By Patrick O’Neil
Numerous recovery websites, articles, and studies have dedicated their content, time, and energy toward getting the addict and alcoholic into treatment in order for them to get sober. However not a lot of space has been allocated to what life really looks like afterwards. Sure AA promises that the recovering alcoholic is, “going to know a new freedom and a new happiness” after they get sober. But what does life after addiction really look like?
For most people in recovery getting free from their substance(s) of choice was their main objective. Yet when the dust settles and they acquire some clean time their “whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.” Life’s options, possibilities, and opportunities begin to appear. Freedom from active addiction gives the recovering addict and alcoholic a second chance at living. According to the National Institute On Drug Abuse, “In addition to stopping drug abuse, the goal of treatment is to return people to productive functioning in the family, workplace, and community.”
Yet is “productive functioning” all that recovery has to offer? No one gets sober to live a life of mediocrity. “Recovery involves a lifetime plan,” says Dr. Jerry Lerner, “Recovery is part of an ongoing healthier living process.” And that healthier process shows up in a variety of ways.
Many people in recovery reevaluate their ideas of what success and happiness are. Some may be in need of a career change and they head back to school. Expanding one’s consciousness and mind is a healthy objective. In recovery the addict and alcoholic learns a lot about themselves, addiction, and their mental health. Continuing on a path of knowledge can be the natural progression. Enrolling and completing school can also provide those in recovery with an achievement that they can not only be proud of, but one that makes a positive statement on how profoundly they have changed their lives. It also builds self-confidence and self esteem.
Others turn toward rebuilding the relationships they had lost; family, friends, and marriages. “Most people experience deep regret, guilt, and shame related to the harm their use of alcohol and other drugs has caused to the people they care about,” writes recovery author Dan Mager. Redeveloping those relationships is not only healing, but they “provide mutual support and connection [which] is essential.” Relationships affect the way those in recovery feel about themselves and their lives. Close healthy relationships not only keep them grounded, but also provide happiness and a sense of security.
Finances also play a big role in life after addiction. For many this will be the first time they are responsible enough to follow their dreams and open their own business. For these entrepreneurs the positive benefits of creating something they love to do that also provides for them financially can be a huge reward. And for others, a part time job that pays the bills and allows them to live their life while continuing to “keep it simple” is all the security they need.
Because boredom is a potential “trigger” for relapse many people in recovery look toward hobbies for fun and to fill their idle time. When their focus was solely on getting high they probably thought hobbies were a waste of time. But by being present in their daily lives the activities that seemed trivial are now pleasurable. Travel, art, music, outdoor activities, and food—just to name a few—can create meaning and fulfillment. Finding enjoyment in pleasurable activities is one of the gifts of recovery.
There’s a joke that recovering addicts and alcoholics become addicted to quitting. Because once they start down the path of a healthy lifestyle they become conscious of what they put into their bodies and the negative consequences of their behaviors. Choices that they made while in their addiction don’t serve them well in recovery. This could be as simple as starting to eat healthily, stopping smoking, or having a program of exercise in order to lose weight. Continuing the positive change they started in addiction treatment creates an ongoing sense of a best self. A healthy body is a temple and should be treated like one.
So no matter what path the recovering addict and alcoholic follows, nurturing and cultivating one’s passion, beliefs, and ideas is an integral and essential part of their recovery. CAST Centers encourages clients to discover and embrace their creativity (whatever, whenever, and however that appears in their lives) and to pursue their passion in whatever medium, occupation, or career it may present itself. Ultimately the goal of life after addiction is living in peace—physically and emotionally. By staying sober and continually addressing their self-defeating inner issues the addict and alcoholic in recovery can (and will) obtain a rich and fulfilling life after addiction.