage in self pity). Brainstorm a total list, use other people (like a sponsor) to give feedback and expand your list, and keep adding to the list over time. The list should have negative stuff on it that you would want to eliminate.
2) Prioritize the list in terms of impact. So take each item on the list, mentally pretend that you had fixed and eliminated that particular item, and then rate the impact on your life of doing so. Find the highest impact item and reorder your list accordingly.
3) Start with the highest impact item on your list and focus all of your energy on fixing it or eliminating it. Do not stop or move on until you have conquered your particular goal. After reaching your goal, move on to the next highest impact item on your list.
Note that by doing this you accomplish several things:
* You stay in action. You don’t become lazy. You keep taking positive action in your life. You are always working to change something from bad to good.
* You start out with a major win. This is because you start with the highest impact goal in your life first. So you build momentum. This is huge.
* You learn how to focus your energy. Your highest impact goal will also likely be the most difficult. No matter, because you will focus on it exclusively.
* You will stay vigilant in fighting against complacency. This is because you will constantly be looking for more problems and negative things to fix in your life.
* You will produce happiness and contentment without looking for it directly. This is the beauty of this system. You allow happiness to happen rather than trying to force it.
Read through this sequence again and discover how it leads to happiness without you having to chase after it. If you try to set your goals in order to be happier, you will fail. We are notoriously bad at predicting our own happiness. So what I have described above is the indirect method. What we are doing instead is to eliminate our misery rather than pursuing our happiness.
You don’t necessarily become happy in life when you achieve your dreams. Instead, you become happier in life when you eliminate all of the bad stuff, when you create an emptiness that allows for peace and contentment to exist.
We are basically happy enough on our own, so long as we get out of our own way and stop screwing it up. In order to do this we have to eliminate our points of misery. The process above shows you how to do exactly that. Identify your points of misery and then eliminate them one at a time.
If you do not understand how to eliminate one of them, then you need to ask for help. If you have a sponsor in recovery or if you know any peers then you can ask them for feedback. Keep asking people for feedback and advice until you find someone who knows how to solve your problem or overcome a certain point of misery.
Eliminating toxic relationships
One of the most important things that you can do in early recovery is to eliminate toxic relationships from your life. The way that I did this myself was to move into long term rehab and I basically cut all ties with my past when I did so. I realize that this is not necessarily realistic for everyone but it worked well for me. At that point I quickly developed new friends and new relationships with people in recovery who were trying to live a positive life.
It is not that you need to find positive and energetic people in recovery that will make you happy via association—that is not the point. The point is, if you happen to have toxic relationships in your life then you will be miserable by association.
This entire process is somewhat counter-intuitive. Instead of chasing happiness, we must seek to eliminate misery. Instead of seeking positive people, what we are really doing is eliminating the negative ones from our lives. This is an important distinction because it means the difference between becoming content in life versus chasing happiness and basically staying miserable.
The challenge of lifestyle changes
If you go through the process that I outlined earlier, you should have a written list of the goals that you want to accomplish. They should be things in your life that are holding you back from happiness that you want to change.
Most people will have at least a few of these items being lifestyle changes. Perhaps upon further examination we may one day realize that “lifestyle changes” are the only things that will really appear on such a list. I think by “lifestyle change” what we are really talking about are daily habits. And daily habits are tough to break.
This is why it is so important to go through the list one item at a time and focus. If you try to take on multiple things at once then you are almost certain to fail. The idea of focus is very important for making lifestyle changes.
Let me give you an example. When I was in early recovery I wanted very badly to quit smoking cigarettes. But I could not seem to do it no matter what I tried. I was focusing and I was also dedicating all of my energy to the goal and yet I was still failing at it.
At some point I had to redouble my efforts and focus even more on the goal and get even more serious about achieving it. In order to do that I isolated an idea that seemed to be helpful: exercise as a means of overcoming smoking addiction. I was out of shape but I slowly got into shape, even while continuing to smoke.
What I was doing was attacking my goal of quitting smoking by first setting myself up for success. I had to get into the exercise habit before I even tried to quit. This actually worked for me. In retrospect, it was an exercise in extreme focus. I was doing exactly what I had to do in order to meet my goal.
Later on after I was established as an avid runner I was finally able to focus on quitting smoking and pull it off. Lifestyle changes are the hardest kind to make, because they involve changing daily habits. In order to quit smoking, I had to first get into shape and establish the habit of daily running.
Lifestyle changes are the toughest to make, but they also are the most rewarding. If you are honest when you make your life then these kinds of changes will normally be at the top, and therefore be a priority.
Points of misery
You should be very aware of what may be making you miserable in your life. This is what brought you to recovery to begin with, after all. You realized and finally admitted that addiction was making you miserable, and decided to take action on it. So now that you are clean and sober you must do this with other points of misery in your life.
Once you admit that you have points of misery in your life, you can go about trying to eliminate them. Although it is counter-intuitive, this is the path to happiness. This is how to move closer to real happiness and contentment.
Chasing your dreams is the last priority
Believe it or not, chasing after your dreams should be your last priority. That is, you should focus on eliminating all of your points of misery first, or in fixing all of the negatives in your life. You should also try to focus on any lifestyle changes before you try to chase your dreams.
In the end, you still get to chase your dreams. But when you do so, there will hopefully be nothing that is holding you back from happiness. If there is something holding you back, then it just means that you did not go through this process thoroughly enough in trying to eliminate your points of misery.
You can move closer to happiness but you cannot chase it directly. The best way to pursue your happiness indirectly is to eliminate misery. Find out what is making you miserable and then focus on it until you have eliminated it. You may also explore your points of constraint in your life to find what is limiting your freedom. If you can eliminate those and create more freedom and flexibility then this can lead to more potential happiness as well.
We are not seeking to be deliriously happy every single day (like we did in our addiction) but instead we seek to eliminate our points of constraints and our points of misery. Thus we allow happiness to occur on its own without being forced, simply by creating a clear path to a life of freedom.