A lot of people who eventually get clean and sober end up living in a state of being that is often referred to as being a “dry drunk.”
In other words, they are essentially still wishing that they could drink and self medicate, so they are only “white knuckling it” temporarily to avoid alcohol or other drugs.
Obviously we want to shoot higher than this. We don’t want to quit drinking just so that we can walk around in temptation and craving all day, wishing that we could be intoxicated. That is no way to live.
Furthermore, we also do not want to quit drinking just so that we can coast through the rest of our life, contributing little and accomplishing nothing. That is not the point of recovery, nor does it suit your real purpose. Everyone has unique gifts and talents that they bring to the table, and part of recovery is tapping into those unique gifts and figuring out how to apply them in your life.
In simple terms, if you want to thrive in recovery, you need to put in the hard work in order to reap those rewards of recovery, and of a life well lived.
The question then becomes: How exactly does a person do that in early recovery? What needs to happen so that we can “thrive in recovery?”
Here are my specific suggestions based on what has actually worked for me in my own journey. Also, some of what I am suggesting here are things that I have watched in my peers in recovery as well.
One of the most critical ideas that the newcomer in recovery has to wrap their head around is the idea that they are essentially replacing bad habits with good ones.
Or to put it more accurately, we need to eliminate our unhealthy habits and replace them with habits that are conducive to good health.
That goes for every area of our life in recovery, to include our physical health, but also mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health.
To make a single change just for one day is not going to make a difference in terms of your overall life in sobriety. You don’t “quit drinking forever” by attending a 3 day seminar and then being done with recovery activities forever.
Instead, your recovery must become a lifestyle change. Or rather, your recovery is actually a series of lifestyle changes that happen over time.
Which is why you need to surrender in the beginning and maintain some faith and hope that your life is going to emerge happier on the other side. Because when you have 3 weeks sober you have not really had much time to be able to make lots of lifestyle and habit changes just yet. It takes time to rebuild your entire lifestyle and your daily routines.
Going to inpatient treatment can help with this a great deal, because it is a like a “hard reset switch” for your life. Try to find a 28 day program, or if that has failed for you in the past, look into longer term programs. The time investment that you make in treatment is very well spent if you can manage to “pull it off” and thrive in long term recovery.
It is also important to realize that you cannot conquer the world in one day when it comes to addiction recovery–meaning that you have to give yourself time and take it at a reasonable pace.
It is not reasonable, for example, for a struggling alcoholic to check into rehab, and within the next 6 weeks have a sponsor, have worked the 12 steps, has started exercising every day, has changed their diet to something more nutritious, has made all their amends, has quit smoking cigarettes, and so on.
Those might be good lifestyle changes and goals over the first year or two, maybe even three, of your recovery journey. But to expect to be able to accomplish all of that and make all of those changes successfully right away is not realistic. If you set yourself up like this then you are likely just going to be disappointed in your lack of progress.
When we get into recovery and we start working on these kinds of lifestyle changes, it doesn’t feel as if we are making huge progress. That is because changing our habits and our lifestyle feels foreign and awkward, so we feel disrupted and out of sorts. Other people can look at you and see that you are making progress, but you might feel as if you are floundering a bit, which is normal.
My big suggestion to you is this: Go to inpatient treatment, and focus on trading out one bad habit for one good habit at a time. Master that change, them move on to the next lifestyle change.
So when you surrender to your addiction and go to rehab, you are trading out one bad habit of self medicating with drugs or alcohol. That’s great, this is the starting point. You have to abstain to even have a chance at real recovery. So you go to treatment and you quit the booze or the drugs. This is your baseline.
Next, maybe you leave rehab and you start going to AA meetings. You used to sit down at the bar and drink all night, now you go to AA meetings instead. Great–trading out one habit for another.
In each case, you are building these changes up in a sustainable way, so that you stick to the change, and not overwhelming yourself by trying to do too much.
After over a year or two in my own recovery journey, I also quit cigarettes at one point and adopted the habit of exercise instead. That was huge for me. But I couldn’t do it when I had 30 days sober. Nor when I had 6 months sober. It took some time for me to build up to those healthy changes.
Consult with a therapist or a sponsor to find out what habits need to be dropped, and what healthy habits you should seek to adopt. Seek advice and suggestions for this. Look at the “winners” in recovery and see what their healthy habits consist of. Emulate those if you want that sort of life for yourself.
A life well lived in long term recovery is the result of healthy habits.
The “habit” part is key, because those are permanent gains that get locked in, because you engage in those activities every single day. So your healthy habits are really your healthy lifestyle. And in order to truly thrive in recovery, you have to use a holistic approach in which you take care of yourself in many different ways.
So you need to eliminate the toxic parts of your life, including relationships, bad habits, and so on. Eliminating those is really your main priority.
Secondary to that is the adding in of healthy and positive habits that will allow you to thrive in a holistic sense–physically, spiritually, socially, emotionally, and mentally.
This is how people thrive in long term recovery–they master the basics, then they continue to trade out their bad habits for more positive lifestyle changes.