Addiction is a disease of the brain that teaches you to follow a distinct set of habitual processes, despite clearly knowing and understanding the painful consequences behind them. This habitual nature – embodied by the fact that we continue to abuse drugs even after we’ve realized that they’re big trouble for us – makes an addiction hard to break.
Of course, the science and the proof is there to back up the fact that an addiction can be broken – and the brain can heal. But there are things to do and things not to do in recovery. Your lifestyle plays a vital role in addiction recovery, not just as a necessary factor for overall physical and mental health, but to transform yourself and put distance between your old self and the new you.
1. Diet & Exercise
Diet and exercise go together in maintaining a healthy brain and body, and you need these things for your mental wellbeing and overall chances at recovery. Many of the chronic diseases that face Americans today are preventative, and while countless Americans struggle with their health due to genetics and unlucky circumstance, many others have found themselves in a physical upset due to the long-term lifestyle choices they’ve made, from leading a life without exercise to making poor dietary choices.
What that leads to is stress – the stressof medical payments, constant pain, the unpleasantness of dealing with a lengthy line of medications and doctors and tests, and feeling uncomfortable in one’s own body. It’s on you to do your utmost to prevent that, and reduce your suffering (and chances of an emotionally-charged relapse).
A balanced, healthy diet of fats, protein and complex carbs and supplementary nutritious snacks and practices like drinking good tea, eating honey and berries, cooking with a lot of ginger and garlic, and drinking a daily quota of water – these very simple dietary choices will keep you healthy, without being excessively complicated.
Exercise is also crucial. We release hormones and neurotransmitters during exercise that reward us for our movement, fending off feelings of anxiety and depression. However, that doesn’t mean you’re forced to hit the treadmill. Exercise comes in all shapes and sizes, for all shapes and sizes – even just walking for half an hour a day can be enough under the right circumstances, and dancing or playing sports is a great way to get your daily exercise.
2. Stay Curious
Life after addiction should be the furthest thing from boring. While we do make note of how important and useful a structured daily plan can be, that daily plan doesn’t have to be rigid in its contents. Learning new things is important, as research has come to prove, especially as we age. Keeping the brain fed with new information keeps it healthy and working hard, and maintaining curiosity satisfies us in ways addiction cannot. The feeling of learning something new and achieving a goal after weeks and months of hard work is deeper, and more wholesome than anything else.
By tackling new challenges in the workplace and outside of it – even ones you can’t imagine accomplishing – and working on them a day at a time, you boost your self-esteem and combat the common feelings of self-doubt and worry. You can also meet new people this way, heading out to workshops and meet-ups with others that share your interests.
Finally, staying curious helps you combat the boredom that might threaten some during early recovery. When you come off a life where the habit was slowly but surely becoming the center of everything, you must restructure your entire life without it. Fending off boredom to prevent overthinking and thoughts of relapse is important.
3. Change Your Perspective
In this sense, a change of perspective doesn’t necessarily mean you should head off on an adventure, see the world or skip town – it means changing your way of thinking. While travel is a great idea for anyone on a journey of self-improvement (and self-discovery), widening your horizons at home by considering new ways of thinking about issues and problems in your life can make an enormous difference without so much as a dime paid in travel expenses.
Look at it this way – when something bad happens to you due to random circumstance, then you must take it in stride and focus on something more important and positive, rather than getting hung up over some shitty luck. Instead of blaming others for a problem – and instead of blaming yourself and wallowing in self-pity at how horrible you are – accept that you made mistakes in your life and the only way to set things right is to start reversing the trend, and consciously make better choices.
As humans, we don’t control much in our lives. We can’t really control the weather, or traffic, or random circumstance, or most of the other people and strangers we encounter in our day to day life. We can only control our own perspective. Having a healthier, more effective and emotionally secure perspective on things will help immensely with your recovery, because it’ll get you in the habit to consistently stay positive and stray away from unnecessarily negative thoughts and self-deprecating or defeatist thinking.
4. Manage Yourself
More specifically, learn to manage your time and your money. Money management usually goes out the window during an addiction, as every priority to keep a balanced and economically stable household collapses under the overwhelming internal pressure to line up the next high. Financial trouble is one of the earliest and most common signs of a real addiction – one that isn’t just defined by general drug use, but drug abuse and a lack of control – and regaining that sense of financial control is paramount to a successful recovery.
Struggling with money is also one of the most common stressors in society – eliminating that source of stress is another good step in preventing a relapse in the future. Plan for your monthly budget and income, calculate what you’ve got left to save up monthly, and treat yourself to a little something special from your savings every now and again as a reminder of how well you’re doing. Tracking your finances will also help you focus on the essentials and stick to your priorities, and remind you that family/friends, food and a secure future is more important to you today than addiction used to be.
Time management is critical early on, as well. A strict schedule will leave no nooks and crannies for a potential early relapse, and even as the first few months pass by, the structure and enforced discipline of having a good daily routine will help you develop new habits, break your old ones, and create a new intrinsic stability in your life that was entirely absent in the chaos of addiction. However, that doesn’t mean you should be doing the same things every day. Take an hour or two a day to learn something, but don’t restrict yourself on what that something might be. That could be your time to play a new instrument, or to learn a language, or study a topic that’s always interested you, or even practice a craft you gave up on in the past.