Addiction is a self-rewarding cycle, which is why it often continues even when you despise it. Drinking and drugging makes your brain release dopamine, which leads to you craving more and more of the same substance.
The good news is that although addiction is a vicious cycle, you can use healthy, naturally-rewarding activities that release dopamine to create a “virtuous cycle”. You can also make your recovery stronger and happier by changing the way you think about yourself and how you respond to the world.
Here are 6 great goals for creating a virtuous cycle and being happier and more at peace with yourself in recovery:
Stop Self-Limiting Because of Addiction
Many recovering addicts self-limit because they still identify with the “shame” of their past. Addiction is a behaviour, not who you essentially are. An addict is not broken; merely someone who was wounded and had no other tools to deal with it.
Yes, we do crappy things in addiction; but that’s over. Focus on who you want to be and what you want to do today and tomorrow. Speak kindly and supportively to yourself. You are not just an addict. You are a unique and valuable individual.
If you have achieved any length of recovery time, you’ve done one of the hardest things a human can do. You can use that strength to do wonderful things, which will further build your self-esteem. Never limit yourself because you’re in recovery. It makes you strong, not weak.
Do New Things in Recovery
Unexpectedly pleasurable events, or rewards at unexpected, times release dopamine. So, do new and random things to make your brain happy. I enjoy chatting to random strangers (if you’re on the tube with a dog, I’m gonna talk to you), which often leads to really cool conversations.
When I was in active alcoholism, I rarely travelled (like anyone would have let me on a plane). But travelling to new places is a great way to have surprising and interesting experiences; try walking around Rome without bumping into an amazing sculpture just when you least expected it.
Go to events you’d never have considered before. Try out a new sport. Go to a quirky museum. Boredom is one of the leading causes of relapse. So, do random things for the heck of it and your recovery will be stronger and more interesting.
I know that’s not what you want to hear. You worked so hard to achieve recovery. And now you have to do more healing? You didn’t get an addiction and all that anxiety, depression, and other shitty stuff from nowhere.
You can choose to stay where you are or you can choose to be happier. It’s that simple. I didn’t just turn into a person who could chat to random dog-owners on the underground; I used to be someone who was too anxious to even talk to people I knew!
Healing is sometimes hard and painful, but it doesn’t always have to be. Not all therapies take years and some therapeutic techniques are even fun. In the end, all healing is liberating and you’ll never regret getting better.
Have More Fun Than You Did Inebriated
If you have decided to stop drinking and drugging, no doubt your addiction has led you to a place of utter misery. But probably, especially in the early days of using, before addiction took hold, you had good fun using substances. Make it a goal to have much more fun in recovery than you ever did back then.
Music releases dopamine, so going to concerts is an ideal way to have fun. I’ve learned to dance sober – and I actually remember the gigs I’ve been to and don’t end up passed out in a corner. It’s one of my favourite things to do and much more fun than it ever was while drinking.
Laughter also releases dopamine, so do things that tickle your funny bone, whether it’s spending time with a witty friend or watching comedies. Whatever floats your boat in terms of fun, make time for it in your recovery.
Find Fulfilment in Recovery
While happiness and excitement are cool, life will always deliver fear, anger, disappointment, and other icky things. But if you live a fulfilling life, in which you can find meaning, you will find it easier to cope with life's downers.
Fulfilment looks different for everyone, but it's about living in a way that is consistent with your passions and values. I find fulfilment in helping others, writing, and learning. I also value freedom and creativity greatly, so I choose to work for myself and have creative control over what I do.
You could find fulfilment by starting a business or starting a family; it just depends on what personally matters to you in life. Having a fulfilling life is going to help keep you clean and sober, so take the time to work out what is meaningful for you and start working towards it.
Aim for Authenticity
Our addictions make us behave in ways that are not consistent with who we really are. We do unkind things to ourselves and others. We become liars and cheats, sometimes thieves. We might act aggressively.
Conversely, we might become codependent, passive, perfectionistic, people-pleasers, say “yes” when we mean “no”, smile when we’re sad, and end up feeling resentful, lost, and misunderstood because of it. This behaviour is usually due to trauma that pre-dates our addiction.
In recovery, we can find out who we authentically are and stop being what we’re not. Becoming our authentic selves is the ultimate goal of a recovering addict. You have to break old conditioning to do this. You may have to heal attachment wounds. The journey takes courage. But bit by bit, becoming your true self is one of the most wonderful gifts of recovery.
by Beth Burgess, Therapist and award-winning author of The Recovery Formula, The Happy Addict, and Instant Wisdom.