How can you best boost your mood, increase your energy, and maximize your happiness in addiction recovery?
Is doing so a simple formula that anyone can follow, or is it a mystery that has to be unraveled on a case by case basis? Let’s take a closer look at some holistic ideas and see what we can learn about balance, peace, and harmony in recovery.
What does it take for a holistic approach to sobriety to be effective?
In my personal experience you have to use a holistic approach in order to be effective in your sobriety efforts. Anyone can try to focus narrowly on one aspect of recovery and avoid the idea of holism, but those efforts usually fall short. For example, if someone is neglecting their emotional health in recovery, this usually catches up to them in the end and it creates a relapse. Or if someone is not taking care of themselves physically then it can lead to a relapse in the end. It is not always obvious how such choices will lead us back to the bottle or to our drug of choice when we are first making those choices, but it is usually pretty easy to look back and see how things became unraveled. This is why it is so important to listen to the advice of others in early recovery–they have made all of those mistakes and they have walked into all of the known traps. They share their experience with you in the hopes that you don’t have to make the same mistakes that they did.
One prime example of this has to do with romantic relationships in early recovery. Do you want to be happy and healthy in early sobriety? Don’t get romantically involved then–not right away anyway. You are too early in recovery and far too vulnerable at this point to jump into a romantic endeavor. The problem is that when you get involved romantically that you stop focusing on yourself. Instead you are focusing on how wonderful the other person is and how they are such a perfect fit for you. The reality is that you need to concentrate on yourself and work on personal growth. When you are falling in love you don’t have to work on personal growth because the other person accepts you fully and completely. Love is perfect and for that brief moment, your whole world is perfect and you feel happy. Of course the problem is that this feeling does not last forever, and when it is over with you need personal growth to fall back. If you haven’t been working a program of recovery then you will likely relapse emotionally at that point. The emotional relapse will probably lead to a physical relapse down the road.
Therefore you need a holistic approach to make your recovery work for you. This means that you take care of your “whole self,” not just the spiritual part of yourself, but the mental, physical, emotional, and social parts as well. This means that you need to push yourself to learn and to grow in many different ways.
I have met people in early recovery who have relapsed for a number of different reasons. First of all, a number of people do relapse spiritually which then later leads to a physical relapse. This is primarily what the program of AA is warning against, that a spiritual relapse will lead back to the bottle eventually. But there are other forms of relapse as well and some people relapse due to reasons other than the spiritual malady.
Relationships are a social reason that drives many people to relapse. And of course if you go through a tough break up in early recovery the real reason that you pick your drug of choice back up is to medicate your emotions; your feelings. You don’t want to feel those negative feelings and you are deeply hurt. It felt so good to fall in love with someone and when that gets ruined it is only natural to want to escape those emotions.
If you want to feel good about yourself in recovery then it requires discipline in the sense that you have to take care of all of these major areas of your life. You cannot neglect your physical health or you will get sick. You can’t neglect your spiritual health or you will become selfish and use that to justify relapse. You can’t become emotionally sick because then you will want to self medicate those negative emotions. You can’t become socially sick or you will have no support system to turn to. And you can’t become mentally sick or you will let your obsession and compulsion drive you back to your drug of choice.
There are many, many paths to relapse. Therefore the path to recovery cannot be dead simple. If it were dead simple then we would only need a one step program instead of a twelve step program. 12 is a lot of steps! And it is not easy to juggle all of the demands in early recovery.
The holistic approach protects you in ways that you cannot anticipate as well. This is because you cannot really predict how your disease is going to try to attack you in the future. All we really know is that the disease of addiction is tricky and that it will try to manifest itself in new and inventive ways when you are least expecting it. So the recovering alcoholic might injure their elbow at a soccer game and end up addicted to painkillers. Or someone might go through a tough break up with someone that they met in early recovery and use that as an excuse to smoke a joint….then the next day they decide to just say “screw it” and go back to their real drug of choice.
In order to truly protect yourself you have to take care of yourself in a holistic way, because the disease of addiction might attack you in any number of ways.
Why not just focus on one thing, such as spiritual growth?
When I was in early recovery I thought that the solution was spiritual. People even quoted this in AA meetings, they would say “The solution is spiritual.” Or they would say “If the solution isn’t spiritual, then it isn’t practical.” (I believe that is quoting the big book of AA).
But I found this to be misleading at best, and downright wrong at worst. Sure, spirituality is important in recovery. Sure, it is helpful to sobriety. But it is not the whole solution.
The solution in addiction and alcoholism recovery is like a pie. And spirituality is one slice of that pie. But spirituality is not the entire pie.
There are other slices in that pie of recovery. One slice is your physical health and well being. This might include things like eating healthy foods, getting a good night of sleep each night, exercising on a regular basis, and so on.
Another slice of the recovery pie might be emotional health and balance. Even if you are spiritually fit and physically in good health, you still might be vulnerable to relapse if you are not emotionally balanced.
Your mental state is another slice of the recovery pie. We alcoholics and drug addicts tend to obsess over our drug of choice. Or we obsess over other things in recovery, anything that will distract us from the important work that we have to do on ourselves.
If you focus entirely on spiritual growth then it might lead you to problems when it comes to these other areas of your life. The chain is only as strong as the weakest link, and in terms of your sobriety you are dealing with what we might think of as being a “holistic chain.” The links in that chain are the different areas of your health, to include physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual. If one area is serious lacking then it could lead you to a relapse.
And the real problem is that a relapse is an all or nothing proposition. When you relapse, you don’t just lose your spiritual health. You don’t just lose your emotional balance. You don’t just lose your physical health. All of it goes for a ride when you relapse. All of it is compromised and the drug of choice takes over completely.
Natural ways to boost your energy level in recovery
Now if you want to talk about how to actually feel better in your recovery then we need to look at some basic suggestions.
First of all, don’t take any advice here if it contradicts what your primary physician is telling you. In fact, you should definitely follow their advice over anything that you read on the Internet. What follows here is simply what has worked for me, and for others. But trust in your own doctor first.
The primary way that I have been able to boost my own energy level is through regular exercise. For me that meant doing both cardio and some light weight training. For you that might mean something as simple as taking walks every day, or every other day even. Or it might mean regular swimming. Or for someone else it might mean competing and training for intense running races. Whatever the case is, you should consider the idea of finding some way to move your body on a regular basis.
This is something that I had to learn the hard way. Or rather, it was something that I just didn’t “get” until I finally did it and went through with it and got into shape.
People suggested to me to start exercising and to find a way to get into shape. They did this for years, and I resisted it. I was lazy. I didn’t want to do the work. I did not want to push myself to get off the couch and get into shape.
But for some reason, at some point, something clicked. I suddenly got motivated. And for whatever reason, I pushed myself to get into better shape.
At first, nothing changed. I was actually pretty miserable working out every day. It wasn’t fun and it did not make me feel good. In fact, it made me tired and quite honestly I hated it. It was no fun. Jogging was awful. I didn’t like any part of it.
But for some stubborn reason, I kept at it. I continued to work out until at some point I crossed this line. The line that I crossed was amazing. I suddenly realized that I no longer hated jogging. I was running up to six miles at a whack and I did not hate it. In fact, it felt pretty good! I was in shape.
This was an amazing revelation for me. Suddenly I was in good shape, and it felt terrific. I could run for miles and it felt really good. This was quite a change from when I had first started working out.
It took several months to reach that point. I am not sure where I got the discipline to see it through and to get into good shape. I am just glad that it happened because it had such a huge impact on my sobriety.
Now the question you are probably asking yourself is “How does being in good physical shape help me in recovery?”
The answer to that is not simple, nor is it easy to explain. Which is why no one could really convince me for a long time that getting into shape was important. I had to discover that journey for myself, and I had to see the rewards for myself. Once I finally achieved this goal, it felt really good in a way that I could not easy explain to others. I had more energy, I was able to set goals and go after them, I had more confidence, I was sleeping better, I was eating healthier foods, and so on. Everything was seemingly connected and a lot of it flowed from the regular exercise.
Another huge benefit that I noticed was entirely mental and or emotional. So when I worked out I noticed that I became more emotionally balanced. It is difficult to explain how that happens, or even why it is happening. But when you work out vigorously on a regular basis and you are in good shape it almost turns exercise into a form of meditation. You are able to process some things emotionally that you otherwise would not have been able to do.
So exercise is one way to boost your energy level naturally. Another way to do so is to eat healthy foods. You might also consider improving your sleep habits by experimenting with getting at least 8 hours of sleep each night (you might need more or less than this, but experimentation is the key!).
And you might meditate on a regular basis. As I mentioned, exercise can be one form of meditation, even though most people do not really consider it to be. Seated meditation can be effective as well. I have experimented with seated meditation a great deal and it can certainly boost your energy levels. One of the things that it can do specifically is to boost your mental clarity. For example, when I meditate in the morning for ten minutes or more it is like I have extra processing power in my brain for the rest of the day. I feel like I am mentally sharper and more clear on things when I meditate.
Those are just a few suggestions for natural energy enhancement and really that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are other natural solutions out there as well, you just have to be willing to explore them and to experiment.
Operating at peak happiness all of the time is not possible. Seek contentment instead
One thing to keep in mind on this holistic journey is that you are not trying to be super happy at all times. That is not the point of recovery.
This is what we were all striving for in our addiction–to be at “peak happiness” every single hour of every day. When we fell short of this we were unhappy, and that was the miserable part of our addiction journey. We were either super happy or super sad. There was no middle ground, no contentment.
In recovery it is much more reasonable to strive for contentment rather than peak happiness. If we are content then it allows us to build a stronger form of joy, happiness, and peace from that place of strength.
If you strive for peak happiness and you get it, you can be assured that it will be followed by something other than peak happiness. Thus it can be a bit of a roller coaster. Early recovery already feels like a bit of a roller coaster, so we don’t necessarily want to make it any worse.
On the other hand if you can learn to be happy with peace and contentment then it is much easier to become satisfied in your recovery. If you keep your expectations really high then it is easy to be disappointed. If you keep your expectations a bit lower or more realistic then it is much easier to find yourself being delighted in recovery. We want to live our lives in a way that we can surprise and delight ourselves when good things happen, without just expecting or demand that they happen all the time.
Generating positive energy through personal growth
Personal growth is the path of success in recovery.
If you are not on a path of personal growth then you may be vulnerable to relapse.
The nice thing about personal growth is that you benefit directly from it in addition to the fact that doing it protects you from relapse.
In other words, you don’t just strive to improve yourself so that you don’t drink. You do it so that your life improves incrementally over time.
This is the “1 percent rule” stretched out over five or ten years. What do you think your life will be like in ten years if you improve it just 1 percent per week between now and then? What will happen if you practice continuous self improvement?
I can tell you what will happen–your life will get really, really good….and you won’t relapse either. You won’t go back to drinking because you won’t want to risk losing the new life that you have built for yourself. When you painstakingly create something of value (a new life in recovery) then you are not as likely to throw that away on a relapse. In this way, improving yourself and your self esteem in recovery is a way to protect yourself from the threat of relapse.
Personal growth, therefore, is the act of improving yourself and your life in recovery. Doing so helps to protect you from relapse because improving yourself boosts your self esteem. And when you feel better about yourself as a result of personal growth, it is natural to want to dig deeper, to go further with it, to improve yourself even more. This is the positive feedback loop of personal growth in recovery. Do the work, get the benefits, and be encouraged to do even more.
As they say, “it gets greater, later!” Indeed, it just keeps getting better and better.
What about you, have you found a way to boost your energy, mood, and happiness in recovery? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!