How can you find your true calling in addiction or alcoholism recovery?
How do you know what you were really meant to do with your life in sobriety?
For many years in my early recovery I felt like this was an important issue for myself. I felt an urge to figure out what I was supposed to be doing, or how I was supposed to be carrying the message to other alcoholics, and so on. I felt driven to do more, to connect, to make a bigger impact.
I don’t necessarily think that this is a requirement though. In other words, I don’t believe that every person in recovery has to relentlessly push themselves to become more helpful, or to make a bigger impact. I think you can change on a very small scale and still be very successful in sobriety. Your “true calling” may be in simply mastering yourself (which, as anyone in recovery knows, is no easy task in itself). Personal growth is not necessarily a means to an end, it can be the end in itself. Incremental growth can still be an exciting and fulfilling way to live.
What was your purpose in life before you were drinking or taking drugs?
You might ask yourself what your life purpose was before you got tangled up in your addiction.
Chances are that something was important to you before you started using drugs or alcohol. Perhaps you were passionate about something–maybe a certain career, or helping certain people or animals, or whatever. But after you fell into addiction that passion died off and was replaced by your need to self medicate every day.
So it might be worth looking into your past, into your pre-addiction days, to see if you can remember what was important to you then. It may take a while in recovery but many of those same “themes” may come back into your life again in recovery.
Don’t feel like you have to force it when it comes to finding your purpose. It will come to you naturally enough through the daily practice
I think it is also important to realize that you don’t have to run out and find your life purpose.
Maybe you got sober a month ago, or a year ago, or ten years ago. It doesn’t matter. You are not expected to be living as some sort of guru who is fulfilling a certain life purpose by now. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself, because it doesn’t really exist.
Start with this:
If you are living clean and sober one day at a time then you are a miracle! Your example to other people in recovery is a really important thing in this world. And sometimes, that is enough. You don’t have to move mountains or become a motivational speaker in order to fulfill your life purpose. Sometimes it is enough just to be sober for each new day.
Second of all you need to be living a holistic manner of recovery. This is known as “the daily practice.” This is not something that you have to run out and master tomorrow, either. It is something that you work at. You chip away at these themes, over time.
For example, if you go to a traditional recovery center and you do what they tell you to do then you will most definitely be working on your spirituality. This is a theme in your life and in your recovery. The theme is that you can connect with a higher power and that this connection can help to keep you clean and sober. If you work at it and cultivate this theme then it will make you stronger in your recovery. Spirituality is one “tool” in your toolbox of recovery.
Now if you want to know what the other tools are then you need to consider the idea of holistic health. In other words, are you physically healthy today? Are you sick, ill, in shape, eating healthy, smoking cigarettes? How healthy are you physically? Could you improve on your physical health? This is another theme in recovery, and it is a very important one. I have watched many recovering alcoholics who relapsed or even died because they neglected this theme in their recovery process.
Another theme might be your emotional health and stability. Have you ever met someone in recovery and they were just so emotionally unstable that you knew they were going to relapse? I have met many people like this (of course I used to work in a rehab center for many years). Obviously you want to stay as emotionally stable as possible, because the more out of whack you get emotionally the more likely it is that you would relapse. Emotional stability is part of what keeps you sober and prevents relapse. Again, this is a theme to be explored over the course of your recovery, it is something you work on, it is something you improve. It is something that you consider on a daily basis.
All of these themes should be considered on a daily basis. If you fail to consider them every day then you leave the door open to relapse.
Another theme might be relationships, or your social life. Sometimes we hang around with the wrong people, and it affects our decisions. Or we might be inviting far too much stress into our lives due to a toxic and unhealthy relationship. So again, this is something that you learn about as you go along in your sobriety. It is a theme that you work. “I am working to improve my relationships today, to find healthy people to be around,” etc.
You won’t get all of this stuff perfect on your first day of recovery. You won’t be doing all of it perfect after you make it to one year sober, either. But they are all themes that you must work on every day.
How do you know when you have neglected a theme for too long?
You will relapse. That is how you will know.
Obviously, we don’t want that to happen. So in order to prevent it, you need to keep taking action. You need to keep pushing yourself to improve your health, holistically, by working on these themes every single day. What have you done for your physical health today? What about for your spirituality? What about your relationships? And so on. If you take positive action every day to improve these things, then you will work towards a better life in recovery.
Now here is the kicker:
You will never find your true calling in recovery unless you are “doing the work.” You will never find your true calling in recovery unless you are exploring these themes every day and taking positive action. You will never find your true calling in life unless you are making a positive effort to improve your life in all of these areas.
Because you will be holding yourself back. You will not realize what is holding you back because you won’t be able to see the negative forces in your life. What did you do to deserve these negative forces that are keeping you from your true purpose? It’s not what you did, it is what you are NOT doing. You are not working on these themes every day, checking off the positive actions that you need to take: Staying physically healthy, seeking emotional balance, improving your relationships, connecting with a higher power, and so on. If you are failing to check off those items then you will never “get there,” you will never reach your full potential, because you will have negative forces in your life that are holding you back all the time. And you will never be able to really pinpoint why you are frustrated because it will be due to a lack of action rather than because of what you did.
In order to find your true calling in recovery you must establish a daily practice. You must find the positive actions and habits that will lead you to greater health in all areas of your life. Personal growth and holistic health is the overall theme. Failing to explore this overall theme results in relapse. You are either moving forward or moving backward in recovery. Most people think that relapse only happens after moving backwards spiritually. But I have watched it happen because people neglected these other themes as well. For example, I have had peers in recovery who relapsed because of:
* Relationships gone bad.
* Physical health, illness, smoking related diseases, etc.
* Lack of fitness and exercise.
* Emotional instability, mental breakdown.
If those things can cause a person to relapse, then why in the world would we only focus on spirituality and nothing else? That is a big mistake. You need to consider these other themes to explore so that relapse does not sneak up on you, as I have watched it to do so many others in recovery.
How to establish a healthy daily practice that leads to a better life
So if the “daily practice” is critical to your success in recovery, then how do we define it and how do we achieve it?
Start by creating a baseline of sobriety. My suggestion is always to go to rehab and get clean and sober. Go through detox. Do it right. Go through treatment. Go to the meetings, see the counselors, and so on. Get out of rehab, go to AA meetings, get a sponsor. You know the drill.
None of that stuff is necessarily critical in the long run, mind you. All of it becomes optional after a certain point in your journey. But in early recovery I think you are making it hard on yourself if you don’t take advantage of ALL of it. So take suggestions. Ask for help. And then do what they tell you to do. This means rehab, meetings, etc. Just follow through and do what they tell you.
This is the beginning of your daily practice. You will hear this saying over and over again if you stay in recovery: “Take what you need and leave the rest.”
I want you to take that advice and actually apply it in your life. Really use it.
In order to use that advice though you have to be open minded. So you have to take suggestions. You have to ignore your own ideas and kill your ego. You have to really listen to others and do as you are told. It’s tough, but it works. It takes guts to follow through with this stuff.
So if you do this for the first year or so then you will be at least halfway “there.” Of course you are never fully recovered but at some point you will be much further along in knowing what your daily practice consists of.
For example, it took several years in my recovery before I figured out that daily vigorous exercise was a hugely important part of my daily practice. I did not know this at first and it took me quite a while before I would take the suggestions from other people and finally get in shape. Now exercise is one of the pillars of my sobriety.
By this time you can probably guess that everyone will have a different daily practice in their life. I can tell you what my daily practice is, but it might not help you to stay sober. But the beauty of it is that at least one of my suggestions probably will help you. This is a major clue! You need to take various suggestions from different people in recovery and then apply them to your own life, and see what works for you. Of course if you could just duplicate my daily practice exactly then everyone could. At that point we probably would not need AA meetings or sponsorship or even rehab. It would be much easier to recover because there would be no variables and no variety in the process.
But the fact is that what helps one person may not help another. Two people can be successful in recovery and work completely different programs. There may be some overlap of course (we refer to those as the fundamental principles, things like “surrender” for example), but ultimately we may all find different things that help us to keep growing in our recovery.
For example, I know someone in recovery who gives lots of speeches. They get up in front of others all the time and they speak about addiction and recovery. This is a HUGE part of their recovery, and therefore it is a huge part of their daily practice. They are talking about recovery every single day in front of others. If not on a stage then at least in a meeting hall. At the same time, this peer of mine in recovery never exercises and they never write about recovery at all.
Now contrast this with my own daily practice. I never get up and speak about recovery in front of other people. And instead, I write about recovery every day, and exercise is a huge part of my daily practice.
So you might be asking yourself: “How can these two people work completely different programs of recovery, and have a completely different daily practice, and yet they both have over a decade of continuous sobriety under their belt?”
This is because the fundamental principles in recovery are very simple (surrender being at the core of these) and the application of personal growth in our daily lives is filled with flexibility and variety.
There is more than one way to recover. It is your responsibility to find your own path.
The daily practice are the positive actions that you take every day that lead you to a better life in recovery. They are the actions that protect you from relapse. They are the actions that allow you to grow as a human being.
And you need to find out what they are.
Taking suggestions and expanding your horizons through feedback and advice
So you are still probably wondering: “Daily practice? What exactly do I do again?”
You need to discover that on your own.
But here is the thing: You can ask for help.
In fact, I encourage you to do so.
Ask other people what their daily practice consists of. They probably don’t refer to it as their “daily practice” though, so ask them this instead:
* “What do you do every day, what actions do you take every day, in order to stay clean and sober?”
Then you might also ask them what they do every day in order to stay HEALTHY. This is a little bit different question, and will open them up to a wider variety of answers. All of it is important though. Health is your main currency in recovery (not spiritual health, but holistic health. All forms of health. Remember the different themes).
Don’t just go to an AA meeting and find one person and ask this question. If you do that then you are going to hear answers like “Go to AA meetings, read the big book, call my sponsor,” etc. There is nothing necessarily wrong with those answers, but it is only one sliver of the whole pie. Dig deeper. Ask them what they do for physical health. Ask them what they do to keep their relationships healthy (attend Al-anon is one interesting answer). Ask them how they relieve stress. Ask them how they stay in shape. Ask them how they keep their spouse happy. And so on.
Spiritual health is important, but it is not the only thing in recovery (as many in AA will tend to believe).
Keep asking unique people in recovery how they improve their health, how they pursue personal growth.
Ask them to tell you what they do for personal growth OUTSIDE of the AA program. This will give some enlightening answers as well.
It is not that AA is bad, or that I am trying to push you away from it. I am only trying to get you to push beyond it. Go deeper. AA is very limiting in that it focuses exclusively on spiritual growth. We want a more broad approach to holistic recovery than that.
Two things you have in recovery: Resources and time
I have been clean and sober now for over 12 years.
One thing that I have noticed in recovery:
You have plenty of time.
Really you do. You have enough time.
I think in addiction (and perhaps before addiction?) I felt like there was never enough time. Some sort of built in stress led to this condition.
But in recovery I realize that I have plenty of time. I am never rushed for time any more. I have learned how to slow down enough to appreciate the little things.
This is an important lesson in finding your true calling as well. If you are rushing from one thing to the next then you are never going to capture the important moments and really appreciate the details.
If you can learn to practice gratitude every day then you are light years ahead of most people in this world.
And maybe this is the only true calling that you need: to be able to really appreciate what you have in life, and to not take things for granted.
If you are clean and sober today then you are a miracle.
Isn’t that enough?
It is for me.