In the old days of addiction treatment, people used to think that shaming addicts might sway them from taking substances. Addicts were thought of as people who had a moral failing that needed setting right. Thankfully, due to research, science and psychology, we now know that addiction is an illness, and not a reason to be told off or punished.
We now know that guilt just pushes addicts further into their addiction and makes the problem worse. Addicts, after all, often use their substances to bury difficult emotions. This is why positive, compassionate, solution-focused treatment is more effective than shame-based interventions.
If this is the case, then finding happiness must be a large part of recovery. While it’s not the whole ‘cure’, building positive experiences when clean and sober is going to be much more effective for recovery than focusing on feeling bad about having fallen into the trap of addiction in the first place.
While recovery requires an addict to learn to tolerate negative emotions and experiences without turning to substances, if you can lessen the number of negative emotions felt, and increase the number of positive emotions, it’s an easier battle. It’s far easier to fight cravings and do the right things for recovery when feeling happy and satisfied with life.
So how does an addict find happiness if they’ve possibly spent a large part of their lives in distressing and disturbing physical and mental circumstances? Having an addiction is rarely pretty, and can involve some rather painful experiences.
Well, lasting happiness is found in the mind more than in external circumstances. You can ‘think’ yourself happy and strengthen your recovery by doing so.
Here are my 5 tips for building happiness, some of which are taken from my book, ‘The Happy Addict: How to Be Happy In Recovery From Alcoholism or Drug Addiction’:
1. Draw a Line
Addiction can make people do some horrible things they would never otherwise do. On your first day clean and sober, draw a mental line to mark the addicted past and the clean future. Anything before the line was part of the addiction, and not who you are. If you hurt other people in the past, you can make amends and apologize, but don’t beat yourself up for anything you did back then. Focus instead on building a happy future where you do positive things and treat others well.
2. Help Others
There is nothing that can take you away from your own problems as much as helping another person with theirs. Helping has been shown to make people very happy indeed, and if you can make another person happier through your help, you will start to feel happier yourself. Whether it’s assisting a friend who you know could do with a hand, or volunteering at a charity, the inner warmth that you get from helping others can make you glow with happiness.
3. Train Your Brain to Be Positive
Start training yourself to focus on the positives in life, rather than the negatives. Negative = I had this horrible addiction. Positive = I’m changing my life for the better. If you’re trying to recover from addiction, you may find that your brain likes to do your thinking for you, and that negative thoughts creep in there all on their own. Wear an elastic band round your wrist; snap it every time you experience an unnecessarily negative thought and immediately replace it with a more positive one. In a short while, positive thinking will become more automatic.
4. Do the Right Thing
No matter what difficult stuff is going on in your life, whether you’re having problems with cravings, relationships or finances, there is nothing and no-one that can ruin your day quite as much as you doing something negative. If you keep your integrity in all situations, you can go to bed knowing that you, at least, have done the right thing and you can be proud of the way you have acted today. That’s a really powerful way to cheer yourself up when life gives you lemons. If shame perpetuates addiction, integrity protects recovery just as strongly.
5. Become Grateful
If happiness is a big comfy couch, then gratitude is the cosy cushions on it. Being grateful has been scientifically proven to make people feel happier. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, look at, and love, what you do have. Learn to appreciate the small wonders of life and all the beautiful benefits of sobriety. From your clear head to your chance to build a brilliant new life, bask in the good things you get from being clean.
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