Recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction is a long process. The longer you were addicted to a substance, the longer and harder that process will be. Drug and alcohol abuse replaces the sense of self, captures all of your attention, and often consumes most of your resources while you are addicted. This can make it difficult to find what you like, what or who you want to be, or even to have a sense of purpose as you move into recovery.
The bad news is that this is normal. Most people suffering from long-term substance use disorder will struggle with similar problems. The good news is that it can and will change, and you can take active steps to change it and find your own purpose.
If you’re struggling, things will change. The following article will cover some of the ways you can start to look for your own sense of purpose in recovery.
What Do We Mean by Purpose?
Most of us have this idea that people are largely driven by ulterior goals. We want to climb Mount Everest, become CEO, start our own business, or get a million followers on YouTube. The truth is, most people don’t really have these driving goals and motivations. Instead, they simply move about from day to day, enjoy life as it comes, and sometimes find smaller passions that drive them. At the end of the day, the latter approach is a lot healthier, simply because you won’t crash and have no purpose when you complete or fail your goal.
In recovery, purpose can mean something a little different. Often, it’s not about setting end-all life goals but rather about feeling a desire to live and an enjoyment of those simple day-to-day activities. It's about waking up ready to go, with things you want to do, and passion for life, your job, or even the people you’re spending time with. In short, it’s much less about climbing mount Everest and much more about looking at your day with a sense of motivation.
What’s Getting in the Way?
Substance abuse can greatly inhibit your ability to feel a sense of purpose in life. Many drugs cause a symptom known as emotional blunting, where you struggle to feel emotions when not drunk or high. This is caused by overload of the dopamine and serotonin receptors in the brain and can persist for months or even years after you recover.
There are, of course, many other things that get in the way of having a sense of purpose. Some of these might include your own attitude or behavior, a lack of knowledge of what you like and why, no real sense of self, guilt and shame, mental disorders, and a range of other issues. You may want to discuss your problems with a psychologist to determine what’s getting in the way and why.
So, Who Are You?
Who am I? It might feel like a strange question to ask, but chances are, you have no real idea. Most people don’t. If you were to ask around, you might quickly find that each of your friends and family members answer this question in completely different ways.
What do I value? Am I that?
What do I value in others? Am I that?
What are my personality traits?
What can I do that I’m proud of?
What have I done that I’m proud of?
What have I done that I’m not proud of?
What do I want to change?
At the end of the day, you are in recovery, you are in a state of flux. If you can define where you are, you have an idea of where you are starting from.
Who Do You Want to Be?
Who do you want to be? What kind of person do you want to be? Do you want to be like a parent? Do you want to be a person who wakes up and smiles at the sun? Do you want to be a person who’s there for their children? Do you want to be someone who works hard every day? Do you want to be someone who gives back?
Asking questions about what you want will help you decide where you want to be, it will help you decide what you value, and it will help you make a plan. However, it’s always important to know why you want something. If you want to spend more time with family, why is that so? What motivations do you have? What are the rewards?
Set Goals for Yourself
It’s important to set flexible goals for yourself, with room to work towards what you want to be and room to occasionally fail. If you want to achieve something, it won’t happen overnight, or you would have done it already. Consider working towards goals with daily steps and keeping track of it. Goals should loosely define where you want to be and should include actionable ways to get there. For example, if you want to be a better parent, your goal should include spending a certain amount of time with kids per week, taking classes, improving your emotional intelligence, etc. Goals should always have room for failure so that if you miss goals for a few days, you haven't’ automatically failed everything.
You can also set goals designed to remind yourself of what you are doing and why. These can be as simple as keeping a gratitude journal, taking time out for meditation or contemplation, making time to learn new things, or reminding yourself of your motivations every day.
If you’ve been addicted to a substance, you likely have very little idea of what you like or why. Now is a good time to explore, try new things, and pursue other means of having fun. You can and should try classes, travel, sports, gym, meeting new people in different situations, reading new things, and finding new ways to explore yourself. You can also try therapy, mindfulness, meditative sports like yoga or tai chi, and other ways to actively change how you look at the world.
Here, it’s important not to try too much or to overextend yourself, but rather to give yourself time in each new activity to acquire the skill to see if you enjoy it. You might want to take 30 hours of guitar lessons before deciding it’s not for you. No one is good at or enjoys a new activity right away and you shouldn’t expect yourself to.
Focus on the Moment
Many psychologists and rehabilitation centers now recommend mindfulness as a tool for people in recovery. Mindfulness can help you to enjoy the moment and therefore to have a sense of purpose (living in the moment and enjoying it), which will improve your ability to move forward. Mindfulness classes, including Mindfulness Based Treatment for Addiction, are often offered as part of addiction treatment.
Finding your sense of purpose in life can be difficult. Learning to simply live without needing a driving goal to move you forward is often significantly more important, especially as it prevents you from jumping from goal to goal. However, it’s important that you have a defined reason and motivation to get up, to live your life, and to continue to improve. That motivation can be as simple as enjoying yourself and living your best life.
Whatever you are looking for, good luck finding your purpose.