Getting sober doesn't mean you're going to live happily ever after
When you have substance use disorder (SUD), you know that recovering from it will improve your life. Unfortunately, while it does improve life, just stopping it will not always bring happiness. True happiness is an elusive emotion. We all want it, but many of us do not quite understand what it is, or how to achieve it.
Reasons for avoiding sobriety
One of the main reasons for the resistance to going sober is fear of the initial withdrawals, but this can be overcome. It is the prospect of coping with life after detox that discourages most SUD sufferers from committing to long-term sobriety. They may even feel they are different from other people and that, based on that believe, a normal sober lifestyle will not suit them.
If you convince yourself that a drug improves your coping skills, or that it makes life more interesting, your brain assumes that you need it for your survival. When it marks the drug as a survival item, your brain instinctively waves red warning flags when any thought of stopping the drug crosses your mind. This creates a false premonition that sobriety will be intolerable.
Intoxication usually makes a person feel more capable of enjoying life. This can cause a reverse perception that sobriety will make them unhappy. However, while intoxication can be a temporary gateway to pleasure, it’s not the same as being happy. In fact, unhappiness often surfaces while a person is intoxicated.
How we confuse happiness
There are differences between happiness, contentment and fulfilment. Moments of elation, relief, joy, excitement, satisfaction, reward, pleasure, entertainment, and having fun, can also be mistaken for happiness.
While all the other feelings contain traces of happiness, true happiness is a more wholesome, stable and peaceful feeling that makes your life consistently meaningful and worthwhile. It may retreat a little when tragedy or anger strikes, but it will always return to bolster and keep your spirits up. Take time to discuss this with others and you may be surprised by the outcome.
Drugs and alcohol are often used when people want to relax and be sociable or when they want to have fun. You can easily associate that with being happy. Ultimately, you may become “un-happy” whenever drinks or drugs are not available. The fact is; it does not provide true happiness. It’s just a temporary illusion that comes and goes. Yet, many SUD sufferers fear that the removal of their substance will make them unhappy.
How to be sober and happy
Do not think that you are entitled to immediate happiness when you stop using. It takes time and effort to change the way your mind works. You will gradually uncover the honey pot of true happiness, but it requires practice and patience.
Accept that life is not fair. Everybody encounters frustrations and setbacks in life. If you are patient, your mind will become used to riding out the random storms without crashing. Reviving old coping methods that did not work makes no sense.
Stop thinking about the good feelings you had when you started using. It’s a trick of mind that instinctively dishes up only the initial pleasures and ignores the bad consequences. These misleading flashes are common symptoms.
Like everybody else, you are going to have times when you are really bored. In the past you filled that hole with drink or drugs and the temptation can easily return. Find a hobby or pastime that you can passionately indulge in.
Eat enjoyable food or snacks. Read a good book. Watch a movie, preferably a comedy. Daydream about something nice. Visit or invite a friend whose company you enjoy and have a good chat – talk about how you feel. It really works.
Stop unnecessary mulling. Some concerns must be properly attended to, but overthinking causes confusion and stress. Ask yourself if the issue will still matter a year from now and if the answer is no, then wrap it up and do something else.
Try to see the positive side of things. When you were using, you were constantly dealing with risks, confrontations and defences. This probably conditioned you to negative thinking. Now you have to teach yourself to think positively again.
Avoid negative influences. The news media focuses on disturbing events. Also, some people you know may be pessimistic by nature. Dramatised news and cynicism can lead to unnecessary stress. Limit your exposure to these disruptions.
Do not fall into the trap of imagining only the worst outcomes when facing difficulties. We usually predict disaster because our minds want to prepare us for disappointment. Most of the time things turn out better than expected.
If a temporary concern is too harsh to endure, see your doctor or psychiatrist. They can provide prescription medication to tide you over. Be careful and stick to the prescription, or it can become a new dependency problem.
Do not makeup excuses for resuming your old ways. When this temptation hits, talk about it, join a support group, or consult a therapist. It’s a prevalent symptom and not a weakness or something you have to hide or be ashamed about.
If you have tried and failed to maintain sobriety, you may need intense therapy. Often the roots of the problem are too complicated to heal on your own. Most SUD sufferers have an innate ability to be happy without drugs or alcohol and, with the right guidance, practice and perseverance, you can unlock it.