A Few Ways to Have More Fun in Recovery
Recovering from addiction, whether it be a substance abuse or alcohol problem, can be an arduous and trying process. Completely reworking your life into something uncomfortable and different from what it was often is stressful and mentally taxing.
But keeping a positive attitude and an open mind toward learning new things can turn recovery from a lot of hard work to something that can actually be a little enjoyable.
Below are five ways that recovery can be more fun.
- Finding alternative, healthier methods of thrill-seeking. In recovery, one of the biggest things many addicts miss is the sense of excitement a drug- and alcohol-fueled lifestyle can give. This can be addressed by finding activities, such as an outdoor pastime or sport, that can provide a natural sober thrill. This could include kayaking, surfing, and skiing, activities that people generally find exciting and fulfilling.
- Starting a hobby. Most people, no matter how old, have one thing that they’ve always wanted to do. It could be painting or learning how to play the guitar, or even cooking. Recovery is a perfect time to focus on personal development. The belief that you have to be a certain age is self-defeating, because people are continually growing and progressing throughout their lives. Recovery is a time when someone is redesigning their lifestyle, so this is an optimal time to pick up a hobby.
- Taking a class or workshop. In the personal enrichment vein, another way to have fun during recovery is to take a class or attend a workshop simply for the purpose of gaining knowledge. The workshop could be about building a business, or about technology or writing — basically any interest the addict had before addiction became the sole motivating force in his life.
- Planning activities with friends and family. Addicts tend to isolate themselves from their loved ones, so that they can practice their addiction without any disapproval. The isolation also tends to exacerbate the feelings of loneliness that drove the addict to use drugs or alcohol. So it’s crucial that during recovery the addict makes an effort to engage in fun activities with the people who truly love him. This can include eating dinner together, attending plays or concerts, or just going to a movie together. Spending time together on lighthearted activities can work to promote the familial bonds that everyone needs.
With these activities, someone in recovery can work on enjoying the process and reconnecting with the important people in his or her life. Recovery is all about finding meaning and value in one’s life, and this can be done by committing to pursuing activities that are both fun and fulfilling
Fun Ideas to Stay Sober and Have Fun in Recovery:
The key to having fun in sobriety is a little preparation. Don’t wait for the long weekend to try and decide what to do; take a look at our list of fun things to do sober on the May long weekend, and start thinking of your own, now. Your only challenge will be that the weekend isn’t long enough!
- Get active. If you like sports, Chicago has all kinds of leagues, from soccer to basketball, and city pools and rinks are open for adult free swim. You can also grab some friends from a meeting, or neighbours, family members, whoever, and start up a friendly game of dodgeball in the driveway.
- Make something with your hands. Maybe you think you aren’t good at making things, but have you tried painting? Building birdhouses? Beading? Knitting? T-shirt making? Canning? Most craft stores offer free drop-in classes and advice, or you can YouTube it and learn something new online.
- Go to the Y. Now’s your chance to take that class you have been meaning to take…or take the kids to spend some quality time in the play zone.
- Have a picnic. You don’t need a hand-lettered cottage invite to spend time outdoors; go to one of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana’s many big, gorgeous public parks. Bring some bread to feed the ducks and take the trails with a group of friends. Make it a point to collect something interesting to remind you of the day.
- Spend time with animals. Nothing soothes the soul like reminding yourself you are connected to something bigger, and what could be bigger than Mother Nature? Chicago’s Zoos are spectacular.
- Help someone. Spend one day of the three-day weekend volunteering at a shelter, home for the elderly, community sale or drive, roadside cleanup, church, meeting, or whomever needs the help. Your other two days will feel a lot sweeter even if you end up just vegging, watching too much Netflix.
- Start something. A weekend might not be long enough to finish a course or write a novella or learn a language, but you can start something you’ve always wanted to do. You don’t have to worry about how or even when you will finish it; as the proverb goes, a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.
- Spring clean. If this sounds like a terrible chore, think about how a messy house, closet, or bedroom can be psychologically and physically cluttering your life – and how good it will feel to finally tackle that pile of dirt, clutter or ‘stuff’ that you no longer need that’s weighing you down.
- Take a little trip. Even with a little gas or a Greyhound ticket, if you split the cost with a friend or two, you can both spend a night somewhere clean, comfortable and fun, and see one of the wonders of the world, for about $200.
- Stay in and invite friends over. If you do this potluck style, everyone can enjoy a feast, followed by whatever you want: music, charades, movies, games. Piggyback this with a meeting and you’ve got yourself a weekend.
- Get gardening. If you don’t have your own plot of land, buy some pots, seeds and soil, and start a windowsill garden. If you do have outdoor space such as a backyard, just know that what non-addicts traditionally do on May 24 weekend is put their gardens in. Why not follow the herd to the garden centre and buy your plants, and get them in the ground?
- Go out to eat with sober friends. Nobody will be thinking about drinking or using as you all enjoy your favourite foods and a fun night out. Piggyback this with a trip to a comedy club, a concert, a shopping expedition or a movie, and you’ve got yourself a weekend.
- Go camping. Talk about an evening on the cheap, and you can recapture your youth while enjoying the quiet and serenity of Nature. Sit around the bonfire with your friends, telling stories and toasting marshmallows; have a BBQ on the beach; swim in a clean lake. If the thought of all that wilderness with no amenities makes you shudder, remember that there are many campsites that have showers, toilets, and electricity – and the whole point is to get away from your phone for a bit!
- Write your bucket list. This is but one of the introspective, soul-searching activities that long weekends were built for. Many of us used to neglect our inner lives terribly, but sobriety provides the long-awaited opportunity to find out more about ourselves and what we really want to be, do and have in life. Do a deep meditation, write out your thoughts, goals, musings and dreams, write about where you’re stuck and what you think you could do about it. If you won’t spend the time to listen to yourself, who will?
- Make a vision board. This is a great activity with friends: find a meeting space (like someone’s living room) and bring a bunch of old magazines. Together, cut out images and words that resonate with where you want to be and what you want to achieve in the future. Make a collage that you can then frame and put on your wall, because what you think about (and see regularly), you bring about.
- Start a blog. Along the lines of the vision board, newcomers to recovery can often feel uprooted and aimless because they are on a new path, and new can be scary at first. To home in on where you’re going, setting up a new social media profile or better yet, your own blog, is a good way to redefine yourself and cut loose from old behaviours, people, or ways of thinking.
- Get some pampering. If massages and facials are not within reach, mani-pedis are inexpensive and you will feel incredibly pampered, which can be a step in the self-care direction.
- Redefine your space. Paint a room, go to IKEA and finally get the storage solutions you need, change out your old heavy winter curtains for some light and airy sheers, sand and refinish that cabinet you’ve been meaning to get to forever, improve the flow of your space with a nod to feng shui. Just like with clutter (or addiction, for that matter), we can get used to and even tolerate negative things, so if everything looks blah and you can’t see how it could change, ask a friend to look at your space with fresh eyes.
- Get bakin’. Make a cake and decorate it, even if you’ve never done so in your life before.
- Make a plan. Recovering addicts are often told to ‘stay in the present moment’ and not worry about yesterday or tomorrow, however, the fact is that many recovering alcoholics also suffer from anxiety, and anxiety can often arise from not knowing what the next step is and not feeling prepared. Do you need to look into school registration, find housing, or send out some resumes? Do you need to speak to a social worker, return a library book, call a friend for her birthday, bring someone to a medallion? Getting it out of your head and onto an online or paper planning tool will help you use the brain for its intended purpose: processing, not storage. Now sit back, relax, and watch Netflix.
- Visit a museum – Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana have some of the best in the Country.
- Walk the dog – get outside and look around. Up and down and all around. The puppy will love it too and it’s healthy.
- Fishing! Healthy, fun and a great hobby.
- Get out of your head – Youtube or simply Google search something you enjoy. Research and explore the net.
In active addiction, things that were once enjoyable took a backseat to drinking and using. The good news is, you can rediscover those things – and a whole bunch of new things you may never have even tried. Fun in recovery is as easy as picking one of these activities – or several – and giving them an honest try to reconnect with who you really are.
How to Have Fun in Recovery: 6 Sober Activities
When people begin a program of recovery, one of the first questions we often ask ourselves is Now what? How does anyone have fun in recovery? What do you do with all those hours of the day you once dedicated to your addiction? Why am I so bored? What do I do with myself? And will anything ever be fun again?
First, keep in mind that addictive drugs hijack the brain’s ability to feel pleasure, according to Harvard. They do this by flooding the brain with dopamine, which stimulates pleasure. Stop using, and the brain becomes dopamine depleted—and it can take a while for it to balance itself again. Someone new to recovery might not take much pleasure in anything. Not being aware of this can put someone in danger of sabotaging their recovery.
But by engaging in fun sober activities, you can work to restore your brain’s balance. Here are some ways to find fun in recovery.
6 Ways to Have Fun in Recovery
1. BE OF SERVICE
“Get out of your own head,” is common advice given to someone who’s new to recovery. As we learn, getting too wrapped up in our perceived problems and shortcomings—the way we think things should be—can be very detrimental in moving forward and finding a path towards growth.
What’s the quickest way out of “your own head”? Focus on others who need help. At first, it might seem contradictory, but being of service to others is a surefire way to increase your own self-esteem and well-being. There are many ways to be of service. Within the world of recovery, you can talk to other addicts about your experience. You can help set up or take down chairs before or after a meeting. You can invite others to fellowship after a meeting. You can pass along your phone number to a new friend so they can call you if you’re struggling. And if you’re on the phone with someone who you’ve been sharing your struggles with, you can simply ask, “Enough about me. How are you doing?”
Outside of your friends in recovery, you can be of service to your friends and family. You can help a friend move or join them on errands. Try making a meal to share, even if it’s just pasta. Help a loved one organize their pantry. Offer to go for a walk with a friend you know needs some connection.
Anything you can do to help someone else, in ways large or small, are acts of service.
2. SEEK COMMUNITY
Many say that addiction drives people to isolate themselves, so it stands to reason that forging connections with others helps to keep someone on the path to recovery. Seek out others who share the same interests you do.
The easiest place to find community is at a recovery-focused meeting. Who else can understand what you’ve been through? Go to a meeting and listen to others share their experience. There is little more comforting than being with a group of people who listen to your story and nod in understanding. Stay for coffee afterward.
Find a class you’re interested in, and you could find new friends there. Join a gym and take some fitness classes. Or call a friend and invite them for dinner or a walk. Connection with other people is one of the most powerful antidotes for addiction.
3. MAKE STUFF
One way to get your dopamine going is to foster a sense of accomplishment. Creating something can also be immensely therapeutic—this is why art and music therapy are championed by so many.
Draw a picture of your dream vacation spot. Write a fairytale—or a true story taken from your life. Make a sculpture from clay. You don’t have to create a masterpiece. It doesn’t even have to be art.
Get your hands dirty by planting vegetables in a community garden. Cook an amazing dinner, even if it’s just for you. And while you do it, don’t focus on the end results, but enjoy the journey.
4. GET SOME EXERCISE
In active addiction, we spend so much time neglecting our bodies—it’s great for recovery to take good care of it. It’s almost like making amends to yourself by treating your body well to make up for all the time you spent abusing it.
Yoga helps to calm the mind. Running gets the heart rate going in a healthy way. Even a brisk walk can help to clear your head.
While you’re at it, consider whether you can eat better as well. Eating a balanced diet can not only improve your energy levels, but also increase your own sense of well-being.
5. TRY SOMETHING NEW
Boredom can settle in pretty deeply when you’re waiting for your dopamine levels to come back into balance. But you should also realize that boredom is part of the human condition—we are always seeking to grow, we are always seeking new experiences. You have the chance now to fulfill that need in a healthy way by exploring activities you’ve never done before.
What’s something you’ve always wanted to do? Our brains thrive under new experiences, whether we’re learning to play an instrument for the first time or taking a trapeze class. Challenge yourself, and even if you’re not a virtuoso with a paintbrush, you’ll at least have something checked off your bucket list.
6. EXPLORE THE WORLD AROUND YOU
This might be somewhat related to number 5, but if you explore new places, you could be in for a full sensory experience. If you live in the city, venture out into the woods; if you’re in the country, try going into town. Visiting a new place, you’ll enjoy admiring the architecture of a new locale, the sound of so many birds and bugs, the scents of a nearby river or restaurant, the tactile feel of cobblestones or fallen leaves under your feet.
You don’t have to take a trip to England or New England, or even leave town, as a matter of fact. You can explore new corners of your home city. Even if you’re simply trying a new restaurant or visiting a neighborhood you’ve never properly explored—you’re stimulating your mind.
Life after addiction rehab can be entirely different than it was before treatment. One of the challenges that you’ll face is how to fill your leisure time after quitting substance abuse. This guide will help you find positive ways to stay busy and enrich your life.
Sober Support Systems & Relapse Prevention
Many people find it difficult to fill their time after becoming sober. People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol often spend a significant amount of their time getting, using, or recovering from using the drug.1 Once they are no longer using drugs or alcohol, boredom might set in if they don’t have things to fill their time. Apathy is a common relapse trigger for many people.2
One of the ways to prevent relapse and avoid boredom is to have a strong social support network.
While you were in rehab, you likely had a support network of people who were recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. Once you are back home, you may no longer have the same support network. People that you previously used drugs or alcohol with may start coming around again. Being around people who use is a major trigger for relapse.2
If you are recovering from a substance addiction, it is essential to find a support network of people who do not use and will help you by providing encouragement and support when you need it the most. They can help you by providing a distraction when you experience a craving to use.2
Mutual support or self-help groups are a great option for people who are in substance abuse recovery. These groups help provide emotional and social support for people throughout their recovery journey.3 Mutual support groups are an excellent adjunct to professional treatment, as they help extend and complement the benefits of rehab.4
- 12-step groups: Common 12-step groups include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which has more than 2 million members worldwide, and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). These spiritual groups are focused on helping the person achieve abstinence through peer support.3 Group members follow 12 core steps to recover from addiction. These groups emphasize helping others and sharing personal recovery stories with group members.
- SMART Recovery: SMART Recovery is a secular self-help program for people having problems with drinking and using drugs. However, substance abuse is viewed as a maladaptive behavior that can be modified using cognitive-behavioral approaches, rather than a disease. Unlike AA, the person is not seen as powerless to change their behavior. SMART Recovery provides the tools and evidence-based techniques to help a person recover from drug or alcohol abuse. It is up to the person to use those tools.5
- Women for Sobriety (WFS): This is a secular support group that was specifically designed for women. It was created as an alternative for 12-step programs, and includes Thirteen Statements designed to improve emotional and spiritual growth. Daily meditation is encouraged, although there is no mention of a Higher Power or God.3
Participation in mutual support groups significantly increases the likelihood of maintaining sobriety. The more that a person participates in these groups, the more likely they are not to use drugs or alcohol.3 Further, helping others by providing encouragement and guidance often helps you to remain sober.3
Support groups are an excellent way to enhance your recovery process after or while receiving professional treatment. Support groups also help fill your spare time and prevent restlessness or loneliness. In addition, they put you in contact with others who are sober and have similar recovery goals.
The Importance of Giving Back
Mutual support groups emphasize helping others. Service is the foundation of AA 12-step groups. After a year of recovery, you might consider becoming a sponsor in a 12-step group since paying it forward is such a vital part of recovery. A large research study on alcoholics in AA found that individuals recovering from alcoholism who helped others during treatment were more likely to be sober in the following year.6
Another study indicated that about 94% of individuals with an alcohol addiction who helped others in recovery at any point during the 15-month study continued to help others after the study. Additionally, self-reports of depressive symptoms in helpers decreased significantly once they began helping others.6
Helping others provides a therapeutic benefit to the helper. When you help others, it helps you feel good about yourself. When you help someone with the same condition that you have, it can be even more beneficial. One study found that the benefits of assisting others double when a person helps someone else with the same problem.7
In addition to serving as a sponsor in a 12-step program, you might want to consider volunteering for various organizations, such as charities or nonprofits in your community. Not only can you provide assistance to those who need it, but volunteering can also give you a sense of accomplishment. Volunteering provides both social and health benefits. People who volunteer have a higher functional ability, lower rates of depression, and lower mortality rates.8
Regularly volunteering with organizations and acting as a sponsor in a support group can fill your schedule and provide structure to your routine. Scheduling regular meetings and volunteering sessions ensures that you have less free time to accidentally slip back into drug or alcohol use.
Discovering New Hobbies
In the past, you probably used to spend the majority of your energy and time using drugs or alcohol. Now that you are sober, you should spend that time with hobbies and other things that you enjoy. Participating in healthy and fun activities can help to prevent relapse.
Using your time wisely also helps you avoid boredom, anger, stress, and other negative emotions.
It allows you to avoid trouble by staying busy and engaging in things that make you happy.
So, how do you find hobbies and activities you enjoy? The first step is to assess your strengths and preferences. What are you good at? What do you like? You may want to rate your skills on a scale from 0 to 3, with 0 being “Not at all like me” and 3 being “Very much like me.”
These may include:9
- Sense of humor
- Physical ability
- Survival skills
- Ability to connect with people
- Ability to help others
- Communication skills
- Ability to manage negative feelings
Identifying some of your strengths as well as what you enjoy doing can help you find the best hobbies or activities for you. For example, if you have a good sense of humor and like to laugh, you might consider participating in a local improvisation group or doing stand-up comedy. You can make new friends and do something that you enjoy.
Some other ideas for activities and hobbies include:9
- Learning to play an instrument
- Joining a sports team
- Painting or drawing
- Rock climbing
- Writing stories
- Joining a poetry reading group
- Singing or dancing
Sometimes you’ll find that the hobbies you enjoy, such as playing soccer or swimming, involve exercise. Exercise is an important part of addiction recovery, as it can help to heal some of the damage caused by drug or alcohol abuse. Nutrition is equally as important, as it can promote physical and emotional health.
Exercise & Eat Well
Substance abuse can harm both the mind and the body. People who abuse alcohol or drugs often have severe nutritional deficiencies. Addiction can result in severe lifestyle changes, such as poor diet and irregular meal times. Also, addiction can lead to gastrointestinal issues that can further impair hydration and nutritional status. For example, nausea and vomiting are common in opioid withdrawal, which emerges when someone abruptly quits abusing opioids. Severe vomiting can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.10
Proper nutrition is essential for your well-being. The foods that you put in your body affect how you feel—both mentally and physically. Adequate nutrition helps the body fight infection and provides energy for daily tasks.10 Therefore, it is essential to pay attention to diet as you are recovering from substance abuse or addiction. Try to notice how eating healthy foods makes you feel. You will probably see that you feel much better when you eat nutritious foods. Try to limit certain things like high-fat and heavily salted foods.11
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a helpful guide called “My Plate” that provides a customizable nutritional plan based on your age, sex, and height.12
The USDA also has a list of recipes, menus, and cookbooks based on the My Plate guidelines. These resources make it easier to learn how to plan and cook healthy meals, especially if you’ve never done so before.13 Learning to cook will not only help you improve your nutrition, but it may also be an activity that you genuinely enjoy, particularly as you begin to learn more about food preparation.
You might also consider talking to your primary care physician to determine if a referral to a nutritionist would be helpful. If you have specific health issues, such as diabetes, then your doctor might recommend a customized meal plan from a nutritionist.
In addition to nutrition, exercise is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle during recovery. Research has shown that people who exercise are less likely to use illegal drugs.14 Exercise is an essential part of many treatment programs. However, even if it is not emphasized or encouraged as part of your specific rehab experience, it’s never too late to begin engaging in physical activity once treatment is completed. It can help reduce stress and negative feelings—both of which can trigger relapse.15
Not everyone enjoys the same types of exercise, so it’s important that you try out many different activities to find one that you look forward to—participating in team sports can be a great way to improve health and wellbeing while meeting new friends who also value healthy lifestyles.
Structure is an integral part of recovery. While you were in rehab, you probably had a highly structured day. Now that you are out of rehab, it is essential to create a daily routine and stick with it every day. Using your time wisely can promote accountability and help you fulfill your responsibilities, which will help you avoid returning to substance abuse or putting yourself in triggering situations.9
It can be helpful to set goals to help keep you busy and give you something to work toward each day. Your goals shouldn’t be too difficult or too easy to achieve.
Here are some examples of goals:9
- Find a soccer or basketball league to join
- Sign up for a vocational program
- Sign up for photography classes
- Find a job or enroll in an academic program
- Completing parole requirements, if applicable
- Make a budget
When setting a goal to try something new or learn a new skill, make it specific and set a projected date for achieving the goal.9 This can keep you focused.
Filling your days with fun and healthy activities will make your life more fulfilling and rewarding. It will also help you stay on the road to recovery. Also, if you are looking for guidance, you may want to attend individual therapy. A therapist can assist you in setting realistic goals and creating plans that can help you achieve those goals.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- UC Santa Cruz. (2018). Relapse prevention.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2008). An introduction to mutual support groups for alcohol and drug abuse.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). Seeking drug abuse treatment: Know what to ask: How do 12-step or similar recovery programs fit into drug addiction treatment?
- SMART Recovery. (2018). About SMART recovery.
- Pagano, M.E., Post, S.G. & Johnson, S.M. (2010). Alcoholics Anonymous-related helping and the helper therapy principle. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 29(1):23-34.
- Pagano, M.E., Zeltner, B.B., Jaber, J., Post, S.G., Zywiak, W.H. & Stout, R.L. (2009) Helping others and long-term sobriety: Who should I help to stay sober? Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 27(1):38-50.
- Corporation for National and Community Service. (2007). The health benefits of volunteering: A review of recent research.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011). The next step…toward a better life.
- MedlinePlus. (2018). Substance use recovery and diet.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2012). Recovery and wellness lifestyle—a self-help guide.
- United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). (2018). MyPlate.
- United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). (2018). Recipes, cookbooks, and menus.
- Smith, M.A. & Lynch, W.J. (2011). Exercise as a potential treatment for drug abuse: Evidence from preclinical studies. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 2:82.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (third edition): Can exercise play a role in the treatment process?
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