10 Tips for Restructuring Your Life in Recovery

Posted on April 6th, 2010

In recovery, things are bound to be different. There’s simply no way that life can go on as it did before. Still, recovery is a scary prospect for many who are just beginning this stage of the healing process. There are so many unknowns, and it’s hard to know how to plan for such a time – especially when you’re just getting used to the feeling of being clean and sober. Don’t be overwhelmed or intimidated by recovery. Here are 10 tips on restructuring your life in recovery to get you started.

1. Accept That Life Has to Change

You already knew it. Things are different now. How much different you have yet to fully comprehend, and that may be part of the problem. As human beings, we’re all frightened to some extent over what we don’t know – or what we think we know that may turn out to be misguided or wrong. Think back to when you first entered treatment for your addiction. At that time, you acknowledged the fact that you had a problem with your addiction and accepted treatment to overcome it. That had to be pretty gut-wrenching, but you did it. You didn’t know what the outcome would be, only that you had to do something.

Recovery is but the next phase, the lasting phase, of your healing process. So, while you don’t know how and what will change in recovery, you must first accept that it will change. It has to, or you may suffer a relapse, winding up back where you started. Or, if you fight to continue your previous lifestyle, your life will seem an unending series of obstacles and battles, gloomy and fraught with negatives. You’ll never progress toward your goals, and you’ll likely fall back into your addiction sooner rather than later. Your counselors mentioned the need to change while you were in treatment. Now is the time to do it. Accept that life has to change, and get busy making the changes.

2. Allow Yourself to Dream

Before you do anything drastic in the way of life changes, allow yourself a little time to dream. You may have already done some of this during the active treatment phase, but, chances are, it was pretty limited. After all, it’s hard to think positive things when you’re trying to figure out how to cope with urges and cravings, learning about your addiction, dealing with stress, overcoming physical and psychological side-effects of withdrawal and getting the family involved in treatment. Now that you’ve completed treatment and are in the recovery stage, sit back and think about what you’d like to accomplish in the long term.

Think about your abilities, what you’re really good at. How can you translate that ability into something concrete that will satisfy you 5 to 10 years down the line? Have you always dreamed of being able to travel to different countries, around the United States, or to get better acquainted with all your own state has to offer? Do you want to be able to learn foreign languages or become more fluent in languages you may have studied briefly in high school or college? How about starting, continuing, or finishing a degree program? Do you want to learn a craft, take up a hobby that may turn into a moneymaker, or get involved in the performing arts? If you’re an excellent cook, you may wish to consider becoming a professional chef. Turn your love of the outdoors into a hobby like photography or recreational pursuits like cross-country skiing, fly fishing, or white water rafting. Any one of these may turn into opportunities to achieve a long-term dream or goal.

3. Brainstorm Idea

Now that you’ve thought about some of your dreams and, hopefully, come up with quite a few new ones, it’s time to brainstorm ideas. Just as you allowed yourself to dream in the previous suggestion, during brainstorming you need to allow ideas to freely come to mind. Jot them down on paper or use the computer but don’t limit yourself in any way during the brainstorming session. The ideas are things you need to do in order to make your dreams a reality.

Take, for example, a goal of becoming a dental hygienist. The ideas may include selecting schools for training, applying for financial aid, securing a loan for tuition, how to incorporate training into a work/family schedule, where and how to pay for necessary childcare while you’re in school, length of time before you complete your education, licensing and certification requirements, and where you might be employed upon completion of your training. In this scenario, there are short-, medium-, and long-term steps to take in order to reach your ultimate goal.

The point is to put down ideas for each of your goals. Again, don’t feel constrained by lack of information about what is needed. You’ll be able to fill that in later. For now, just go through your dreams and jot down brainstormed ideas on how to fulfill them. What steps do you need to take? What will you need in the way of support, financing, training, apprenticeship, etc.?

4. Sit Down With Your Family

Of course, none of this happens in a vacuum. While you’ve spent some alone time figuring out your dreams and coming up with steps and things you may need to make them a reality, you need to factor in the wants and needs of other members of your family. Even if you are single, you surely have some family members who can provide encouragement, suggestions, and support. For married individuals, or adolescents and teens in a family, the need for interaction with all the family members is paramount. You’ll not be able to succeed without the ultimate buy-in from them. Even if they don’t fully comprehend the scope of your long-term goal, or are reluctant over your ability to accomplish it, you need to involve them in the discussion early on. This will help you win them over, garner their support, and help you advance to the next level in your recovery.

In fact, recovery is all about the process, and the process is ongoing. You need the encouragement, love, and support of your family every step of the way. And they need the same from you. Be sure to involve your family in your recovery. It’s the only way that you’ll be able to realize the happiness and future you deserve.

5. Do Your Research

Undoubtedly you’ve arrived at a number of items that require further investigation. This involves research, and some of it can be quite in-depth. There may be rules and eligibility requirements or documents to amass, questionnaires and applications that need to be filled out. Approval process time, how long a degree or apprenticeship program lasts, and any other documentation that is required – all this involves research. Do your due diligence and start compiling as much information as you can on each of your dreams and brainstorm items.

It may be helpful to use manila folders or hanging files for the separate subjects. Or, use a binder with tabbed pages for single subjects. The idea is to keep the information separate and readily available. Some files will naturally be larger than others, and will keep building as you accumulate more information. Plan accordingly.

6. Work Out Details

There are undoubtedly going to be conflicts when it comes to drastically altering what has been your lifestyle for the past months and years of addiction. Spouses, family members, friends and co-workers have become accustomed to a certain behavior from you – or have had to put up with some very difficult times. Part of your life in recovery is to convince them that you have changed, that you intend to change even further, and to work out as best you can all the details involved in your new way of life.

Getting others involved in working out the details can make the prospect much easier and less stressful. The old adage, “Many hands make light work” applies here, even though we’re talking about thought-processes and not necessarily physical work. Use another brainstorming session with a few others (your spouse, family members, trusted friends) to help figure out some of the more troubling details. If one person is an expert in finances, or has connections with banks or lending institutions, or knows how to fill out an application for a federal grant or loan, make use of those talents.

By the way, as you begin figuring out details, other questions are bound to occur. When they do, add them to your list of things that need to be done in order to accomplish your goal. Again, it isn’t important at this point that you have the answers – just put down the questions. Do your research afterward to help fill in the blanks.

7. Make a Schedule

Getting the ball rolling on your new life in recovery also means making the best use of your time. One thing that never changes is that every day lasts only 24 hours. So, it’s incumbent upon you to maximize your time. This means prioritizing what gets done when, and what can be tackled another day. It also means putting together a schedule for each day.

Note that some days may be devoted to a combination of education, work, and family. Others may be work and family. Don’t forget to factor in leisure pursuits, alone and with the family. All are equally important to a well-rounded, balanced and healthy lifestyle – and to the pursuit of your overall goals.

Schedules should be flexible and adjusted to accommodate changes. Don’t be rigid in adhering to the exact hour for certain tasks if they can be handled at various times. But do keep to a regular mealtime schedule – especially with the family. Dining together for the evening meal is something that will pay dividends beyond calculation. This is a time when everyone comes together for conversation and interaction and family bonding. Be sure to include it in your daily schedule.

8. Get Physically Active

Achieving a goal is more than just using brain power and tackling tough assignments. You could devote all your waking hours to a short- or long-term goal only to wind up frustrated, stressed out and totally exhausted. You need to balance this out with a good mix of physical activities. An hour each day is ideal, although there shouldn’t be anything that’s cast in stone. Get out at lunchtime and take a brisk walk around the office complex, or drive to a nearby park and go for a jog. After dinner and on weekends, take the family to a state, national or community park where you can hike, fish, play sports, or enjoy other recreational pursuits.

Work out in a gym or do weight-bearing, stretching and aerobic exercises at home. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, either. You can buy inexpensive exercise balls, stretching bands, hand weights and dumbbells at the local sporting goods store and set yourself up in the basement, garage or patio.

The point to remember is that being physically active helps you feel better by releasing the brain’s feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Exercise and physical activity also helps you maintain or regain strength, tones muscles, trims pounds, and gives you additional reserves of energy. When you’re energetic, you think and perform better. This affects your entire life in recovery, now and in the future. So, get out and get active.

9. Don’t Go It Alone

When you’re first in recovery, the tendency is to feel like you’re alone. The truth is, you are and you aren’t. Certainly your recovery is unique to you. No one else has the exact circumstances you do, the same history or combination of factors (health, type, length and frequency of addiction or multiple addictions), motivations, dreams, social, familial, financial, and/or legal problems. But there are enough similarities among those in recovery that it makes a lot of sense to interact with others who have, like you, overcome their addictions and are now in recovery. These are known as 12-step groups, and there are groups for every type of addiction. Your counselor during treatment most likely introduced you to a 12-step group. But your participation shouldn’t end once you’ve completed treatment.

Not only will you share camaraderie (they’ve been through treatment and have come out on the clean and sober side), but you’ll find them a ready and willing audience to listen to your troubles, offer suggestions, hope and encouragement.
If you haven’t joined a 12-step group in recovery, do so now. If you find that you don’t quite fit with the first group you try, go to another. One tip that may help: keep going to at least six meetings before you jump ship. It takes time to get to know people, and you should give them a chance to get to know you. Of course, this is anonymous, but the point is that they see you as a person and vice-versa.

10. Figure Out How To Help Others

Giving back to others is an important part of restructuring your life in recovery. Why is this so important? Your life can’t be all one-sided. As you work toward achieving your goals or dreams, you need to give of yourself to others. This includes your family members, of course, but it goes beyond that to include others who may have no outside assistance, hope or support. You could become a sponsor to a newcomer in your support group, for example. The best time to consider this is after you’ve been successfully in recovery for a period of about two years.

But there are additional ways to reach out and help others. If you look around you, it should be fairly easy to come up with ideas. Do you have an invalid neighbor who finds it nearly impossible to get out for errands or is lonely? Offer to do the grocery shopping, bring over a video and watch it with them, bake or buy a meal or dessert, give a gift of a book or flowers, offer to paint the house or do yard work. If you know someone who’s been struggling to work and care for the children, you may wish to offer to sit for the kids for a short period while they get out, even if it’s only for a few hours once in a while. Volunteer at a children’s facility, senior citizens center or assisted living facility.

What you do is not as important as the fact that you genuinely want to do it to help others. Start with something small that you believe you can manage. You’re not doing this for the accolade or thank you or money or reputation. You’re doing it simply to be able to give back to others – as others have given to you. Doing good for others will, however, result in an extraordinary sense of well-being. It feels good, and it is good. Make it a practice to help others as often as you can.

Final Tip: Get Started Today

Your life in recovery is before you. Begin today to take the necessary steps to chart your own course, and set into motion the plans for your future. Remember that the journey ahead isn’t a straight line. Allow room for meanderings, for a little trial and error, for reshaping and refining your goals as new ones appear. That’s the best part about restructuring your life in recovery. It’s an ongoing process, a living, breathing, changeable roadmap toward the future. There’s no time like right now to get started. Go for it.

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