What is your true calling in life, given that you are in recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction?
Is it just enough to get sober, and then go on about your everyday business, sort of bouncing randomly through the universe? Or is there a higher purpose, some sort of calling that you find now that you are in recovery?
Luckily it is all sort of up to you. You get to decide. The nice thing about being in recovery is that you have choices today.
When you were stuck in addiction, you didn’t have a choice. Period.
What is the real purpose of your life if you are stuck in addiction?
I went to rehab one time and I was not yet ready to get sober. I was still very much stuck in denial and I did not really know this at the time. So I went along with the idea of rehab and hoped that things worked out.
While I was in that treatment center I had a roommate who was a struggling drug addict, and I remember having a conversation with him. I was an alcoholic and he was into prescription drug abuse, but we basically had the same goal in life, which was to keep ourselves self medicated as much as humanly possible.
And this guy said something to me one day that really made me stop and think about things. It was not quite enough at the time to pull me out of my denial, but it was close. He said something like:
“I don’t know, if I had a million dollars I think I would just get a ton of supply and lock myself up in a room and just use as much drugs as I possibly could, for as long as I could, and I would just never look back. That would probably be the end of me but I really think I would choose to go out like that, if I had the means to do it.”
It was a depressing thing to hear. But not quite depressing enough to snap me out of my own addiction. Because part of me was right there next to this guy, wanting the supreme fantasy of having enough resources to self medicate myself out of existence.
At some point every alcoholic and drug addict has to see the futility of what they are doing. Do you want to stay drunk and high all of the time, 24/7? Really? Would you take a magic pill that could do that for, a pill that somehow keeps you permanently stoned or drunk out of your mind, so that you don’t have to feel pain, anxiety, fear? Would you take that magic pill and say goodbye to reality forever?
What is the real purpose of someone who is addicted? I can tell you what my real purpose was–it was the fantasy of staying completely medicated 24/7. I thought that in a perfect world I would have unlimited money and resources to be able to constantly be medicated. And all of my problems would just vanish and there would be no fear or anxiety and I could be drunk and happy forever.
Of course this is not anywhere near realistic. Even if you have a streak of good luck and most things work out perfectly for you it is not going to keep you happy 24/7 forever. Life just doesn’t work that way. Our mind lives in fantasy world: “If I had a billion dollars I would have no worries or fears and I would stay drunk and high all the time and I would be extremely happy as a result.” This is pure fantasy. Just go ask any billionaire and they will tell you that it just doesn’t work that way.
Heck, you don’t even need money to experience that sort of lifestyle. You can do it while being homeless and you will get much the same results. Go hustle to get drinking money every day and keep yourself well medicated. Your happiness will be roughly the same as the billionaire who is trying to self medicate every day as well.
If your purpose in life is to get high or stay drunk in order to be “happy,” you’re going to have a bad time. Period. It doesn’t matter if you have extreme wealth or you are dead broke. None of the other variables in your life are even a factor in this. Chasing happiness through the means of addiction is a recipe for misery.
Addiction and alcoholism become an end unto themselves. The problem is that they are a dead end. They lead nowhere except to chaos, misery, and death. Denial convinces us that we can be “happy” if we could only drink or use just the right combination of drugs and booze while everything else magically works out perfectly in our lives according to some fantasy in our minds.
The fantasy isn’t real. It will never be real. You will never find purpose or happiness through addiction.
Which leads us to the next part of the question: How do you find purpose in recovery? Once you have your life back on track and you are no longer killing yourself with drugs and alcohol, how do you find real purpose then? Is it enough to just be sober?
Finding your footing in early recovery and eliminating negative blocks in your life
Your first job in early recovery is to eliminate all of the negative blocks in your life that are keeping you from happiness and keeping you from being the person you were meant to become.
If you glance through the 12 steps of AA they have a formula for executing on this. They walk you through a path of personal growth.
If you want to do the work then getting a sponsor in AA and working through the steps is certainly one way to do it. It is not the only way and it is not even the way that I choose to do it for the most part, but it is definitely a valid path.
And you need to do the work. Everyone in early recovery has to do the work. The alternative is to stay sick, to be miserable, to become a dry drunk. A dry drunk is someone who basically wishes they were drinking again, but they hang on to sobriety and stay miserable. Obviously you don’t want that for yourself. You want to be happy in recovery. And that takes work.
Think about it this way:
There are two things that a person might do once they get clean and sober:
1) Work on the negative aspects of themselves and try to improve them. Fix what is broken in your life. Improve yourself. Take inventory and find the negative garbage that is holding you back.
2) Figure out what you want in life and chase after it.
Those are the two basic options. Either chase happiness or work on improving yourself.
Guess which option generally leads to more long term happiness in recovery?
Guess which option generally helps people to actually remain clean and sober?
Option number one sounds like a lot of work, and it most certainly is. I am not going to lie to you. It is much more fun to go with option number two and chase after happiness. Or rather, that is what we believe will but much more fun, and we believe that we will achieve this happiness by simply chasing it directly.
The truth is that humans are generally bad at predicting what will make them happy. This includes me, the person writing this out at this very moment. I am notoriously bad at predicting what will make me truly happy. I am bad at it and you are likely bad at it as well. Or rather, we tend to believe that we are better at it than we really are, we tend to believe that we are the only people on the planet who could possibly know what would make us happy. And we are often wrong.
My sponsor in early recovery told me to do some things. I thought he was stupid! But I did them anyway because I was desperate. And I did not think these things would lead me to happiness (which is why I thought the guy was stupid!).
Of course, my sponsor had the last laugh. He is not stupid, and he was giving me great advice and feedback. He was sharing wisdom with me, because he knew exactly where I was at and what I needed. So he told me to do some things that would not necessarily give me an instant sugar rush of happiness, but they were things that I needed to do in order to build peace, contentment, and happiness in the long run. I am lucky that I listened to him because the rewards of this journey have been amazing.
It all comes back to doing the work. Look at those two options again: You can either do the work on yourself, or you can chase happiness. Doing the work is tough and uncomfortable and no one really wants to do it. Chasing happiness is just more of the same: Isn’t that how you lived during your addiction? Just chasing happiness every day by trying to self medicate? That is not going to work so well in recovery, even if you are doing it sober now. Chasing happiness generally doesn’t work so well.
Instead, you have to achieve peace and contentment in your life, which is sort of like building a platform in which happiness can then happen naturally. And in order to build this platform, in order to build a foundation of peace and contentment in your life, you need to do the work. The hard work of getting honest with yourself.
Let me give you an example of this from my own journey in recovery.
I was living in long term treatment and I had maybe a few months sober. I wasn’t exactly happy yet but at least I wasn’t completely miserable and stuck in addiction any more. But I still had a long way to go.
And because I was working with a sponsor and I also had a therapist and was doing group meetings, I was trying to look at myself and my character defects. One of them was self pity. Instead of resenting other people, I generally turned that anger inward and channeled it into self pity.
I had to figure this out though. I had to stop and really think about myself and my life and figure out where the negativity was at.
It was in this self pity. I had a habit of doing this, of sitting around and feeling sorry for myself. This was part of how I used to justify my addiction.
And so I had a revelation at some point, which was this:
“If I want to remain clean and sober, the self pity habit of mine has to go. It’s not helping me at all.”
This is doing the work. This is doing the hard work and getting honest with yourself and figuring out what you need to do in order to remain sober.
I was prone to self pity. That was how I justified my addiction. So I had to figure that out and make a plan to eliminate it.
Your negative blocks may be quite different from mine. Not everyone stumbles through life due to self pity. You may have a different problem that fuels your addiction: Shame, guilt, fear, anger, resentment, and so on. It could be one of these problems or a combination of them. Or it may be something else entirely that is dragging you down and holding you back.
So your job in early recovery is to figure out what that is and fix it.
Because even if you “find your true calling in recovery” it is not going to matter if you are carrying around this negativity in your life. If you are wrapped up in guilt, shame, fear, anger, self pity, or resentment then you are not going to be living your best life. You will not be able to enjoy your purpose, or be at peace with yourself.
In other words, you won’t be happy until you do the work. Get honest with yourself, figure out your problems, and fix them.
Generally I have needed help and insight from other people in order to discover and eliminate my negative blocks.
Using your unique gifts and talents to reach out and help others
So after you have “done the work” in early recovery you are starting to transition to long term sobriety.
I believe that we have a purpose in life that extends outside of ourselves. You are not an island. Part of your purpose is to interact with others and to help them. Now I admit that I could be wrong in this, it is really just my personal opinion. But it is not a terrible suggestion at any rate because helping other people has a definite benefit in recovery in that it helps you to remain clean and sober. Helping others is a form of relapse prevention.
When I first got clean and sober I was discouraged because I believed that I would have to be in AA and sponsor other people some day in order to maintain sobriety. I thought that this was the only valid path in recovery. The only sustainable option.
Turns out that this is not the case. You don’t have to be in AA and sponsor people in order to remain sober.
Now don’t get me wrong, if you do go to AA and eventually sponsor newcomers in recovery, then that is a great path to take and it can be some very important and rewarding work. But it’s not for everyone and you do NOT have to beat yourself up about it if that is not the path that you choose.
For example, there is a great little community here at the Spiritual River forum that reaches out to each other on a daily basis in an attempt to help others. If someone new stumbles onto the forum they are always welcomed with open arms. And there are many people there who really do care and do their best to help anyone who may be struggling online. Not to mention the fact that not every person has access to outside AA meetings, so in some cases an online discussion forum is the only recovery they have access to. We are grateful to be able to reach out and help people in that way.
And there are other alternatives as well. It doesn’t have to be AA and it doesn’t have to be an online forum either. There are a million and one ways that you can give back, reach out, and help others. Heck, you might join a church community and get involved with something like that on a local level. Or you may volunteer to help people in your area that may not even be in recovery.
Of course the more you are helping people who are struggling with addiction, the more that will do in terms of relapse prevention for yourself. But it is not entirely necessary to help people in one specific area (like addiction or alcoholism). You can still benefit a great deal by helping just about anyone.
There is another huge boost that you can get in terms of self esteem if you are using your unique talents in order to help others. In other words, hopefully you can find a way to reach out to other people that is unique to you, a way that really capitalizes on your strengths as an individual. If you can figure out this path then you will be greatly rewarded, because it will boost your self esteem a great deal and you will feel so much better about yourself.
Becoming the best possible version of yourself through personal growth
I believe that if you have found your true calling in life then you are most certainly on a path of personal growth.
In other words, you will not be content to just coast through life or be content to sit idle while the world passes you by. Instead, you will want to improve your life, improve yourself, and find that next level.
How can you find your unique gifts and talents that will truly serve other people?
You do this by becoming the better version of yourself. You may have to push yourself a bit, to find that next level, to figure out your next step in the path of growth and self discovery.
We cannot help others until we help ourselves. And we cannot really teach or instruct others until we have done the hard work ourselves. Because that is really the only way that we truly know how to do something, is when we have lived it for ourselves. And this seems to be especially true in addiction recovery where the process is so deep and complex that it involves your entire life and nearly every aspect of your lifestyle. Just imagine, you are trying to manage your health in so many different ways in order to be healthy person in recovery: Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, socially. And then to try to teach others about this complex process and exactly how it all works while also resisting drugs and alcohol? It is a whole lot to take in and digest. It is also a lot to try to teach.
But maybe your message to the world is something else. Perhaps it is not going to be about recovery, but will instead be about some other positive change in the world. If so then that is great, find your calling and run with it.
And don’t feel pressured to find your purpose tomorrow. It doesn’t have to be rushed. Remember to “do the work” first. You have to fix the negative stuff in your life before you can give these opportunities a chance to shine through.