What is the secret to achieving emotional wellness in long term sobriety? How can the recovering alcoholic or drug addict find a life of peace, serenity, and happiness?
After 16 years of continuous sobriety, here is what I have learned about emotional wellness.
One, it takes work. Lots of hard work.
And that seems rather counter intuitive at first, because we don’t think of working hard as being peaceful and calm, right? When you think about being relaxed and peaceful, you do not often associate that with hard work.
But the truth is, you are going to keep facing new problems in your life as you maintain sobriety. Challenges will arise. Good times will happen, but bad times will as well. This is inevitable. Life is going to have some chaos and some drama in it, even after removing the problems of addiction and alcoholism. Life keeps happening.
So when “life happens” in recovery, you always have a choice. The choice is always the same fundamentally, which is to either face the problem and seek solutions, or to avoid the problem and use distractions.
A distraction in recovery can range from just about anything, including full blown relapse, but also simply playing games or clicking around on Facebook on your phone all day. These things are not inherently unhealthy, but if you are using them to avoid reality or you are using them to avoid dealing with your actual problems, then they are serving as distractions. And if you keep using distractions and avoiding your problems, then the problem never gets resolved and you stay stuck.
Your emotional wellness is not necessarily based on the good stuff that is happening in your life, but rather, it can be measured by looking at all of the negative stuff. In other words, what are your pain points in your life today? Do you argue and fight with your spouse? Do you suffer needlessly because you are out of shape? Are you beating yourself up because you still smoke cigarettes? What are your pain points? What is causing you grief, anxiety, stress, anger, or sadness in your life? What is the negative stuff in your life today that is holding you back from becoming your best self?
The key to living your best life in recovery is to do the work that is necessary to identify and eliminate these pain points.
First you need to be aware of them. Many recovering alcoholics and addicts are still in denial about various things in their life today. For example, maybe they are in a relationship that is not really all that healthy and is not going anywhere. But they fear being completely alone and so they stay in a relationship that is stagnant and no good for them. They are in denial about it because it is easier to avoid the fear of being alone for a while. Such a person might not even be aware of what they are doing, they may not be aware that they are being complacent and controlled by their own fear.
How can you break though such denial? You have to be willing to look at all of these different areas of your life and do some hard analysis. Meaning that you need to be willing to look at it, and then to be honest about what you are seeing. And you are probably going to need some help in order to do this.
One way to get help is to use a sponsor in AA or NA to help you analyze the pain points in your life. They often refer to these as character defects. A skilled sponsor can help you to identify these and fix them.
My experience with sponsors in NA and AA is that they are going to be very hit or miss when it comes to actually identifying pain points and eliminating them with you. Meaning that you should not rely on only using a sponsor for this type of work in my opinion.
What I would recommend in addition to using a sponsor is to also get a therapist or a counselor to help you. If you end up going to inpatient rehab then the treatment center can likely refer you to a therapist when you leave their program. So either you would do IOP every week or see a therapist one or one, or possibly both. I highly recommend that you do this in addition to getting a sponsor. A trained therapist is going to be a good choice in helping you to identify your pain points in your life.
Now once you have identified your pain points that are blocking you from emotional wellness, you will need to prioritize which ones are the most detrimental, and then come up with a plan to fix them.
Ask yourself: “What is the one thing in my life that, if it was magically fixed or eliminated for me today, would make the biggest positive impact for me?”
The answer to that question will help you to prioritize what you should be working on next in your recovery. Whichever pain point, when fixed, would produce the biggest positive impact on your life–that is what you need to pursue right now. And you should pretty much zero in on that one defect, that one pain point, and put all of your energy into fixing it. That should be your biggest priority and you should not rest or move on until you have fixed it.
After you eliminate one pain point, you can then regroup and prioritize again, possibly consulting with your sponsor or therapist again, and figure out what is next. If you keep doing this over and over again, in a few short months you will have radically transformed your life. You can go from someone who is emotionally upset, angry, and afraid all the time to someone who is at peace and content with themselves.
But as you can see, it takes real work. Soul searching, honest, roll your sleeves up and get busy kind of work. You cannot just work a passive recovery and expect for all of these benefits to fall into your lap, because it just won’t happen. You cannot get lucky and accidentally become emotionally well again. It takes deliberate work.
I would argue that at some point, after you have gone through and fixed most of your major pain points in life, you should start to ask the question: “How can I become a healthier person?” Meaning that you are basically stable in recovery and you are loving your life again, and now you want to become healthier and preserve your life.
Your health can be thought of in terms of physical, mental, social, spiritual, and emotional health. Any one of these areas in your life could be strong while another one could be lacking. And what you need to realize is that if just one of those 5 areas is seriously compromised then it could lead to relapse.
Therefore, you need to make a deliberate effort to improve your health in whatever area you may be struggling in. Find your weakest area of your life and raise it up through concentrated effort and hard work. Again, you may need to use a therapist to help you identify which areas of your life need work and which do not.
For example, my sponsor at one point recommended that I start doing physical exercise. “What for?” I wondered. I was going to AA meetings, working a job, going to college, and I generally thought that I had my life going pretty good at the moment.
Boy was I wrong! I started exercising and it turned out to be one of the most important steps that I ever took in my recovery. So I had to be open to suggestion and advice so that I could tap into a more powerful path in my recovery.