I have heard it mentioned several times throughout my recovery journey from various people: “I get higher in my recovery naturally, with no drugs or alcohol, then I ever got during my addiction.”
Furthermore, it is often mentioned that when you have some sort of peak moment, or an emotional high in your recovery, you get the added bonus of being able to remember it more fully, and therefore get even more enjoyment out of the experience, because you can relive it over and over again through the memory of that “high.”
Now obviously this kind of natural “high” that you get in recovery is not the same thing as what happens when you are chugging alcohol or smoking drugs. Those are obviously going to be a more direct, instant, and predictable buzz, and that is what we get addicted to that keeps us going back for more.
Getting a natural “high” in your recovery is not going to be like that. You can’t just say “Oh, even though I am clean and sober today, I am going to get naturally high on life because I feel like doing so right now.” Instead, it is more likely that you will stumble on peak experiences, brief moments of amazing mental clarity, and feelings of emotions that are positive and overwhelming–but much of this will be randomized and outside of your direct control.
However, that doesn’t make the natural “high” that you get in recovery any less powerful than the buzz that you got during your addiction. It can be just as powerful or even stronger, but you cannot always orchestrate it in the same way.
One thing that I would suggest for anyone who is seeking this natural recovery high is that they start exercising. Check with your doctor first, and then try to get into a daily routine in which you do some sort of physical exercise. I would further suggest that you try to find a way to incorporate vigorous exercise, as opposed to something more casual such as light walking. If you can get a sweat worked up then the benefits that you will get from this will be very impressive.
When I first started trying to get into the exercise groove in my own recovery it was, quite honestly, a painful chore at first. I hated it. I did not like jogging (my chosen path at the time) and when I was running I was not feeling anything like a runner’s high. It was hard work and it was tough.
This may have lasted for a month or so, I am not sure. At some point around 30 days in or so, something flipped. Suddenly it was easy to jog. Suddenly it was not painful or annoying to be outside running down the street. It was light and easy and fun. I was able to go for a long run, come back, and be emotionally recharged somehow. I think that when I am doing a decent length workout (40 minutes or so) I am giving my brain a chance to process things. It is fully aware, I am jogging down the road, and I am taking in the scenery. But after a while, the brain starts to process stuff that has been happening lately. 40 minutes is a long time to “meditate” in this way, which is what you are actually doing when you are in this type of workout.
So that is one major benefit, or “high,” that I get from exercise. It allows me to emotionally cleanse myself, and it allows my brain some time to process what has been happening lately.
The second part of this “high” though is purely physical. When I go for a light walk, I get a slight boost in terms of this physical endorphin rush, and maybe it is like 10 percent after a light walk. But after a 40 minute run, or doing a circuit of weight machines in a gym vigorously, that 10 percent is more like 90 or 100 percent. In other words, after 40 minutes of vigorous exercise, my heart is pumping and I am sweating hard and I feel totally transformed. When you have an intense workout like this, it sort of turns down the volume on everything else in your life. Imagine finishing a 26 mile marathon race, you are huffing and puffing hard, and your blood is pumping and you feel totally exhausted and somehow completely energized all at once. This is the effect that you are looking for from a workout. It is a “body buzz” that feels really good, and at the same time, you feel some level of exhaustion from it.
This exhaustion, believe it or not, has benefits too. It helps me to sleep much more consistently when I work out, even if I only work out every other day.
I do realize that physical exercise is not for everyone, and that it is not even a realistic option for certain individuals in recovery. That is fine, as there are other ways to get a natural high in recovery, though I would strongly urge you to investigate physical workouts if your doctor allows this for you.
The other big option would be seated meditation. I experimented with this myself in early recovery and I got a lot of benefit out of it. Quite honestly, I eventually “graduated” from seated meditation to distance running, although that is really just a personal preference on my part. You may get a lot more out of seated meditation and have no need for physical exercise, and that is fine. We each have to find what works for us.
There are a growing number of ways to get into meditation and learn it. One of the best suggestions these days is download an app on your phone or tablet that can guide you through increasingly sophisticated meditation exercises. Two popular choices are Calm and Headspace. Both are highly reviewed and they really seem to help people who are looking to get into meditation. They also can prompt you and remind you each day to get you to do your meditation exercises.
Everyone has to find their own path in recovery, but I would argue that you cannot discover or design this path by yourself. You must ask for help and take suggestions in order to find what works for you.
In other words, you must look outside of your tiny little world and explore new options. I was not into jogging or exercise, but someone suggested it to me. I was not into meditation, but someone showed me how to do it (a therapist actually). I wasn’t really interested in going back to college or even getting a job in early recovery, but therapists and my sponsor encouraged me to do these things, and I eventually took their suggestions and found value in them.
If you want to get “high” naturally in recovery then you need to start watching your peers in recovery, see what they are doing to live a fulfilling life, and then start emulating their suggestions. In doing so you can find what works for you and what makes you excited and passionate in your own life. Without this exploration phase and being open minded, it is unlikely that you will ever get to the point where you feel naturally high in recovery.