It can be a life-altering experience to go through rehab and find that you have entered recovery without a clue what to do next. Granted, you probably heard a few recommendations during the final phase of treatment, generally centering on relapse prevention and the advice to live one day at a time. Most of this came from your participation in the more or less mandatory 12-step group meetings that were interwoven into your personalized treatment program. Still, it is one thing to listen to others talk about finding a new life in recovery, being clean and sober and welcoming, even embracing life. It is something altogether different to actually go out there and try to begin to live it. Here’s where it sometimes becomes a problem for newcomers to the whole clean and sober lifestyle. Plain and simple, there isn’t anything that captures your interest. You try, but nothing seems worth the trouble or effort or time. It isn’t that you don’t want to be excited about this new life you’ve chosen to live, but more that you don’t know how to find new interests when nothing interests you. What can you do about this? What should you do? More important, how long will it take before you begin to find life interesting? Here are some answers.
Expect the Unexpected – And Relish the Opportunity
You should be familiar with things happening unexpectedly. After all, hasn’t your most-recent experience pretty much followed an unexpected course? Considering the fact that, prior to going into rehab, you never really knew what was going to happen from day to day. Your daily routine may very well have been focused, wholly or in part, on the drug-seeking-using-coming down-drug seeking cycle. In between those various elements of the addiction cycle, all sorts of random and seemingly unconnected events may have occurred. Now, however, you are in a different frame of mind. At least, you certainly should be. Once you have participated in and completed a treatment program to overcome your addiction and learn how to manage and live your life free of substances, the world can open up to you. What this means very much depends on you and the expectations you have for your new life in sobriety. Part of this freedom of choice is just that – the freedom to choose. Along with the freedom of choice that you have is the knowledge that life isn’t always going to be predictable. Whereas before you may have viewed the unexpected as a negative, with a different mindset you can begin to look at life and the unexpected more positively. After all, since how you view life greatly influences what you are willing to take action on, isn’t it a better idea to consider an approach where you not only expect the unexpected, but also relish the opportunity for positive change that can result? How this works on a day-to-day basis may be something like this. You get up and instead of automatically thinking the worse about whatever you have on your to-do list today, you greet the day with a smile and a hopeful attitude. You welcome change and look forward to the opportunity to make decisions affecting your life. You recognize that recovery requires work, that it involves change, and that sometimes this may be a little scary, but is a necessary part of the healing process.
Go Outside Your Comfort Zone
Naturally, not everyone is going to automatically jump at the recommendation to learn how to expect the unexpected. There is a lot of past behavior that still needs to be overcome. It isn’t that you haven’t learned that your prior actions were self-destructive and fell into decidedly precarious patterns. You did learn that, but now you have to take action to incorporate healthier ways of living into your everyday schedule. Some of this means that you will necessarily have to begin to step outside of your comfort zone. Sure, you may have felt comfortable only going to certain 12-step meetings at a particular time and on certain days. You only wanted to surround yourself or be in the company of the same individuals. You didn’t want any variance and strove to keep any disruptions to your normal routine to the bare minimum. That strategy may have worked in the initial days, weeks and months of sobriety, but for the long term it may not be the most productive and efficient way to speed your healing process. You need variety and the willingness to take calculated risks. This includes being willing to branch out and meet new people. Start in a safe and secure environment such as 12-step groups, Just consider adding a new location now and then to your established pattern of going to your home group – the one you feel most comfortable in and go to regularly. In this way, you’ll be dipping your toe into the waters of change in a non-threatening way. You will be exposed to new locations and surroundings and have the opportunity to meet new people – and some others that you already know who are doing the same thing. With this as a preliminary first step, you can then go on to experimenting with other ways of venturing outside your comfort zone. Do you feel wary of trying something new? By starting off in a small way, you can gradually build up your courage and add to your self-esteem. Little successes will make you feel much better about your decision-making ability. In time, you will feel more comfortable exploring new avenues and looking to take on challenges you formerly would have shied away from.
The Past Bothers You? Get Over It
Who doesn’t have some major cloud that hangs over them from their past? When you are in recovery from addiction or substance abuse, you may have more than a single negative event in the past that you’d dearly like to get past. The problem is that for many people in recovery, they simply can’t seem to get over those memories and reminders of the way they used to be. Well, guess what? Unless and until you learn how to deal with your past reminders and memories, they will continue to plague you and keep you from doing your best in recovery. There is no guaranteed method or approach that will work for every single individual who is trying to wipe the past from their present, but a targeted and personalized approach is much more likely to work than a haphazard one. How you can get past your past will depend to a great degree on how much effort and time you are willing to put into the process. You may be able to benefit from counseling or therapy that helps you get over trauma you experienced in the past. Some form of cognitive-behavioral therapy or eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) may prove helpful. For many people in recovery, however, it isn’t necessary to go into in-depth additional counseling in order to be able to overcome their past. It does take a willingness to identify and recognize instances where memories and flashbacks take you from your current recovery-oriented activities and threaten to sabotage your sobriety. Once you do recognize them, you need to take steps to deprive them of the power they hold over you. This may sound easy enough to say, but also incredibly tough to do. It can be. There is no doubt about that. But identifying what’s so negative from your past that’s keeping you from acting effectively in the present is the crucial first part of being able to get over the past. Once you know what it is, you can reinforce your commitment to sobriety now. You know you have changed. You know you are no longer engaged in those self-destructive behaviors. Give yourself kudos for achieving this state of being. But you also need to forgive yourself for all the wrong that you have done in your past, for all the harm that you have brought to others as a result of your addiction. That’s correct. You have to forgive yourself in order to get past the past and be able to move forward. Self-affirmation helps, along with having an up-to-date list of goals, support from your network of sponsor, 12-step group members, loved ones, family members and friends. Remember, you can get over the past and remove its power over you. But first, you have to take up the challenge and be willing to see it through. It isn’t as difficult as you might think. The point is that you have to have a present outlook in order to be able to take advantage of new interests that you may develop or discover. You can’t be so consumed with what happened in the past that you aren’t able to see what is here and now available to you.
Tools to Help You Organize Things
Every person can make use of organizational tools in order to become more productive in their everyday life. Whether you are in recovery or you have a family member, loved one or friend who is — the same concept holds true. The fact is that life is complicated, complex and often messy. There are conflicting schedules, demands for your time and effort, and often intermingled priorities that tend to obscure what’s really important now. Daily to-do lists are often very helpful in organizing what needs to be done for your recovery. In the early days of sobriety, it may be useful to do your task organizing according to an hourly schedule. Later on, you can be a little freer in how you schedule your time, since you will have incorporated time-keeping or task-time allocation into your head. You will automatically know when it is time to stop doing this activity and move onto the next one, based on prior experience. You will also know when you need to allocate more time to a particular activity and will be able to adjust your schedule accordingly. Post-it notes, email notifications, a call from a friend or your sponsor or a loved one or family member also may work well for you. It could be that you get so caught up in one activity that you lose track of time. A helpful reminder can be all that’s needed to get you back on-track. Print out a daily schedule and carry it with you in your purse or pocket or briefcase. Or, jot down your agenda on your PDA or use another form of electronic reminder. If you are consistently overbooked, try looking into a time management tool. Books and tapes and online forums are good places to learn how to more effectively manage your time so that you have the time each day to accomplish all the things that you want to do – and still have time to devote to finding new interests.
Enlist a Buddy to Accompany You
If you are like most people, you would rather have someone with you when you encounter new experiences. But when you are new to recovery, you may either not have anyone available to you that you feel comfortable sharing something new with, or you could still be reeling from the recent withdrawal from substances, or are not yet ready to open yourself up to anything or anyone other than what you absolutely have to. Do not feel discouraged that you may want to be alone at this time. On the other hand, do not procrastinate or prolong this tendency to isolate yourself from others. Being alone is the absolute last thing that you should be doing at this point in your recovery. Remember what you learned during rehab that you are not in recovery alone? What this means is that others around you are also part of your recovery. This includes your loved ones and family members, as well as your sponsor and fellow members of 12-step groups. Your overall health and well-being is important to them and they can be very instrumental in your healing process. When you do start venturing beyond your familiar environment at home, work, school, and 12-step meetings, take the time to foster and develop relationships, even on a casual, friendly basis. Ask someone with whom you may share common ground to accompany you on some activity or to an event that both of you express a desire to attend. You will feel less alone and may find that you have more interest in the activity than if you went there by yourself. In addition, having a buddy to go with may ensure that you do get out of the house and try something new. You never know if you don’t try.
Widen Your Horizons
In line with asking a buddy to accompany you to various events and activities is the whole concept of envisioning your life beyond its current confines. Maybe you’ve only ever felt safe and secure in a very narrowly-defined environment. But there is a whole world out there for you to discover. Why limit yourself to what little area you’ve only known so far? Granted, it can cause a shiver to go up your spine, or, frankly, a bit of nausea to come upon you suddenly when you think about everything that’s out there that you have no knowledge of, and no inkling to try or to discover. That’s fear raising its ugly head again. And we know by now that fear is a self-perpetuating and self-limiting emotion. If you find yourself shying away from anything new, or from investigating a new career or pursuing a hobby simply because it is out of your element, ask yourself what’s prompting this hesitation. Is it, perhaps, that you don’t feel worthy to have the experience? Underneath all of the other emotions, the sense of unworthiness causes a lot of people to deprive themselves of the opportunities to learn and grow. Tell yourself that you do deserve to live a life that is productive, satisfying and happy. Just because you are in recovery doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to be fulfilled. In order to achieve fulfillment, you need to think about widening your horizons. Then, beyond just mere thought, take action to make the idea a reality. Recognize that just because you think right now that nothing interests you, so how can you possibly find new interests, is a fallacy that will perpetuate your sense of not getting much accomplished. With all that the world has to offer, isn’t it realistic to believe that there are things out there that will spark your interest? Of course there are.
Understand the Learning Curve – And Go With the Flow
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just look at something and instantly know how it works, what it means, how everything will turn out if we follow this path or take this direction? It would, but this isn’t reality. While some rare individuals are blessed with a sort of sixth sense about certain things, such as being able to reasonably predict outcomes, given certain parameters, most of us just need to experience the learning curve. This means that we take the time to go through however many steps or courses or levels it takes in order to accumulate the knowledge we need to learn something. It could be a language or a skill or ability. The fact is that we don’t get to that point without putting time and effort into the learning experience. Factor in this learning curve and understand that you will be building upon what you know at each step of the way. This will help you go a long way toward feeling more comfortable with the whole learning process. Remember that you grow as you learn. And the more you learn and grow, the more you will find that there are new interests that you can take part in. Talk about an easy progression from point A to point B. Just go with the flow. You will be the richer in experience for it.
You don’t have to be a Master to Get Something Out of an Activity
Suppose that you involve yourself in taking a course or attending a workshop so that you can gain a better knowledge of and experience in a particular endeavor or activity. Maybe you think that the only way you’ll be able to get something out of it is if you completely master it. This is setting yourself up to feel less than satisfied with the results. The truth is that you don’t have to become the highest level master of something in order to gain a great deal from the learning experience. You can, for example, gain self-confidence with each little success you achieve along the way. Allow yourself to savor the goals you do accomplish, rather than looking ahead and becoming frustrated over how far you have to go to the end. In other words, enjoy the journey. That’s one way to begin to find new interests in recovery. Actually, it is one of the easiest ways. Just get out there and do things that you have even a slight inkling that you might like.
Share Your New Interests with Those You Love
If you are blessed with loved ones who share your life, make every effort to include them in your everyday activities, to the extent that you can and it is practical. Even if some of these activities are tasks that you normally do alone, you can at least share conversation about what you’ve been doing and where you are going with them. Think of this as communication that is right and good and conducive to enriching your overall relationship. It also has the benefit of deepening your foundation in recovery, since your loved ones are an integral part of your support network. Sharing your new interests with those you love is also important in that it helps generate enthusiasm between you. Maybe one of you has never before had any experience in this particular activity. The other can introduce that person to it, sharing any expertise or knowledge already learned. Two working at something or doing something together is always better than going solo – that is, as long as the activity can be done by more than one person at a time. But even if it is simply talking enthusiastically about something that you’ve decided to get involved with, this is an excellent way to build quality time into your relationship, something that has likely been sorely lacking during the days of your addiction.
Embrace the New You
Think about how much you have changed and how far you have progressed in the weeks and months since you completed treatment and have been in recovery. Naturally, not all of the days were total positives. There were likely a number of times when you felt like you had reached the limit of what you could do, that you couldn’t go any farther or that you lacked the time, energy or ability to make any more progress. Somehow, though, you did manage to make it through. Not only that, but you began to experience little successes here and there that further motivated you to keep on going. Tackling a difficult task that you’d probably have shied away from before, going out of your way to be helpful to another who needed assistance, researching activities so that you could gain broader knowledge about a field, hobby, event or activity – these are accomplishments that you have achieved. It is time to embrace the new you. Yes, this is the new you. You are no longer chained to the past, worried constantly about making a mistake or falling into relapse. Not that you’ll ever take your sobriety for granted, but you do now have the sound foundation upon which to build. This is a sign that you are making strides in recovery. And the best news is that it can only get better the more you keep working at it.