5 Things I Learned in Recovery
By Hailey Parks
When I first stepped foot on the airplane to head to rehab 1,300 miles away from home, I thought the only thing I had to learn how to do was put the alcohol down and manage to stay away. If I could accomplish this, the rest of my life would quickly fall into place. However, I came to find out that this was a completely misconstrued conception of the word “recovery.”
Treatment was a breeze - I sat quietly, did what I was told, and spoke when I was asked to. I was the typical compliant client. My therapist and others spoke of going to meetings, incorporating healthy habits into my lifestyle, and building a support group, but I wanted no part of any of this. I wanted to stay sober, get a job, and get my life back together. Little did I know, those three things suggested of me would be the key to staying away from alcohol, becoming successful, and living a happy life.
When I left treatment, I didn’t go to meetings, change my lifestyle, or build a support group. Instead, I focused on material things like a home, job, and money. Four months later, I had all of these things - but I was just as miserable stone-cold sober as I was when I was drinking. Through this experience of hitting rock bottom in sobriety, I learned that recovery is more about simply putting down the substances.
1. A support group is everything.
The first thing I did when I was tired of being miserable in sobriety was reaching out to other sober women. To my surprise, these women welcomed me with open arms. They invited me to social gatherings, to meetings, and out to eat whenever they went. More importantly, I never turned down the offer.
The women in my support group taught me that the arms of people in recovery are always open and willing to help. They answered the phone when I called, they showed up when they said they were going to, and they treated me like family. They loved me for me and accepted me for all of my flaws.
When I am upset, I always have somebody to reach out to. When I am unsure of a decision, I have somebody to consult with. When I am lonely, I have friends to spend time with. To mitigate the loneliness I felt in early sobriety, my support group was everything.
2. Preparing for the future means cleaning up the past.
Merely getting sober doesn’t mean the wreckage of my past won’t catch up to me. It also doesn’t mean that people will forgive me on the drop of a dime. Getting sober means taking responsibility for the wrongs I have done and the people I have harmed. I have to express to these individuals that I know what I did wrong and that I am willing to do whatever possible to make things right.
Not only do I have to take responsibility for my past, but I have to change my behaviors to change my future. For me, this means calling my mother every day so she doesn’t have to lay awake at night worrying about me. This means treating my friends with love, compassion, and acceptance. If I am to stay sober and grow as an individual, I have to demonstrate to others that I have changed as an individual and am constantly working to improve myself.
3. Meditation is essential.
My anxiety was bad enough when I was drinking, but it increased ten-fold when I got sober. With no way to manage anxiety, it can become a dark place that traps me in my own mind. However, mindful meditation is an essential tool I use on a daily basis to keep my anxiety at bay.
Mindfulness is a form of holistic therapy that I was introduced to in treatment, but I didn’t begin to reap the benefits from it until I practiced it in recovery. Mindfulness refers to a form of meditation that places intense focus on self-awareness and acceptance of personal thoughts, feelings, and energies. It works by allowing people to feel a sense of calm, focus on goals, and protect against poor decision making.
In order to prevent against my mind wondering, I prefer guided meditations which can be found on youtube or on smartphone apps. Most begin by instructing me to take deep, counting breaths to become aware of my body and release tension. I then focus on the meditation and go wherever it instructs my mind to go. Upon finishing, I always feel a release in stress, tension, and anxiety.
4. Nutrition and exercise cannot fall to the wayside.
When I got sober, I incessantly craved sugar and carbs. Pizza for dinner and a pint of ice cream was my go-to. While it tasted good and made me feel good at the time, it leads to a lack of energy and a ton of weight gain. Thankfully, I’m not alone - it is common for people in recovery to crave sugary foods.
I certainly didn’t get sober to hate the way I looked, so I began to eat a nutritious diet consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain carbohydrates, and lean protein. The first week was difficult, but I was quickly able to get rid of my sugar cravings and have more energy. In addition, I got a gym membership and began working out at least four days a week.
The weight shed off and I felt better. I had mental clarity and a higher sense of self-esteem. Today, nutrition and exercise have become two things I enjoy that aid my recovery and benefit my mental health.
5. Helping others is my sole purpose.
Most of my life was dominated by selfishness and self-centered thinking. This mindset began to shift as I gained respect for my support group and the blessings I was so freely given in sobriety. After all, I learned how to let go of alcohol and be happy in sobriety, so why not pass it on?
During my second year sober I began to take speakers into a detox facility to share their story and experience with the individuals in detox. These people were able to gain a sense of hope when they felt hopeless. They would always thank me at the end of the meeting. Months later I would get back in contact with some of these individuals who were sober and healthy. Not only had they stayed sober, but their skin had a certain glow to it and the light had come on in their eyes.
Helping others gives me a sense of joy and helps me in return. It gives me faith that recovery is possible. It gives me hope that people who are still drinking or getting high can get sober. It gives me a sense of purpose that I have something I can give to others.
Hailey is a recovered alcoholic who advocates breaking the stigmas that surround mental health and addiction. Her passions include writing, hiking, and volunteering at a women’s shelter.