Creative recovery is all about taking positive action and creating the ideal life for yourself in recovery. Think of creative recovery as being one part abstinence from drugs and alcohol, one part holistic growth and development, and one part lifestyle design. All 3 of these ideas are best achieved through continuous, positive action.
1. Move your body.
Good old exercise. First on the list because this is one of the most underestimated aspect of recovery, in my opinion. I had no idea what a tremendous impact regular exercise could have on my recovery until I forced myself to start doing it a couple times each week.
Everyone pays lip service to the idea that regular exercise can have a big impact and make you feel better, but most do not really embrace an active lifestyle and turn it into a real force in their recovery. Those who commit to turning exercise into a habit start to really notice the benefits of it, and then there is no turning back. It becomes a part of our lifestyle, as natural as breathing.
Regular exercise is such a powerful factor in overcoming addiction that there are entire programs of recovery that are based on exercise alone. Unbelievably, physical exercise is the entire treatment model, and there are people who follow this program and achieve long term sobriety.
If there are hundreds of people who have found sobriety through exercise alone, do you think it could potentially help you out in your recovery? You bet it can.
Not only will regular exercise help you to directly overcome addiction, but it also helps you to be healthier from an holistic perspective. Not only that, but it is a major factor in fighting depression, which can be fairly common among recovering addicts and alcoholics. There is no excuse for not embracing this powerful recovery tool.
2. Make a major, structural change in your life.
This was a huge key for me and the very thing that kick started a successful life in recovery. The structural change that I made was to move into a long term treatment center. I ended up living there for a long period of time and the added structure that it gave me had a huge effect on my recovery. There are other changes you can make that would have a major impact on your life–for example, attending 90 meetings in 90 days. These are the types of commitments that are necessary to create massive change in recovery.
Recovery is all about change. What better way to incite these changes than to make a huge commitment to daily action? This goes beyond good habit development and creates a huge change right in the structure of your life itself. Instead of focusing on making lots of small surface level changes in your life, you can take a powerful shortcut by making one or two foundational changes in the structure of your life (i.e., committing to 90 meetings in 90 days and following through with it creates a foundation for recovery).
Focus on big, structural changes if you want impressive results.
3. Develop a habit of helping others in recovery.
This works like magic. It even works in spite of the addict, if they are willing to put in the footwork. In other words, helping other recovering addicts will strengthen your recovery, even if you do not want it to. Even if you don’t see the connection. It works like magic.
Let me give you an example. When I was in my second year of recovery, my sponsor at the time basically signed me up to chair an NA meeting in a drug rehab facility each week. At the time I did not see this as being beneficial and I actually thought I would do better to focus on other things. Little did I realize that my sponsor was pushing me into 12 step work in order to help my recovery too. So I started learning how to help others in recovery, and I also started learning the true value of doing so.
Later on I got a job at a drug rehab center, and now I work with recovering addicts and alcoholics directly. And of course I also connect with people here on Spiritual River.
All of these connections are helpful, but they could easily be exchanged out for different types of relationships with people in recovery. The important thing is to find a way to help others in recovery. Find a way to connect. Find a way to network that works for you.
You have to find your own path in recovery. And you have to find your strengths that allow you to make a real impact on people. This might require some exploration and experimentation. Maybe 12 step meetings are not your thing. That is OK, as long as you put in the work to find meaningful connections in recovery. If you are not reaching out and helping others, then you are not living up to your full potential in recovery.
4. Appreciate every lesson that life gives you.
What is gratitude in recovery?
– It is the ability to take a “bad situation” and extract the lesson and meaning out of it.
– When you take a “problem” and see the opportunity for growth in it.
– The chance to learn new things, and appreciate the lesson for what it is.
– Gratitude is the mindset of success in recovery.
When you practice gratitude and can appreciate a simple situation, you are basically telling your higher power “I am grateful for this problem/opportunity and I want to learn from it. Please help me to do so!”
People underestimate gratitude all the time. They do not realize that simply practicing this type of mindset elevates their consciousness automatically. For one thing, you are more aware of problems/challenges, and then to take it a step further, you are actively seeking out the knowledge, the practical application for yourself.
Have you ever heard someone complain a lot about how rotten their luck is, and how badly things have turned out for them? This is the opposite of gratitude. They are basically telling their higher power: “Thanks for nothing! I appreciate none of this, and I am not taking positive action to fix anything. I blame others.”
Can you see how much power the person gives away when they choose to complain about their situation?
On the other hand, if they choose gratitude, then they can say: “Thank you for the opportunity you sent me today. I did not like the situation but I learned something about myself. Even though I was uncomfortable with it, I worked through it and I gained some new insight. I will know better next time this situation comes up and I will be better prepared to deal with it. I am stronger now because of it. Thank you for the lesson and the growth.”
It might sound a bit corny to celebrate your problems like this, but when you do so consistently and practice gratitude, you start to see how your problems become smaller and smaller. They still happen, but when they do, they are no longer earth shattering like they used to be, and now you are learning from them. Each new problem is a gift; an opportunity for growth. Every time you get upset or experience discomfort, you have an opportunity to learn about yourself or practice acceptance.
And thus you start to appreciate all of life, both the good and the bad.
5. Make caring for yourself a priority.
How do you build up healthy self esteem in recovery?
One way is to fake it. Take care of yourself. Treat yourself well. Treat your body better. Start eating healthier. Do a bit of exercise. Get clean and sober and stick with it.
After a few weeks or even just a few days you start to feel better. This is physical, of course, and the trend can continue on and on. Exercise, fitness, nutrition….the sky is the limit. Take care of your body, even if you don’t really feel compelled to do so.
Ever notice how the ex-smokers in recovery always tend to have at least a few years sober? My theory is that this trend is a function of self esteem. When we first get clean and sober, we don’t love ourselves enough or feel compelled to care for ourselves enough to give up the cigarettes right away. It all comes in due time though, as you see many people in long term recovery eventually turn to fixing their overall health.
Of course it goes beyond the physical as well. We have to take care of ourselves emotionally, spiritually, socially, and so on. Some of this comes back to balance. We want to take care of ourselves in every way that we can. This is important for at least 2 simple reasons:
1) Taking care of yourself makes sense from a recovery standpoint. We did not get clean and sober to just roll over and die. We want to be healthy, live a healthy life, and help others to recover.
2) Taking care of ourselves promotes healthy self esteem. They are tied together. If you boost your self esteem, you protect yourself from relapse. The more you value your life (and take good care of it), the more you will protect it from the threat of relapse.
It took me quite a while to really embrace this idea in recovery. Eventually, I quit smoking, started exercising regularly, and started to seriously consider some dietary changes….but this took several years of sobriety before I was able to make these changes. And again, I think it was a function of self esteem. I was holding back from making these positive changes because I did not value my life enough to do so yet.
6. Declutter, simplify, and eliminate.
Even though creative recovery is essentially about building with positive action, there is still a time and a place to remove the clutter and the excess from our lives in order to make way for the new.
You can start with your stuff. Get rid of junk you don’t use or need. You don’t have to give away all of your worldly possessions, but you can get this mental ball rolling by getting rid of clutter that you don’t need. Even physical belongings can occupy mental space in your head. It is not about the stuff….it is about the mindset of simplicity, reduction, efficiency.
Then go beyond this. Get rid of toxic relationships in your life that are no longer working for you. Seek to cut extraneous things in your life that no longer serve you. Develop the mindset of ruthlessly cutting that which does not empower your life.
This will lead to a rethinking of bad habits in recovery. Many recovering addicts and alcoholics finally quit smoking cigarettes after a few years in recovery. This is just a natural progression as they seek to simplify their life and continue to take positive actions.
This is not a sales pitch for minimalism. Rather, just dipping your toes into this mindset and taking a few actions will give you a refreshing perspective. You will feel lighter, more simple, and grateful. When you eliminate the negative, you make way for positive action.
Removing clutter from your life always feels positive….just like when you are finally finished cleaning the house and everything is tidy. This is the mindset that can fully embrace creative action. You have cleared a path for success at this point.
7. Learn, grow, and evolve in recovery. Change your recovery strategy to match this growth.
Change your recovery strategy. To some, this sounds like blasphemy. Why would we change what is working? Doesn’t this idea lead us closer to relapse? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and so on.
What I have observed in recovery is the exact opposite, though. Those who stay stuck in early recovery tactics do not do well in the long run. To put it simply:
What got you sober will not keep you sober.
Let me give you an example. There is a drug and alcohol treatment center where they have regular AA and NA meetings, right on-site. They also have a wing that has been converted into a long term rehab for men.
Now, several of the men who live at that long term will stay stuck in the meetings right there at the treatment center, and never venture out to see other “real world meetings” on the outside. Invariably, those who do not venture out and find the “real recovery” end up relapsing. Those who push themselves to go the extra mile and attend various meetings always seem to do much better.
And so it is with recovery: what got you through your first 2 weeks of sobriety will not get you through your fifth year of sobriety. Why not? Because we grow and change in recovery. We evolve. Our needs change as we stay sober and learn new coping mechanisms and new ways of dealing with things. For example, instead of needing to vent and let of steam due to frustrations, we might have a growing need to help others in recovery. Or instead of relating to other addicts and alcoholics so that we can better identify, we might transition to a point where that becomes unimportant, but instead we have a need to push ourselves toward holistic growth.
Addicts who resist this idea become complacent and could eventually end up relapsing. Those who embrace the idea that recovery strategies can evolve are better able to handle the journey into long term sobriety.
Don’t stay stuck. It could kill you.
8. Overcome resentment, self-pity, and victim mentality.
These are all “early recovery” kind of problems. And to be honest, I think they are really more along the lines of “active addiction” or “headed for a quick relapse” kind of issues. You just cannot allow these 3 things to keep controlling you in recovery and expect to stay clean. Let’s take a closer look:
– Resentment – of course traditional recovery wisdom warns against the dangers of resentment, and for good reason. If you are harboring anger against others and can’t find a healthy outlet for it, or a way to work through it, then it is going to keep dominating your life. If you still get stressed out over small, seemingly insignificant events, or if you have people in your life who can still push your buttons to the point where you think about drinking, then that is a huge red flag right there. No one should have so much anger and resentment that they cannot enjoy peace for the majority of their day. Carrying around a chip on your shoulder is a recipe for relapse.
Dealing with resentment is a process, of course. You can start with traditional techniques, such as those that involve step work. Simply identifying the problem is a huge step. Using spiritual devices like prayer, meditation, or simply talking with others can help you to work through the anger. Whatever you do, you cannot just let it fester without dealing with it and expect to stay sober.
Self pity – I personally have a tendency toward self pity and so I had to learn how to completely shut it down in order to avoid relapse. What I did was to create a zero tolerance policy for myself, much in the same way that I addressed the glamorizing of drugs and alcohol in early recovery. I simply did not allow myself to “go there.” As soon as you notice the thoughts of self pity, shut them down. Do not allow it. This worked very well when combined with a huge effort and focus on cultivating gratitude. Self pity cannot exist in the presence of gratitude. A mindset of gratitude completely destroys all traces of self pity. And of course, this takes focused effort and real work in order to practice gratitude regularly.
Victim mentality – Another popular form of self-sabotage. People who are stuck in a victim mentality mindset are doomed to relapse unless they can pull themselves up out of it. And that is the whole key right there–nothing more is required in order to put yourself back on the proper path of recovery, other than a profound shift in attitude. If you keep blaming everyone else for your problems, then you will have all the excuses that you need in order to relapse. If you continuously blame others, then you will never shift the focus on to improving yourself and challenging yourself to grow from a holistic standpoint. Real recovery can not occur when you are stuck in this unhealthy frame of mind. The whole key is to regain positive thinking and take personal responsibility for your own personal journey today.
9. Stay growth oriented and keep pursuing holistic health to defend against complacency.
This is the long term goal of recovery: continuous holistic growth.
What does that mean? It means that you need to keep pushing yourself to grow in new ways. Everything builds up to this process of living:
– Learning new things.
– Appreciating everything, both the good and the bad, and taking a lesson from everything.
– Pushing yourself to improve. Facing discomfort in your life as a growth opportunity.
– Working with others as you learn more about yourself. Empowering your own life in a quest to better server and help others. Becoming effective and then returning that gift to the world.
How can you fall victim to relapse when you are engaged in such positive action on a regular basis? You can’t.
There is a balance that every recovering addict needs to find: that between acceptance of self and the push for self improvement. If you get too comfortable, then push yourself a bit. If you get overwhelmed and down on yourself, then give yourself a break and find some self acceptance. But whatever you do, don’t get caught in the land of complacency, where you think there is no more growth to be had and nothing left to be learned. Find the discomfort in your life and face it head on. Face your fears and conquer them. Use your talents to help others in a unique way. Push yourself a bit.
10. Find vision and purpose in your life and pursue it with passion.
What exactly is “finding vision and purpose?” Are those just feel-good words? Inspirational recovery words that are basically meaningless?
No they are not. Vision and purpose can lead you to real action. Let’s take a look:
Vision – what do you want to see happen in your life? Now that you are clean and sober, what are you going to do? What do you want to become of your life?
Furthermore, how can you serve the world? When you become the best person you can be in recovery, how does that best serve others? Answering these questions can lead you closer to your vision. It is not so much that you have to find a “cause,” but only that you have to find what really gets you passionate about helping others. What moves you emotionally? Follow your heart to find your vision for the world.
Also: don’t force it. Let yourself grow in recovery and don’t feel like you have to go climb a mountain today.
Purpose – Everyone has a tiny little overlap between the following two areas: what they are good at, and what the world most needs from them. Finding where these two areas intersect is all about finding your purpose in life. For many people in recovery, this will have something to do with making connections with others in recovery. Maybe you will sponsor newcomers in a 12 step program. Maybe you will take meetings into rehabs and institutions. Or maybe you will find a way to connect outside of traditional recovery programs. It doesn’t really matter. What is important is finding this tiny area of overlap where you can really use your talents to help others, serve the world, and make a difference.
Creative recovery is all about unleashing your inner potential. It is about finding a path of continuous growth and having the courage to keep pushing yourself. Don’t allow yourself the “luxury” of self-acceptance. Push yourself to create the life you really want.
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