Too often when thinking about recovery from a substance use disorder, our culture tends to focus solely on the substance use itself. While meeting one’s goals of reducing substance use or achieving abstinence are undoubtedly an integral component of recovery, the path to health and wellness is broader and more deeply-rooted. Recovery is also about finding joy in positive, life-affirming activities that help us to grow, learn and thrive without alcohol or drugs. These five tips can help you achieve optimal health and happiness, whether you’re new to recovery or farther along in your wellness journey:
Don’t Skimp on Sleep
“When I was misusing alcohol in college, I often stayed up until two AM at the expense of my sleep, studies, and productivity,” says Mark, 36. “An important part of my growth was learning to prioritize sleep, and realizing that being the life of the party pales in comparison to having a healthy, stable life.”
So, how much sleep does the average adult really need? At least 7 hours of quality sleep-- and, for best results, try to go to sleep and wake up around the same time each day to establish a good routine. The more you practice this kind of common sense self-care, the easier it becomes.
Eat the Rainbow
While in active addiction, one of the first things to go is healthy eating. It can be difficult, especially in early recovery when you might be experiencing symptoms of post-acute withdrawal, to remember to eat your protein and veggies even when you may be craving sugary snacks and empty carbohydrate calories. Food is fuel, and nurturing your body with a balanced diet makes a huge impact on how you think and feel.
“While I was struggling with opioid use disorder I barely ate anything at all, let alone anything healthy,” remembers Aaron, 38. “Now I love making healthy meals with my family, and notice a huge difference in how I feel when I eat well.”
Move Your Body
“An integral part of my recovery from alcohol use disorder has been exercise,” says Jay, 33. “It’s the good kind of pain beating out the bad, and it centers my mind and body. Giving my all to a workout puts things into perspective and helps me ignore the problems that my mind exaggerates during the day. I get lost in my workouts to find myself.”
Getting back on track after months or years of not prioritizing exercise can feel daunting at first, but like re-establishing a healthy sleep pattern, it gets easier each day. If the gym isn’t your thing, there are still plenty of great ways to get healthy that can be incorporated into your daily life, such as walking or biking to work instead of riding the metro. Start small with attainable goals, and before you know it you’ll actually look forward to working up a sweat.
Get Fresh Air
Isolation, shame, and depression are common during addiction when the stigma of this disease can make it incredibly hard to seek help and build healthy connections. “It was my tendency to stay home, hiding from the world while I was in active addiction,” says Aaron. “Sometimes when I’m stressed out I may still feel that urge to stay in bed, but I always feel better as soon as I get up, get out, and spend a day outdoors.”
Spending time in nature has widespread positive impacts on physical health and reduces stress levels. Hiking, rock climbing, and fishing can all be fun, relaxing ways to nurture health and healing, while connecting with yourself and loved ones.
Hang with the Winners
“Everyone has those friends they associate with substance misuse,” says Jay, “the ones whose social life revolves mainly around meeting for a beer, and before you know it, it’s midnight and you’re ten beers deep. Do yourself a favor and don’t put yourself in those situations. Hang out with people who make you the best version of yourself, who are on the same path as you, with common interests and shared healthy hobbies.”
Who we spend time with, where we spend our time, and what we put into our bodies all make a huge impact on who we are becoming. Recovery is a journey— different for each person— that often begins with addiction treatment but lasts well after the treatment period is over. Remembering these five simple strategies can help you to prioritize your health and happiness throughout your life.