Yesterday we looked at the importance of self esteem in recovery. Today we want to assure everyone out there who thinks that recovery will be a drag that it will, in fact, not be boring.
To be honest this is one of the things that kept me from getting clean and sober for a very long time: I was terrified that I would be bored to tears in recovery. The problem was that I had come to associate using drugs and alcohol with having fun. How would I have fun if I could not get drunk or high?
But to take that idea a step further, I had actually conditioned myself so that I could not have fun without the drugs and the alcohol. So even if something in my life was fun in the past, now that thing had to have drugs and alcohol involved in order for it to still be “fun.” Otherwise I would just be miserable because I was not self medicating while trying to enjoy the “fun thing.”
Because I was addicted my entire world revolved around getting drunk or high. I could not have fun without being medicated. And even then, I was usually pretty miserable. But even though I was miserable most of the time during my addiction, I could not see past my denial. I could not see that I might be able to have fun again without the use of drugs.
During my years of addiction there were a few brief instances where I stopped using my drug of choice temporarily. For example, I went to treatment twice before getting clean and sober for good. There were also a few occasions where I went overboard and had to take a day or two off just to get functional again. So I had this idea of what sobriety was like, and I was basing that idea on these handful of experiences that I had in my addiction where I had to temporarily stop using drugs.
This was a huge problem. These temporary lulls in my addiction were not indicative of real recovery. Not by a long shot. If you are using drugs and alcohol every day and you have to suddenly stop for some reason, this is not a good indication of what your recovery will be like if you choose long term sobriety some day. And yet this is what I was basing my fears on. I thought that if I were to become clean and sober “permanently” that I would be just as miserable for the rest of my life as I was when I experienced these intermittent periods of “unexpected withdrawal.”
So I had this idea of what recovery was going to be like. I had this mental image in my head that predicted a lifetime of boredom and misery. Really, I thought, what is the point of life if you cannot get high and enjoy it? My denial was such that I could not remember that life was enjoyable before I found drugs and alcohol too.
When the promise of excitement is not enough
At one point during my addiction I went to rehab and I met this guy. I do not even remember his name but he was someone who comes into drug rehab centers in order to bring in an AA or NA meeting from the outside. (Around here they call those “H and I meetings,” which stands for “hospitals and institutions.”) So this guy ran this meeting and then at the end of it he talked about his own journey from addiction into recovery, and he talked about how his life had changed. He talked about how he thought recovery would be boring, but how it turned out to be so amazing. And he got specific too and mentioned all of this fun and cool stuff that he does now and how pumped he was to be able to enjoy this amazing new life. He really lit up the room when he spoke and quite frankly this was probably the most amazing testimony I have ever heard in a 12 step meeting.
I walked away from that meeting (still being in inpatient rehab) and thought long and hard about my own life. He had made a promise to us: that recovery could be fun again. In a way I believed it, whereas in the past I never thought that such a life would be available to me again.
Perhaps this is what it means to “stand at the turning point.” This guy was trying to show me that life was worth living sober, but I was just not ready for it. This was my first time in rehab, and I would not get clean and sober until years later when I attended rehab for a third time. I just wasn’t ready, and I could not be convinced that my life would be amazing in sobriety like his life was.
This is the problem in addiction where we believe we are so unique. This happens to everyone, and we all have to get through it in our own way. We believe that we are the only person in the world who truly loves our drug of choice, and that these other people who have managed to get clean and sober must not know what it is like to be truly addicted. They must have been “half addicts” or something, because we know that we are truly in love with our drug of choice. I took this concept of “uniqueness” a step further and believed that I was the only person in the world who could not work a recovery program. These programs are not designed for “people like me,” I thought. I am doomed to drink and to die because no one has created a method of recovery that could possibly work for someone like myself. Whaa waa! This was how my logic worked when I was still in denial and that was what I really believed. I had a small amount of social anxiety and I thought that this made me the most unique case of alcoholism in the entire world, a first of its kind. How could I possibly recover?
So at the time that I heard that guy tell his amazing story, his excitement and enthusiasm was not enough. It just wasn’t enough for me at the time because I was not at the point of surrender. It was not his fault because nothing could have worked at the time. I wasn’t ready. I had to go get some more misery in my life before I was ready to throw in the towel and surrender.
In order to get clean and sober I had to be miserable enough that I no longer cared if recovery was boring or not. That is an important point so let me say it another way: when I was finally at the point of true surrender, I was no longer concerned with how boring recovery might be for me. I was too miserable to care. This is total defeat and true surrender.
What was your life like before drugs and alcohol?
Most of us were not using our drug of choice when we were 3 years old. I know a lot of people started using and abusing drugs when they were quite young but most all of us have a time in our lives when we were still innocent, curious about the world, and able to enjoy ourselves.
You can go back to that. This is why they call it “recovery.” You can go back to that state of being where the world is fun again. Not only that, but you can also reclaim that innocence and wonder about the world too. You get to “rediscover” the world again and the idea of personal growth in recovery. Every day is a new challenge. You can be excited about living again if you stick it out in recovery.
The key is that this does not happen overnight. You don’t just go through detox and wake up a week later and find that you have reclaimed all of your happiness and joy and wonder in the span of a single week. It takes a bit longer than that and you are going to have to put in some effort. “It gets greater later.” Early recovery is tough but the rewards are well worth it. You may be bored during detox but as your recovery progresses things will start to get interesting very quickly. Life has a way of challenging us all.
Passion for drugs and alcohol = passion in recovery
How passionate were you for your drug of choice? I cannot answer that question for you but I can tell you that I was very passionate about my own journey in addiction. I loved to get drunk and high and find new ways to medicate myself. I loved to discover new substances and chemicals with other people. And I loved to share in the rituals and “party” with others. Of course all of those good times eventually faded and addiction became one enormous and miserable grind. But in the beginning I was quite passionate about it all.
That same passion is available to you in recovery as well. That same excitement that you felt for drugs and alcohol will come back to you in recovery. Just like the guy that ran the AA meeting had found things to be passionate about in recovery, you will too if you give recovery a chance. It may be weeks or months before you find this passion for living sober again but it will come to you eventually. You have to have enough faith and trust in the process that this reward will come to you and that life will be exciting to live again some day.
Recovery starts out very slowly and grows from there. Your first few weeks are probably going to seem slow and boring. You are used to living it up and self medicating every day and so when you first get clean and sober you have to slow down and deal with reality and withdrawal. This can be a drag for a while but if you stick it out then things will get a bit more interesting as you get stable again.
If you give yourself a break then you will start to see that you can make positive changes in your life now that you are sober. The world becomes your oyster because you realize that you can do pretty much whatever you want to do so long as you prioritize it. I realized this after I successfully quit smoking cigarettes while I was sober. That was an exciting revelation for me because then I realized that I had the power to make huge changes in my life. No one could stop me because I had experienced the power of focus. So long as I dedicated enough time and energy into something I realized that I could change it if I wanted to. This is when recovery really got exciting for me.
The challenge of recovery
Recovery became a series of challenges for me. The first challenge was to simply establish sobriety and make it through early recovery without relapsing. This was a big challenge because so many of my peers were constantly falling by the wayside as I struggled to maintain sobriety. At first, just staying sober was enough. After a few months or sometime during the first year of recovery I realized that this was only the baseline of recovery. I had to grow from there.
I found that one of the biggest keys for me in recovery was in facing “challenges.” The reason I use that word is because it helps to illustrate the kind of goal that I am talking about.
You may have some goals that are so easy to accomplish that they are not really goals at all. They are just things that you do.
Then you might have some goals that are so difficult that you can never achieve them. They are just too difficult and are out there in “fantasy land.”
But I am talking about the goals in the middle–those goals that you might have for yourself that are difficult but still achievable. So like:
* Getting a college degree.
* Quitting smoking.
* Getting to your ideal weight.
* Getting into shape.
* Running a race (like a marathon or a 10K).
* Speaking in an AA meeting (if you have anxiety).
And so on. These might be difficult but they are still within the realm of being “possible.”
These are the kind of goals that fuel our success in early recovery.
You can find such goals by asking yourself questions (or by asking from feedback from others, such as a sponsor in recovery):
* “How can I make my life better now that I am sober?”
* “What is the one thing that is holding me back in my recovery?”
* “What could I eliminate from my life that would make me happier and healthier in the long run?”
* “What new habit could I establish that would make me happier and healthier in the long run?”
* “What could I learn that would change my life for the better?”
If you can ask yourself these kinds of questions and then come up with a plan of action, you will not be bored in your recovery.
If you cannot motivate yourself through this sort of self analysis, then simply get someone to help you with it. If you don’t decide what you want to do in recovery, someone else can decide for you! Go get yourself a trusted sponsor in either AA or NA and ask them to give you feedback and advice on your situation. Ask them to direct you. They will give you an opinion and make suggestions and if you want to improve your life in recovery then you can follow those suggestions and take action.
If you know that you cannot motivate yourself then it would be wise to seek out someone who can help. There is no shame in using a sponsor for direction and even if you are highly self motivated you can still benefit from getting some outside advice. A sponsor will see the growth potential in you and want to help you to make positive changes.
Sobriety is the greatest trip of all
Sobriety is a greater trip than drugs ever gave you.
Really, that has become true for me over the years. Sometimes I ask myself in wonderment: “Why in the world did I ever need drugs? Life is so bizarre without them!”
Indeed, the longer I stay clean and sober, the more I realize that this is just one big huge “trip” anyway. Even being perfectly clean and sober, the world is just crazy and mysterious at nearly every turn. If you just kick back and relax during your recovery and watch events unfold around you, you will slowly realize that life is just one big trip and you never needed the drugs to begin with.
Treat your early sobriety like an adventure. It is a great trip and the only way to really enjoy it is completely sober. At least that way you will remember it all, right? Life is weird enough even without the drugs. If you are bored in recovery then you can always create something interesting or exciting on your own. Possibilities open right up when you are clean and sober every day.
Caring about people in your life
One of the biggest reasons that recovery is not boring is because our priorities shift. Instead of caring about things and drugs, we start to care about people and relationships. This makes recovery far more interesting when we actually care about others. You do not realize that this will be the case until you are actually living it in sobriety and can look back and see how your priorities have shifted.
In our addiction we could not have possibly cared this much about other people because we were always putting our drug of choice first. Getting drunk or high was always the priority and so relationships were secondary to this. You may have cared about other people but that level of caring was clouded by your addiction. In recovery you do not have the “fog” of drugs or alcohol in the way and so you can take a renewed interest in others again. People start to matter to you more. Relationships start to matter to you more. This is much more exciting than the old one track mind that said “I need more drugs, I want to get high, I need more drugs, I wish I was high right now, etc.”
How to use focus and energy to create a new reality for yourself
Recovery got really exciting for me after I realized just how much power I had when I focused my energy on something. Quitting smoking was the key that unlocked this realization for me. After that I realized that I could probably accomplish just about anything that I wanted to do. It was all a matter of priority.
At that point I spent some time figuring out what I really wanted in life. You know all of those new age visualization ideas that say you can have anything that you can imagine and visualize? I was at that point because I realized that I could focus on anything in my recovery and probably accomplish it. Being clean and sober gave me a clear path to whatever I wanted to achieve….it was all a matter of focus and discipline. If I wanted to run a marathon then I could do that–I just had to pay the price first (which I did through a lengthy training process). But there was nothing holding me back any more other than a mere decision. This is how I want you to become in recovery–where the world is your oyster again and life is exciting.
Positive action, one day at a time. It really is that simple.