How can you find purpose and become happy in alcoholism and addiction recovery?
Before we can answer this question, it may be necessary to realize that happiness and “finding your purpose” are not necessarily the same thing. There can be some overlap in certain cases, but often there will be some trade offs when it comes to the two concepts.
For example, you may find purpose in working with lots of newcomers in AA and sponsoring lots of people, and you may get some enjoyment and benefit out of doing so. But does it directly increase your happiness? Most people would argue that it doesn’t necessarily do so, although that would not prevent them from pursuing this path necessarily.
So to some extent you have to ask yourself what it is that you really want in life, and perhaps you are asking yourself “What it is that I feel my life needs right now at this particular time?” Maybe it needs more purpose, or maybe it needs more happiness. And sometimes we don’t really get to decide and direct, but we simply do what is in front of us and let our faith and our higher power guide us a bit.
One way to find happiness is to eliminate misery. Or rather, a prerequisite to finding happiness in recovery is that you first must put in the work to do fix your character defects, or your “pain points” as I like to call them.
Let me give you an example. When I was very early in my own recovery journey I came to the realization that I was constantly feeling sorry for myself and trying to play the victim in my own mind. Why was I doing this? Why was I trying to be the victim all the time, when in reality I really was fairly empowered in most areas of my life?
After talking to some people in recovery and learning more about it, I eventually learned that my brain was attempting to rationalize a relapse. My addictive mind wanted me to drink or take drugs, and it was doing everything that it could in order to get me to do so. And the way that it did that was to play the victim and to feel sorry for itself so that it would have an excuse to self medicate.
I had to realize that this was happening, which I quickly did. Then I had to make a decision to do something about it. Then I had to ask for help and get some new information from other people in recovery who could help me to learn how to overcome this problem.
So I asked for help and people taught me how to increase my awareness, so that I could “catch” my mind when it was slipping back into self pity mode. I had to learn how to pay attention to the voice and figure out when it turned negative. When I caught it happening I could then make the decision to shut it down, change course, practice gratitude, or reach out to my peers for instant support.
This worked. I learned how to “spot” my self pity and I made a deal with myself that I would no longer “allow myself the luxury” of playing the victim (just as other alcoholics can no longer afford the luxury of resentments). So I learned how to overcome that particular pain point in my life because it was no longer serving me. All the victim hood did was to give me an excuse to relapse, which I definitely did not want to do. And while it gave me that excuse it simply made me unhappy.
There were other pain points in my life. One of them was that I was still hooked on cigarettes and I was grossly out of shape. So at some point I had to get honest with myself about this and admit to myself that this is not really where I wanted to be with my physical health. Or rather, my sponsor suggested to me that I might want more in terms of physical health, and I agreed. So I took on this new “pain point” of getting into shape and quitting the cigarettes, which were two goals that really went hand in hand for me.
I was finally able to do both–I quit the nicotine and I got into the habit of distance running. My life transformed yet again and, as a result, I experienced less misery and more happiness.
So that is a key point I think: Before you can experience happiness in your recovery you first must remove the obvious pain points. If you need help identifying your pain points then I would suggest that you work more closely with a therapist, a sponsor, a counselor, or any combination thereof. They can help you to identify where you are holding yourself back from freedom and happiness.
Now if it is purpose that you are seeking I would recommend that you start out with the idea of service work, or that of giving back to others who may need your help. Finding purpose in life is not about what you can do for yourself, but it is about what you can do for other people. So if you can find a way to teach, inspire, or lift up others then you can find a way to generate purpose in your life.
One way to do this is to get involved in AA or NA, and to first get yourself a sponsor. If you are serious about recovery then there is no need to rush things, just start following the advice of your therapist and your sponsor and do the best that you can in early recovery. Before you know it there will be ample opportunity for service work.
When I was fairly early in my own recovery, my sponsor had me take over one of the Narcotics Anonymous meetings that he chaired each week. This was a meeting that was taken into an institution where the addicts and alcoholics could not exactly get out to regular meetings, so it was a special sort of mission. You were taking a message of hope into a facility and trying to reach out and give people a real sense of hope by sharing your own story. So in my early recovery this was my main form of service work, even though it intimidated me a great deal to speak in front of other people. I did it anyway because my sponsor had pushed me to do so, and he knew that it would be good for me.
If you are very new in your recovery then my first suggestion to you is to go to inpatient treatment and start building a foundation for recovery. My second suggestion to you would be that you follow up with whatever the rehab recommends for aftercare, and dive into those suggestions and get heavily involved in recovery activities. This will open up the door for you to meet new people in recovery, but also to experience opportunities for service work eventually. My advice to you would be not to force it and not to rush it, let the opportunities come as you continue to work your own program of recovery. And don’t worry; this kind of purpose will spring out of nowhere if you are truly following a path of recovery with willingness and dedication. Your goal should be to take care of your own recovery first and foremost, and if you are doing the work of recovery then the opportunities will come. Good luck to you in your recovery journey!