Many recovering addicts become so focused on the work of recovery that they forget to have fun. Usually this is because their only real goal early in the process is staying sober. While this is an admirable objective, it doesn’t exactly provide them with direction and meaning. Because of this, when the shiny new adventure of recovery inevitably loses its luster, shame creeps back in and they have nowhere to turn for motivation.
If this is the case for you, it may be time to ask yourself: “What are my goals beyond sobriety? Do I want to start dating? Do I want to join a softball team? Do I want to go on an exciting vacation? Do I want to write a bestselling novel?” And if you want those things (or anything else that seems fun but not directly related to recovery), it might be time to expand your horizons.
Put another way, there is more to healing from addiction than simply stopping your problem behaviors. You must replace those behaviors with something worthwhile. In the beginning, it may be OK to fill your suddenly available free time with nothing but therapy and meetings, but eventually that gets boring and maybe even depressing. So you must learn to care for yourself in ways that cultivate not only your sobriety but your sense of fun and your enjoyment of life. Interestingly, this process can feel so foreign to some recovering addicts that it ends up being the hardest part of the healing process.
A few general suggestions for increasing your enjoyment of life are as follows:
- Develop friendships. People who are not as happy as they would like to be often have very little going on their personal lives. As such, they feel lonely and isolated. Making friends and spending time with them is an easy way to combat this. Look for people in your life with whom you have some common interests – books, movies, museums, sports, spelunking, or whatever – and ask them to join you on an outing. Do this at least once per week.
- Get romantic. Whether you are single or in a relationship, a bit of romance is a great way to spice things up. If you are single, put yourself out there by posting a profile on an online dating site or two. (If you are a sex or love addict, consult your therapist and/or your sponsor before you do this.) If you are already coupled, take your significant other on a special date – something that he or she loves but doesn’t get to enjoy very often. And no, the goal here is not to have sex. The goal is to deepen your emotional connection. That said, as a side benefit your sex life will likely improve. (Generally speaking, deeper emotional connections = better sex.)
- Get a pet. Research shows that people with pets are happier and healthier than those without pets. And why not? When asked to give an example of unconditional love, many people immediately think of their pet. Moreover, caring for the physical and emotional needs of another living creature, be it human or animal, takes the focus off yourself, which is usually a relief to recovering addicts. If you are worried about your ability to care for a pet, start with a plant. If you can keep a plant alive, you can probably manage a pet.
- Enjoy nature. Many addicts have lost connection with the world around them. So maybe it’s time to go on a hike or a picnic and reconnect with nature. Getting out in nature is a great way to remember that we are not on this planet alone. For instance, birds need trees for their nests, trees need soil to grow in, soil needs worms to churn and nourish it, etc. Nature shows us that interdependence and connection (rather than independence and isolation) is the natural state of being.
- Helping others (without expecting or receiving a reward or acknowledgement) is a great way to elevate your self-esteem. And increased self-esteem equals increased happiness and a better recovery.
- Create a “home” at home. Recovering addicts who are less happy than they’d like to be often feel this way because they’ve ignored not only their inner selves, but their outer selves. If you take a bit of time to paint your bedroom, or plant flowers, or rearrange the furniture, or whatever, your outer world improves, and your inner self will likely respond accordingly.
- Do something nice for yourself. Treat yourself to a massage, yoga, guided meditation, or even a nice hot bubble bath. All of these are great ways to relax and let your stress slip away.
- Be a kid again. Even when children annoy us, they remind us to view the world with wonderment. For them, everything is new and fascinating. That’s why they’re so excited all the time. So be childlike and see the world with fresh eyes. It’s a great way to let go of your worries and enjoy yourself.
One More Thought
Many recovering addicts feel like they’ve behaved so badly for so long that they don’t deserve to enjoy life. If this is the case for you, try thinking about recreation, self-care, and enjoyable interpersonal connections as part of the daily medicine you need to stay sober. In other words, regardless of whether you think pleasure is deserved or not, it’s necessary, if for no other reason than it recharges your batteries. So taking time out for hobbies, games, exercise, sports, travel, quality time with family, and similarly enjoyable activities is not just an essential part of health and happiness, it’s an essential part of staying sober.