One of the most important things that you can do in your sobriety journey is to protect your serenity. Failing to do so can lead you to a place where relapse becomes a very real possibility.
So how can we protect something that is such an ambiguous concept to begin with? Of course in order to do so we have to define serenity and how it applies to our recovery.
Why try to protect your serenity at all in recovery? What is the point of doing so? How does this help you?
The bottom line is that if your serenity is seriously compromised then you run the risk of relapse. If you are feeling peaceful and serene, on the other hand, then the threat of relapse is seriously diminished.
Serenity is the absence of chaos, the absence of anxiety, it is the calmness that you feel when everything is going right in your world. Of course eventually things happen, and chaos arrives in everyone’s life from time to time, and the challenge is to still be able to feel serene in such circumstances. We all experience the chaos and the storms from time to times–that much is inevitable. Life is always going to have its ups and downs. The key is not to avoid the downs, but to be better equipped to weather the storm.
There are a few ways that we can do this. There are a few strategies that can help you with this. Let’s take a look at some of those strategies.
First way: Eliminate toxic relationships from your life
Perhaps the most important thing that you can do to preserve your serenity is to eliminate toxic relationships from your life.
Addiction recovery does not happen on a deserted island. In fact, recovery is all about relationships and if you are not actively working on improving the relationships in your life then you are in for a rocky recovery.
People don’t just relapse for the heck of it. Recovering alcoholics don’t just relapse because they get bored. Everyone has an excuse when they pick up the bottle again, and that excuse almost always involves people and relationships.
We often medicate our feelings, our emotions. We are either angry or upset or afraid of something in our lives. Again, this almost always comes back to our relationships with others.
We all have experienced it when we had someone in our lives who was toxic. We all have known someone who was essentially an energy vampire of sorts, someone who drained us emotionally.
One of the most important things that you can do in recovery is to get honest with yourself about who those people and to eliminate them from your life.
In fact, one of the simple but powerful ideas of addiction recovery is that of the “blank slate,” and recreating a better life that is not filled with chaos. The successful road to recovery is more about elimination than it is about adding things. If you can eliminate chaos, negativity, toxic relationships, and so on–then your life will slowly get better and better.
Everyone gets into sobriety and they want to achieve things, they want happiness, they want to meet goals. But in truth the better path to recovery is through eliminating things, in reducing your life down to the blank slate. If you can eliminate negativity then this will go much further in terms of creating serenity.
Second way to protect your serenity: Make a habit of vigorous daily exercise
Imagine that you walk out of the door right now and you run vigorously for a full hour. You don’t stop for a full 60 minutes and at the end of that hour you are absolutely exhausted. Now you might ask yourself: “What does that have to do with sobriety, and more specifically, what does that have to do with how I feel about myself in recovery?”
My answer is that it has a lot to do with your day to day recovery. This is a powerful technique if you are willing to take advantage of it. Of course it takes work to get into shape and then stick with an exercise routine, and many people will rationalize and justify a lack of activity. They would prefer to do nothing, to not work out, to not push themselves. But the rewards are massive if you can push yourself aggressively.
So what is the benefit of daily exercise? So what if you can go jog for an hour, or have an intense workout at the gym, or do a powerful yoga session? What is the point in terms of recovery?
First of all, it is very difficult to describe the full impact of these benefits to someone. You don’t really hear people talking about the benefits of exercise that often at AA meetings, for example. It’s too hard to convince others, it is too difficult to fully explain the benefits. But the benefits are there, no doubt about it.
Daily exercise is part of a holistic approach to recovery. You feel better about yourself. You sleep better. You need fuel in order to exercise so hopefully you will eat healthier foods as a result. You will be much more stable emotionally.
It is difficult to explain how daily exercise affects a person emotionally. To me, this is one of the biggest benefits of vigorous exercise. For example, I once went through a very tough time in my life where I was absolutely devastated due to events beyond my control. I was sad, upset, and scared. And I noticed that during that time I was most comforted when I was outside jogging. So I increased the amount that I was running. This helped tremendously. Looking back, I did not even realize just how much it had helped me to make it through that difficult time in my life. I can now see that daily exercise can definitely be a huge factor in helping to prevent relapse.
It is not so much that you are full of serenity when you are doing vigorous exercise, that is not it exactly. Although eventually after you exercise for long enough you will certainly feel a calmness and a peace during the exercise itself–though this may not happen when you are first getting into shape.
But even when you are not in the habit of daily exercise, it can still help you emotionally. It is a really an exercise in relativity–when you go through a super intense workout and you push your body to its limits, suddenly the volume on the rest of your life gets turned way down. Suddenly the petty day to day trials that used to stress you are out are no longer that big of a deal. If you go run six miles on steep hills and really push yourself to the limits, then that makes the rest of the drama in your life seem trivial in comparison. You push your body hard to make it through this intense exercise, and therefore everything else becomes less of an issue for you. Hard core exercise turns down the volume on the rest of your life.
This is not something that you can really convince someone of, however. Really in order to realize the full benefits of what I am talking about here, you have to experience it for yourself. For example, a few people tried to convinced me of the benefits of exercise back when I first got into recovery, and I honestly just did not get it. I nodded politely and thought “yeah, that’s nice, but it’s not really for me.” I just couldn’t see the benefit of what they were saying because I had not experienced it for myself yet.
The only way to really “get it” is to dive in and experience it for yourself.
Another thing that makes this especially tricky is that you really need a long term commitment to enjoy the full benefits of exercise. If you are out of shape and you start to work out regularly then this will not actually help you to the full extent right away. You will get some benefit initially but not much. We all know (I think) that at first the exercise is just a lot of hard work with very little reward. Only in the long run will the daily exercise really start to reward you. You have to be in it for the long haul in order to enjoy the full benefits of daily exercise.
Third way to protect your serenity: Set healthy boundaries and limits with the people in your life
In order to protect your serenity you have to know how to set healthy limits and boundaries with the people in your life.
Perhaps it is only fair that once an alcoholic or drug addict sobers up, they often find themselves having to deal with other struggling alcoholics and drug addicts. This is not an easy thing to do, whether you have been an alcoholic yourself or not. And because many recovery programs are based on the idea of support and networking (think AA meetings) this often means that we will have to learn how to set boundaries ourselves in recovery.
For example, I have had close peers in my recovery journey who were close friends and then at some point they relapsed. Sometimes these people came back to me for help or asked for certain favors. At that point I had to figure out if I was truly helping them or if I was enabling them instead. This is not always obvious and therefore I had to ask for help from other people. And in fact I ended up asking for help from the same people who had previously dealt with me in my own addiction. Setting boundaries can be quite a challenge.
When you set a boundary you figure out what behavior is not acceptable to you, and then you declare how you will deal with that behavior. Easy concept, not always easy to implement in real life though.
You can still achieve personal growth while protecting your serenity
There is a balance between personal growth, self acceptance, and your overall serenity in recovery.
If you are far too accepting of yourself and your current station in life then you will not be pushing yourself enough to engage in personal growth.
On the other hand, if you challenge yourself in positive ways then this can lead you to peace, happiness, and serenity in long term sobriety. In addition to this, challenging yourself on a regular basis can help to keep you sober. If you are not pushing yourself to grow in any way then you are in danger of sliding into complacency.
I like to use a singular focus in terms of personal growth. What that means is that I like to figure out what the one goal in my life is right now that would make all the difference if I were to achieve it, and then to put all of my efforts into that for a while. I have found this to be much better than scattering my efforts in multiple directions at the same time.
One way that this worked in the real world for me was when I quit smoking cigarettes. In the past, I had tried to do too many things at once and I ended up spreading myself far too thin when it came to quitting smoking. Finally I figured out that I had to dedicate all of my energy to quitting so that I could focus only on that one goal, giving myself enough power and focus to finally achieve it. This worked for me when other methods of quitting had failed.
Before I was able to achieve this goal I had a different goal, and that was distance running. I wanted to get up to running six miles per day, every day of the week. This took a long time for me to build that distance because I was quite out of shape when I started and I was also still a smoker! But I persevered for some reason, perhaps because I had that singular focus that was motivating me. When I put all of my energy into a single goal good things happen.
After I was able to accomplish those two goals, I switched my focus to education. If I could become a distance runner and also manage to quit smoking cigarettes successfully (on top of sobriety) then perhaps I could finally finish up that college degree that I had screwed up so long ago. So I went back to school and at the recommendation of my NA sponsor and I finished up a four year degree. Upon completing that goal I realized that I could probably do whatever I wanted, so long as I was willing to focus my efforts enough.
After that I choose two more major goals in my life, and I focused on them one at a time. One of them was to run a marathon, the other was to build a successful side business. I was able to do both of those goals and I believe the reason is because I had learned how to focus my efforts.
My serenity stayed intact during all of these goals because of two reasons. One is because I maintained a good support system through it all, with friends, family, and peers in recovery who stayed by my side. And two is because I did not scatter my efforts among too many goals at once and instead was able to focus on one thing at a time.
Now if you are very early recovery and your life is in total chaos then it may seem like you do not have this luxury. This is because some struggling alcoholics and drug addicts have multiple problems that are holding them back at the same time. In that case it may seem like the only approach is to try to fix multiple areas of your life at the same time. If that is your situation then I would urge you to seek professional help and try to get into inpatient treatment of some kind.
I was lucky enough to be able to move into long term rehab. Many people do not believe that this is even an option for them, but such people are generally not being realistic about their alternatives. For example, I once knew a struggling alcoholic who was considering long term rehab but they decided that they could not “afford” to miss any of their work so they did not enter treatment. A few weeks later they had passed away due to their disease, which brings up a pretty good (but sometimes snarky point)–can you really afford NOT to go to rehab? Many people think that they are smarter than their disease, but in many cases they end up learning the tragic truth the hard way. It is far better to error on the side of going to treatment and getting the help that you need rather than preserving your pride and “staying on the outside.” I wish that I would have gone to treatment much sooner than I did.
Today I know that I can still preserve my serenity while pursuing personal growth, so long as I maintain a fairly narrow focus and not allowing myself to get overwhelmed. If I take on too many goals at the same time then I am in danger of compromising my serenity.
The way to prioritize your growth is to look at the negativity in your life. This is counter-intuitive because most people believe that they should look at the positive stuff instead. But if you look at the negative stuff then you can find where your biggest relief would be. This is where you go to for your personal growth…this is how you prioritize. Ask yourself: “What is the one thing in my life that, if I fixed it today, would change everything for me for the better?” What is the one thing that you could change that would bring you the greatest relief? Figure out what that one thing is, then dedicate your life to changing it in the near future. Ask for help, talk to a sponsor, get advice from your peers, and generally put all of your energy and focus into that one single goal.
After you meet that goal and get the relief from making that change, it is time to evaluate your life and then do it again. Look at everything, look at the big picture, and figure out what the biggest negative thing in your life is right now. Then figure out how to eliminate it.
After you get into the habit of doing this enough, of finding the negativity in your life and eliminating it, you will find that serenity comes much easier. Make a habit of maintaing a low stress level and keeping emotionally balanced and you will find that your serenity will increase over time.
What about you, have you found ways to preserve your serenity in sobriety? What techniques have worked for you? Let us in on your secrets, tell us how you maintain emotional balance and serenity when times are tough. Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!