A recent post in the recovery forum here at Spiritual River said:
“I feel like if I quit drinking, I will have nothing to live for, and nothing to look forward to. Life will become meaningless, and devoid of fun.”
This brings up a really tough obstacle to sobriety. Many people are not able to get sober because they are absolutely miserable when they do so.
How can the struggling alcoholic or problem drinker overcome this?
How can we be happy in early recovery?
What actions can we take to find peace, happiness, and contentment in our early sobriety?
Let’s dig in and take a closer look.
Photo by A6U571N
Hard truth: there is a transitional period that is not “fun,” but it does get greater, later!
Yes it does get greater, later.
Of course the problem is that no one wants to hear that in early recovery. No one wants to hear that things get really good after a few months or a few years or a few weeks of recovery.
No, the alcoholic who has just dried out and is still trying to get their head on straight would love to hear that their life will be magically wonderful in only 2 weeks or less! Why not? We want what we want when we want it. Instant gratification has always been the name of the game when we were drinking and abusing drugs.
In active addiction, if we did not like our current mood, we could alter it almost instantly by self medicating.
So it should come as no surprise that addicts and alcoholics would prefer a quick and effective solution for recovery.
The truth is, there is an adjustment period.
Every alcoholic knows this, deep down, because they have flirted with this adjustment period in their past. They have all experienced short bouts of not drinking, a day or two of sobriety here or there, maybe even a few weeks. So they already know what they are up against. They know that they will not be happy when they first get sober. At least not right away.
The truth is, it takes time to relearn how to have fun.
It takes a bit of time to adjust back to a “normal” life, one where you can enjoy “normal” activities…..activities that do not involve you passing out every night or throwing up all over yourself in the car.
When you first get sober, you are not going to be jumping-for-joy happy during your first week of sobriety. You wouldn’t want to be, actually….if you were, that would not be stable, nor sustainable. You would crash and burn.
No, the path in sobriety starts out a bit slower than that. It starts with surrender. I’m not saying you need to be outright depressed in the beginning, but it is perfectly normal to feel a bit down.
Alcohol was our friend. Our emotional companion. Feeling an emotional loss is normal, and takes time to process.
For example, today I can look back and see that other things in my life have replaced that emotional connection that I had with alcohol, such as exercise. If I had to stop exercising these days, I think I would go through similar feelings of loss about it. When I have an injury and cannot run, I feel out of sorts. I feel antsy. I need that outlet.
So don’t beat yourself up for feeling that sense of loss over alcohol. Give yourself a break when you get sober. That means you need to allow yourself the time to heal and to feel better about yourself and your life without alcohol.
Accept the fact that you might not be on-top-of-the-world-happy when you first quit drinking. That is OK. Peace and contentment will come to you, if you stick it out.
It takes time.
Give it time.
Your idea of “fun” changes over time
Speaking of time, your idea of what is fun in your life will change as you remain clean and sober.
For myself, when I was still stuck in addiction, I defined everything in my life in terms of drinking and using drugs.
Going to the movies? I had to have a buzz, or it wasn’t any fun.
Going to a sporting event? Same thing. I had to have a buzz, or it just wasn’t fun for me.
Concerts? You better believe I had to have a buzz of some sort. Otherwise, what was the point?
Stuff that was supposed to be fun in its own right had lost all interest for me, because all I cared about was being drunk and high. Activities that used to be genuinely fun for me were now just minor details to engage in while I got wasted.
So when I was faced with the proposition of getting clean and sober, I thought:
“How will I ever have any fun again?”
And I was serious about that question. I really believed that I would be miserable without being able to self medicate.
This is part of our “uniqueness” that we have, a part of our denial. We think we are special, and that the only way we could ever have fun is to be drunk or high.
Of course, the truth is that any addict or alcoholic can and will learn to have fun again in recovery, it just takes time.
Photo by Hillary the mammal
Consider the idea that:
* Most people in recovery go back to the stuff that they did before they became addicted. Fishing, baseball, social events, socializing with friends, going to movies, and so on. Whatever you did before you started self medicating, those are likely things that you will return to someday. NOTE: Most of it will probably not appeal at first in early sobriety. Why? Because you think you need to be drunk or high to enjoy those old activities. Time heals all wounds. That stuff becomes fun again.
* Our idea of fun in active addiction involved extreme states (getting sloppy drunk, etc.). In recovery, we learn to appreciate peace, contentment, and the finer things in life. For example, enjoying nice company over a long meal. In addiction, such things just got in the way of getting drunk (or they were the excuse to do so!). But in recovery, we learn to appreciate the finer things, and our idea of fun and of enjoyment slowly begins to change. Again, this takes time!
* In addiction, our goal was to self medicate, to feel good, it was about ME ME ME! In recovery, as we learn to reach out and help other people, we learn that we get a tremendous boost from doing so, and it starts to remove the focus from ME ME ME. Some of our most joyous moments in sobriety come from connecting with another struggling alcoholic or addict. Our selfish interests of addiction give way to a more simple joy in recovery.
Will this happen overnight? I bet you can guess the answer to that one! Again, it takes time to start experiencing this in your life.
NOTE: I don’t want people to think that you have to be clean and sober for years for these benefits to be realized. That is not the case at all. Just don’t expect miracles at 20 days sober. If you are actively trying to change your life and taking positive action every day, then your life can be completely transformed well inside of the one year mark. Don’t think that it takes years or decades. On the other hand, be realistic. For most people, the fog is still lifting during the first 30 days, and possibly a bit longer.
You are fooling yourself with drinking – how much of the time were you really having “fun?”
Denial is a tricky beast.
We believe that alcohol or other drugs were allowing us to have fun. We believed that our buzz made us happy.
But actually measure that “happy time.” Sure, if you are stone sober and you get out the bottle and start putting drinks away, you will go through that “happy zone” where you are pleasantly drunk, or buzzed, and everything is right in the world.
But measure it. Actually measure it.
If you get honest, and look at the amount of time that you achieve that “happy place” with your drinking, you will notice that it is pathetically small.
Most alcoholics who drink every day only find that happy zone for about an hour or two each week. They average less than an hour per day of “happiness,” yet they are self medicating for the majority of their waking hours.
If you actually measure this and log it honestly, you will realize what a waste it is.
The reason it is so tricky is because denial allows our brains to think that the “happy zone” we experience is much longer than it really is.
Our brains cling to happy memories and minimize bad ones.
Our brain is also optimistic about how much happiness it can produce for us if we go get “one more.” It believes we can get pleasantly buzzed and stay that way all night until we pass out. Chances are good that we will actually be miserable for most of that time, and are constantly seeking a past high that we remember, but which is always slightly out of reach.
This is denial. This is how denial works. Your brain is wired to think that every drink will produce that “optimal happy zone,” and that it will keep getting better and better until you pass out. The truth is much more dismal than that.
If you are still drinking, (try to) objectively measure your “happy zone.” Write it down, how many hours each week you actually achieve that blissful state….that blissful state that we all associate with our next drink of alcohol.
You’re not really having fun with drinking. You’re just clinging to happy memories of when drinking was actually fun. This is denial.
Your idea of fun will change because your values will change in recovery
All addicts and alcoholics are addicted to that “happy zone” that they achieved once while self medicating. Maybe some of them still can achieve that happy zone, but as we continue to abuse alcohol and drugs over the years, that happy time gets shorter and shorter.
In recovery, we may start out seeking that same intensity of fun that we used to get while self medicating. But as we remain sober, peace and contentment become more important than peak experiences.
That is not to say that there is no excitement in recovery. It only means that our values change as we remain clean and sober.
Our interests used to be fueled by selfish desires in active addiction.
In recovery, our interest is to become a better person and to help others to do the same.
Our path of gratification and self interest becomes a path of personal growth and development.
We see that real satisfaction and meaningful achievement can come from our own personal growth and from helping others, rather than by self medicating and seeking that next high.
This requires a shift in values.
Your values are simply the things in life that you hold to be valuable….what things are important to you.
Values change slowly over time because we have to relearn how to do everything in terms of sobriety. We have to relearn what works for us in recovery. And we are slowly learning how personal growth and helping others can get us “higher” than we ever got with drugs or alcohol.
This transition takes time because at first, you may not fully appreciate the new “gifts” that you receive in recovery. You may recognize them as being positive things, such as when you connect with a newcomer and help them to recover, but you may not fully appreciate it in your first few months of recovery.
As your new value system sinks in, you will slowly realize how you were fooling yourself in your addiction due to your denial, and how fleeting the old “fun” really was. At the same time, you will develop a deep appreciation for some of the new gifts that you experience in recovery.
Give it a chance
If you are struggling with sobriety then it is time to make a decision to actually give recovery a chance.
Give yourself 30 days sober, and then take a step back and try to be objective.
What you thought was going to be 30 days of complete misery is actually going to surprise you a bit.
You will notice, over and over again, that you actually are having fun. You are laughing. You are experiencing special moments, and finding real joy in your life. But you have to work to notice these moments of fun, and hang on to them.
Sure, you may still feel depressed at times, and you may long for a drink in some cases. But make sure to notice the good moments as well. You will have them. It is your responsibility to notice the fun moments and embrace them. Amplify them.
Learning how to have fun in recovery is a learning experience
Like everything else in recovery, figuring out how to have fun again is a learning process.
You will get better at it with time. And the process itself takes time.
So don’t rush it. Know that good times are coming, and that you can live and laugh and have a blast in your life again. Real joy and contentment is possible, if only you will commit to recovery and stick it out through the hard times.
Life gets good again. You just have to give it a chance.
Take a leap of faith and make the decision to stick it out in your recovery, no matter how depressed, frustrated, or angry you might be. Stick it out no matter what, and it gets better.
What have you got to lose? Give sobriety a chance!