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Most chemical addictions begin with attempts to “self-medicate” negative feelings—feelings that life is less than it was meant to be. With or without accompanying addictions, that problem is extremely common. A 2012 study by Adobe (which surveyed respondents in the U.S., U.K., Germany, France and Japan) revealed that while 65 to 80 percent of people believe creativity is an asset to society, only one in four feel they are living up to their personal creative potential. 75 percent said their employers valued “productivity” over creativity.
Although some hippie-artist types boast that “getting high” stimulates their creativity, most drug users are more interested in numbing themselves to the pain of feeling unable to create doorways to their dreams and passions. That approach is self-defeating, however, because repeated “numbing” decreases initiative and creativity—which increases feelings of hopelessness and the desperation to escape, which perpetuates a cycle of misery and poor health.
Successful recovery, on the other hand, is as much about exploring one’s individual purpose and passions as it is about getting sober. In this sense, recovery can be said to promote greater happiness, productivity, creative freedom and enjoyment (also known as self-fulfillment). This article will show how, with practical insights for pursuing healthy and creative interests in your daily life.
THE WORLD OF CREATIVE ENJOYMENT
You don’t need to earn your living from the arts to reap the benefits of creative activity: setting aside a few hours a week for “side projects” can do wonders for health, happiness and even work-hours productivity. Being active in a hobby, regularly enjoying opportunities to create for creating’s sake, is in fact a strong indicator that real recovery (the kind that goes beyond abstinence to embrace sound psychological health) is taking hold.
Hobbies that are considered particularly good for mental health include artistic and exercise-related activities:
- Aerobic dancing
Ideally, schedule weekly time for at least one activity in the “artistic” and one in the “exercise” category—but don’t sign up for anything just because it’s “good for you.” Recovery is about finding the path that suits you and your natural interests.
FREEDOM AND RECOVERY IN WORK
Beyond pursuing activities “just for fun,” seeking personally fulfilling opportunities in education and work also promotes recovery—and vice versa. A 2016 study of one Collegiate Recovery Program, for example, found that college students active in recovery had higher grades, were more likely to graduate, and were frequently on dean’s and president’s lists.
Whether or not you’re in (or going back to) school, you can use “daily work” to reinforce your recovery by:
- Looking for a field that matches your unique abilities and passions—before you consider whether it provides opportunities to make a lot of money or become prominent in the community. If you’ve never taken time to evaluate your own passions, do so now: your recovery counselors can refer you to appropriate resources.
- Seeking out opportunities to go beyond assigned duties—not just to impress the boss, but to develop initiative in finding and doing projects that mean something to you personally.
- Avoiding water-cooler sessions that focus on complaints about the job and “can’t wait for the weekend” sighs. Seek out optimistic colleagues and get involved in regular conversations emphasizing positive hopes and dreams.
WORKING OFF THE JOB
Volunteering for a cause you find personally meaningful can do even more for your recovery and sense of purpose. Many people, in fact, begin doing volunteer work specifically to improve their health, a 2013 Health and Volunteering study by UnitedHealth Group found.
Other findings of the UnitedHealth study:
- Volunteer workers who suffer from chronic health conditions (presumably including addiction) regularly find themselves “feeling better as a result” of volunteering. Twenty-five percent of volunteers say they have a chronic condition that volunteering is helping them manage.
- 96 percent of people who volunteered at least once in the previous year said it enhanced their sense of purpose.
- 94 percent experienced improved moods.
- 80 percent feel they now have control over their health and that they understand their individual conditions better.
- 78 percent said volunteering lowered their stress levels.
As with hobbies and paid work, be sure to choose volunteer opportunities that appeal to your individual sense of purpose and passion.
SPIRITUALITY, PURPOSE AND RECOVERY
The ultimate measure of purpose is feeling that what you do (and are) has significance to the entire human community, and ideally to something lasting and transcendent. In a 2010 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 21 percent of respondents said “faith in a Higher Power” helped them achieve recovery by increasing their sense of purpose, peace and inner strength. The “Higher Power” concept is of course an essential element in the classic “12 Steps” and many other recovery programs.
Whatever your religious beliefs, nurture your spirituality by:
- Taking daily time for prayer and/or meditation
- Practicing mindfulness—taking time to feel your outer and inner worlds
- Reading religious/inspirational literature
- Listening to religious/inspirational music
- Attending worship services or spiritually oriented groups
- Taking time to get outdoors and absorb the natural world with all your senses
And in all aspects of life, allow yourself freedom to be yourself. That ranks at the top of essential life elements that promote recovery, happiness, productivity and a sense of purpose.
Abt Associates Inc. and Hart Research Associates. “Pathways to Healing and Recovery: Perspectives from Individuals with Histories of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, November 2010. Accessed June 20, 2018. https://naadac.org/assets/2416/pathways_to_healing_and_recovery.pdf
Bucklan, Erinn. “The Best Hobbies for Your Mental Health.” DailyWorth.com, November 3, 2015. Accessed June 20, 2018. https://dailyworth.com/posts/3958-the-importance-of-having-a-hobby
Lee, Kevan. “The Science of Side Projects: How Creative Activities Improve Our Performance at Everything.” Buffer.com, July 7, 2014 (updated August 23, 2017). Accessed June 20, 2018. https://open.buffer.com/side-projects-creative-hobbies/
Naiman, Linda. “The Global Creativity Gap.” CreativityAtWork.com. Accessed June 20, 2018. https://creativityatwork.com/2012/04/23/the-global-creativity-gap/
Scott, Alison, Ashton Anderson, Kristen Harper, and Moya L. Alfonso. “Experiences of Students in Recovery on a Rural College Campus.” Social Identity and Stigma, Vol. 6, No. 4, published online November 1, 2016. Accessed June 20, 2018. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2158244016674762
UnitedHealth Group. “Doing Good Is Good for You: 2013 Health and Volunteering Study.” 2013. Accessed June 20, 2018. https://unitedhealthgroup.com/content/dam/UHG/PDF/2013/UNH-Health-Volunteering-Study.pdf