Happiness in Recovery

Sobriety or abstinence isn't the end goal of recovery. If the absence of drugs and alcohol were all that was necessary for recovery, we could simply lock people in a room without access to these substances for a period of time, and pronounce them healed at the end of it.

That's been tried before and, while it may be a good start for those who are motivated to quit, people who aren't happy in recovery are unlikely to remain in recovery. Finding happiness in recovery is a longer process, but essential.

With addiction, there is a larger problem with the brain that is both the cause and the effect of the chronic use of addictive substances. If this larger problem isn't addressed, people who have abstained from drug and alcohol use will still have trouble coping with life, and it's only a matter of time before a relapse.

An April 10 blog post introduced a recovery program known as Moderation Management, which is sometimes referred to as a harm reduction model for recovery, as opposed to an abstinence model.

This model of recovery was included here because Pir2Peer Recovery Community Center recognizes several paths to recovery. Nevertheless, I included Moderation Management with some unease.

The truth is that moderation is probably not a good choice for people with serious addictions, although it may work for those who haven't progressed far along the path to addiction.

A dangerous fact is that people with addictions have a predisposition to seek the "easier, softer way," to borrow a phrase from Alcoholic Anonymous. Someone whose mind has been affected by addiction is likely to be attracted to a way to beat addiction without having to give up their use of their substance of choice.

Sadly, while moderation management is a true choice for some, it is unlikely to work for those with serious or long-term addictions. There are several routes to recovery, and there is no one recovery program that is best for everyone.

For a severely addicted person, moderation management would require self-control from someone whose brain circuitry has been rewired to make this difficult, and it requires accountability from someone who isn't very good at that.

That said, there are several abstinence-based recovery programs, some based on the 12-step model, others not.

Many people in recovery will find it necessary to be forever mindful of the potential for relapse. People who enter addiction treatment facilities, where their substance of choice is not available to them, may come out sober but, without a plan for long-term recovery, they are unlikely to remain that way.

Most treatment facilities today have aftercare programs that may involve weekly meetings at the facility, but the travel can become burdensome after a while, and many will fall into relapse.

Those who come home from a treatment facility with the mindset that it was a cure are likely to find out that it wasn't.

Most recovery programs are abstinence-based, but abstinence is just the beginning of the larger process leading to happiness in recovery.

Those who are comfortable in sobriety will fight hard to maintain it. Those who are unhappy in recovery will eventually come to view recovery as being all about giving things up.

Those who are actively addicted often use drugs or alcohol to bring happiness, but this isn't authentic happiness. Genuine happiness doesn't come naturally to everyone, and this is more often the case with people who have become accustomed to inducing it through substances.

Organic happiness is a process. Like recovery, happiness is something that needs to be worked toward. Happiness is not a constant state. It's not as if you arrive at a state of happiness and stay there indefinitely. Like recovery, it requires engagement.

Don't set unrealistic expectations. Don't
expect perfection from yourself or others. We all have bad days, and positive actions don't always yield positive results. Practice being positive, seek positivity in other people, and be willing to adjust your outlook when you're feeling negative.

Abstinence gives you a chance to start over, but you're allowed to make mistakes or to struggle with making the right decision. Striving for perfection sets you up for failure.

Blame is pointless. Whether you're blaming yourself or someone else, guilt can only suck the happiness out of your life. When you blame yourself, you're willingly taking on a negative label and, when you blame someone else, you're holding on to bitterness and resentment, and neither of these things are going to help you to be comfortable in recovery.

Recovery from addiction and self-esteem go hand-in-hand. Beating yourself up erodes your confidence, leaving you feeling bad about yourself and, when you feel bad about yourself, you're not happy in recovery.

Repairing old relationships and building new ones can help you to be satisfied in recovery. Active addiction damages relationships with family members, friends, and others, so recovery is a good time to begin the work of rebuilding and strengthening these relationships, as well as forming new ones.

Active addiction can take a toll on physical health, not only from direct damage from the substance itself, but people who spend a great deal of time feeding their addiction often neglect matters like exercise and eating right. Recovery is a good time to begin the work of repairing any damage that was done through exercise, a healthy diet, and getting a good night's sleep.

Active addiction takes up a good deal of time and attention. After achieving sobriety, you'll need to fill your time with healthier activities. Depending on individual interests, this could involve a greater attention to your work, school, hobbies, sports, or volunteer time.

If you're ready to start on the path toward a healthy, happier, sober life, the volunteers and staff of Pir2Peer Recovery Community Center may be able to help you develop a plan and explore your options.