How do you go about developing a fresh outlook on life when you are recovering from alcoholism or drug addiction?
How do you go from being completely miserable, possibly depressed, and generally feeling bad about yourself to…..something positive?
And how can you get the energy and the momentum to actually sustain this new direction in the face of heavy challenges? Early sobriety isn’t exactly a picnic for most people!
One popular answer is to take everyone “one day at a time.” But I think an even better answer is the holistic approach to recovery, and to your life.
You need to take care of yourself again in life, and that may involve a learning curve. This takes time to adopt. It doesn’t happen overnight.
To compound that problem, even after you start to take really good care of yourself in various new ways, the results of that are not necessarily instantaneous. It takes time.
That is why you hear people say that you should “give yourself a break” in early recovery. They are referring to the fact that it takes some time for the rewards of recovery to fully kick in.
Giving yourself a chance to heal from addiction
When you first get clean and sober you are likely to be quite a mess. I know that I certainly was.
I wasn’t just going to heal my entire life overnight. I had to start somewhere.
And the place that I started was in asking for help. This is a simple thing to do, but that does not mean that it is easy to do.
You ask for help from other people and hopefully you are at a point of surrender where you will be willing to follow directions. If you are not willing to follow directions then there is not much hope for your long term sobriety.
In other words, if you want a new outlook on life then you need to be willing to put in the effort. You have to take action.
We have this false idea that we can just instantly change our minds and the whole world around us will change. That may be partially true, but how practical of a solution is that for you, really? Can you instantly just change your mood, for example, at the drop of a hat (without using your drug of choice?).
This is why you often hear in AA meetings “bring you butt to the meetings and your mind will eventually follow.” It’s all about taking action at first. If you want to change your mind and your attitude then the easiest way to do that is to put your feet into motion. Take positive action. Ask for help, take some advice, and reach out and help other people instead of trying to help yourself. These are some of the basic and simple ideas that you find in recovery circles. If you focus on helping others then this will do wonders for your outlook on life. On the other hand if you are selfish and try to help yourself without thinking of others then your perspective is not likely to change or improve much.
I used to get angry at AA meetings because everyone was talking about how grateful they were and how wonderful life was in recovery. But I just wasn’t there yet. The solution is to “give yourself a break.” You have to give recovery a chance to take effect. The rewards will come eventually if you are doing the work…..
Everyone at AA meetings is gushing about how grateful they are and you just aren’t feeling it yet…..
So how exactly do you give yourself a break in early recovery? How do you press on and keep your chin up when you just aren’t feeling it inside?
One, realize that the rewards in sobriety come slowly to you. Or rather, anything that is worth keeping and worth working for is not going to just appear after a week of sobriety. It takes time to realize the full benefits and this is how you want it to be. Think about it: Easy come, easy go. If the rewards of sobriety showed up in less than a week then what incentive would you have to remain sober? You wouldn’t. Because it was super easy to get sober and turn your life around, you would have no incentive to remain sober at all. Luckily this is not the case, and it takes some serious time and hard work to get the full benefits of recovery. But then once you are living this new existence it is much more stable and likely that you can hold on to it for the long term. The harder you worked for your achievement the more you will want to protect it.
Can you fake gratitude? Sort of. This is the idea of “acting as if” or using daily affirmations to try to train your brain to be more positive. This works for some people better than others. Or rather, it may just be that some people are willing to do daily affirmations and others are not.
The key I think is that you are doing some sort of daily work in this department. As we will see below, the key is that you are pursuing personal growth in every area of your life, actually. But gratitude is especially important because it is powerful enough to insure you against relapse pretty much all by itself.
So how do you convince yourself to be grateful? I have two suggestions for you to use, and both of these things will work in early recovery. The extent to which they work is only dependent on how much effort you put into using them. In other words, you have to take action and be responsible for cultivating your own gratitude. On the other hand, when you use either of these two techniques, you are not dependent on external circumstances in order to make you happy. You can cultivate your own happiness out of thin air, and this is very powerful in terms of preventing relapse. It is pretty hard to justify a relapse when you are in a state of gratitude.
First technique is called “negative visualization.” That sounds like a bad thing, right? It’s actually a good thing. And it also happens to be one of the secrets of ancient stoic philosophers, not that this really matters much. The tactic works great and that is what we are interested in.
So here is what you do: Every day, perhaps at set times during the day or on a special cue (such as when your watch beeps at you or something) you pause for 30 seconds or less and imagine in as much detail as possible how badly you would feel if you were stuck in a worst case scenario right now. Maybe you are arriving to work or something and your watch beeps so you use this visualization technique really quickly, and so you imagine that you lost your job and then you got in a horrible accident and you are laid up in the hospital and you have tons of medical bills to pay with no money left. Really make it bad. Your brain can probably do this very quickly, and it can lead you into “how can I make the situation even worse?” So you just take about 20 or 30 seconds and you imagine something horrible happening in your life right now and you try to imagine what that would feel like to you. And you try to feel those feelings in detail.
Now you are probably wondering why in the world anyone would want to do this. You probably think that if you did this exercise every single day, or even several times each day, that it would only serve to make you more miserable than you already are.
I am not kidding when I say that famous stoic philosophers discovered and used this technique to increase their own happiness.
The reason it works is that your brain, after doing this brief negative visualization, will suddenly become grateful when it realizes that this horrible scenario is not reality.
That’s the whole technique. That’s it. If you can practice that once a day (or a few times per day) then it will increase your sense of gratitude dramatically.
Very few people will try this technique though because they think it will make them depressed.
But you can’t just imagine what it might make you feel like to use this technique, you have to actually dive in and try it for yourself. See how it makes you feel.
I bet you will be surprised if you give it a fair chance. It really does lead you to more gratitude.
The second technique that I suggest is the tried and trusted “gratitude list.”
But instead of just making a list and then pinning it up on your fridge, never to look at it again, here is what you do:
Do 30 days of gratitude lists. Every single day, write out a new list. Give yourself a quota, such as 30 things, or 50 things to be grateful for. And write them down on a scrap piece of paper.
Then at the end of the day, tear up your life and throw it away.
Do this every day, for 30 days straight. Every single day, write out a new list.
Sound crazy? It’s not. The key is that after you do this every day for 30 days, you start to get really good at it. You are training your brain to find the gratitude in life very quickly.
Just think of someone you know who is very negative and they never write out a gratitude list. How long would it take that person to think of 10 things that they are grateful for? Probably a long time.
But if you are in practice and you write out lists every day, then you can probably come up with your first ten things to be grateful for in less than 30 seconds.
Now stop and realize what the implications are for this in terms of recovery and relapse.
When someone reaches for that beer or that first drug in the moment of relapse, they have ZERO gratitude. None at all. They are in a moment of pure selfishness.
In that final moment their only defense is really gratitude. To stop and realize that they have a lot to live for, a lot to be grateful for, a lot to be sober for. But if they are not in the habit of practicing gratitude then they have very little defense against the first drink.
Also realize that the faith based solution to the first drink also depends on gratitude. Your faith cannot really protect you from the first drink if you are in a moment of selfishness and lack gratitude. Because you may still believe and you may still have faith, but if you honestly don’t care and you are thinking selfishly then you will relapse anyway. The protection comes from the attitude of gratitude more than it comes from your level of faith or belief.
Why the daily practice needs to be holistic in order to capitalize on your current area of needed growth
So you want a fresh outlook on life, and you are working on gratitude and therefore your spirituality.
What else can be done?
In recovery we need to grow in the follow ways. We need to learn to take care of ourselves in the following ways:
If you are neglecting any of these areas in your life then you leave the door open to relapse.
The daily practice is the daily habits and the positive actions that you take every day in order to become healthier in sobriety.
Now realize that it is possible to take care of yourself and love yourself in many different ways.
When you practice gratitude you are taking care of yourself spiritually.
When you practice fitness and nutrition and good sleep habits you are taking care of yourself physically.
When you quit smoking cigarettes you are taking care of yourself physically.
When you make changes in your life to lower your stress you are taking care of yourself emotionally.
When you force yourself to brainstorm ideas and sit and rack your brain for what changes you need to make in life you are taking care of yourself mentally.
When you reach out and help others in recovery you are taking care of yourself socially. Or when you eliminate toxic relationships and surround yourself with people who love you.
These ideas are not the final word on how to take care of yourself. In fact they merely scratch the surface of what it truly possible in addiction recovery.
In order to really learn how to take care of yourself you are going to need some more help. You should find people in recovery that you trust and ask them for guidance and ideas. Then you should test those ideas out for yourself and see what works and what does not.
You should also meditate at various stages of your recovery and see what bubbles up, what kind of anxiety your brain is producing that you might want to eliminate.
Much of the work that you do in recovery is about eliminating things. Identifying pieces of your life that you want to reduce, eliminate, cut. I had to do this in my own life in many different ways. Certain relationships had to be eliminated. My attachment to self pity had to be cut. The drugs, the alcohol, the chemicals that I was addicted to. The old resentments and the negative thinking. The shame and the guilt that I was carrying.
So you can try to force yourself to have this great new outlook on life, but it isn’t going to work very well if you have a lot of negative stuff that needs to be eliminated. Because even though you might make some positive gains in your life there will always be these negative things holding you back. That is, unless you do the work and deal with these issues and get some relief from them.
For example, I had to figure out what I was doing internally in my early recovery. I was engaging in self pity. This was not serving me well. I had to find a way to get past that in order to move forward. I had to ask for help, I had to have people hold me accountable. I had to do the work that was necessary in order to pull myself out of that particular hole.
The daily practice is simply what you do every day. Your habits. Hopefully they are positive habits. If you don’t know what those should be then you need to ask for help, start taking advice, and start experimenting. This will allow you to build a new life in recovery and also to get stronger in terms of relapse prevention. We move forward in recovery or we end up in big trouble. You can’t really sit idle and expect to stay sober for very long.
The fresh outlook that you get in life will be a function of this holistic approach.
Some people focus exclusively on spirituality, and this may work up to a point. But if you do this then you have to realize that the rewards and benefits that you get in recovery will be limited. You are leaving a lot of personal growth on the table if you ignore the idea of personal growth in terms of your physical health, your mental health, your emotional health, and your social health. Just focusing on spiritual health only is not how to develop this awesome new outlook in life. If you do that then you will be missing several critical pieces.
Slowly changing what is important to you in life
As you remain sober in recovery your priorities will slowly change.
I can remember when I first got sober, I was still pretty miserable. This is because my measurement of “having fun” was based entirely on being drunk or high. Since I was no longer getting drunk or high, I therefore could not have any fun. I was miserable.
As time went on in recovery, my idea of what was “fun” started to evolve. It changed. So at some point (without even realizing it at first!) I was suddenly having fun on a regular basis even though I was still not getting drunk or high. How was this possible?
When I realized this, that I was having fun again, I was truly baffled. I was also extremely grateful because I really thought that I would be miserable forever without drugs and alcohol.
It turned out that my ability to enjoy life sober eventually skyrocketed. I just had to give myself a chance.
On top of that, I think the opportunities for enjoyment go up a great deal when you use this “holistic approach.” In other words, if you are taking care of yourself and loving yourself in all of those critical areas (emotionally, spiritually, physically, etc.) then you will have far more opportunity to enjoy yourself and your life in recovery.
This is because you are eliminating problems and negative points in your life. When you care for yourself and love yourself you eliminate misery, you eliminate chaos, you eliminate negativity. So this leaves you with a strong foundation on which you can build a new life, one that you can enjoy and be grateful for.
It is not so much what happens to you, but how you react to it. If you have trained yourself to find the gratitude in everything then it doesn’t really matter a whole lot what happens in your life. You can find the gratitude, find the silver lining, make the best of any situation and find a way to be happy.
In addiction we were the complete opposite of this. We just wanted our own selfish desires and the universe could not possibly serve it up quickly enough to us. And even if we got it as ordered we would still be angry for some reason.
In recovery we develop the ability to appreciate the finer things, the subtle things, the little life lessons that we used to miss every day due to our addiction.
Don’t seek a new outlook, instead, seek personal growth and how to help others….
One final thought:
Don’t seek to change your outlook or gain a new perspective.
Instead, seek to improve yourself and help others.
If you do either of those things even half well then your perspective will change immensely and you will find a new peace and happiness in life.
What about you, have you developed a new outlook in recovery? Are you still working on it? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!