Finding your passion and purpose in recovery…
As Valentine’s Day rapidly approaches, Tina Turner’s song has been playing in the back of my mind. It’s been happening so often that I finally decided to take the question seriously.
So, what does love have to do with recovery?
My first impulse was to agree with Tina that it’s just is a “second-hand” emotion, one that often gets in the way in early recovery. In fact, I encourage men in our sober living program to follow the 12-step advice to stay out of any intimate relationship for the first year. There’s enough to focus on already without the distraction and drama that can come with those relationships.
When we first get sober, many of us discover we don’t really know what healthy love is. We loved drugs or alcohol. We loved getting high, taking risks, numbing out, pushing the edge. We loved the ways using made us feel—temporarily. But, like all bad relationships, this kind of love left us worse off than before and destroyed many things in our life that were truly worth loving.
So, what’s love got to do with it?
A lot, if you insert one small word.
Self-love has everything to do with recovery. I’ll be honest, it’s a steep learning curve. Many of us are demoralized by the time we find ourselves in a recovery program. We’ve done things that are hard to love. I get it. That’s part of the journey. But it’s a journey worth taking, and one we work on every day at Next Step Recovery.
How do we learn to love ourselves? That’s part of the journey too, and we have to figure out some of it through trial and error. But I’ve found a few things that are helpful for everyone, whether you are in a recovery program or not.
Look in the mirror. Keep your focus on yourself for a few months (or years). There is a lot to heal and discover with that person who is staring back at you. What makes you happy? What keeps you up at night? What sets you off? You’ve got to learn to love the one you’re with 24/7 before you can learn to love anyone else.
Feed your relationship. I mean that literally. Addiction wreaks havoc on our health. Most of us are nutritionally and physically compromised coming out of addiction. That’s why we focus on diet and exercise in our program. We can’t succeed in recovery without learning to care for our physical and emotional health.
Don’t go to bed mad. But do prioritize getting enough sleep. You may have gone years not sleeping well while in active addiction. Sleep is critical for maintaining positive mood and energy. If you aren’t getting enough, you will feel it more than ever when you aren’t using substances that artificially boost you.
Love the ones you’re with. While taking time off from intimate relationships can be helpful, you shouldn’t waste any time finding friends and allies who can support you in your recovery. We all need to be able to ask for help at times and to offer help to others. Good sober friends can mean the difference between relapse and long-term recovery.
Go for unconditional love. Don’t forget to nurture your spiritual life. There’s a reason spirituality is a foundation of all 12-step programs. Learning to connect with a higher power or source of understanding can help us surrender bad habits and cultivate hope and perseverance. Whether it’s God, the Universe, or your Best Self, go for Big Love.
Find your passion. But don’t look for it in another person; look for it in your life’s purpose. What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s never too late to ask or answer that question. Sobriety gives us the gift of clarity to explore how to live a personally meaningful life. Many of us find purpose in supporting others in their recovery process.
Learn to say no. Healthy love requires healthy boundaries, which many of us never learned how to set. So we start by learning to manage our impulses and pausing long enough to think through the potential consequences of our actions. Then we practice saying no to things that may cause harm to ourselves or others. We need to practice this for the rest of our lives.
Dare to say yes. We also need to learn to say a big sober yes to things that may be outside our comfort zone that can help us grow. Many of us were taught, “if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.” Or “if it doesn’t feel good, do it high.” Recovery gives us a chance to develop true courage and discover strengths we didn’t know we had.
Honor your commitments. I can’t emphasize this enough. First and foremost, a commitment to sobriety is a commitment to ourselves and no one else. Ultimately, we are the ones that suffer most when we break our promise to live with integrity. The 12-step program is a great way to learn how to make and honor commitments. It holds us accountable for them too.
Give it your all. When everything is said and done, the best way to love yourself is to give your recovery your all. Show up for all of it. Your doubts, your fears, your cravings, your meetings, your steps, your sponsor, your job—your life. As they say in AA/NA meetings around the world, “if you work the program, the program works.” So give it your best try, and remember to get back up if you fall.