If you want to achieve serenity and peace of mind in long term sobriety then you have quite a bit of work to do. Funny, but also true.
It all starts when you are slowly building a foundation in early recovery. When you first get clean and sober, the idea that you might be “totally clean and serene” one day in the future may seem far fetched or distant. Most of us have some degree of anxiety and extreme emotions when we are in early recovery. It can be difficult to picture a life in which we are always peaceful one day.
I think that serenity and peace is an ideal that we can strive for in life. I think that, as recovering addicts and alcoholics, this is something that we get better at with practice. This is something that we can evolve with and improve upon as we learn and grow in recovery.
All of us have moments when we get upset, when we get frustrated, when our anxiety increases or we feel like our emotions are out of control. We all go through ups and downs in our recovery journey. The key is in how we handle these emotions and what we do with them. The key is in how we respond to the chaos in the world. You can limit the chaos and control some of it, but you cannot evade all of it. At some point you are still going to have to deal with raw emotions, with being upset or frustrated, with real anxiety.
So there are two options you have when it comes to seeking peace in your life: One, you can try to avoid the chaos and the misery. Two, you can try to create peace in your life in spite of the chaos.
At times you will need to practice both of these techniques. Some chaos is unavoidable. It just lands in your life and you are forced to deal with it. “Accept the things you cannot change.” Then the question becomes: How do you cope with that chaos, with that misery?
This is a learning process. When you have one week of sobriety under your belt you are not going to be world class at creating peace and serenity in your life just yet. It takes practice.
Also, most of us have to learn how to do this from scratch. We are not experts at achieving serenity, nor do most of us have a clue as to how to go about it. So we struggle at first. This is normal.
When I had a few months in recovery I did not have very good coping skills yet. I did not yet know how to deal with life and reality in recovery without resorting to drugs or alcohol. I had to learn the techniques, one at a time, that would eventually help me to get to a place of daily peace and serenity.
So what were those techniques? I’ll get to them in a second. But I think it is important for you to realize that the exact things that worked for me may not work for everyone. Your path in recovery may be different than mine. Two people who are both successful in recovery could work very different programs. That said, you may have to take suggestions from people and then test out what their advice is to find what works best for you. That is essentially what I did until I discovered the things that truly helped me.
Okay so first of all I would say that I had a very helpful therapist when I was in early recovery and going through treatment. That therapist helped me to understand that a relapse was likely going to be driven by emotions, and that those emotions would be caused by other people in my life. Therefore the skill that this therapist wanted me to learn the most was how to calm down, regroup, and then go communicate assertively with the person that had upset me.
Does that sound like a breakthrough technique? Let me assure you that knowing how to do that is very powerful in terms of sobriety. Nearly everyone who relapses does so because they are emotionally upset, and we don’t get upset with inanimate objects. We get upset because of other human beings in our lives. So knowing how to resolve those emotional situations is critical. Give yourself time to cool off, then go back to that person and explain why they hurt you or how they scared you. That is tough to do but it knowing that technique can set you free.
Second of all I learned at some point how to exercise physically, and also how to meditate. These techniques go hand in hand and I really equate them to being almost the same exact thing. Jogging outdoors and seated meditation in a quiet room give me nearly the same exact benefits when it comes to emotional and mental clarity. I would highly recommend to anyone in recovery that they learn how to do both of these things and then turn them into lifestyle habits. If you make seated meditation or vigorous exercise a part of your regular routine then you have built in a huge layer of protection against relapse.
I can be having a truly awful day, experiencing all kinds of negative emotions, and generally be very stressed out over the whole thing. But if I go outside and run hard for 40 minutes, those negative emotions are knocked way, way back in terms of my mindset and my attitude. If you are engaged in vigorous exercise then the physical demands of that workout are going to rise to the forefront of your mind, and this will seriously attenuate the negative emotions that you may be dealing with.
Of course your life situation is still there, it hasn’t changed just because you meditated or exercised. But you reclaim your mind when you do those things, you limit the effect that the negative emotions can have on you. This is a very powerful way to reclaim some peace and serenity while weathering a storm of negativity in your life. During a hard and vigorous workout, it is just you and the physical exertion, locked into this epic struggle, and the rest of the world fades into the background. Meanwhile, while you are meditating or exercising, your brain gets a chance to regroup, to recharge, and to prioritize what it can think about it versus what is just worthless worrying. This is what my brain does when I jog; it starts to get organized and figure out what it worth thinking about it and what can be dismissed.
So I think we all can find techniques in our life that do this, that allow us to get a mental reset–without resorting to drugs or alcohol. But you may have to experiment and be open to new suggestions in order to find the things that work for you. Not all of us are going to be joggers, and not all of us are going to want to meditate. But you may find that yoga is your place of peace, or a walk through nature allows you to find your inner serenity, or whatever the case may be. It is up to each of us to explore and find our own “happy place.” Good luck!