I was baffled. Was this guy serious? He just asked me if I was “having fun yet” now that I was no longer using drugs or alcohol. “Are you kidding me? Absolutely not,” I said. And, damn, I meant it.
Back in 2003, I had attended a well-known intensive outpatient (IOP) clinic for several months and doing everything everyone asked of me, and I felt … flat. I intensely wanted to feel sufficient and happy. Yet, I seemed to be missing something important.
This experience is hardly unique to people recovering from addiction to drugs or alcohol. Many wrestle with such questions as, “How do I reclaim my life’s sense of meaning?” or “How can progress still feel so empty?” People in recovery from substance abuse, passionate in their desire to live differently, often participate in all manner of programs, therapies, life-coaching sessions, peer-counseling visits, group meetings, religious services and more. All of these well-known prescriptions have the expected effect of leading people to believe that with regular adherence and attendance, their lives will once again regain fullness — except there’s one big piece we don’t often discuss: who our true selves are and how to begin nurturing personal growth.
Who are we, really?
Finding our authentic selves can be a daunting endeavor. But, unless your starting point is fixed, setting a course to your desired destination can be exceedingly difficult. Some have had practice exploring what gives their lives meaning and purpose, while for others it is a journey they are taking for the first time. This is a process of discovery, with breadth and depth, that I whole-heartedly endorse as it has greatly impacted me and many others. In essence, what I am advocating here is a 3D recovery — reaching as many aspects of ourselves as possible.
Let me say here that I am not at all dismissing the vital need for the many recovery means (e.g., harm reduction, abstention) and methods (e.g., 12-Step, SMART Recovery) so many people successfully employ daily, with life-changing results. However, I have witnessed and have been told how many follow precise recovery prescriptions and hope to experience the fruit of many promises made to them and, yet, it doesn’t seem to click. The sense of fulfillment, direction and purpose is lacking in realness. It would seem the gears have failed to engage.
How do we begin to address this challenge? In “The Velvet Rage,” author Dr. Alan Downs writes that the authentic self is gradually revealed by “showing yourself — your complete self — to the world around you [so that] the world can respond with validation of what is real about you.” This is a “gradual, organic change,” which “needs no sudden jolt or miraculous event,” Downs states. I, also, have come to realize in my own life (and as I work to support others) that the cultivation of multiple opportunities is best — or, as one person recently expressed to me, “Apply a good formula of doing a range of things, but not too much of any one.”
As the recovery specialist at Mazzoni Center’s Open Door Program, I am often heard encouraging people I work with to put as many eggs in as many baskets as possible. Take a risk and venture out — with self or others, I suggest. Quest for activities that support your interests and offer personal growth. Consider what is meaningful, enriching and, yes, fun. Go see a play, read an intriguing book at a comfortable, out-of-the-way spot, visit the library or museum, play a sport, sing in the choir, go camping.
Cultivate a keen interest in yourself and, hopefully, see that you are fascinating and worth knowing. Author Eva Hoffman writes of the rewards associated with cultivating curiosity in her book, “How to Be Bored.” Applied generally here, Hoffman urges us to “reawaken [our] sense of wonder about the world … [and grow to have] a wider personal lens through which to view and understand” ourselves. This takes practice and time. Additionally, Dr. Downs encourages everyone on this journey to let go of any rigid expectations and to find joy in the moment while being free to be who you are right now.
Reflecting on these thoughts is what has recently brought me to the conclusion that many recovering Mazzoni clients would benefit not only from our regular support groups (held every Monday and Wednesday), but also would find helpful the chance to join an evening social activity gathering. So, we are starting one this month. It is my hope those who attend will find it to be an enjoyable, dedicated period in a safe space to interact with others and participate in recreation.
If we begin to intentionally structure our time and obligations with a genuine focus, we will free ourselves from “functioning only on the surfaces of ourselves [where] we lose rich dimensions of experience,” Hoffman writes. So, let’s choose to support ourselves through the full, three-dimensional engagement of authentic activity as we seek to “endow our choices and actions with significance.” Combine these ideas with the fundamental assistance of a vibrant recovery program and, perhaps, the road to a happier, healthier life will become more apparent and rewarding.
Mazzoni Center’s LGBTQ recovery support groups are held every Monday at 2:30 p.m. and Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. facilitated by Kirk Parsons. No need to register; just drop by the main building at 1348 Bainbridge St.