Today is International Day of Happiness! Which is it? Are you happy just to be here, or do you believe there is much more to life in recovery than mere existence in a sober state? Entering recovery is both an exciting and scary experience. That is, it can be that way for many people – sometimes even at the same time. While most newly-sober individuals would probably admit to being relieved and/or grateful to be away from the deepest days of addiction, that doesn’t mean they always relish the prospect of this totally new way of living.
By the time you’re done reading this, you may have changed your mind, if not completely, at least a little.
Getting a Do-Over
Consider the fact that addiction wasn’t your finest moment. Let’s be even blunter. It was likely some of the worst times you’ve ever had. Not only did you seriously jeopardize your relationships, your job, your health and your place in the community, you may very well have suffered nearly irreparable harm in one or several aspects of your life.
Certainly, the opportunity to have a fresh start in life is appealing to you. This more than qualifies as both happy to be here and a beginning of more to life in recovery than mere existence.
Not everyone who’s now sober subscribes to the belief that they can start fresh. It takes some time to get our minds around that concept. First, we have to forgive ourselves for all the bad things we’ve said and done that have brought harm or pain to those we care about, those we barely know, and to ourselves.
Forgiveness is a bitter pill to swallow. It is the kind of necessary medicine that we somehow are so reluctant to take, even though we know we’ll be better off for the experience.
Why are we so often unwilling to absolve ourselves of our past addictive behavior? Is it that we believe we need to be continually punished for our transgressions, our wrongdoings, or our sins? What does this accomplish in the long run except making us more miserable in our sober life and keeping us from fully realizing goals and dreams that we might otherwise have?
Let’s just center in on this one point right now: We all deserve and can make good use of a do-over. But this isn’t just an idle exercise. We can’t just say, OK, I forgive myself. Now bring life on. No, we are going to have to work and work very hard to achieve what we want in life. There are no hand-outs here. We will reap the rewards commensurate with the time and effort we put into achieving them.
Maybe this frightens off some people who are looking for a quick change. Presto-chango and all is both forgiven and forgotten and it’s on to whatever we see on the near horizon.
Guess what? Recovery doesn’t work like that. If we’re only concerned about our own well-being, we’re not going to be very happy in life. We will need to get out of our self-centeredness and start to do something that can benefit others if we really want to appreciate the full rewards of this fresh start in life.
There’s another aspect to the do-over that bears mentioning and that is that once we’ve forgiven ourselves and commit to living a new life with healthier behaviors, we still need to make amends for the mistakes and hurts that we’ve brought about in the past.
So, beyond working for this new life in sobriety, we also need to do what we can to make amends for the past.
Discovering New Talents
Chained for so long to the vicious addiction cycle, many people new to recovery may cling to the outmoded belief that they’re good for nothing, that they’re doomed to failure, even that they don’t deserve to be a success at anything.
With such a negative attitude, it would be near impossible to find any motivation to trying something new, possibly even discovering new talents.
Truth be told, many people are happy enough just to be sober and don’t bother to step outside their narrow comfort zone to explore new things, to challenge themselves by learning a new skill, traveling, widening their circle of friends, changing jobs, going back to school, picking up a hobby.
This way of living in sobriety isn’t wrong. It’s just short-sighted. If you want to stay moored in the same spot on a placid lake and never venture into the interesting coves and channels just off to the right or the left, that’s certainly your choice. You won’t be jeopardizing your sobriety, necessarily, but you are likely to merely sit stagnant in your little boat if you do.
On the other hand, what could be the harm in checking out some area that you may find a little bit interesting? Maybe you once thought you’d like to explore the Mayan ruins in Mexico or go deep-sea diving or learn a new language. What is to stop you from pursuing such experiences now? You aren’t too old or tired or incapable of learning anything new. The only real barrier is in your head. But you can change this narrow mindset and open up your life to the possibility of experiences that are completely new.
It remains your choice, of course, but a life worth living is worth living well. This includes tapping into and discovering the many talents that you didn’t know you had – and then enjoying them to the fullest.
That you can do all this in recovery is far more rewarding than just settling for being sober. There is so much more that life in recovery offers. Are you up for the challenge?
Living in Integrity
While much of your past life may have been an obsessive search for a drug or drugs of choice, now that you’re in recovery you have an entirely different perspective on daily living. For one thing, you’re now clean and sober. This alone constitutes a tremendous improvement over the way things were.
But it doesn’t end here. Being clean and sober also allows you to see more clearly where your values went askew, or even disappeared entirely under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
You know you don’t want to live that way anymore. That’s one of the changes you committed to making when you went through rehab and entered recovery. Living the kind of life that you hope to create for yourself in sobriety means that you now have the opportunity – and the gift – of being able to live in integrity.
What does this mean in a practical sense? To live in integrity means that you act in accordance with your beliefs and values, that you say and do what you mean. If you’ve embraced sobriety, this new life requires that you do your best to live up to certain stated commitments.
Granted, there will be times when to do so will require painful effort and cause you to make some difficult choices, things that never concerned you when you were deep into addiction. Sometimes the decisions will not be readily apparent, requiring the advice and support from others. Other times, you may not be quite up to the task, but you won’t give up if you are living in integrity.
Yes, you may make mistakes or fall short of certain goals at times. This doesn’t take anything away from living in integrity. In fact, when you live with integrity, what you will find is that you are even more committed to achieving what you set out to do, even if that means repeated effort until you do succeed.
Consider living in integrity as being true to you. When you know what you want is good and right for you and commit fully to achieving it, no matter how long it takes or how much effort is required, you are being true to what you believe at your core. You are living in integrity, which is so much more meaningful than just being happy to be sober.
Can You Say Joy?
While happiness may be elusive and mean something different to each individual, when you are in recovery and want more out of life than mere existence, what you’re really striving for is joy.
Let’s be clear that joy doesn’t mean you’ll never experience disappointment or get upset or have a bad day. Joy in recovery is more in line with an overall sense of contentment and peace and deeply held love and appreciation of life.
It’s also tied to gratefulness for each and every minute you have in recovery, especially knowing that it could just as easily been otherwise. Once you were literally lost. Now you have found your path in recovery.
One way to experience joy is to approach each day with the curiosity and wonder of a small child. Find delight and joy in the little things. In fact, all that’s necessary is to look with open eyes around in order to see that life offers incredible opportunities. Reach out and accept these gifts. Embrace life. Feel the joy.
There are undoubtedly many more reasons why there is more to life in recovery than just being happy to be here. These few thought-starters should be enough to make you realize that life is very precious, indeed. Every action you take, every word you speak, every thought you have counts. Make the most of it.
posted originally in 2013