Rehab 101: Reflections on Being Encouraged to “Enjoy Your Life in Recovery”
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” — Henri Nouwen, Prof. of Theology at Yale, Harvard & Univ. of Notre Dame
Looking back at the state of our hearts and spirits when we finally surrendered, stepped past our fears, resistances and doubts, and sought help to recover from a substance use disorder, most of us were quite literally on the other side of the universe from feeling joy! In my case, however, little did I know what was in store for me within just one year of embarking on the recovery process.
I recall that during those first few weeks and months I had mustered as much diligence and commitment as I could– not just abstaining from drinking and using, one day at a time, but also keeping uncommonly openminded and willing about adopting new attitudes and practicing new behaviors, to the best of my ability.
Unlike my shady, manipulative past approach to people and life, I was now solemn in my resolve to take suggestions and to refrain from frequenting or interacting with former “people, places and things.” And when I say “solemn,” I don’t mean like going to a funeral… I mean intense, no-nonsense and austere.
Still, I must have exhibited some pretty strict self-discipline vibes back then, regarding how I was striving to establish new habits, in order to replace the old self-sabotaging ones.
Why do I say “must have”?
Because I remember one particular day my 12 Steps sponsor coming up to me and saying, “Hey, you might want to lighten up some.”
“I mean, it seems like you’re so focused on recovery activities that you’re not enjoying yourself!”
“I’m saying, if you don’t give yourself any time to enjoy your life in recovery, you’re not balancing things well. I just don’t see it as being healthy recovery if there’s no joy in it.”
Wow! He was right! And his words were a mouthful of honesty and insight I absolutely needed. In hindsight, this was a turning point in my recovery.
Here is just one example of what his spurring me onward to increase the joy in my life did for me.
In the last year of my active addiction, I was so “off the chain” that I’d gotten myself kicked out of a 10-year relationship, which included being forced to vacate the house I’d significantly helped my ex pay off in full.
So, after 9 months or so of being in recovery, when my sponsor suggested this “increase in my joy quotient,” I asked him how he thought I could go about doing that.
“It’s actually simple. Identify your dreams. What could you accomplish that would make you feel more joy? For instance, do you want to continue being a renter for the rest of your life or would you like to be a homeowner?”
“I’d really like to own a house, but-…”
“Alright, then keep an open mind and consider checking out what’s available to you. Like, I happen to know there’s a federal program to help new home-buyers accomplish their dream of owning their first home.”
By choosing to just ignore all the nay-saying voices in my head, I went ahead and investigated the program he’d told me about. Not only did I find out I could qualify, but after I signed up, attended the weekend classes and kept up with my “homework,” I soon found myself living in a small, but wonderful riverside house I could call my own!
The point he was making (and my point here) had much more to do with pulling my nose up off the grindstone I’d inadvertently applied to my recovery life… and simply balance things out by taking some time to expand my joy in recovery!
Since then, I’ve made it an integral part of my recovery to “check in” with my heart and spirit regularly, asking, “What would I like to accomplish or achieve that would bring me joy?” And as my time in recovery has gone on over the years, I’ve found myself deeply grateful, over and over, for this simple, yet profound suggestion to integrate joy-producing goals and activities into my new life, my life free from active addiction.