Perhaps you’ve heard of the old saying “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop”—meaning, left with nothing to do for too long can cause one to get into trouble. For those in addiction recovery, this idea is both familiar and often rings true. Whether newly sober or in long-term recovery, many people find it helpful to remain “active.”
But, what does “getting active” really mean?
The great news is that there is plenty of room for interpretation when it comes to being active in recovery. Depending on the individual, getting and remaining active means continuing to be part of an addiction support group, being involved in adventure therapy, picking up long-lost hobbies, learning new hobbies, taking up physical fitness and challenges (such as training for a marathon), volunteering for a charity, and so much more.
Studies have shown that doing the things mentioned above (and others) are extremely beneficial in both short- and long-term recovery.
In fact, one study involving exercise as a tool in addiction recovery revealed that 95% of the male and female participants expressed interest in being involved in an exercise program specifically designed for substance abuse recovery. The benefits of getting and remaining physically active are multifaceted, helping to reduce stress, improve overall health, and more. But, physical fitness is only one example of being active in recovery.
It’s important—especially for newly sober individuals— to understand that sobriety does not resign you to a life of boredom or idleness. Embracing new activities and experiences not only helps replace old and unhealthy behaviors, but can boost self-esteem, create purposeful and meaningful memories, and lead to a joyful and fulfilling life.
At Futures Recovery Healthcare, we help people with substance use disorders (SUDs) by providing multiple pathways of addiction recovery. If you or someone you love is hurting, there is hope! Many people successfully navigate sobriety, going on to live productive, vibrant, and healthy lives.
Getting Active and Replacing Old Behaviors
When we talk about addiction recovery, we are referring to a “process,” rather than a destination or “finish line.” People who remain sober for long lengths of time often use the present term “recovery,” versus “recovered,” because the process is ongoing. People who commit to staying sober continually work to ensure lasting sobriety.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes recovery as “a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.” And, the description goes on to explain that while many people consider the cornerstone of recovery as abstinence for all substance use, that it’s also important for many people in recovery to continue to appropriately handle negative feelings and participate in a “contributive life,” as essentials in recovery.
Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) says that because substance abuse is a learned behavior, recovery requires a time of “unlearning.” And, one of the best ways to unlearn old, unhealthy behaviors is by incorporating what SAMHSA describes as “antidrugs and antidrinks.”
Those who spent their fair share of time in bars, at parties, or trekking across town to acquire their substance of choice, new and healthy activities and habits are needed to replace the old ones.
Basically, antidrugs/antidrinks are strategies to help handle times of stress, discomfort, and cravings—situations in which a person is more at risk of relapse. This can mean calling a sponsor or trusted friend or attending a 12-Step or other type of recovery-oriented support group. But, suggested antidrug and antidrink steps also largely center on getting into action—either physically, mentally, or emotionally—many times swapping those old behaviors we mentioned earlier, in favor of new interests, which can include:
- Talking a walk or run
- Participating in an exercise class (strength-building, Zumba, or Tabata)
- Shooting baskets
- Reading a favorite book or magazine
- Watching a funny movie
- Practicing drawing, painting, or another artistic activity (or art therapy)
- Volunteering (for an animal shelter or faith-based organization)
- Exploring calming activities such as yoga, tai chi, or guided meditation
- Trying musical therapy or picking up a new instrument
- Joining adventure therapy
- Sightseeing in your town or city
- Doing wood-working, fishing, knitting, crocheting, and other hobbies
- Hiking, rafting, rock-climbing, and other wilderness activities
- Riding horses and/or equine therapy
- Swimming and/or aquatic therapy
- Visiting museums, art galleries, crafting fairs, exhibits
- Taking an educational course or class
- Playing board games, crossword puzzles, sudoku
- Helping another person in recovery (although it’s important to make sure you are in a healthy and positive mental and emotional state yourself before reaching out to help another person)
Of course, the list above is only a sampling of the ways that getting and staying active can help you stay sober. As we mentioned earlier, the types of replacement activities and new healthy opportunities in recovery are vast. There is also another valuable way to get active, although some people may initially shy from it—chores.
While chores or “to-dos” can sometimes feel burdensome, they are a wise way to fill your time. Often, addiction can cause people to put important tasks off. But, attending to long-lost to-dos, like cleaning out clothes or linen closet, can feel satisfying. Scratching things off a list of tasks, especially neglected ones, provides a sense of accomplishment and can boost confidence. For an extra boost of accomplishment, combined with physical activity, try completing outdoor chores such as raking leaves, mowing the lawn, trimming the landscaping, or planting a flower box.
No matter what activity or activities you embark on, be patient with yourself. And, recognize that every time you attempt something new, you are investing a little more into your recovery. You don’t have to master a new skill to still reap positive rewards. You don’t even have to be good at your new hobby or activity. Simply knowing you stepped out of your comfort zone in an effort to maintain sobriety provides a confidence and self-esteem boost.
With trying new things in recovery also comes the possibility of meeting like-minded people with similar and healthy interests. It may also lead to opening doors to unexpected opportunities—such as employment openings, volunteer positions, or, adding to your growing skill set in sobriety.
It’s important to note, that getting into and maintaining activity in recovery does not equate to “staying busy.” Committing to too many things can cause a person to feel overwhelmed and anxious. It can also, for some people, turn into a pathway of avoidance. Avoiding feelings and uncomfortable situations in favor of constantly moving can be dangerous for people in recovery, and can even lead to relapse.
Great Balancing Act
Many people are curious about how to identify whether they (or a loved one) are having difficulty managing activity in recovery and/or heading toward avoidance-type thinking or behavior patterns. One of the ways to help identify problems with life balance and/or avoidance is to watch for indications of relapse.
People can experience signs of emotional and mental relapse in behaviors such as:
- Keeping emotions hidden
- Craving substances such as drugs or alcohol
- Focusing on the problems of others
- Going to support groups, but not sharing
- Minimizing past using (of drugs or alcohol)
- Glamorizing past using (of drugs or alcohol)
- Planning to use substances
- Abandoning self-care
Just because a person exhibits one or more of the indications above does not guarantee relapse. However, it is important to be honest if and when a person feels overcommitted or unbalanced in recovery.
One of the best ways to maintain balance in recovery is to combine hobbies and activities with a recovery-oriented structure—12-Step meetings, SMART Recovery, faith-based recovery, or other types of ongoing support meetings and programs. There are even opportunities to contribute healthy active commitment within these support mechanisms—such as volunteering to make coffee for meetings, organize reading materials and literature, etc.
A sponsor or accountability partner can also help. Any time you want to “try on” a new skill or activity, check with whoever keeps you accountable. He/she can help you decide if you are emotionally, mentally, and physically open for a new activity—or, maxed out for the time being. The more honest you are with yourself and someone else, the better chance you have of guarding against relapse.
It’s important to remember that you are not in a rush! There is plenty of time for you to explore new activities and interests, at a reasonable pace.
The longer a person maintains sobriety, the more they learn how to find the perfect mix of staying active in newfound hobbies and continuing to be accountable for personal recovery. Many people find too, that some seasons in life require more balance adjustments than others—and that’s okay!
If you or someone you love is concerned about a substance abuse problem, you are not alone. At Futures, we not only help people by providing multiple pathways of recovery, but we also encourage finding specific sobriety-enhancing activities and interests. A happy, healthy, and productive life awaits.
To get started, contact us confidentially online or by phone at 866-804-2098.