• Ways to Stay Positive and Happy in Recovery
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    Ways to Stay Positive and Happy in Recovery

    Happiness is a goal for most people. There are dozens of books on every shelf about how to achieve lasting happiness. Those in recovery from addiction are no exception. In fact, it is believed that those who drink alcohol and use drugs are in search of continual, ongoing happiness and drink to achieve this state.


    No one wants to feel sad, depressed or angry. However, it is necessary to feel the full spectrum of emotions in order to feel joy or happiness. Addicts usually drink or take drugs to stave off emotional upset. When a feeling comes up that they do not like, they drink or use drugs to mask the emotion.

    Newcomers to recovery have a difficult time identifying their emotions. Most treatment centers come equipped with charts that help new members identify anger, rage, sadness, depression, happiness, etc. For counselors and therapists, the process of getting newcomers to determine their emotions can be challenging. This emotional vagueness may also occur in recovering patients’ family members as well as specific cultures, where emotions are not recognized as being pertinent to life.

    Learning to name emotions is an important beginning in early recovery. When we learn to identify our emotions before they escalate into dangerous territory, we can begin to regulate our moods. This way we can become more aware of what is going on within us, which is crucial to long-term abstinence.

    How do I feel?

    Once we identify an emotion, no matter what it is, we are checking in to ourselves. Most newly recovering addicts have a great deal of anger to work through. They have pushed their emotions down during their drinking and drug use, making them similar to a pressure cooker ready to burst when the emotions begin to surface. Knowing that anger is coming up within us can help us work through what we’re feeling before going off the deep end and “acting out” the anger. This is called emotional regulation, which is a mature and grown-up way of dealing with our feelings.

    Those who have been abusing nervous system depressants such as alcohol, heroin or pain medication tend to have depressed mind states. While they may not require medication, it is important to know that the low emotional state is there. People with depression are living a life of ongoing sadness and can become suicidal or return to drinking and using in order to relieve their depression. Not knowing that the depression is actually caused by their drinking and drug use, they will spiral down into a deeper state of hopelessness. The same is true for some stimulant abusers who are experiencing the downside of their stimulant drug withdrawals.

    Identifying all emotions is a good way to begin to enjoy life in recovery. Once we process emotions that are new and previously not dealt with, we can move through those emotions and into new territory.

    Finding the Goodness in Life

    At first, newcomers may experience what is termed a “pink cloud.” This is a state of bliss that some will get just because they are not drinking and drugging all the time. They begin to feel good about their new behavior and are proud to be off the drugs and alcohol. While little has changed in their behaviors and lives, they still feel optimistic and good about their ability to remain abstinent.

    Building on good feelings about recovery allows us to stay positive and happy, even when faced with situations that usually leads to despair and hopelessness. It is good to also start identifying when you are feeling positive, upbeat and happy about your life. Then, when these moments happen, you can identify what is actually creating the feelings.

    Some people will experience new and improved relationships with family members which then brings contentment for the recovering addict. Others may have improved situations in their home, work or social environments. Some will feel better about attending support groups or 12-step recovery meetings. At the same time, new friends found in these settings can also feed into increased feelings of well-being.

    Throughout your recovery, it is important to reinforce these behaviors and work toward establishing stronger grounds for good feelings.

    Maintaining Positive Feelings

    Recovery is a journey towards feeling good inside and out. With that said, there are certain aspects of the recovery process that have been proven to be crucial in remaining abstinent from drugs and alcohol.

    • Reveling in your increased sense of self-worth, self-esteem and self-efficacy can help motivate you to maintaining abstinence. It is important for you to feel proud of what abstinence is doing to your life. Even those whose lives were not in total destruction from drugs and alcohol can find areas where they feel like they were doing poorly because they spent all their time and energy covering up their addiction. Make sure to focus your thinking toward recognizing how much better you feel about yourself since doing things to maintain abstinence.
    • Being grateful for your new life is a great way to increase pleasant feelings about your chances for recovery and your new way of existence. Many recovering addicts write down a gratitude list when they are having a tough day. Focusing on the positive aspects of life is a great tool for those in recovery. Writing them down is the most important feature as it reinforces the feelings into the brain and manifests greater feelings of well-being.
    • The 12-Step recovery process is also recognized as a powerful way to enact changes in the attitudes of recovering addicts. Not all addicts will embrace them, but their efficacy has been proven to assist in enjoying recovery at greater capacity. Learning new ways of behaving and changing the attitudes that made alcohol and drugs the focus of life are found to be an effective insurance against return to active addiction.
    • Sponsors, therapists and counselors aid an addict’s recovery process and help them feel a sense of happiness and enjoyment in abstinence. They help the recovering addict when they find themselves unable to go forward and face the feelings that caused them to turn to drinking or using in the first place.
    • Support groups or 12-step meetings help recovering addicts a great deal because they are full of people who are doing or attempting to do the same thing, which is to remain abstinent from drugs and alcohol. The peers you meet in these groups just “get it.” They have the same feelings and, often, the same situations that are creating fear, anger, pain or other emotions as you. The experience, strength and hope they share may help you identify and follow their example as well as work through specific situations that cause you trouble. They are great cheerleaders to celebrate your successes with and to receive a warm hug of comfort from. They will also make a good sounding board when things are tough. The relationships in these groups are powerful and can often last a lifetime.

    Kelly McClanahan has an MSW/ASW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 25 years, she has a CATC-IV credential. She is also a lecturer and workshop provider for meditation, mindfulness and issues arising in long-term recovery. Kelly is currently writing a book about the spiritual principles in 12-Step recovery.

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