What are you going to do for fun now?.
This will be one of the most important questions—among many others—that you will ask yourself when you start on your road to recovery from addiction. How you answer that question will greatly influence, for better or for worse, the likelihood that you lapse or relapse.
Part of what makes addictive substances or behaviors so powerful is that they exploit our brains’ reward system for positive behaviors. Normally, that system works like this: you see food, you eat it, you feel good, and your brain remembers that connection; in the future, just seeing that food will stimulate positive feelings, and you’ll remember to eat it. Unfortunately, that cognitive process is easily hijacked by substances and behaviors that also make us feel good. The more intense or lasting the good feelings, the more powerful the addiction.
A powerful tool for your recovery will be an activity or activities that can stimulate the same feel-good rush of neurotransmitters that your addiction stimulated.
You need to have fun.
If you’re not having fun, a lapse or relapse is almost a sure thing. You like feeling good—most humans do—and if you’re not you will find yourself returning to the things that made you feel good in the past. So, as much as you can, you need to distance yourself from any activities tied to your substance abuse, and you need to have fun regularly.
The ideal recreational activity will be completely new to you, and it will have more benefits than its high entertainment value. If you’re very lucky, you might find something that works for you the first time you try, but it’s more likely that you’ll need to try a few new hobbies or activities before you find the one—or several—that works for you. Here are some things you might find helpful to look for in a new recreational activity:
Exercise and fitness. Daily exercise can reduce or eliminate feelings of anxiety and stress, in addition to making your body stronger and more resilient. Bonus points go to those activities that get you outside as well, since just being outside might make you happier and healthier. Most sports you can think of will fit the bill, but activities like dancing or martial arts can score high marks as well.
Community. You’re going to have more fun and more success sticking to any particular recreational activity if there’s a strong community of fellow enthusiasts with whom you can connect. Bonus points go to those activities that have others holding you accountable for your participation. Team sports are great for this, but even solitary sports like running have dedicated enthusiast communities you can tap into, particularly if you use social media. Make new friends!
Practicality. Some recreational activities or hobbies will do more for you than simply keep you entertained—the best kind will have practical applications outside of recreation. Yoga can teach you mindfulness, a skill you can use to your advantage outside of yoga; martial arts will teach you self-control as well as self-defense; woodworking might become a skill that allows you to pursue an entrepreneurial adventure.
Those three criteria are examples of what you might want to look for in a new recreational activity, but the list is by no means exhaustive. Your first order of business is to find something new and fun that can replace the reward your brain reaped from you past behaviors, so entertainment value is the first criterion you should be looking at when considering a new recreational activity; but, if you find something that seems fun and useful in some other manner, be sure to give it a try.