What are we really doing in addiction recovery, if we are not changing our lifestyle and switching out our bad habits and replacing them with healthier habits? Isn’t this really the essence of recovery itself–to turn our bad habits into healthy habits?
This is the challenge as I see it in long term recovery: You must build a healthy life for yourself that you are excited to be living.
So the way that this worked for me was a bit tricky. I could not just sober up and then start picking what I wanted my life to be like. In fact, that was a recipe for disaster. Why?
Because when I choose what I really wanted in life, the outcome was chaos, misery, and addiction. I had already tried that technique in the past and it led to my own misery. I could not just try to muscle my way through to happiness, because that doesn’t work for me. I tried it and it failed.
So instead I had to use a different approach. This approach was unique because I had to trust in other people rather than in myself. I was putting my happiness into the hands of others, and I had no real assurance that what they would direct me towards would give me any kind of fulfillment, purpose, meaning, or happiness in life. It was a total toss up and I figured that I might follow their directions and end up miserable again, in which case I would then just go back to drinking and taking drugs, right?
But instead, I was miserable and I was at a point of surrender and I decided that I had nothing to lose by trusting the people at a rehab center. So I followed their direction and I started taking their suggestions. They told me, for example, to start out at a detox center and a 28 day program, which I did. They told me to go to long term treatment, which I did. They told me to attend AA and NA meetings, to go to therapy, to get a sponsor. I did all of those things and I did a whole lot more.
They told me that I had to surrender completely and give myself over to this recovery program. This was the part where I had to have faith, because I honestly did not believe that doing all of these things would lead me to happiness. I was quite skeptical about it all. But I had to try and I had to give myself a chance because I knew that drinking and drugs was just going to keep me miserable forever–I had that much figured out at least.
And so very slowly, I started to take suggestions from people in recovery, from my sponsor, from my therapist, and from the peers I had at AA meetings. I started to do what was suggested to me and then I was basically testing out the advice that I was given.
Some things that were suggested to me ended up falling by the wayside. For example, a lot of people pushed the idea of daily AA meetings for life. While I did attend for a while, I eventually quit going to daily meetings and found other ways to work my recovery program and find support. So that suggestion only took me so far, then I started using other suggestions.
Another one that I heard over and over again in early recovery was that I should start exercising and working out. I heard this for quite a while and I even tried to act on it a few times, but I never really got in to the exercise thing. After about two years or so of this I suddenly took the suggestion more seriously and I started working out very religiously. Suddenly I got all of the benefits of physical exercise and it was like a light bulb had gone off in my brain. This was a huge revelation for me and I have been exercising ever since then and it is a huge piece of my recovery. It is also one of the critical pieces of my healthy lifestyle today.
Another critical piece of the puzzle for me, I think, is that I made the decision to work in the field of addiction treatment. So all of the work that I do, both online and in the real world, is heavily involved with helping addicts and alcoholics to get and stay clean. This is essentially what the 12 step program advocates doing, though you can do this in any number of different ways. For example, you might sponsor newcomers who come into the AA program. I am grateful that I have found outlets that allow me to work in the field of recovery because it helps me to stay grounded in my own recovery program. You kind of have to practice what you preach, and as you instruct others it reinforces the lessons that we need to know for our own recovery.
Even after you have designed the cultivated the perfect lifestyle for yourself in recovery, there are still obstacles that pop up and drama to deal with. Another piece of the puzzle fell into place for me recently and that was the concept of seated meditation. Again, I had experimented with this in the past but this time it was a matter of timing and having the teacher appear at just the right moment. So I have found that the benefits of seated meditation–both for anxiety control as well as idea synthesis–are really too good to pass up. Because I exercise and I jog frequently, I can definitely get by without doing any meditation, because I get a lot of the same benefits while jogging. However, I have noticed that seated meditation does have a few benefits that I really do not get while jogging, and therefore they are both part of a healthy lifestyle for me.
So really what I want you to take away from all of this is not the specific habits that I have developed in my own recovery (although you might test them out!), but instead the idea that you need to be willing to take suggestions from other people and experiment.
If you are new to recovery then your life is a test kit right now, and you need to start testing out different techniques, strategies, and positive habits. Take a suggestion and then do a 30 day trial with it. Try seated meditation every day for 30 days. Try writing in a journal every day for 30 days. Try getting into physical shape over a period of several months. Try improving your diet. Try improving your sleep patterns. Test out daily AA meetings. Try going to therapy once or twice a week and see how that changes things.
Test every suggestion that gets thrown at you. Try to give every suggestion a fair test, which for me is generally a 30 day trial. If you keep doing this over and over again then your life will get so much better in just a few short months. You will adopt the best habits that really work for you, and in doing so you will create the healthy lifestyle that you were looking for all along.
My hope for you is that you stay open minded and that you are willing to try what is suggested to you. This is how you discover your true self in recovery. Good luck!