Regaining Joy in Recovery: How To Be Happy Sober

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Everyone deserves the opportunity to live a more joyful life, and recovery from addiction gives you a new chance to do so. But that doesn’t mean the path is easy—It’s normal for people to struggle for a while with finding joy in recovery. Things may feel drab without alcohol, and you may feel directionless. You may also be dealing with consequences from the period when you were drinking, and sometimes struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But regaining joy is not only possible in recovery, it’s likely much closer than it has been in ages for you. As the storm subsides, and you begin to find your bearings, you will begin to feel the pleasure or joy of being alive return, often stronger than before. Many people in long-term recovery report feeling more alive, healthy, and attuned to their purpose than they have in years.

Below, we’ll offer some tips for figuring out how to be happy sober. We’ll also look at why the process can be so challenging, and why you’re likely to come out the other side to a better life than you’ve ever known.

Why Finding Joy May Be a Challenge

person in white shoes standing by drawing of smiley face
Photo by Jacqueline Munguía on Unsplash

While recovery often leads to a happier life in the big picture, many people struggle with happiness in the earlier phases of recovery. If this describes you, you are not alone. There are many good reasons why this happens, including the way alcohol use impacts the brain, and the way drinking impacts peoples’ personal lives and habits.

Drugs and alcohol essentially “hijack” the reward and pleasure centers of the brain. This makes other activities feel less rewarding, while generating strong cravings for the substance. Alcohol also disrupts natural chemicals that regulate feelings of depression and anxiety, making it more likely you will experience these symptoms when not drinking. Many people continue to drink precisely because it becomes so hard to feel good without doing so.

Then, there’s the impact of chronic drinking on day to day life: Often, the more people drink to excess, the less they engage with other people and activities that give them joy. And, as problems related to drinking multiply in someone’s life, they have more reasons to feel unhappy, or take a negative perspective on the future.

The good news is, once you’ve quit, you’re already on the path to fixing all of these problems. A brighter future is in close reach. You really can begin to feel more optimistic, and work toward things that bring you fulfillment and happiness.

But that doesn’t change the fact that it can feel hard to have a happy recovery sometimes. So, what can you do to bring yourself closer to feeling joy in your daily life again? How can you work towards regaining happiness in recovery?

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The Role of Mindfulness in Finding Joy

Sometimes, the process of recovery means sitting through the bad feelings first. It’s about being present with the difficult parts, and trusting that you will get to the other side.

According to Kevin Griffin, author of Recovering Joy: A Mindful Life After Addiction, mindfulness practice can help you get through these difficult stages. To do so, you must begin by accepting where you are and how you feel, while keeping your intention to regain joy outside of addiction.

Practicing mindfulness means staying in the present moment, completely engaged with your senses. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you taste? What do you hear? What do you feel physically?

When negative thoughts and feelings begin to creep in, use your senses to observe those thoughts and feelings without getting involved with them, or responding to them. Accept that they are there, notice what they feel like in your body, and be aware of how you would like to respond to those feelings without acting on those desired responses.

Many people find Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in combination with a mindfulness practice helps them make significant progress. As mindfulness helps you recognize your thought process, CBT helps you challenge and replace negative thoughts with more positive and empowering ones. This combination is not an immediate fix, but it lets you work towards meaningful progress every day in learning how to be happy without alcohol.

Reconnecting With the Moment

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Photo by ben o’bro on Unsplash

As you begin to practice mindfulness, you can also start identifying the things that make you happy besides alcohol. Make a list of people, places, activities, and practices that bring you joy. How can you work more of these things into your daily life? From larger activities, like scheduling dinner with a friend, to small things, like putting on your favorite song, adding joyful things to your life starts to add up.

Then, there’s the matter of becoming fully present again. Many of us may still feel disconnected as we re-engage with these activities, or even get caught up worrying about why they don’t feel as good as they used to, etc. This is where mindfulness practice continues to be helpful.

Much of the art of regaining joy in life lies in relearning to appreciate the moment. Joyful moments don’t always have to be big or elaborate. Even the small things in life can spark happiness. In fact, it is often the small details that can ground us again. Much of what causes us pain is our memories and thought processes, while the present moment is often not only safe, but actually pleasurable.

Try a few of these activities to practice being fully connecting with the pleasure of the moment:

  • Stand barefoot in the grass. Take a moment to feel the Earth beneath your feet and the warmth of the sunshine on your skin.
  • Slowly wash your hands under warm water.
  • Drink your morning cup of coffee or tea, while savoring the scent and flavor with each sip.
  • Look up at the sky on a clear day and notice how it makes you feel.
  • Learn a new recipe and cook it slowly, focusing fully on each step as you follow the directions.

Come up with your own ideas, explore things that you’re curious about, set goals, and try to savor every positive emotion that comes up for you. It won’t always be easy, and that’s okay. When things feel difficult, honor those feelings, and reach out for support if you need it.

Waiting for the Tide To Come Back In

While it can feel upsetting to struggle with joy in recovery, there’s no real pressure to progress at any particular pace. Everything in life is cyclical. Just as the tides go out and come in, so too will your moments of struggle. When you find yourself in a particularly difficult moment, remind yourself that with time, it will pass. The tide will come back in and you will feel good again.

Even though the initial phase can be hard, most people who stay sober for the long haul will tell you that they feel more joy and fulfillment than they ever felt when they were drinking. People get their health back, and have the time and energy to pursue careers and relationships that fulfill them. They get to wake up every day feeling clear-headed, and confident about their future. And, often, sobriety gives people the chance to learn new coping skills for problems that have been troubling them for years.

In other words, long-term recovery is often a synonym for regaining joy in one’s life. But if it’s hard in the short term, you’re certainly not alone, and there is help. Ria Health offers online coaching sessions to help you learn new coping strategies and establish new habits. We also offer medication that can help reset your brain chemistry after alcohol addiction, and online support groups that let you connect with others going through something similar.

Although it can be a long process, alcohol use disorder is a treatable disease. The key to having a happy recovery and regaining joy is believing that it is possible, and moving forward one step at a time. Soon, you may find yourself feeling happier and more fulfilled than you ever imagined.

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Written By:
Ria Health Team
Ria Health’s editorial team is a group of experienced copywriters, researchers, and healthcare professionals dedicated to removing stigma and improving public knowledge around alcohol use disorder. Articles written by the “Ria Team” are collaborative works completed by several members of our writing team, fact-checked and edited to a high standard of empathy and accuracy.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.
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