If one has managed to achieve longterm sobriety and create a contented life, it can be tough to hear struggling newcomers describe recovery as “boring”. Obviously, no one wants to be perceived as boring but, if one has mastered the art of not taking things personally, the real challenge is trying to convey how much more exciting it is to live in recovery than it is to live in active addiction. Unfortunately, this kind of life experience is something newcomers must discover for themselves. It is heartbreaking to watch people return to substance use because they’re afraid of missing out.
At the end of the day, most people in recovery have, at one time or another, experienced the fear of being left out. Society is saturated with substance use; inebriation is promoted from the football game to the family reunion. Moreover, most of one’s peer base in early recovery are those who are still actively engaging in drug and alcohol use. Until one makes new friends, getting drunk and high feels like the norm. Peer and societal pressure can weigh heavily in the beginning – and it would be wrong to minimize or invalidate the poignancy of the resulting fear and hurt.
While feeling left out is a painful reality, there are two other stark truths that must be acknowledged. These concepts shift responsibility from external sources to the individual, and we deal with them in a structured, supportive way in both the Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) and Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) at our New Hampshire addiction treatment center.
- The idea that drugs and alcohol make life more vibrant is an illusion. Is it true that one can experience euphoria and a wide range of other enhanced emotions? Absolutely. But all of these feelings are chemically manufactured. Sure, it may feel pleasant, but the fact of the matter is these emotions and experiences aren’t being derived from direct stimuli, they’re being aided by a chemical third party. It’s not just the individual and the experience; it’s the individual, the chemical, and the experience. Part of the profound joy of recovery is feeling excitement and other intense emotions without the aid of a chemical. What makes these experiences so exciting is that they’re not an illusion, they’re real. People living with substance use disorder can be some of the smartest and most creative people in the world. The philosophers among this subset might ask: “What is real?” However, perhaps the more important question is: “When do these arguments become a justification for staying sick?”
- It is not the function of the external world to provide entertainment. It is the function of the individual to create meaning and enjoyment. It is the function of the individual to recognize the available wonders in nature. Boredom, therefore, is fundamentally a kind of victim mentality; it is a lack of creativity and personal responsibility. Boredom says: “I expect an external source to enhance my life and provide engagement. I am incapable of exploring ways to amuse myself and add meaning to my life”. The work of recovery is shifting the focus from the external to the internal.
Initially, these notions can be difficult to stomach, which is why we take them head on in both our PHP and New Hampshire IOP. No one enjoys having their core beliefs challenged or being told they need to take responsibility. It requires a setting aside of the ego. It feels uncomfortable. But if one is able to surmount the initial discomfort and become open to a new perspective, one can access a realm of boundless freedom and potential. In recovery meetings, it isn’t uncommon to hear people describe their life as “second to none” or “beyond their wildest imaginings”. This kind of existence comes to fruition when one continuously works on his or her internal condition.
If recovery looks boring, here are five examples of how it can be exciting and vibrant:
- Career & Educational Advancement:
Recovery provides one with the time and mental clarity to hustle. Want to go back to school? Want to pursue a dream job that never seemed realistic or accessible? Go for it! When one isn’t hemorrhaging time, money, and energy on the pursuit of drugs and alcohol, a deep well of resources becomes available for positive utilization.
There is nothing quite like the hush on top of New Hampshire’s beautiful Mount Washington or the grace of a giant sea turtle swimming in the wild. In recovery, one not only has the option to earn disposable income, but one is also not too hungover to hop out of bed and explore everything from the White Mountains to the urban jungle. Worried about being bored at night? Round up a couple of friends and rent a property with a pool or a fire pit. If money is an issue, give camping a chance. Best of all, no memory is lost to a blackout or a drug induced haze.
- A Family of Choice:
In active addiction, one is so focused on meeting his or her own needs that relationships sometimes fall by the wayside. Friendships may be superficial and based on mutual drug seeking behaviors. Family members may be sick and bridges may be burned beyond repair. The good news is that recovery helps one learn how to be a good friend, family member, and spouse. It’s hard to let go of people from the past, but the beauty lies in forming new, genuine connections. It feels amazing to make amends, let go of toxic relationships, and proactively cultivate the love and safety one has always craved.
- New Holiday Traditions:
Thanksgiving might be synonymous with drinking too much wine, burning the turkey, and arguing with Uncle Joe, but that doesn’t have to be the case. First and foremost, being clean and sober allows one to show up. Moreover, holidays are the perfect opportunity to curate one’s life and devise activities that are both healthful and enjoyable. Inviting loved ones over for a sober meal, going on Christmas light dates, and hosting a costume party, football game, or cookie baking night are all great options. It is surprising just how enjoyable these activities are without the aid of substances. Recovery doesn’t mean one can’t dress up in wild costumes or shoot off fireworks in the backyard. It means appreciating things more deeply than ever before.
- Concerts and Festivals:
Live music can prompt an adrenaline rush and a healthy, natural high. Not unlike traveling, attending a concert in recovery allows one to remember all the nuances of the experience. The people watching is also incomparable. The days of sloshing beer on bystanders and vomiting in the parking lot are a thing of the past – and the days of watching other people carry out the aforementioned shenanigans have arrived. In addition, if vintage or antique festivals are on the agenda, one happily needn’t worry about buying expensive items in a blackout.
This list only scratches the surface of what recovery has to offer. If life feels like it will never get better, give it time. The recipe for excitement includes equal measures of patience, humility, accountability, and a dash of inventiveness. The totality of these qualities may seem like the polar opposite of excitement, but counterintuitive principles often frame the doorway to success.
Autumn Khavari is the Process Recovery Center’s web content writer. She received an education in Substance Abuse Counseling from Beal College in Bangor, Maine.