How exactly do you become a better person in addiction recovery? What actually changes about you to make you “better?”
I wondered about this when I was still drinking and using drugs. In fact, I worried about it, and I believed that if I were to get clean and sober that I would somehow become a worse person in certain ways. I was worried that if I no longer had alcohol to self medicate with that I would not be as good of a person somehow.
This was, of course, ridiculous. After I surrendered to the disease and went to rehab, I slowly started to realize that I was still fundamentally the same person. All of the good traits that I had when I was drinking heavily–such as friendliness, being outgoing, and so on–were still available to me in sobriety. My denial told me that alcohol was a magic elixir and the only way that I could break out of my shell was to be drunk, and that if I became sober I would be anti-social and awkward for the rest of my life.
So when I surrendered I asked my family for help, and the sent me to a rehab center. This was exactly what I needed because, even though I had been to rehab twice before, this time it was different. What was different this time?
I had actually surrendered. I had surrendered to not only the fact that I was a real alcoholic and a drug addict, but also to the fact that I did not know the solution and that I would need serious help in finding the solution.
And so I went to rehab and started my journey of self discovery. At first, I felt pretty awkward and confused in early recovery. This was because my main solution in life and my main coping mechanism was suddenly off limits to me, and I was having to deal with reality and process all of my emotions rather than hiding from them.
I slowly improved at dealing with reality. In recovery, they often call this “living life on life’s terms.” Meaning that you face your problems and you look for solutions. I found that one of the big secrets of recovery is that you cannot run and hide from your problems, and instead you have to face them head on and look for real solutions. If you do not find solutions to the new problems that pop up during sobriety then you are going to eventually turn back to your old trusted solution, which is to self medicate. Therefore you need to be willing to look for new solutions.
You need help in order to recover. If we could figure it all out on our own then many of us would have done so long ago. Nobody wants to swallow their pride and ask for help and advice if they can avoid it. So one of the keys to early recovery is in asking for help. If you go to AA meetings then you should ask someone to be your sponsor. If you go to counseling or therapy then you should ask your therapist for advice and guidance.
One of the most important questions you can ask yourself during your recovery journey is “What should I be working on right now?” Meaning, what personal growth project should you be pursuing right now?
Do you have anything on your plate right now as far as making a change in your life? If not, then you should be asking for advice from sponsors, therapists, counselors, peers in AA, or any mentor in your life. You should be asking them what your biggest flaw is right now, or where you might need to make a positive change in your life. You need to actively seek this feedback out and figure out what you should be focusing on.
When I was stuck in active addiction, I heard people at meetings talk about how they got such a huge boost from helping others in their recovery. They would say that the “buzz” that they got from helping a newcomer in recovery was even better than the high that they used to get with their drug of choice. I would listen to such people and shake my head, because I just did not get it. How could they say that it felt better to help a newcomer than to get high? I thought that they must be delusional to believe this.
But eventually I had a few months into recovery and I was looking back on this attitude that I had and I realized how wrong I had been. Not only could I still get this emotional boost, or “high” in recovery, but now I could remember it fully–whereas during my active addiction I would often forget entire nights or days of my existence, even though I was supposedly getting high all the time.
I found that helping others in recovery and reaching out to people really was a huge emotional boost, in many different ways. And furthermore, I think that this is essentially required if you want to maintain long term sobriety, because without doing this sort of twelfth step work, we tend to forget who we are (and what we are!).
In order to remain clean and sober you have to do a lot of work on yourself. This work that you are doing on yourself is all a form of self improvement.
You have to improve your relationships and your communication in recovery if you want to remain sober. Doing so makes you a better person.
You have to improve your physical health in long term sobriety. You have to take care of yourself much better than what you did when you were abusing substances, because now you are caring about yourself and your future.
You have to improve your emotional stability in recovery, because if you fail to, it will cause you to relapse. So you learn how to deal with and process your emotions in sobriety.
You have to learn how to have a relationship with yourself, and with a higher power. You have to trade in selfishness for gratitude. This is vital to your continued success in recovery.
So all of these changes that you have to make in order to pursue and maintain sobriety are also changes that make you into a better person.
And you have to make these changes in different areas of your life: Physical health, mental health, emotional stability, spirituality, and relationships. If you fail to address one of these areas of your life then it can trip you up eventually and cause you to relapse.
So if you want to become a better person in recovery, then start working on your recovery! Ask your sponsor for direction and guidance. Ask your therapist for direction and guidance. Figure out what your next step is in terms of improving yourself, and then get to work on it. If you are willing to keep doing the work that leads to a better life in recovery, then not only will you remain clean and sober, but you will be a better person because of it.