There is a feeling of dire loss when one enters into recovery for the first time. The overwhelming ideas that you will not have anything fun to do ever again, for the rest of your life can be a powerful deterrent to sobriety. Which is why learning to have 100% unadulterated fun is so important to the success of recovery. The only aid to enjoyment you’ve had being suddenly ripped from your repertoire can be shocking, and often force one to put their guard up. What’s hard to see is the multitude of options outside of drinking and drugging that can be accessed in order to up the entertainment content of your life after you remove that element from your life.
In an earlier post I had mentioned the importance of creativity in my life, and how it had overwhelmingly contributed to my well-being in sobriety. Drawing, painting, writing, photography, and overall experimentation in the arts proved to be an excellent outlet for my constant “ebb and flow” of emotion in recovery. Beating the hell out of the drums is the best way for me, personally, to get all of my unchecked and pent up aggression out. I cannot stress how important activities like these are to someone in early recovery. However, if you are like me then you are very easily excitable. Which, in some cases, can lead to spending sprees on new toys because of a healthy fascination of that “new hobby” in my life. I once spent $300 on one such spree on Lego’ds alone, in an attempt to retest my childhood obsessions. More recently I spent hundreds on art supplies using the holidays as an excuse. I couldn’t “afford” christmas presents so I was going to have to make them for everybody on my list. Much like the husband who buys the wife a chainsaw because she’s been nagging him to trim the trees for some time.
This digresses from the point I initially set out to make. Fun is integral to survival in recovery. When I was twenty I was shipped off to Minneapolis, MN for aftercare following a brief stint in the wilderness of Montana. All I knew of Minneapolis was what little I could gather from fragmented parts of Fargo that I had caught on TNT while channel surfing. I was not excited to be moving to what I thought was going to b a desolate and cold wasteland of boredom and people who talked like the mom from “Bobby’s World.” What I didn’t know was the booming art scene that the town boasted, or the unbelievably vibrant music scene. I didn’t know that Minnesota was the birthplace of Prince, The Replacements, and… Prairie Home Companion…
Nobody really cares about that last one, but I DID! These were revelations to me. That society impacting acts weren’t all born out of either the East or West coasts. That the midwest had this hidden hip that nobody knew about except those fortunate enough to live there, and they were keeping it secret! I felt a part of a hidden collective. To unknowingly stumble upon this treasure trove of culture hiding under the facade of a Siberia-esque landscape.
I didn’t have a car, and took the bus/train everywhere in the year that I lived up North. This allowed me to see the city from a different angle. To be able to look from the ground up, and out what different for me. Normally, when I drive I look at the horizon, occasionally glancing at my surroundings but only just. When you’re on a train, there’s only so many times that you can get caught staring at the people who are riding with you before some kind of altercation takes place. You have to stare out the window, or there could be a fight. I saw locations, districts, venues, where people walked, and why they walked there. The passing lights creating an air of curiosity. Hazy faces with blurry smiles as the bus drove by piqued my interest. Made me want to get off the bus, and postpone the arrival at my location for just a bit longer. In the year that I lived there I found a love for live music, for street art, for coffee and conversation at 1 am, for tattoos on a whim, and even for hometown hero, Mary Tyler Moore. It was the dreamworld of an artsy twenty something trying to find his place on this weird planet. Granted, it was also the hardest time of my life. I lived on $27 a week (after rent), and was a resident of what is called a “cash-cow.” This flophouse didn’t have heat in the winter or A/C in the summer, and presented itself as a safe haven for those seeking shelter from the perils of addiction. A shining example of everything that’s wrong with the addiction/recovery world these days. I hustled my way through my twentieth year. Seeking adventure, Fast times, and faster friends. Every night you could find me playing pool with women with a quick smile, or bobbing my head at the landmark “First Avenue.” I had friends that worked the doors of the juke joints, and acquaintances running coat checks at the best rock clubs in the city. Shaking hands with drunken rock stars, heads hung heavy from their current tours. Sleep was a commodity that I didn’t feel deserved my attention. All glorious, and terrifying at the same time. I learned more about life (& how to live) in one year than most do in five.
The reason why I mention my time in Minneapolis is mainly to convey that I sought life. I didn’t stay stagnant in recovery, rotting in a room wishing my life was better. I looked for fun, and I found it. Granted, I put too much in front of my recovery and ultimately lost it. I lost sight of the balance needed to have a productive life. The importance of remembering why you seeking that adventure, in that I needed it to stay sober, and not the other way around. Fun in sobriety is paramount, as long as sobriety comes first.
More to come soon-
I am what they call a “real” alcoholic. Meaning, that despite all the consequences I faced (Jail, Hospitals, & Death) I just could not stop using. There was a constant need to change how I felt every waking moment. It overtook my thoughts, governed my actions, and dictated my mood. There is no escaping the barrage of thought flowing through an alcoholic’s mind when their disease is in control. So, sobriety is the only possible route out, they hesitantly accept it. In fact, alcoholism is one of the only chronic diseases that those afflicted think they can get better on their own. Nobody gets diagnosed with bone cancer and says that they can treat it on their own. “I don’t need chemo… I know everything there is to know about cancer already, doc. I just need to be left alone for a bit, and I’ll be just fine after some time.” Any patient that says that would be considered out of their mind. When treatment is finally accepted, however, there is a separation from what is needed and from what actually gets treated.
Alcoholics who are in full blown practice are often dishonest, angry, unruly, and flat out ornery. The idea that the only thing that has brought you any semblance of comfort over the years is quite a terrifying concept. I was a spiteful cuss every time I reentered treatment of any kind. Scoffing at any rules, and voicing what I felt to be grave injustices as loud as I could. I was looked at as a rabble-rouser who was just unhappy to be in treatment again. While that might have been true, I also had valid concerns that I felt needed to be addressed. These issues would go unattended to usually because the person bringing them to light was me. A tattooed, resentful, and bitter man who spent the majority of his time trying to not face his own reality through the abuse of alcohol. On paper, I was not the most credible source. The point being that my concerns fell on deaf ears. Any that might have gotten back to my family were written off as the musings of a spoiled alcoholic who was just venting his anger at the expense of the treatment center.
All of this reminds me of a study I had once read about. A group of scientists put three chimps in a large cage with a button on one of the walls. This button would shock all three chimps in the cage if it were pressed. After a short time in the cage, one of the chimps ventured over to the button and pressed it, promptly shocking all three chimps. This resulted in the other chimps giving the poor fellow a beating for his actions. Next, the scientists introduced a new chimp to the mix. After some time in the cage, the newest member hesitantly walked towards the button, as if to push it. The chimp who had received the first beating initiated an attack on the new chimp before he could even push the button. The beaten new member didn’t even know why he been attacked. Then, the scientists took one of the chimps out and added another new one. This new chimp began to head for the button, and like the others before it, got a beating. The scientists did this twice more, with the same results every time. At this point, all of the original members of the cage (the only ones who had felt the shock of the button at all) were gone, but the beatings still took place. This is a good example of what the world of rehabilitation for drugs and alcohol are like today. Rules and regulations established by someone else, but followed by a completely new set of people. Enforced for reasons they might not even know. This often results in an unhealthy environment expected to treat the unhealthy. Most rehabs are just chimps beating the new chimps for not yet pushing a button…
In fact, this is the case for most of recovery. Stagnant practices established by someone a long time ago that really have no bearing on the current state of affairs. Without enough people to speak out against what is really going on, then everything stays the same. Mainly because of how much money these establishments rake in every fiscal year. A state-funded & nonprofit faith based rehab here in OK, for example, pulls in six figures a month selling banana nut bread and bringing in new “sinners.” Nobody knows the true success rate, mainly because of the dishonesty of someone who has relapsed and is in active addiction. This often rules out the dishonesty of the treatment facility, allowing them to continue their shady ways unimpeded. It’s a sticky situation. The addict often leaves worse-off , and the rehab’s pockets get a bit bigger. This same allegory can be used for lots of situations our society is currently facing now. Just because it’s normal and has been accepted, does it make it okay? Of course not. Please, be aware. Please, speak up.
More to come soon.
It’s very easy to get tied up in a number of things when entering recovery. One’s first instinct is to fix everything as quickly as possible. To make everything “okay” again. This rarely works out in the way it was intended, which can often lead to a hasty return to the old life. Another mistake is that we want everybody to see that we are healed. Cured of this terrible occurrence, and ready to put the whole thing in the rearview. This usually leads to the need to hide what’s really going on behind a facade of success and good intentions. This inevitably leads to yet another relapse if not taken care of quickly, and without hesitation. One of the most prevalent offenders in the return to using that often goes overlooked is stagnancy of the mind. Boredom.
To keep the mind moving forward is a tremendous way to restore a sense of purpose in the life of the alcoholic. Another avenue in which we can find safety in recovery should NEVER be overlooked. The more things I have going for myself at any given time the better. Before I wouldn’t let myself get to involved with anything because I would be afraid of it getting taken away somehow. Distancing myself was a way to protect against anything that could take away a source of enjoyment. Which eventually meant that I enjoyed very little. Backwards , huh? I have had to relearn how to enjoy even the most trivial activities in order to stay not only sane, but also sober. That’s exactly why I’m such an advocate for creativity in recovery. There’s an unspoken outlet that needed to be filled when my source of escape was becoming detrimental to my health.
The act of creation itself, is a wonderful concept that can be exploited for a number of reasons. All of which are beneficial in one way or another. Stagnancy of the mind is the killer in this particular equation. If I were just sitting around, going to work, going to meetings, and then going home to close the night off with a fix of television, then my life would be redundant and borrrrrrrrrriiiiiing. A man much smarter than myself once told me, “Boring people get bored.” So, keeping that in mind, I have avoided being bored because of the implications behind it. I know I’m not boring, but the only person I have to prove that to is myself. Alcoholics can easily get locked into this “woe is me” downward spiral where the lack of beneficial downtime is translated into feelings of self-pity. Speaking from experience, this is a lame cop out. Nine times out of ten, this was just an excuse for me to stay comfortable in my discomfort. To successfully avoid my fear of public interaction and decimation of laziness. All of which would eventually contribute to yet another relapse.
Most in recovery do this without even being aware. If you hang around the rooms long enough you will see an increased acquiring of tattoos, actual and formulated opinions, and new contributions in the workplace. Chefs will experiment with new items, businessmen will introduce new models, retailers will see displays in new ways, and everything in between. All stemming for hazy sources of inspiration. Sobriety unlocks parts of the mind that have lied dormant for some time, allowing the alcoholic to begin to fire on unchartered cylinders. The beautiful thing about all of this is that creativity is never wrong. Execution of that new business model might not go as planned, but something is always learned. That is why I feel this is a major/overlooked part of the recovery process.
If you’re new to recovery I say this: GO OUT! Have fun. Listen to new music. Draw things you never would have before. Carry a notebook and write in it. Take photos everywhere you go. Read books. Experience life!