Addiction recovery is a second chance, one that allows you to take life by the horns. You are no longer a slave to your compulsions, or to the drugs or alcohol that have sapped away everything fun and interesting about you. Substance abuse recovery has many challenges and frustrations, but one of the most exciting things about it is the opportunity for you to rekindle or find new passion in your addiction-free life.
Finding the Right Hobby
There are many different things you can do to enrich your life in recovery. Not all of them will be for you, and your recovery coach will guide you toward the kinds of hobbies that suit you best. If you’re not an outdoor person, hiking may not be your thing; if you’re not very creatively inclined, maybe you would prefer running over art. But it is nonetheless important to find some kind of pastime to engage in; doing so “disconnects [us] from the everyday worries and recharges our batteries,” says Psych Central. Hobbies lower our stress levels, provide boosts to our health, and teach us about who we are, the people in our lives, and the world around us.
For a person in recovery, these kinds of insights are critical. Recovery is all about learning who you are, both as the person who fell under the spell of substance abuse and as the person who emerged sober, healthy, and positive. Recreational activities give you a forum to put that learning to the test, to add to your understanding of yourself, and to give you a platform to learn new things that a counselor cannot show you. Much like in sports, a coach can only show their players so much before the players have to actually go out and play the game themselves. The same logic applies in recovery.
Hobbies are not only vital for recovery because of what they bring to the table, but also because of what they keep away from the table. For most people, boredom can be merely annoying; for a person in recovery, being bored can be a potential relapse trigger because it brings back memories of the thrills and excitement of being drunk or high. The frustration of being bored and sober can easily develop into depression and agitation, compulsive habits like eating, losing faith in recovery, or even relapsing into self-destructive behavior without actually consuming anything (so-called “dry drunk syndrome”).
In this way, hobbies keep the recovering mind active and engaged. They give those in recovery a fun, pleasurable way to find meaning in their new lives, without attaching that meaning to a professional identity. Even someone who really likes their job can derive more personal satisfaction from taking up a musical instrument or experimenting with cooking or baking. This is what hobbies and passions do; they help you discover talents you didn’t know you had, and then, they provide a foundation for you to keep growing and learning those talents. In the process, you grow and learn about yourself. When done with balance and moderation, the activities you cultivate during recovery could keep you engaged and happy for the rest of your life.
Running in Recovery
Investing in health and wellness is very important in addiction recovery. The National Institute on Drug Abuse writes of how substance abuse damages and weakens a number of the body’s systems and can lead to many other chronic conditions, such as liver and kidney problems. This is why treatment centers spend a lot of time and money helping clients with physical rehabilitation. Meals will always be nutritious, with no fast food, and clients will also be put on a regimen of light exercise to aid them in regaining their strength after medical detoxification.
For many, continuing this focus on health and fitness becomes a pursuit in and of itself. They find that joining a gym or going on hikes with friends boosts their mood, helps them sleep better, boosts their memory and concentration, and keeps them in shape. This is because exercise offers a plethora of mental health benefits, which are useful to everyone; but for a person in recovery, the benefits might be felt even stronger. Regular running has been shown to increase connectivity within the brain, which has the added effect of alleviating depression. The American College of Sports Medicine touts the advantages of working out in a group, such as being exposed to a “social and fun environment,” accountability and incentive to keep going, and the chance to help someone who joins after you.
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Exercise as a passion in a post-addiction life is a big thing. CNN writes that there are numerous groups across the country that help people stay sober by staying physically fit and active. The founder and executive director of a “sober active community”, which provides free athletic activities and support to clients in recovery in Colorado, told CNN that exercise can become a coping mechanism for people who might be otherwise tempted to “pick up a drink or a drug.” Exercise can take on many forms; while running is popular, the recovering founder of a non-profit group told Bicycling.com that he “wants addicts to see bicycling as a good way to spend productive time with others in recovery.”
Similarly, rock climbing has risen in popularity as a sober exercise activity. Many gyms offer indoor climbing facilities, which give people a space to explore their physical boundaries in a safe, controlled environment. A climbing website notes that the experience of climbing can be daunting at first, but the literal process of overcoming challenges and making it to the summit is incredibly healing. One writer notes that the rush of adrenaline and euphoria that comes from finally reaching the top is not dissimilar to the feeling of a drug hit; the obvious difference is that climbing (or any other form of physical exercise) is a natural and healthy way to experience that sensation, and one offers actual rewards to the body for doing so. Some gyms offer deals for groups who come to work out together, and many sober groups have taken advantage of such discounts: spending time together, encouraging each other, and staying physically fit while enjoying the benefits of a reduced rate.
Of course, rock climbing exists outdoors, too, and some people in recovery may feel that the fresh air, sunlight, and unparalleled views are a better component to their recovery than the inside of a gym. For obvious reasons, outdoor rock climbing is a different beast than scaling a rock wall and requires a great deal of training. It is probably not a suitable endeavor for someone without adequate preparation, but it could be a long-term goal. Men’s Journal writes of how the struggle and success of climbing in the outdoors is not only a mirror for the recovery journey but also gives individuals a healthy and focused way to put their demons in perspective.
Yoga and Recovery
For some individuals, the rigors of rock climbing or running might be asking too much; rushing too fast into a spree of post-addiction hobbies and passions can become a relapse trigger in and of itself, and having to go on a painkiller prescription because of running or climbing injuries could sabotage recovery before it even begins.
This is one reason why yoga has become a very popular activity for people in recovery to pick up. Yoga’s deep bridge between spiritual and physical fitness complements much of what addiction recovery espouses; the better connected the mind and body are, the healthier the person. For a person in recovery, this not only means a sounder sense of self, it can also mean better defense against stress and relapse.
Making Friends and Deepening Connections
There are many people who practice yoga as a way of life, but there are millions more who do so as a once-a-week activity. It can be practiced anywhere: at home, at a yoga studio, at a park, or even at a church. Yoga can be practiced by yourself, with a partner, or with a group. As much as it can assist with muscles and flexibility, its focus on breathing and meditation (or introspection and contemplation) make it useful for combating emotional issues as well. Yoga is not a religion or an expression of a religion, but there is a focus on spiritual growth. In this way, it is not dissimilar to how mainstream 12-Steps groups have moved away from the overtly Christian origins of Alcoholics Anonymous while still basing their philosophies on general, individualized spirituality.
Yoga’s health benefits have been well-documented. Harvard Health writes of how yoga can regulate and balance stress hormones, thereby lowering heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure. Scientific American has also noted that regular practice of yoga can increase connectivity to (and within) the regions of the brain that are responsible for controlling stress.
Yoga has been widely picked up by various addiction treatment communities. A program in Wilmington, Massachusetts, combines yoga with the mechanics of 12-Step groups, such as a “sharing circle” for the safe and free confessing of the ups and downs of recovery. A program in Detroit brings together yoga and dance for people in recovery (and people who just want to have a fun time) to start their day off on an energetic, positive, and healthy note. The organizers explain that their regular sessions “offer the potential to make new friends, deepen connections, and strengthen community ties.”
Strengthening community ties is another way that many people in recovery find a passion that makes their new lives rich and fulfilling. Through volunteering and charity work, people often gain a sense of direction and meaning in their lives. For those who are learning how to live without the chaos and destruction of addiction, giving their time and energy to worthwhile causes is a good way to start. “Volunteering may be good for the body and mind,” says the Harvard Health Blog, noting that research has connected volunteering with better social connections, which keep away feelings of loneliness and depression (both of which are serious relapse triggers). Donating time also rewards people with lower blood sugar and even a longer lifespan. Older adults who were regular volunteers were less likely to develop heart disease, stroke, and premature death.
The psychological factor to volunteering in recovery is that it gives individuals a chance to make up for past wrongs. Guilt is a big burden to carry in your post-addiction life. By spending time at homeless shelters, food banks, or other organizations, your selflessness can be a kind of penance – one that rewards and fulfills everyone involved.
Another benefit of volunteering is that it puts you in contact with others who have had similar experiences to yours. By working together, you can learn from them, and they can benefit from your unique journey. Creating a positive network of people, all striving toward a greater good, will enrich your addiction-free life. It is why volunteering is “a cornerstone of recovery,” in the words of Addiction Professional magazine.
Volunteering also prepares individuals to take on major changes in their addiction-free lives. Working with disadvantaged or at-risk populations looks very desirable on a resume and gives a lot of material to discuss in personal statements for university applications. Spending time in volunteering gigs could spark new passions that translate well into careers and fields of study, opening doors that you didn’t even know existed in your pre-recovery life.
Therapy in the Kitchen
Getting out of the house is crucial to discovering (and rediscovering) old hobbies and new passions after putting your substance abuse behind you, but what goes on in the house is equally important. Whether or not you have a family, you need a quiet, safe, and comfortable space to yourself; for many people in addiction recovery, that space is the kitchen.
While some rehabilitation facilities use cooking therapy as a form of treatment, spending recovery time in the kitchen has become a place that many find peace, expression, and personal investment (and nutrition). Vice magazine writes of how a program in England puts former addicts together to make nothing more than simple baked goods and fish and chips; but the creativity and solidarity that come from supporting each other’s cooking “has helped turned recovering addicts’ lives around.”
As with most hobbies, cooking therapy is widely used (and praised) by people who have never experienced substance abuse. But as a writer in Psychology Today notes, the feeling of unwinding after a stressful day is a universal one; and for lots of people, the actions of cooking drive the unwinding. Basic tasks like cutting vegetables “quiets [her] mind and soothes [her] soul.” Some people get that from running, yoga, volunteering, or meditation; others get it from lovingly preparing dinner. Business Insider writes of how the process of cooking has an impact on “our mind, body and soul during good times and bad times.”
Indeed, says the Psychology Today writer, cooking is a form of meditation in and of itself, but “with the promise of a good meal afterwards.”
For this reason, more and more mental health and addiction specialists have started to consider how cooking can unlock a healthy and rewarding passion for people in recovery. Cooking is not just about eating; there are tastes, smells, sounds, and tactile sensations at play, and each one can create a tapestry of wholesomeness to enjoy. Mindfulness – being consciously aware of internal experiences in the present moment, not focusing on the past – is very popular in many treatment programs, and it applies well in the kitchen. A therapist speaking to Psychology Today explains that everything from the color, the touch, and the smell of ingredients provides a relaxing (and therapeutic) point to concentrate your energy and attention on. Being mindful does not have to be a slow, drawn out process, but it underlines why cooking can destress people; your mind is not distracted by mistakes, regrets, or frustrations.
Cooking and Creativity
Cooking also serves as an expression of creativity. While there are an innumerable number of recipes, everywhere from a local library to the Internet (which is a good thing in and of itself), a set of instructions is not always necessary. The Business Insider writer points out that he never follows a recipe, instead preferring to “experiment, mix and match, and design his meals” on any number of variables, including how he simply feels.
This sense of freedom is crucial to discovering a passion; it is what gives your interest wings to fly as opposed to being burdened down by too many rules. In the kitchen, this means you can make something unique and unparalleled; you are at liberty to be inspired, and your self-esteem will reach heights you didn’t think were possible.
For many people, cooking is a chore, a necessary evil to get out of the way just so they can finally eat. But since eating is an inherently rewarding experience, that should make cooking a fulfilling process itself. You can (and should) have fun with your cooking, and therein lies the therapeutic benefit: It is not about perfection, but simply enjoying the experience. If that is your goal, then you will make cooking a hobby to repeatedly savor.
There is much benefit to be derived from the kitchen being a space of solitude, but cooking with a partner brings its own advantages. The exercise can be used to encourage communication and teamwork. By cooperating with a partner in an activity in which you are both invested, you have to put aside your differences and lingering resentment, and focus on getting a productive job done, with pleasurable results an all-but-certain guarantee. You and your partner don’t have to have the same culinary tastes, but you need to be on the same page to work together. This might entail you deferring to your partner for one evening, with the understanding that they will help you make your preferred dish the following week. Food, and specifically the desire to eat, can be a strong incentive to find common ground.
Finding a Passion in Food
Of course, a big component of cooking is the food itself and even what you make can be a source of wellbeing for your mental health. Much research has established a link between nutrition and the human brain. Harvard Medical School explains that food rich with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants help the brain function better, and protect it from the chemical reactions of stress. A diet of processed or refined foods (what you might find in fast food) cannot be gotten rid of that easily; similarly, refined sugars are notably unhealthy, and eating too much can even harm how the brain works, which can lead to depression and other mood disorders.
This is why the food in treatment centers is so carefully selected. The body can be quite weak after addiction and medical detoxification, and it needs to be carefully and gradually built up, no matter how ravenous the person is. Similarly, the client’s mental state is fragile and vulnerable at this time, and foods that can help defend the brain against mood disorders and stress are given priority over comfort snacks.
When you are no longer in inpatient treatment, your recovery coach (and sponsors) will encourage you to keep eating smart and healthy. Occasionally indulging your sweet tooth is fine, but being in recovery presents a chance to conduct a full overhaul of your life. While not every person will take to the kitchen as a place of creativity and expression, you should certainly invest in basic, simple cooking practice and classes. Making food at home has numerous benefits, for your mental, physical, and even economic health. While it does not have to be a passion, it will contribute to your addiction-free life being rich and fulfilling.
Art and Expression
The creativity behind cooking makes it a form of expressive art, which is a critical component of human development. This is why music and illustration are taught at the school level: to help children and youths grow their unique personal and social identities. If you are in recovery, you know full well the experience of trying to forge a new identity for yourself, one not defined (and hindered) by your former addiction.
Much like cooking, art therapy has become a popular method of substance abuse rehabilitation, to help individuals relax and find an aesthetically pleasing way to deal with some of the more difficult aspects of their recovery. Being intentionally creative gives an outlet for stress and complex emotions to be accounted for and dealt with instead of being bottled up inside (and causing depression or other relapse-risking mood disorders). Some treatment centers have art classes or sessions where clients are encouraged to put their feelings, thoughts, and memories into painted or drawn form. Similar to cooking, this can become a regular practice outside of residential treatment, not only as a way for the person to control and manage tense and frustrating situations, but also to inspire and discover new (or old) passions.
The main aim of art therapy is to guide the client’s social, emotional, or cognitive states to a place of healthy functioning. With proper guidance, you can find a way to derive a sense of control through your expressive art; the more you invest in it, the richer and deeper the creative experience and output. Socially speaking, art therapy can be an extension of group therapy; working with other clients on guided projects, you can add to your repertoire of coping mechanisms, and also learn from your instructor and peers about different and interesting ways of making your art speak. In emotional and cognitive terms, the versatility of art therapy can be applied to individual, group, or couples (marriage and family) counseling, with every client being given a literal blank slate to channel unspoken thoughts and feelings.
Letting Your Imagination Take Flight
While cooking therapy tends to be limited to the kitchen, art therapy can be found in a number of different settings. Traditional healthcare facilities, like community mental health centers and inpatient units, may have space allocated for canvases, but you can also find such spaces in schools, neighborhood community centers, museums, churches, or parks. Each location will provide its own inspiration, putting the world at your fingertips.
Like cooking, your art can be as unique as you want it to be. Once you have been instructed in the basics, your expression will take your creations in whatever direction helps you find what you’re looking for. As a complement to traditional forms of therapy, expressive art can lead you away from your addiction and toward a fulfilling and rewarding life in recovery.
One of the best things about your addiction-free life is that it doesn’t have to be a bland and sterile existence. While there are red flags and triggers that you have to be on the lookout for, you can find and rediscover pastimes that not only bring color and vibrancy to your life, but also give you a sense of meaning, focus, and purpose.