The thought of recovery terrified me.
A part of me assumed the worst and the life I knew would be over. I would lose everything I that I had worked for. It was difficult to imagine a life without my go-to coping mechanisms.
Only a few years ago I was dependent on a number of unhealthy habitual behaviours: pornography, self-defeating thoughts, excessive TV, work and alcohol.
I had no idea what lay ahead when I finally gathered my courage and forged ahead into recovery. My initial focus was my combatting my dependency to alcohol.
The result was that my life became better than I could imagine.
Here are five awesome things I discovered about recovery.
- Clarity of Mind
Before recovery my mind was in a fog. I was easily distracted and found it difficult to focus. I had trouble recalling details from conversations from the day before. My short and long-term memory was abysmal. My personal and work decisions often overlooked obvious and relevant information.
After a couple of months in recovery I was astounded at how clear my mind became. The fog lifted. I was asking clear and concise questions. I was more engaged in conversations. I was focused for longer periods of time. My decision-making ability improved. I took all available information into account and felt confident in my decisions.
Another benefit was a higher degree of memory function. I was able to clearly recall details from days or weeks prior. No more wondering what happened the day or night before…
For most of my life I was a self-doubter. I dissuaded myself from believing I was capable and looked to others for validation. I had trouble speaking my truth and asserting myself for what I believed in. I was a proficient liar – to myself, and others. Honesty was not my strong suit. I didn’t like myself much.
Successful recovery demanded that I take responsibility for my past actions – the good and the bad. With that came the understanding that my past decisions didn’t define me. I could make different decisions today. I chose to be honest with myself and with others. As my recovery progressed, so did my self-confidence. I began to believe in my self. I looked in the mirror and started to like the man I saw. I walked with my shoulders back and stood taller. I was able to look people in the eye and spoke assuredly. I smiled more often. I was taking responsibility for the quality of my life. Authenticity and integrity were my guides.
I had convinced myself that I was stuck in my life circumstances and had few options. My habitual coping behaviours limited what I could and couldn’t do on a daily and long-term basis. Those behaviours had become more important to me than taking steps to get unstuck.
My mindset shifted once I finally took action to be in recovery. The fog in my head cleared and I began to see choices and options that I hadn’t considered before. Possibilities revealed themselves once I severed the dependencies to my past coping behaviors. I could do anything I wanted. I was free from the physical, mental and emotional constraints I had placed upon myself.
- Physical Health
I considered myself healthy. I exercised a couple times a week. I ate okay. I didn’t sleep very well but that was usual for my family. As I time went on my energy dropped. It was tougher to get out of the bed in the morning. I felt ragged. My body began to prod me with warning signs. I developed an ever-expanding waistline and bags under my blood shot eyes. I had fatty deposits on my liver, kidney stones, heartburn and a burning sensation in my upper chest. Excess breast tissue grew to my dismay. My blood pressure and cholesterol levels were elevated. My health was spiralling downwards. I feared that the mistreatment of my body could not be reversed.
Getting physically healthy became a motivating factor in my recovery. After only a few months my body started to heal. My energy levels increased. I slept better. I ate better and my body demanded healthier food. I was running farther than ever and participated in my first 10K race. I did yoga. I stopped using eye drops. My blood pressure and cholesterol returned to normal. Today I weigh the same as when I was eighteen, and I’m almost as fit. I’m optimistic that I’ll live a long and healthy life.
- Deeper Relationships
Even in my closest relationships I protected myself. I did not share who I was, who I wanted to be, or what was going on in my head. I came across as a decent guy, but reserved. I was adept at being a chameleon, changing my personality and conversational style depending on whom I was talking to. I avoided conflict at all costs. No one knew the real me.
As a ventured into recovery I allowed myself to become vulnerable. It enhanced the quality of my closest relationships. It wasn’t easy and there are challenging aspects to letting your guard down. With a deepening connection to another comes the obligation to speak the truth: without judgment, with compassion and empathy. I want to be seen. I want to be heard. I believe others want the same.
I’ve come to understand that my short-term recovery was about replacing a set of unhealthy habitual coping behaviours with healthy ones.
My long-term recovery is about creating, and maintaining, new habitual healthy thoughts and beliefs about me, and my life circumstances.
Only by experiencing a contrasting lifestyle, by stepping into the unknown and the uncomfortable of recovery, was I able to understand the magnitude of its gift.
Choosing recovery is a test and testament to a person’s courage and determination. It is one of the most challenging choices you can make.
The long-term benefits of health, clarity, quality relationships, freedom, and self-respect are worth the short-term pain and discomfort to get there.
Recovery has enhanced my quality of life. It is gift available to anyone who decides to choose it.
A version of this post is also on The Good Men Project here.