It turns out that overcoming a drug or alcohol addiction is all about refining and establishing healthy habits.
Now you might think that this is obvious, because all you really have when you have an addiction to anything is you have a really, really unhealthy habit. So you must simply learn to break that habit and your health will be restored, right?
Not so fast. While that is partially true–drug and alcohol addiction can certainly be framed in terms of being “bad habits,” the truth is that once you walk away from those substances you still have a tremendous amount of work to do.
No, the real problem in long term addiction recovery is that you have to change the way that you are thinking, and in order to do that you have to change the way that you are living. And this means changing your habits–not just the bad ones either. You must establish new healthy habits in order to thrive in recovery.
Why is this the case? When you make a single change in your life, it can have a positive effect–makes sense, right? But what happens if you make that single change and then you quickly revert back to your old baseline? Have you really made any progress in that case?
No, you haven’t. In order to “lock in the gains” that you make in your recovery journey, the positive actions that you take must become permanent, they must become a way of life. That is why we need to focus on positive habits–because those are healthy changes that persist and keep recurring. When you establish healthy habits you permanently upgrade your life.
So what are those healthy habits that we need to establish? The answer is going to vary a bit from person to person, but there are certain fundamental concepts that are going to govern anyone who is successful in long term sobriety.
For example, most people who are successful in addiction recovery have some sort of habit established in which they have sought out a social support network. A good example of this is the AA or NA fellowship and regular meeting attendance. They often suggest this to people in early recovery, that they attend 90 AA meetings in the first 90 days of their recovery.
Why? Because it establishes a positive habit. Instead of hanging out at the corner bar every day, they are hanging out in AA meetings every day. This is a very strong example of using a new positive habit to shape your new life in recovery.
Now another example, for me at least, is that of distance running. This makes a good point because not everyone is going to latch on to the positive habit of jogging every day, even though that can certainly work well for some people. It is not for everyone, and I realize that. However, that does not change the fact that physical exercise is one of the main pillars of my recovery, and this is perhaps one of the most important habits that I have established in my recovery journey.
So the key here is that I formed a positive habit in the area of my physical health and fitness. That is the fundamental principle and concept here–not that I started jogging regularly, which is not a realistic goal for everyone in recovery. However, the principle that you should form healthy habits in the area of physical health–that is the concept that should guide you in your recovery. Jogging was just my specific example of that.
In the same way, we need to establish healthy habits in other areas of our lives as well, to include physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual. All of those areas of our life make up our overall holistic health. The idea in recovery is that we need to form the habits that will allow us to take better care of ourselves–not just in terms of abstinence from drugs and alcohol, but in terms of forming new healthy habits in all of those areas.
Failure to live this way will leave you either in a position to relapse, or in a position to experience “dry drunk syndrome.” If you are not moving forward in your recovery journey then you are essentially headed for relapse, or you are just miserable.
The key concept that drives successful addiction recovery is personal growth. You must keep moving forward, learning about yourself, and making improvements in your life so that you are getting healthier and healthier. We are not really moving forward unless we are testing out and experimenting with new positive habits.
These new habits do not always stick, mind you. It is your responsibility to test things out in your life and see if they work or not–but you are free to drop a new habit that is not performing for you. I did this once when I shifted from seated meditation–which at the time was not really working out for me–to jogging every day. The jogging just worked out so much better for me at the time, so I stuck with it and established a lifelong habit of physical fitness. Later I went back and explored the idea of meditation and I have incorporated that as well now too.
But the point is that I had to experiment, and I had to be open minded to new ideas. If you want to succeed in selecting the positive habits that will lead you to a successful recovery, then what you really need to do is to go to professional treatment services and start taking advice and suggestions. At first this may seem overwhelming, because you will be getting so many suggestions very quickly in early recovery– suggestions from your therapist, suggestions from people in AA and NA, suggestions from a sponsor, and so on. But your goal should be to take any and every suggestion that you get in terms of changing your life for the better, and start testing out and experimenting with the advice you are given.
Ignore your own ideas because one of them may lead you to relapse. Instead, focus on taking suggestions and advice from your mentors in early recovery, and test out their ideas and see if they help you. This is how you take a “shortcut” in terms of discovering the healthy lifestyle changes that actually work for you in recovery. If you want to do it the hard way, simply ignore all of the advice and suggestions and just start trying out your own ideas. This is not recommended because of the tendency for addicts and alcoholics to sabotage their own recovery efforts. If you trust yourself instead of others in early recovery then you will very likely relapse.
So discover the habits that work for you by going to inpatient treatment and then following up with aftercare services. Go to meetings, go to therapy, go to treatment. Take the advice that you are given and put it into action in your life, and then watch as your world begins to transform for the better. This is the single best thing that you can do for yourself if you struggle with addiction–go get professional help and start taking advice and suggestions. Good luck!