Everyone needs a lift in their addiction recovery at some point. Life has its own ups and downs (especially in recovery!) so you are going to need to take action at times in order to help regulate your own mood and well being.
The challenge is in doing this without resorting to our old bag of tricks (self medicating with drugs and alcohol). Because we are in recovery and have made the decision to live clean and sober, we have to try other actions instead of our old behavior.
There are two ways that you may be “lifted up” in your own recovery. One way is by having someone else come along and inspire you or lift your spirits; the other way is to take action and do it yourself.
Most people rely on the first method in addiction recovery–we are taught to rely heavily on the fellowship of AA and NA in order to find strength in our recovery. This may work for some people and it may even work well most of the time. But throughout our lives there are going to be circumstances when we do not have constant access to the fellowship and to daily meetings. For whatever reason, you will likely have to face probrlems in your recovery some day without the overwhelming amount of help and support that you might normally get from AA. In other words, some day it is going to be just you and your addiction, and you are going to have to stand up to it by yourself. We can always seek help and support from others, but through sheer chance you will one day find yourself in a position where the fellowship is just out of reach when you need it most.
Therefore you may benefit from being able to lift your own spirits through your own actions–without having to rely on others. So how can you do this in a practical way that actually works? You may have to experiment a bit, but let’s look at some of the techniques that might be able to help you:
1) Help someone.
2) Create something.
3) Connect with others.
This is what is known in the 12 step program as “twelfth step work” because the 12th step in the AA program involves reaching out and helping others who may be seeking recovery.
You can benefit from this same idea whether you are in AA or not. You can also benefit from this idea whether you are helping struggling alcoholics, struggling addicts, or just some random person who desperately needs help. It does not necessarily have to be someone who is seeking recovery. You an help anyone and benefit greatly from doing so.
The reason this works so well is that it is a win-win situation all around. For one thing you actually help someone else in the world and give value to them. Second of all your self esteem gets a giant boost because you are doing this. And perhaps most importantly when you reach out and help others (and especially when you are teaching them something) you are actually learning a great deal more for yourself. Teaching others is a great experience because then we learn the same lessons more deeply ourselves. This is why sponsors in AA say that “their sponsees help them more than they help the sponsee” at times.
If you find yourself feeling down in your recovery then one of the greatest shortcuts you can use is to find someone else who needs help, and simply help them. Of course this will work even better if you have a “pure” attitude about it and are not expecting anything in return. Just give your help freely and try to make the world a better place. In doing so you can “lose yourself” and gain the whole world.
This is a much more powerful technique than most people in recovery currently realize. In fact, entire books have been published about how the creative arts can help people to recover from addiction. In other words, some people can overcome their alcoholism or drug addiction through creative self expression–for instance, by drawing, painting, sculpting, writing, etc.
But I would also challenge you to take this a step further and just try to build something. Create something. You can either take this literally or figuratively, the results will likely be much the same. In other words, you can try to build a house, or you can try to build a college education for yourself. Or you can try to write and publish a book or create amazing paintings. But do something. Create something. Don’t just sit idle in recovery and expect for everything to work out.
Successful recovery favors people who take action. Your success doesn’t just fall into your lap–instead, you must go create it. Actively. So, take action. Make something. Build something. Start something.
At one point in my own recovery I started this website. It took a long time for it to gain any traction but now it is a place where lots of people meet every day to try to help each other. I started something that made a difference.
I think it is also important to tell you though that I started many things that failed as well. But who cares? There is plenty of room for failure in recovery–it doesn’t mean that your life is over! You can always move on and start something else, try another creative project, or try to achieve something new.
In other words, I started many new things in my recovery that failed. I created several duds that never took off. I tried to do many things that ultimately failed. But none of it was really a “total failure.” Some things just didn’t work out so well. Who cares? So I moved on and tried something else.
Recovery is long. Your life is long. This is doubly true in addiction recovery when you have stopped abusing your body with chemicals. Once you are clean and sober you suddenly have tons of extra time and energy.
Question: What are you going to do with that time and energy?
Answer: Create something. Build something. Start something.
Do something that matters. This may sound like an intimidating directive if you have never really tried to make a difference before, but it doesn’t have to be scary or intimidating.
First of all, you have plenty of time. There is no time pressure here. You have the rest of your life to create something that makes a difference.
Second of all, you are not afraid of failure. In fact, you are expecting it and counting on it. In order to start something that really matters and truly makes a difference, you can be sure that there will be some false starts. But who cares? So you try some stuff that doesn’t work out. Big deal. Sooner or later you will hit a home run and find success with a new project. The only thing holding you back is that you have to take on new projects and try to actually start something.
Third, what is your alternative? What else are you going to do in your life, and in your recovery? Be passive? Just wait for other people to come by and inspire you? This is not a strong path. Instead, decide that you are going to build something, create something, and inspire others yourself.
Connect with others in recovery
This is similar to the previous two suggestions but it is more focused on creating connections. You don’t necessarily have to use the traditional connections that are constantly suggested in modern day recovery (AA and NA). There are other ways that you can connect with people.
One of the first ways that I found to connect with others is online. I found that in traditional recovery circles (i.e., AA meetings) people were largely not familiar with this option. When I shared with others about connecting to people online, most people in traditional recovery outlets were very negative towards the idea. Most people that I talked with even said that they did not consider online recovery to be “real” recovery. To them, the only thing that counted were in-person meetings.
At first I felt really guilty that I was finding other ways to make connections in recovery. Many of my peers in traditional recovery warned me that I was not basing my recovery foundation on anything solid. However, since that time many of my peers in traditional programs eventually relapsed, and I am still going strong after 12 years of continuous sobriety. This is not said to brag, it is said to make a point. Traditional recovery is not the only path, and in some cases it may not even be the best path.
I have also found people making their recovery journey by connecting with therapists, counselors, sponsors, or life coaches. Not everyone has to find support in the traditional meeting format. There are other ways to connect and so part of your journey may be in exploring some of these alternatives.
If you would have tried to tell me when I was in the first 2 years of my recovery that exercise could “give me a lift” I would have raised my eyebrow at you. Everyone sort of paid lip service to the idea that exercise could help you in your recovery, but deep down I did not really believe it, or see it for myself.
Then suddenly everything changed. I started running on a regular basis. I built up to 6 mile jogs and kept at on a permanent basis. I am not sure what came over me to get me to actually go through with this but the results were amazing. Somewhere along the way it got easy. This was a miracle, just as staying clean and sober is a miracle. In the beginning jogging was torture and I have to admit that I hated it. But I kept doing it and kept doing it and at some point it just got easy. It was no longer a chore. In fact it became a joy to run. It was not something that I was willing to miss out on at all. The habit had become a permanent part of who I was in recovery.
Trying to explain the benefits of regular exercise to people is very difficult. It can be a very polarizing topic in recovery because people either “get it” or they don’t. For a very long time I did NOT get it, and you could not really convince me that exercise was important for sobriety. Now that I “get it” I can clearly see the futility of trying to convince people that it is so helpful to sobriety. I know it is hard to imagine what it is like to be in shape and how that benefits sobriety because I used to be in that exact position myself. I was a non-believer because I lacked the experience. Now that I have had the experience (of getting into shape) I just want to share it with everyone and try to convince them to give it a chance.
The problem is very similar to getting clean and sober. There is a hump that you must get over first where everything is painful and it hurts. If you are out of shape then you are looking at a few months of hard work and pain. If you are trying to get clean and sober it is much the same story. In both cases you have an opportunity to stick it out through the tough times and be rewarded in the end. Exercise is very much a “pay now, enjoy later” kind of thing. You are putting forth an extra effort now (and possibly experiencing some discomfort) in order to feel much, much better later down the road. But once you get to the benefit part of exercise it is smooth sailing from then on (and you would never want to go without exercise again).
Journal, and reflect back on it
After I was clean and sober for a few months I started journaling, and I have never looked back. In fact at this point I have written over 2 million words in my recovery journey and I am probably closing in on 3 million. Much of this is therapeutic in a way that is difficult to describe (much like exercise).
One way that journaling is therapeutic is in the reflection process. Many times I have gone back to previous journal entries or things that I have written in the past and been amazed to look back on my old thinking processes. It is neat to see how far you have come by doing this and it helps you to appreciate and actually see the growth you have made. It is very difficult to see when we make progress because we are too close to our minds. So reading an old journal entry can give you perspective and help you to appreciate your progress.
The other thing that journaling helps for is to help you define your thoughts. It is another medium for “thinking” itself. When you write down your thoughts it gives your thinking more clarity and helps you to better define your thoughts.
Third, if you journal you are much more likely to write down your goals and then pursue them. Goal oriented living is a great way to live (IMO) and if you write out your goals then you are something like 4 times more likely to meet them. I have found this to be a great way to live and I even use a 3 by 5 index to write down 2 or 3 daily goals for myself.
Again, this is an action that you have to dive into and actually do it, rather than just theorize about it. In other words, you can’t just object and say “I don’t really think journaling (or exercise) would help me. You can only make those statements after you have taken the plunge, given them a fair shot, and seen first hand what the benefits are to your recovery.
Ultimately these actions are all just suggestions that have helped me in my recovery. Take them and apply them in your own life if you need a lift.
On the other hand, does anyone have any suggestions for raising their own spirits in recovery? Share with us in the comments!