Sad, depressed, bored. That’s how many “normal” people think recovering addicts must feel. This, actually, couldn’t be farther from the truth. Anyone who visits an AA meeting or meets a former addict who is active in the recovery community might be in for a pleasant surprise. Recovering addicts and alcoholics are not miserable. They are happy, content, and have found new, profound meaning in their lives.
That’s not to say that everything is rainbows and unicorns for recovered alcoholics. Trials and hardships are a part of everyone’s life. The difference is that people in active recovery have tools for coping and a support system that helps them through the tough times. As one recovering addict said, “It’s too bad everyone doesn’t have recovery. The 12 steps and the fellowship make for a beautiful way of life.”
Recovering addicts and alcoholics are happy, content, and have found new, profound meaning in their lives.
Here are some of the reasons people find happiness in recovery:
1. Recovering addicts have been to “hell and back”
Addiction is a fatal disease. It takes away everything that matters most in life: health, relationships, a way to make a living, and any sense of self-worth. If someone is able to escape the relentless cycle of addiction, he or she is immensely grateful to be alive. Once someone is willing to “do the work,” namely going to recovery meetings and doing the 12 steps, wonderful things begin to happen. Relationships heal, health returns, and opportunities reveal themselves. Addicts quickly learn how to deal with emotions, work towards personal improvement, and behave with honesty and integrity in all their affairs. In essence we get a “crash course” in life.
The pain of the past becomes a doorway to personal strength and spiritual growth.
2. Fellowship and community offer strength and guidance
Addiction is a disease of isolation. Nearly all of us have cut ourselves off from friends and family in the final days of our addiction. Twelve step meetings offer companionship, openness, and mentorship to those of us who formerly felt alone in the world.
The companionship experienced in recovery meetings can give us the comfort we missed while in our addiction. “Going to meetings with all those happy shiny people was really hard for me at first,” relates one woman, “but after a while I started looking forward to seeing my new friends.” As someone becomes more comfortable in twelve-step meetings, they often feel a camaraderie and kinship they haven’t felt in a long time.
Also, the policy of open sharing in recovery meetings can be cathartic as we learn to express our feelings. We are sharing emotions and thoughts with people who understand and have been where we are. The fellowship of 12 step meetings can become like group therapy. “This is the best deal in town,” relates one meeting member. “It’s way cheaper than my shrink and it works much faster!”
Finally, the concept of sponsorship in the twelve steps provides us with personal guidance and support. A sponsor becomes your personal guide through the steps and is there to lend an ear when you need to talk. You are supported by someone who understands what its like to be at the mercy of drug or alcohol addiction and has come out at the other side. When we have a sponsor, we learn to ask for help when we need it. This is a wonderful practice in the outside world as well.
3. We learn that giving is the key
One of the main tenets of recovery is helping others. A great deal of freedom comes from doing the 12 steps. The final step is to help those who also want to quit drinking or doing drugs. We give others the chance that we were given by sponsoring newcomers, giving rides, doing service work, helping in any way we can.
Helping others makes us happy as well. This works in many ways. First of all, when helping others, we can “get out of our own head.” Focusing on the needs of someone else diverts out attention from the things that might be bothering us. Also, working with newcomers can make our recovery more powerful. As we relate to those who are new, we see how much we have grown and are immensely grateful and more resolved to stay sober.
For many, working to help other alcoholics and addicts is the first time they feel a sense of purpose and meaning in life. The things they were missing most of their lives come to them when they shift their attention away from their own problems.
4. We accept the things we cannot change
This is the Serenity Prayer, which is spoken at the beginning of every recovery meeting.
For many, acceptance of what is RIGHT NOW in life is at the core of happiness and serenity. This concept is integral to many Eastern philosophies like Buddhism and Taoism. Modern spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Choprah also stress the importance of acceptance. We stop trying to change external circumstances and control events and other people. The things that people in recovery try to change are internal, like character flaws and response to stress. Many have found that when the way they look at events and situations changes, their feelings about external situations change. Perception really does determine experience, and it all begins with acceptance.
5. Freedom from the past…and the future
In recovery, one of the first things we learn is to release the future. Sayings like “just for today” and “one day at a time” reiterate that recovery is accomplished in a succession of small steps. Looking at an unknown future can be daunting, but nearly everyone can hold on for one day, or even, at first, one hour. After a while, we accumulate some sober time and learn that the “one day at a time” perspective can be useful when facing other obstacles in life. We learn that worrying about events in the future doesn’t really help the outcome and just adds unnecessary stress. Facing problems incrementally allows us to stay level-headed and focused.
Active recovery can free someone from the past too. The steps help the individual look at their resentments, fears, patterns of behavior and guilt for past actions. Once someone has started step 9, they are actively facing the things they did for their past and making amends to those harmed. Although this sounds scary, the feeling of release is immense. They are no longer bound to the past and can use their energy to be the person they want to be. We experience a new happiness and a new freedom.
Are recovering addicts and alcoholics happier?
In conclusion, we see that recovering addicts can be as happy or even happier than “normal” people. A sense of purpose, community and support come with the fellowship with others who have been to the depths of addiction. We, who have been isolated and desperate, are no longer alone. Also, by doing the 12 steps, we learn to “clean house” and face life with a new perspective. As we make patient spiritual and emotional progress, our feeling of usefulness and self-worth grows. Many in recovery feel that they are “the lucky ones.” We are given a new way of life far better than anything we could have imagined. Our past, however painful, becomes our greatest gift.