Fun Recovery? Lies, I tell you lies!
We all carry stories in our minds about what getting sober is supposed to look like.
Recovery is “supposed” to be a lot of things: necessary, life-changing, humbling, difficult, non-linear, healing, sobering, a time of adulting your way through epic growth and change.
We often think and talk about getting sober as a time of putting the big girl panties on. Taking responsibility. Manning up. Getting serious. Pulling it together.
This is all true to a certain extent, sure. Getting sober can be serious business.
But who wants to live in total repentance, solemnity, and seriousness?
If that’s what sobriety really means, then very few people are going to make it.
There’s something missing here. That thing is FUN.
If you can’t have a fun recovery, why on earth should we expect anyone to do it?
Sure, fun isn’t the only reason to do something, but you’ve got to admit it’s pretty darn compelling.
As Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, then I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” Joy is an important part of a lasting, radical change.
It’s time we stop talking about sobriety as something un-fun and start telling the truth about what a blast sober people can have. Read on to discover 4 lies you’ve been told about having a fun recovery.
Lie #1 – Sober People Are Too Lonely to Have Fun
This is a common, and sad myth about sobriety.
The truth is, getting sober does cause temporary upset to your social life.
When you’re deep in problem drinking, you tend to surround yourself with people who accept – or even support – your addiction. If you’re into the bar scene, it’s easy to think that quitting will mean giving up all your friends. If you’ve been isolating and drinking alone, then you know how lonely you already are. And you can’t imagine how much more lonely you’d be if you were sober.
That’s a fair assumption.
But it’s wrong.
There’s actually nothing more lonely than being caught in the spiral of addiction.
When you’re in recovery, you automatically open yourself up to more connection, more friendship, and more fun.
Because you’re more available to connect with people in an authentic way – showing your real self. You have more time to pursue fun group activities, classes, and workshops where you’ll meet new people. You can join that gym, that soccer team, that dance troupe. You can finally start going to those game nights or cooking classes or those bowling league meetings – whatever floats your boat. You’ll have more time now that you’re not spending most of your waking hours thinking about drinking.
You’re going to discover really quickly that sober people love spending time with other sober people. Whether you join a formal recovery group – like AA or Refuge Recovery – or whether you find other sober people in your area. Odds are you’ll make new friends who are on your same page just by being open and honest about your journey. The friends you do make will be able to relate to what you’re going through, and they’ll be ready to cheer you on.
Lie #2 – Having “Too Much Fun” Leads to Relapse
This one is so silly I almost have to laugh, but I’ve heard it multiple times from multiple different people in the recovery community so I feel like it really needs to be addressed.
The idea here is that having fun is going to remind you of drinking and you’re going to want to drink if you have “too much” fun.
This is just so dumb.
Yes, you’re going to want to avoid the places and people you associate with drinking – especially at first. You might associate some of these places with “fun.” Showing up to your favorite bar and not drinking is going to be really tough in early sobriety. It might always be something you’re never going to feel comfortable doing.
The same goes for the people you used to drink with – they’re probably not going to “get” your whole recovery trip and they’re going to feel threatened by your newfound sobriety. While you might associate these people with “fun,” when you get sober you might realize all you had in common with them is drinking. You’ll want to minimize the time you spend with people like this, because, they can be a bad influence on you, especially as you are just beginning your journey.
But avoiding fun because you associate it with drinking? Not necessary.
In fact, I recommend you do everything you possibly can to have a maximum amount of fun, especially in early recovery.
Get those “feel good” endorphins pumping again as they naturally should. Watch a funny movie, play with your kids, do something ridiculous, get messy, play that long-lost sport you miss playing. Remember what was fun to you when you were a kid before you started drinking. Was it Legos? Coloring? Craft projects? Science fiction stories? Get into it again, no matter how “silly” you might feel.
Give yourself permission to explore what’s fun to you now.
Lie #3 – You Should Feel Guilty for Having Fun
You don’t hear people say this one out loud too often, but the sentiment can be real.
Often, addiction comes with a heaping serving of shame. You’ll feel the shame when you’re drinking but when you get sober, you’ll feel it even more. There’s nothing numbing your feelings now. You’re able to survey the damage from this new vantage point better than ever and you might not like what you see. It’s normal to feel regret and disappointment in some of the events that you allowed to transpire over the course of your addiction.
We all make mistakes, even when we’re sober. People struggling with addiction often make more mistakes – and bigger ones – because of their disease.
If that describes you, then you probably already feel lousy enough about it. Assuming you’ve done what you can to right the wrongs and make amends where possible, at a certain point you have to let the past be the past and start focusing on the future.
If you can’t shake the feelings of shame and self-hatred, talk to a counselor or trusted friend about your thoughts.
Whatever you do, don’t decide that you don’t deserve to have fun and find joy in your life because of the mistakes you’ve made in your past. No one benefits from you continuing to feel poorly about yourself for the mistakes you made while you were drinking.
You are not that special. You’re not irredeemable. It’s right that you should enjoy yourself and have fun in sobriety regardless of what you’ve done in the past.
After all, having fun is going to help you stay sober in the long run – and that’s the best thing you can do to ensure that you never make the same mistakes again.
Lie #4 – Recovery Isn’t Fun
Have you noticed how people often talk about recovery in terms of labor and toil?
If you’re in AA, you’ve got to “work” the steps.
If you’re in counseling, you have to “work” on yourself.
The language we use to talk about recovery implies that this is going to be a long, hard slog. It’s going to take a lot of concerted effort – and this is definitely not going to be fun.
What if I told you that recovery doesn’t have to be such hard work?
What if I told you that recovery can actually be fun?
If you said this in some circles, the idea of having a fun recovery is almost treated like a criminal thought. The implication is that addicts don’t deserve to have fun after the mess they’ve made. They should sit in penitence, in a “time out,” until they’ve thought about what they’ve done long and hard. They need to realize that they were “bad” and figure out how to be “good.” They need to reform.
And they can’t reform if they’re – gasp – having fun.
But we already know that addiction isn’t a moral failing – it’s a disease. We already know that locking addicts up and punishing drunks doesn’t magically bring long-term sobriety.
We’ve known for decades now that laughter is a powerful form of medicine. If it works in jump-starting the immune systems of cancer patients, why can’t it work to boost the brain chemistry of people with substance abuse disorder?
The answer is: it can.
At its core, addiction is about addressing persistent negative feelings – chemical imbalances in our brain – with a dangerous form of self-medication.
To really address addiction, we’ve got to address those negative feelings that we’ve been trying to drink away.
Having fun regularly can help get the brain back on the right track, reducing negative feelings and reducing the urge to self-medicate. Re-learning how to have a fun recovery is a critical component of building long-term, sustainable sobriety.
Release the Shame and Start Having Fun
Take a moment to consider how you think about sobriety. Does staying sober seem like “hard work?” Are you “getting down to business” and “putting your nose to the grindstone” or are you embracing the joy and playfulness available to you in a life free of addiction?
If people – friends, family, sponsors, mentors, counselors, social workers – have told you or shown you that recovery isn’t fun, do you need to believe them? Do you need to hold onto the idea that sobriety isn’t fun?
Consider that the more fun you have in sobriety, the easier and more enjoyable your clean time will become. Prioritize and schedule fun for fun’s sake in your life. Explore new ways to have fun and investigate if old ways of having fun from childhood still work for you. Laugh at yourself. Give yourself permission to get silly.
Sober doesn’t mean somber! Shake off some of that seriousness and prove to yourself that recovery actually can be all fun and games.
Erin Gilday is a copywriter and content marketer at Little Light Copywriting, where she specializes in helping addiction treatment providers help more people. She’s also an author, activist and former substance abuse counselor. She likes classic cars, industrial sewing machines and The X-Files. You can connect with her on Linkedin.