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7 Ways to Improve Your Life in Long-Term Addiction Recovery

After five years clean, what next?

ID 69106496 © Iliuha007 |
Source: ID 69106496 © Iliuha007 |

At lunch, I met a lovely waitress who asked me what kind of work I do. I shared that I work for an addiction treatment facility as the Director of Addiction Research. Thrilled, she confided, “I will be clean five years in August.” I smiled. “I love being sober,” she continued. “But how do I keep my recovery fresh?”

It’s a good question.

What do you do after you’ve settled into a healthy way of life, a way of life that does not include the misuse of drugs and alcohol? There are many things you can do to keep your recovery vibrant and relevant. To keep growing in your recovery you might try:

Meditation – Meditation produces important changes in both the structure and function of the brain. One important finding is that meditation increases gray matter in the areas of the brain involved with learning and decision-making, good for overall health and preventing relapse. Meditation also helps with other problems, such as depression and anxiety.

Yoga – There is significant evidence to show that yoga, particularly focusing on yogic breathwork, decreases stress and diminishes symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. It will also loosen up the joints and muscles, improving flexibility, balance, and circulation. Those who practice yoga express having an improved quality of life.

Exercise – Research is beginning to indicate that regular, moderate exercise can help break compulsive behaviors. Of course, we all know that being fit is good for our health, but if it also helps prevent relapse, there is an added benefit to addicts.

Psychotherapy – We can all benefit from delving into the issues that led us to abuse substances in the first place, and those issues change over time. If you weren’t a parent when you were using, but are now, for example, regular psychotherapy can help you process your emotions so you don’t fall back into patterns that could lead to relapse.

Healthy Eating – It sounds like a no-brainer, right? But most addicts enter recovery with abysmal personal care habits, particularly around food. Learning how to feed yourself healthfully will not only make your body stronger, but will also improve your self-esteem.

Volunteer – Getting out of your normal routine to help others in a way that feels good to you will improve your outlook on life. Whether it’s 12-step “service” work, feeding the homeless, shopping for an elderly neighbor, or walking dogs at the animal shelter, doing for those in need will help prevent relapse; you can’t let those people who depend on you down by going down the rabbit hole of substance abuse. Relapse is harder when you’re connected to others.

Experience Life – It doesn’t matter if you visit a lake the next county over, take a flamenco class, or travel to Kathmandu, research shows that people who engage in life, who invest in experiences rather than in material objects, are happier than those who sit at home or buy a lot of “stuff.” Make memories and friends! If you have a lot to look forward to, drugs and alcohol will look less and less inviting.

Five years of recovery from addiction is a wonderful milestone, but it’s also just the beginning. Use every day to improve your health and outlook on life. By engaging in self-care and being involved in your community, you’ll find energy in continued recovery.

More from Constance Scharff Ph.D.
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