For many people in recovery, the road to a substance-free life is long and paved with difficult challenges. The physical, emotional, and mental toll recovery can bring sometimes makes it seem like a futile effort. However, it’s important to remember that with each challenge comes a learning experience and a chance to grow. That’s all part of self-discovery, as is the opportunity to face the demons that led to drug or alcohol abuse and learn the strength to stay away from influences that may lead to a relapse.
Substance abuse has many roots and affects every person differently. Childhood trauma, sexual and physical abuse, and disorders like PTSD can all lead a person to seek comfort in drugs or alcohol. Rather than tamp down the emotions involved with these incidents, it’s sometimes important in recovery to face the memories and learn about behavior patterns and why they occurred.
Getting physically healthy is the first step; the mind and emotions come next. If past events have led you to feel ashamed, unworthy of love, isolated, or depressed, it’s imperative to seek out self-discovery techniques that will help you come to terms with your life choices and bring out positive parts of yourself that have been buried or unknown for years.
One of the key elements to recovery is to take things slowly. It can be so overwhelming at first to try and embrace a new sober life and all that comes with it; it’s important to pace yourself and remember that you are not your past. Let go of the mistakes you’ve made and the decisions that led you down the path to substance abuse. Holding onto them all will impede your progress.
Sometimes feelings of depression stem from a feeling of helplessness or hopelessness. For some, going into recovery offers the chance to learn how to take control, even in small ways. Having a sense of power over yourself is hugely beneficial in getting sober and staying that way.
Fighting off depression isn’t easy. It will never be as simple as turning a switch and being happy, and no one expects it to be. For many, the thought of being social or changing routines is overwhelming and can lead to even more stress; however, if you start with very small goals each day and be patient with yourself, there are things you can do to help yourself on the journey, such as:
- Talk to a trusted friend or family member or consider seeking out a counselor. Opening up can be extremely useful in recovery.
- Consider adopting a pet or volunteering at a local animal shelter. Working with dogs, especially, can be extremely soothing and positively affects your mood.
- Take up a sport or exercise. Workouts – especially those which require you to focus and don’t allow your mind to wander – can be wonderful therapy for depression. Swimming is a great example.
- If depression has caused you to move away from doing things you once enjoyed, think about what those things are. Could you find joy in them once more? Sometimes getting back to old pleasures – such as painting, restoring cars, or antiques-hunting – can make you feel more like the person you want to be.
Look To The Arts
Art therapy has been used since the 1950s. It’s an integral part of substance abuse treatment for many patients, since it can be a wonderful way to channel one’s emotions without having to verbally express them.
Even if you have never considered yourself to be artistic, don’t push away the idea of taking up a creative endeavor. At one point, every famous artist had to pick up that first paint brush and mark the canvas. If you don’t begin, you’ll never find your talent.
Being creative is well-known to be extremely beneficial in recovery of all types, and it doesn’t have to be in visual arts. Dance, music, writing, and theater are also great ways to discover something inside you that you may not have even known was there. If one medium doesn’t do much for you, try not to be discouraged; simply move on to another interest. Learning an instrument isn’t easy, but you may find that you have a passion for singing or songwriting. Some of the best routes to try are:
- Playing an instrument
- Creative writing
- Writing poetry
- Interior design
- Write down a list of words that represent the way you feel toward your family or particular family members. Then, write a short story or poem using all of these words. How does it make you feel? Is it a sad story or a poem that makes you feel hopeful? Seeing emotional words on paper is very different from saying them out loud, and can help you to understand the way you really feel about a situation.
- Draw a picture of someone in your family that you have issues with. Take your time and add details. What scene have you put them into? What does the background look like? Evaluate your drawing and ask yourself what it tells you about your relationship with that person.
- Create a totem pole by drawing images of different animals onto an empty paper towel tube; each animal should represent one member of your family. This exercise may help you discover underlying feelings you have toward different family members. For example, you may have trust issues with someone you’ve represented as a snake.
Drawing Can Be Therapeutic
- Have lunch in a restaurant by yourself. Choose a nice place you’ve never been to and treat yourself, if possible. Allow yourself to enjoy not having to make small talk with someone else. Don’t bring your phone; it will only be a distraction. Immerse yourself fully in the experience of enjoying your food and atmosphere.
- Treat yourself to a pedicure or massage. A relaxing experience will allow you to put aside your fears and focus on the moment.
- Go to the store and buy ingredients for a favorite meal. Spend time carefully choosing the things you want and splurge a little on gourmet cheeses and fresh vegetables. Cook the meal for yourself and take the time to make it as close to perfect as possible; remember, you’re doing this for someone you love – yourself. Don’t forget to make it fun; throw on some music while you cook and savor your special dinner.
- Go see a movie alone. If you feel self-conscious, try a small theater or go on a weekday afternoon when there are likely to be fewer people there.
- Take your laptop or a notebook to a coffee shop or cafe and sit alone, working on whatever you want.
- Spend time within your home and move from room to room, getting to know the space in new ways. Even if you have lived in the same place for an extended period of time, you’ve likely habitually used the same furniture and paths from one room to another. Lie in a warm spot of sunshine on the floor and read a magazine, or move a chair to a window and sit peacefully, cloud or people-watching.
- Take a book to the park and choose a nice shady spot to sit and read for an hour or two.
- If change doesn’t bother you, rearrange your furniture. Repurpose different items for use in other rooms, such as a vase or bookcase. Keep an open mind and try to see uses for your belongings that you never saw before; make your space work for you.
- Be careful not to fall into old patterns of leaving the television on so that you feel less alone. Having that comfort may seem like a good idea, especially when you’re feeling low, but it can also block your ability to keep a clear mind. Eliminate distractions when possible.