7 Tips for Staying Positive in Recovery
Getting clean and sober is a tremendous accomplishment. It takes time and effort, and sometimes a fair amount of pain and struggle. But over time, the struggle fades and the day-to-day living becomes routine once again—you regain enough trust from your family to go back to functioning in the new normal way. You get your 90 meetings in 90 days completed. You regain some respect at work. Life goes on.
But relapse is a real possibility—everyone who has gotten sober has heard the stories of those who struggle to remain so. Relapse is common and often devastating. So how can you use positive psychology to improve your chances at not only getting sober, but staying sober?
You might not have Googled “happiness” as a first step to learning more about relapse prevention, but as it turns out, a long-term focus on happiness might be a good idea. Being happy—truly happy—in your sobriety may help you stay sober. Makes sense, because if being sober doesn’t make you happy, then you’re fighting against yourself from the get-go. The “seven habits of happy people” is a list of suggestions for living happily.
1) Relationships, intimacy and commitment. Studies show that people who rate themselves as very happy have close ties with other people. But having a large number of friends doesn’t seem to matter. What does matter is that happy people prioritize connecting with others, making meaningful friendships, and then making time to spend with those people. Start small — try making one phone call to someone you care about each week. See where that leads.
2) Caring, kindness, giving and service. Making time to give back. It may be to the recovery community through service to your Alcoholics Anonymous group, or in other ways, but make it a priority to do things for others with no particular reward in mind. Volunteering is a great way to connect with others and give back to your community. Not sure you can handle volunteering in a hospital or nursing home setting? Perhaps walking dogs at the local animal shelter is a better match for you.
3) Physical health, nutrition, sleep and exercise. Negative moods can be a real risk to your sobriety, and using drugs or alcohol can wreak havoc on your body. Regular exercise can be as effective as medication at easing depression—and you’ll feel better physically, too. Not the type of person to join a gym? Hate running? Try yoga or find a local rail trail in your area. You can find activities that you can enjoy solo or in a group. Many areas now have “Meet Up” groups engaging in nearly any type of activity you can imagine—from ultimate Frisbee to tango.
4) Goals, hobbies and flow. Find an activity that you can dive into with both feet. For some, this may be a creative outlet, like pottery, needlework or art. For others it may be an activity, like riding a horse or bicycle. Whatever it is, it should be something that challenges you—something you can work at and seek to master. It should be something that when you do it, you can get into the groove and experience the joy of “flow.” Flow is best understood as that sense that you’ve totally lost track of time and even a sense of yourself. With pottery, it’s like the universe has shrunk down to the clay, the wheel and your hands. Time evaporates, and you are totally in the moment. Afterward, you may feel joyful, relaxed or exhilarated, and you’ll likely be amazed at how much time went by. Experiencing flow is a core component of happiness.
5) Spirituality, religion or a higher power. Studies show that people who consistently consider themselves to be happiest also indicate some connection to either an organized religion, a self-definition as spiritual or a commitment to a higher power. Many different traditions stress some sort of meditation as a part of the practice of the faith, and again, meditation is known to be linked with feelings of well-being and happiness.
6) Strengths, best qualities and sharing them. Again, studies show that happiness is strongly linked to a certain type of self-knowledge—not self-criticism. While it is all too common to be your own harshest critic, being able to identify and use your best qualities—your strengths and virtues—is an important skill that happy people seem to master.
7) Optimism and gratitude. These qualities have to do with being able to roll with the punches and cope with the ups and downs that life and recovery will certainly dole out. Happy people manage to find opportunities, even in difficult or negative situations. They may mourn and grieve losses, but they don’t lose hope or predict negative outcomes. Studies indicate that optimistic thinking can help people feel better mentally, emotionally and physically.
If you work on integrating these seven principles into your life, as you continue to work your program, you just may find that relapse prevention is a positive and fun part of being sober.