How can we find peace, satisfaction, and contentment in recovery?
Do these things just magically fall into our lap now that we are clean and sober?
Generally, no. They don’t. Sometimes we have to work for these things a bit.
And there is not always a clear path to peace in our lives, because there is that old problem that goes all the way back to the simplicity of the Serenity prayer:
Do we focus on growth today, or acceptance?
Can you do both? Should you try to do both?
The balance between contentment and growth in recovery
Each situation in your life has to be processed and dealt with internally.
Either you accept reality as it is, or you reject that reality and seek to change it.
One is the path of acceptance, the other is a path of personal growth.
Both of these can be solutions. Both can be a valid and healthy response to something.
Knowing when to use each of these potential solutions is the point of the serenity prayer, whereby we seek “the wisdom to know the difference.”
And that difference is between action and acceptance. Between pushing ourselves to make a difficult change in our lives, versus just accepting it something with grace.
And of course it is not always easy to know what to do.
This can be one of the instances when it makes sense to seek outside help and advice. If you are facing a tough life decision, seek help and advice from other people who may have experiences that you have not yet encountered. This is how we borrow wisdom from others. If you act on their advice then you are taking a shortcut to wisdom.
Knowing the difference can come down to opportunity cost. You pay a price either way in most choices, whether you decide to accept reality or whether you decide to try to change it. In either case you lose out on the benefits that you would have received had you taken the other path. So there is always going to be a component of potential regret if you keep second guessing yourself. There is likely a silver lining in any path that you choose, so when you take a different path, you are going to miss out on some sort of lesson.
But, you still have to choose! Even by not making a choice, you are choosing.
For example, maybe you are unhappy in your current relationship but you are also fairly comfortable in it.
So every day you are facing a choice: Stay where you are and be comfortable (but unhappy), or leave the relationship and face the fear of being completely alone.
When you avoid the choice altogether you are still choosing: You are choosing to stay, to remain unhappy, to remain comfortable and complacent.
The alternative is to make a more active decision to leave, which will obviously create a lot of temporary fear and anxiety in your life. In the future you may be happy that you left the unhappy relationship, but in the short term you will have to walk through a great deal of fear and discomfort.
Of course, this example assumes that the relationship is unhappy and that this cannot be changed. It is entirely possible that you might choose to stay and work on the relationship. But this might also be a story that you tell yourself in order to remain comfortable and complacent.
Which is why much of this sort of personal growth comes down to self honesty. In order to push yourself to make the really hard changes in life you are going to have to learn how to increase your level of self honesty.
Everyone has at least some amount of self honesty. We all tell ourselves the truth to some extent. But even the most spiritually upstanding humans can push themselves to practice even more rigorous honesty with themselves in some way. In other words, there is always another level of growth available to you, if you are willing to take a long hard look at yourself.
This is always uncomfortable. If you find that looking at yourself is not discomforting in any way, then you probably aren’t looking that deeply! We all have things in our lives that could be improved if we care to take the time to examine our lives. It is the self honesty and the self examination that is so tough.
But in order to find true peace and contentment in recovery you are going to have to do some of this. Perhaps a lot of it. You are going to have to do some “work.” When I say work, what I refer to is the idea of getting honest with yourself and finding out the things in your life that need to be changed.
Nobody enjoys doing this. That’s why they call it “work.”
So we get clean and sober and if we want the rewards of sobriety then we have to do “the work.” They call it “work” because it is uncomfortable and challenging! But that is also why it is rewarding. Because it’s work.
Seeking happiness versus seeking peace
If you seek happiness you will never find it.
If you chase after happiness then the universe will do this thing where it says to you:
“What’s this? You say that you want happiness? Then I will give you the experience of wanting happiness!”
It is like getting your signals mixed up a bit. You want this experience of being happy all the time, all day long, but the universe is hearing something different. The universe is hearing you way that you want to “desire happiness.” So it gives you that experience of being in a state of constant desire. You will keep “wanting happiness.”
But you won’t really be happy.
So it is a bit of a catch-22. It is a trap. If you want happiness, then you get stuck in this trap of constantly wanting more happiness.
So what is the solution? How can you break free from this trap?
There are several possible solutions to this problem. One of them is to stop seeking happiness so directly and instead work towards peace in your life.
I like this approach because it tends to eliminate chaos and misery, which gives your life the opportunity for happiness to occur.
There is a difference.
So instead of just trying to chase after happiness, instead you seek to eliminate the negative stuff.
Eliminate the misery. Minimize the chaos and the negative aspects of your life.
If you do this sort of foundation work then your life will get incrementally better.
Think about your life in addiction. Most of us were completely miserable. We were miserable about 99 percent of the time.
Then we would get that magic moment when were high or drunk and everything was perfect. But those moments became fewer and fewer as our disease progressed. Addiction made us a promise (that we could be happy any time we wanted), but that promise turned out to be a lie. We were miserable 99 percent of the time.
Then we become clean and sober. We decide to pursue recovery. And we start doing this sort of “work” that I am talking about, the work where you get honest with yourself and start fixing the negative stuff in your life.
You stop drinking. You stop engaging in self pity. You work hard to eliminate your resentments. You forgive yourself and others. And so on. All of that emotional baggage has to go. So you work on it and you work some more and you seek to eliminate all of these negative energies from your life.
Maybe this takes you a few months, or maybe it takes you a few years. Of course if you relapse then all of the negativity comes flooding back in and you will have to start over again from square one.
But if you keep working at it and doing this sort of work then what you are doing is raising the bottom up.
So you are not chasing happiness. Instead, you are eliminating the chaos, the negative energy, the emotional misery. You are fixing these negative things one at a time, and as you move forward you are cleaning up more and more of this negativity from your life.
So you are effectively “raising the bottom” in terms of happiness. When you were stuck in addiction, you were miserable nearly all of the time. Your happiness “bottom” was quite low.
But after a few months or a few years of doing this work, you raise that bottom up. So now you are content 99 percent of the time, and eventually that level of contentment will raise higher and higher towards real happiness and joy.
And this is because you are eliminating the negativity. You are creating a foundation where your life is ripe for happiness and joy to occur.
This is different than chasing happiness.
Avoiding negatives in your journey versus achieving positive goals
Think about how we behaved in our addiction.
We were miserable nearly all of the time, yet we chased that ultimate rush. We chased happiness.
Think about it: If you are unhappy in your life, and you have a single goal such as “visit this certain place” or “meet this certain person” or even something like “land the perfect job,” that is not going to make you happy suddenly.
If you are unhappy in your life and you suddenly achieve a certain goal, that thing is not going to make you happy. Not in the long run.
A single goal or achievement is not going to have a long term impact on your overall happiness.
This is why chasing after happiness does not really work. You can say “Oh, if I just had this thing in my life, then I would finally be happy.” But then once you achieve that goal, the goal posts move again, and you find yourself sliding back into unhappiness. You go back into that state of desire. You go back to wanting something, and placing the condition of your happiness on achieving that new thing. That new goal.
So what is the solution?
The solution is to find happiness within, to practice self acceptance. But we have to balance that in recovery with pushing ourselves for personal growth. These two things are diametrically opposed. And therefore we have a special challenge in recovery–to practice both growth and acceptance of self. This is not an easy balance to strike.
Therefore the solution for me is to build a foundation where happiness can occur.
So do not chase after happiness directly. It will always elude you.
Instead, seek to eliminate the negative from your life. This is still a goal, I realize that. But it is putting your energy in the right place.
Instead of looking for that next sugar high achievement we need to focus on eliminating chaos and misery and negativity.
Because even if you achieve the sort of “happy goal” that I am referring to, you will still find yourself drowning in emotional upset if you haven’t done the work.
So the solution is to “do the work.”
The solution is to eliminate resentment, anger, self pity, guilt, and shame.
The solution is to identify those things and work through them and have a plan to eradicate them from your life.
This is what it means to do the work. To dig deeply into your own flaws, your own personal chaos and misery, and figure out how to fix it so that you can find real peace and contentment.
Meditation is a good indicator. Can you sit in silence for 20 minutes every day, feeling peaceful, listening to the stillness?
If you can do that and you sort of watch the anxieties that bubble up, you can get a pretty good idea on what work you should be doing right now.
Someone can claim that they are happy and that they are achieving great things in recovery. But if they sit down and listen to the silence for 20 minutes and it drives them crazy or it brings up emotions that they don’t want to feel, then they still have a lot of work to do.
And even after you have “done the work,” there is still more to be uncovered. There is still more refining to do. There is always more anxiety to be purged.
Figuring out what drives you and puts you in a state of “flow”
Another technique that you might investigate in recovery is to think about “flow states.”
To do this you might start paying attention to the activities that you do that put you in a state of “flow.” This is when you are completely focused on a certain task and you are not really aware of the passage of time. You might have no idea how long you have been doing something only to realize that several hours have passed in what seemed like minutes.
If you are that deeply involved in something then we could call that being in a state of flow.
And if you seek out these sort of activities and focus on doing them regularly then this tends to increase overall life satisfaction.
So you might try to explore different activities and take some suggestions from others in recovery. If you put their ideas into action then you might stumble on something that really seems to put you in this state of flow. To me being in such a state is the equivalent of meditation, even if I happen to be physically active.
Personally I get into this flow state when I am jogging. It becomes like a meditation of sorts, and sometimes I think it is even better than seated meditation.
You may have to experiment to find what puts you in this state of flow. Once you figure it out, try doing that activity more frequently and then see if it increases your overall contentment.
One way to measure that is by keeping a written journal every day. I highly recommend a written journal for other reasons as well. But it can help you to see how your level of peace and contentment in recovery is evolving and maturing over time.
Appreciating what shows up in your life rather than complaining
Complaining about things is a bit of an addiction. And I think we all do it to an extent. The question is, to what degree am I addicted to the art of complaining?
When we complain about something it as if we are postponing our happiness. We are saying “the universe is not to my liking right now because…..”
Of course a recurring complaint can help to show us where changes might be needed.
But we rarely complain about the major changes that we need to make within ourselves. Usually we just complain about external things over which we have little or no control. And what is the point of that really, if we have no power to change it?
So we need a mechanism by which to catch this bad habit of complaining. Some people suggest the rubber band trick, where you snap a rubber band on your arm every time you catch yourself complaining. It sounds silly but it actually works to change the behavior in some people and ultimately increases their overall happiness.
When you eliminate complaining you are sort of reducing things down to the two solutions: Acceptance or growth.
So you eliminate the whining part. You eliminate the groaning and moaning.
Life shows up and you either accept it with grace, or you force yourself to make a decision and take action. But you don’t complain about reality showing up. That is the ideal anyway.
I am still prone to complain. I am not a perfect guru who has eliminated all complaints from my life. It is still a journey of personal growth for me.
Another way to look at it might be to say “Seek to accept others but to change yourself.” The idea there is that you are putting your energy where it is going to be most effective–in trying to change yourself.
Every moment is another opportunity for gratitude. The universe exists and you are aware of it–is this not miracle enough for you? It is for me, when I can hang on to that sense of wonder and gratitude. But sometimes it slips away when I am too focused on what is wrong with my reality and what needs to be different. All forms of complaint.
And so I have to bring it back to gratitude, to appreciation for the very fact that I exist.
How easy it is to forget how amazing this is!
Today I am grateful that I can work on improving myself.
Do I really believe that? I’m not so sure just yet. But I’m trying…..
What about you, have you found peace and contentment in recovery? If so, what was the process like to start living this ideal? How has that unfolded for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!