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.

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For many people in recovery, one of the most difficult battles to overcome is the one against depression. Whether your depression led to the substance abuse or vice versa, it’s important to acknowledge those feelings and confront them, because not only will it give you a feeling of power over your own emotions, it will allow you to face the person you don’t want to be.


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.
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Recovery is a time to really look inward. This process doesn’t end with a therapy session; rather, it continues on every day for the rest of your life. That may seem like a daunting task, but in reality, it’s just a matter of being honest with yourself and what you really want.

It can be helpful to keep a journal that no one else will see. In it, write down your darkest fears, your greatest hopes, the best and worst days you can remember, and the things you want to accomplish most. It can also be helpful to list all the things you have already accomplished. Seeing them brought out onto paper can make them easier to accept, which can boost your self-esteem.

Ask yourself non-judgmental questions in the journal and answer them as honestly as you can. Remember, no one else will be reading it.

It can also be helpful to write down any new areas you want to learn about. Whether it’s taking up a new language or becoming more spiritual, it’s important not to deny yourself these opportunities to grow. If you enjoy reading, consider spending time at a local library or bookstore and focus on an area you’d like to know more about. Allow yourself time to explore your own abilities; you might surprise yourself.


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:

  • Painting
  • Drawing
  • Sculpting
  • Singing
  • Playing an instrument
  • Creative writing
  • Writing poetry
  • Crocheting
  • Sewing
  • Dancing
  • Interior design
  • Drama
  • Cooking/baking
  • Gardening/landscaping
  • Photography

Using visual art mediums – such as paint, pencils, or a camera – can be extremely helpful during recovery, especially when they are utilized to create a self-portrait. Self-portraits require a great deal of focus on your physical self, and you may find out quite a bit about the way you portray yourself to others. It may be revealed that you hide your true face out of the fear that you won’t be accepted. Self-portraiture can be very emotional, but it can also help you get in touch with a part of yourself that the mirror won’t show.

It can be helpful to ask yourself what your gifts are and what you might be able to share with others. Knowing that you have a special talent or a way to help other people can be extremely positive in moving forward to a sober life. Volunteer work, getting involved with charities and projects that better the lives of the less fortunate, and finding a way to open up to others with your talents – such as having an art show or booking a musical gig at a local club – can all be great paths to self-discovery.

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Meditation has been highly recommended for people in recovery, because it allows them to not only find peace within themselves, but to also think on where they want to be in life. After using drugs or alcohol – which can make thought processes fuzzy – it can be extremely enlightening to meditate. Some people find that it helps with stress or anxiety; others find that being in tune with their own thoughts and feelings to such a high degree helps them make better decisions. Quietly looking inward, focusing on your breathing, and being mindful and aware of your own thoughts can also help in recognizing the warning signs of relapse.

Because we are constantly given a stream of outside influences – from television, radio, the internet, and print media – it can be difficult to decide what we truly like or dislike and what seems appealing simply because it is trendy. Moving away from all of those outside influences for a little while each day can have a huge effect on your psyche and can allow you to truly discern what you want.

Yoga, like meditation, helps one look inward and focus on thoughts, emotions, and breathing, yet it involves movement, which allows you to be in tune with your body. For many in recovery, having a good relationship with the physical self is just as important as the spiritual one. Substance abuse can ravage the body, as can self-image issues, but exercise can build self-esteem and encourage those in recovery to find their way back to a healthy life. Yoga, which allows for meditation during body movement, perfectly blends physical, mental, and emotional mindfulness.

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Often, family issues can lead to substance abuse. Confronting the issue can be highly stressful and can cause strife or lead to a divide, and in some cases a separation or divorce. Sometimes, the issue that is causing pain isn’t fully being addressed, or is disguised as something else; other times, a person in recovery may feel like their family isn’t supportive of their goals or lifestyle. Getting to the root of the problem can be painful but necessary, and if you aren’t ready to talk directly to family members, there are activities you can do to help cope with the issue or pinpoint exactly what it is.


  • 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.
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Getting to the bottom of family issues and resolving them or coming to a good place can help tremendously when it’s time to move on in a sober life. It won’t be easy, but it’s important to ask yourself truthfully about experiences that have caused you anger or pain. Try not to assign blame, but rather be proactive in your journey to finding closure. If you’re able to rebuild relationships, wonderful! However, it’s important to remember that not every relationship can be salvaged, and you need to ask yourself whether it is healthy for you to even try.

With the process of rebuilding relationships comes the question of whether or not you’re ready to allow new people into your life. You may not be for quite some time, and that’s perfectly understandable. Working on yourself and the ability to trust will likely need to come first. But when you do feel ready to become social and open the lines of communication with other people, it’s important to ask yourself if the people you’re being social with are beneficial to your life going forward, or if they are reminiscent of those you surrounded yourself with before recovery. Spending time with people who remind you of the place you were in can lead to relapse, so be mindful of choosing to surround yourself with those who bring positive feelings and allow you to be your true self.

Going slowly can be beneficial when it comes to being more social, so it might be helpful to set a daily or weekly alarm to remind yourself to give a friend a call, or write a letter to a family member you used to be close to but haven’t spoken to in a while.

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Many people have a deep-rooted fear of being alone, and substance abuse often causes isolation, which can lead to depression. Feeling cut off from family and friends can give a person the feeling that they are unwanted, unloved, or are not good at being a useful member of society, and those feelings would be hurtful for anyone.

However, when you choose a path of self-discovery you are opening yourself up to the idea that it’s OK to be alone sometimes. Being alright with who you are and learning to love yourself can help you open up and allow yourself to be loved by others, and often that can only be achieved by spending time alone.

There are many activities you can try which will allow you to get used to the idea of being alone, and while they may seem daunting at first, remember that you are still getting to know yourself, and the best way to do that is to spend time with you.


  • 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.

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