How can a recovering alcoholic or drug addict become happy again in life? And is it possible that they will go beyond mere happiness and experience joy, contentment, peace…..even bliss?
I believe that it is possible, and I have experienced this journey for myself. I went from being completely miserable near the end of my addiction to a complete transformation in long term sobriety, where each day I would wake up and actually be brimming with excitement just to discover what the new day had in store for me. To me that is what recovery is all about–getting to that place where you are happy and excited to be alive, where you are thrilled just to see what life has in store for you each day. Notice too that when you have that level of excitement about life that you are delighted with whatever is showing up in your universe. That state of delighted feelings has a name–we call it being grateful. More on that in a moment.
Let’s take a look at the three biggest secrets that I had to uncover in my own recovery journey, the processes that I went through in order to find my own bliss. I say that these are “secrets” because none of them were obvious to me in the beginning, nor did anyone spell these steps out to me in a traditional recovery setting. If you go to AA, they will give you a different set of instructions, which may or may not work for you. What I am reporting here is simply what worked for me, and in fact, the program of AA or NA could well be a part of that for anyone who cares to “do the work” as I call it.
Which brings us to our first point and one of the secrets that no one ever really wants to hear in life, which is that if you want to enjoy bliss, you are going to have to put in some serious hard work in order to get it.
Secret #1: Do the hard work first and enjoy bliss later
It takes hard work to get to that blissful state.
To really enjoy peace and contentment in your life you have to put in your dues first.
But let me ask you a question:
Do you think that it is more efficient to focus on the negative things in your life, or is it better to go right to your hopes and your dreams to try to chase after your happiness directly?
Which will get you there quicker? Focusing on the negative, or chasing after your dreams?
It’s a tricky question and the truth is counter-intuitive.
Most people have this one dead wrong. I know that I did.
I can remember arguing with people in AA, saying that when we do a moral inventory (in step four), we shouldn’t focus on the negative stuff so much, and that we should focus more on the positive traits that we have in life.
But I was wrong.
That was a mistake.
It doesn’t really help you that much when doing a fourth step to list out all of your positive qualities, or all of the good stuff about yourself.
That’s not helping you.
And to take it a step further, when you are trying to recover from an addiction, you won’t get much benefit (at first) by chasing after your dreams.
Instead, the secret is this:
Do the hard work first. Take inventory, and figure out what all of the negative stuff is in your life that is holding you back.
That is the entire problem. That is the source of your unhappiness. That is what we medicated ourselves over.
When you drink or take drugs and become addicted, you don’t really need a reason to do so. Addiction is primary.
However, every alcoholic and drug addict still has a life. They still have hang ups, and fears, and resentments, and negative stuff inside.
Every alcoholic and drug addict has negative emotions that they deal with at times. We are all human. This is normal.
And when you have an addiction, those negative things end up getting medicated away. You realize that you can kill all of your fear by drinking enough booze. Or whatever the case may be…the drugs or the chemicals or the alcohol medicates your emotions.
And they are unwanted emotions. Things like sadness, anger, fear. So the chemicals eliminate those things (at least in the beginning). Later on when your tolerance develops the chemicals stop working so well, and you are stuck with those negative emotions anyway. So you drink more or use more drugs to try to medicate those emotions that you don’t want, and the cycle continues and gets worse.
At some point (hopefully) the alcoholic realizes that the chemicals are no longer working so well, and they realize that they are unhappy in spite of their addiction, and so they decide to try to sober up.
This is where the work begins. You go to rehab possibly, you flush your system out and get physically detoxed, but now you have to deal with life and cope without chemicals. And your emotions are still a factor, only now you have no way to avoid them. You must feel them in full force without medicating them away.
This is where “doing the work” comes in. I noticed early in my own sobriety journey that I was actually being sad on purpose. Why was I doing that, I wondered? Why was I creating this drama in my head just so I could be sad all the time?
And then I realized why I was engaging in this self pity–it was so I would have an excuse to drink or use drugs. That was how I rationalized my addiction.
It was like a script that played over and over again in my head, even though it was no longer serving any purpose (now that I was sober). But I still had the sad feelings.
And that was part of the work that I had to do. First, I had to identify this problem and realize that it was not helping me in my recovery efforts.
Second, I had to come up with a plan to fix this problem…I did not want to keep experiencing this negative emotion any longer. I was being sad on purpose! That is just crazy.
This is very similar to someone who is living with strong resentments. They are essentially being angry on purpose. They could let the anger go, but they hang on to it, and this anger then serves to fuel their addiction. Not good.
So this is about “doing the work” in recovery. If you work through the 12 steps of AA with a sponsor, you will (ideally) do this sort of work. You will figure out what your hang ups are, what your negative emotions are, what the problems are in your life that are tripping you up, and then you will eliminate them.
Sometimes you need help in order to do this. I needed to ask for help in order to learn how to overcome self pity. I couldn’t do it myself. I was stuck in my own mess and my own obsessive thoughts, and I needed someone else to help pull me out of it. So I learned some tactics to be able to fight back against this tendency towards self pity. And I found support from other people who could help me learn how to deal with this problem.
That is just one example though. If you have other negative things in your life, such as a toxic relationship for example, you will need to “do the work” in order to overcome that as well.
Anything that is dragging you down in life has to go. Anything that is holding you back or creating any sort of negative impact on your life has to be eliminating. Because all of that stuff is fuel for your addiction. It may not have caused your addiction, but it remains as an excuse to relapse. So it is a threat and you have to control it. You have to deal with it. And that takes real effort.
That is secret number one: You have to do the work in order to succeed. Unfortunately it is a secret that no one really wants to hear, as we would all prefer the easier, softer path (myself included!).
Secret #2: Use a holistic approach to personal growth and your overall health in recovery
The second secret that I have found to be incredibly valuable in recovery is that of holistic health.
This, too, is counter-intuitive. Or I should say it was for me anyway. I did not grasp this concept during the first, say, two years of my sobriety. I was clueless.
When I first got clean and sober I was living in rehab and going to AA meetings every day. And I was told that “the solution is spiritual.”
And I took that to heart and I believed that my ultimate salvation from addiction was going to be what everyone was telling me at the time–faith in a higher power was the only defense against relapse, was the only real path to sobriety.
And as I transitioned out of long term rehab (at the 20 month point of my sobriety journey) I started to question this truth. I was questioning it for many reasons, one of which was that I watched so many people relapse and fail. And some of those people were “more spiritual” than I was. Or at least I judged them to be more spiritual. Some of them were religious too, but some were just merely spiritual.
So about the time that I had 2 years sober I finally started to make these connections. I was slowly realizing that it was NOT all about spirituality. In fact, the solution was bigger than that. To say that the solution is spiritual was a bit misleading.
I was realizing that part of the solution was spiritual. But part of the solution was physical too. And mental. And emotional. And social.
And so I had to rework some of these concepts in my mind in order to continue on and still feel good about myself. Because quite honestly, everyone in the traditional recovery program of AA at the time was warning me about relapse. They were telling me that I was doomed to drink if I left the daily meetings and turned my back on their solution.
I was scared but I did it anyway. I had to find out what really made recovery work.
And the secret that I discovered is that AA is just a pointer. Don’t get me wrong, AA works. It absolutely can get you sober and keep you sober.
But it is not recovery. It merely points to recovery.
And if you explore religion in depth you will find that same theme, that same parable (the finger pointing at the moon, if you want to look it up). Many of the great teachers, including Jesus and the Buddha, have hinted at this same universal truth….that the world’s religions are just a proxy, they can never know the true mind of God, they merely point towards the truth. They are not the way, they merely point to the way. And so on.
The same is true with sobriety itself. Recovery is a successful state of living, and any alcoholic or addict may or may not achieve this state. But doing so can be done in many different ways, or by using several different programs. No one has a monopoly on telling people how to sober up. AA is not the only solution, it is merely one solution. And it can work for you (though it may not). But the secret is that holistic health and personal growth are the fundamental building blocks of a successful life in sobriety. Recovery programs point towards this ideal, but they are not the path itself. That path is something that you walk yourself, each individual must find it and make it their own, and in doing so you build this new life of recovery.
When you sober up, you make a decision. The decision is essentially “I choose life.”
In other words, “I don’t want to die from drinking or drug addiction,” which is clearly where you had been headed.
And so you surrender to the fact that your addiction was killing you and that it was no fun any more.
And hopefully you surrender to some sort of solution as well.
And you make this decision that you are going to choose life, that you are going to try to live a healthy and happy life instead of the slow suicide that is addiction.
And so this decision to choose happiness and health must become a strategy. That strategy is to pursue better health, not just physically, but in every area of your life. That is why we call it “holistic” health, because it applies to the whole body, mind, spirit, social circles, and so on. You can’t just treat one part of your life and expect to remain sober. You have to treat all of it. So pursuing holistic health and personal growth is another “secret” of recovery, and it is one that was–again–not obvious to me when I first started my journey. I thought the point was to simply not drink! Ha ha–if only it were that simple.
Secret #3: Practice gratitude daily
In some ways you have to be selfish in order to recover from addiction. For example, you have to put your sobriety first in everything that you do, in every decision that you make. If an old friend calls me up and wants to have a beer with me to catch up on old times, I need to be a bit careful there. I can suggest a different venue or whatever the case may be, but I have to be a bit “selfish” and protect my sobriety first and foremost.
But you have to be careful with this. Because in almost every other area of your life, you don’t want to be selfish. You want to be the opposite.
Now you might think that the opposite of being selfish is to be giving or to be caring. And that is true when it comes to actions. But I want to talk about your attitude for a moment. About your mindset.
Your mindset in recovery is super important. It can make the difference between sobriety and relapse.
When it comes to your attitude, you can react to the world in one of two ways most of the time: You can either be selfish, or you can be grateful.
They may not sound like polar opposites, but in my experience that is exactly what they are. If I am not being grateful about something then my feelings and opinions are usually driven out of a selfish fear inside of me.
And that selfish fear is dangerous. It is our enemy in recovery. It is really the driving force behind any relapse. At the moment that an alcoholic relapses, they have justified it in their mind first. They have snapped and made a decision that they are going to drink. That they deserve that drink. That anyone else who was put into their shoes would probably take that drink too.
This is selfish reasoning. It has to be. Your justifying a drink or a drug for yourself. It’s all for you. You aren’t taking that drink for someone else. You aren’t self medicating for the benefit of others. It is always an act of extreme selfishness. Taking a drink or a drug is all about you and feeling the way that YOU want to feel at that exact moment.
And why change that moment? Is that moment in time and space not perfect? Who are we to question God’s perfect universe? Why do we have to change how we feel? Maybe we are supposed to be sad for a while. Or angry. Or upset. Or afraid. Why race to squash those emotions that might be there to teach us something?
We do that because of discomfort. We don’t want to feel those feelings. (Hint: Relapse always comes back to medicating our feelings, even if we won’t admit that).
So what is the solution? How can we overcome this selfish tendency to want to medicate our emotions, to change our reality?
The answer is:
If you are truly grateful, right now, in this very moment…..then relapse is impossible. You can’t relapse. It’s not possible.
Why would you take a drink or a drug if the universe is truly perfect in this moment? That would be insane. No one would ruin a perfect moment with a drink or a drug. No need to change anything. The moment is perfect as it is.
Gratitude is bliss. When you feel grateful, you want to get down on your hands and knees and kiss the earth over the mere fact that you actually exist.
That is a feeling that you get. It is a joy in your heart, when you are happy just to be in the universe, to be alive, to be in existence.
And gratitude is something that you can practice. It is something that you can work on.
Cultivate that feeling of appreciation. Work on it.
Say prayers of thanks, if you pray.
Write out what you are grateful for, every day. Make new lists. Get good at it. Practice.
This is how you create bliss when you feel like you are stuck. You must realize that the bliss is there all along, and you just forgot to be amazed at the fact that you exist, and that the universe exists, and you get to delight in the wonder of being alive.
I forget this all the time.
But I am learning how to remember.
Which I am told is probably why we are here in the first place. To remember our bliss, to feel joyful.