Most of us, when we first sober up, know little other than instant gratification – we want to feel better immediately; we want all of our problems to be solved at once. For many of us, drinking to excess was simply an effective way to numb out all of the negative emotions we, as humans, are prone to feeling. Pumping our poor brains full of drugs helped us to neatly evade reality, and when the entire world began crumbling down around us, we selfishly muffled the sound of the crash. “There are other people who will be willing to pick up the pieces,” we thought to ourselves as we took another hit or downed another vodka tonic. “Not my problem.” We let others sweep up the dust and debris as we hid out in solitude, desperately attempting to convince ourselves that everything was fine. And often, we did. We told others that everything was fine so many times that we eventually began to believe that it was.
Instant Gratification – The Alcoholic’s Best Friend
Deep down, of course, we knew that everything was not well – we understood that the damage and destruction we had been causing was not going to be erased by time or avoidance. But we figured that if we continued to drink to oblivion for the remainder of our lives, we would be able to successfully escape the grief of current circumstance until we peacefully passed away. Getting sober and facing the destruction – now there was a terrifying thought! As it turns out, however, this is the only way to obtain true, fulfilled happiness. What we mistook for happiness before entering into recovery was simply a teeming heap of despair, fear, self-pity, and shame, masked by a thick layer of chemically enhanced delusion. We thought we had found happiness in the pill, pipe, needle, and bottle, when in reality, we had found nothing more than a temporary comfort. A fair-weather friend in the truest sense of the word.
Finding Happiness in Recovery
One thing is for certain – if we take the time to achieve authentic happiness, we will be well aware of the difference. And finding and maintaining some level of contentedness is absolutely essential to long-term sobriety. After all, if we are not enjoying life in recovery… what’s the point? Keep in mind that while we can in fact choose to be happy, authentic happiness is not something that will fall into place immediately. Especially for those of us who have devoted a major portion of our lives to screwing up our brain chemistry and incessantly dulling every potential emotion, finding and maintaining happiness can be a lengthy and dedicated process. When we first sober up, we may expect to feel better at once. We may expect our grief to be lifted and our problems to be resolved instantaneously. But we need to put in the foot work and remedy our past wrongs before we will be able to move forward towards fulfillment.
5 Steps to Getting Happy
- Choose to Be Happy.
Make achieving happiness one of your top priorities. Equip yourself with an entirely new skill set – learn to be a good employee, a reliable friend, and a contributing member of society in general. Surround yourself with happy people, and learn how to effectively manage your personal emotions and your relationships with others. Make a conscious decision to be happy, and pursue things that fill you with contentedness and gratitude.
- Practice Gratitude.
Writing out a daily gratitude list will help you to focus on the positive rather than dwell on the negative. Throughout the day, stop and consider something that you have to be grateful for. Focus on what is going right rather than on what is going wrong. If you practice gratitude consciously for an extended period of time, being grateful will eventually become second nature.
- Foster Forgiveness.
Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. When you foster resentment, you are only limiting your own ability to achieve happiness and fulfillment. Do your best to work through resentments, and come to true peace with past harms. Working through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with a trusted sponsor is an ideal way to overcome resentments and enter a place of serenity and forgiveness. Rumination is toxic to your body and your mind. Dwelling on anger and injustice will not resolve the issue at hand – it will only you cause you infinitely more stress than is necessary. Easier said than done, of course, but meditation, working with others, mindfulness, and empathy are all tools that will help you overcome grudges of all shapes and sizes.
- Take Action.
Exert control over your negative thoughts and feelings. Even though your emotions may seem overwhelming, you do have the ability to lessen their power over time, and eventually alter them altogether.
- Surround Yourself with Optimistic People.
There are very few things that will remedy unhappiness as quickly as surrounding yourself with positive and driven individuals. Feed and foster your social connections, and try your best to recognize that solitude is only beneficial in small doses. The company you keep plays a crucial role in the way you conduct yourself.
Happiness may seem an elusive ideal when we first get sober, but with ample time, patience, and practice, we can learn to find fulfillment beyond our wildest dreams.