Getting sober is the single best decision many of us in recovery have made. However, removing a destructive coping mechanism turns your whole world upside down. You’re left sifting through the remnants of your life: Taking stock and figuring out what to keep, what to work on, and how to live a life without having to numb your emotions every day. 

What used to bring you joy or excitement might no longer be available for you. You have to learn how to live life — and have fun — without substances and in many cases, without the same people that you used to surround yourself with and places you used to hang out.

The Parallels Between Sobriety and Fun

Sobriety is a serious business and it isn’t easy. I wish it were. But it takes years of hard work and dedication to improving your well-being and transforming your life. Like Cynthia Occelli says, growth — which I liken to the process of recovery — is a beautiful metamorphosis:

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out, and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”

A commitment to that growth means valuing recovery above all else. You can’t help but hold it tightly and protect it like the precious gift that it is. However, as you’ll find with all processes of growth, the familiarity of the process breeds confidence, and with confidence you can loosen your grip and bring more joy and fun into your life. 

That sounds a lot easier than it is — kind of like stopping drinking. Sobriety isn’t about stopping drinking. It’s about uncovering your reason to self-destruct and find healing. Having fun in sobriety is much the same. You have to discover your interests; what brings you joy, laughter, amusement. You have to learn how to be playful and gain the confidence to explore lots of different pursuits. 

How People in Recovery Rediscovered Fun

I remember being asked by my therapist what I did for fun. My answers all revolved around the fulfillment I felt from my job as a writer. I gained such a sense of relief and healing through writing that I equated it to fun. While it did give me a sense of contentment, it wasn’t really fun because it wasn’t a recreational activity. It was my work. 

I left her office that day completely baffled that I’d never really thought about having fun, or given myself permission to do it. As with most revelations in recovery, I became committed to exploring what fun meant for me and why people in recovery struggle to have fun once they get sober.  

I spent the next few years exploring different interests. I discovered a love of cycling, hiking, eating at interesting restaurants, cooking, spending time with friends, axe throwing (!), being a dog mom, hanging out with other dog owners, weight lifting, painting, gardening, growing a vegetable plot, writing with no outcome, reading, and exploring new recipe books.  

I left my therapist’s office that day completely baffled that I’d never really thought about having fun, or given myself permission to do it. 

I asked others about their experiences of finding fun in recovery. 

Kinnon says, “I didn’t know how to do anything without drinking — everything revolved around drinking during or after. It’s amazing to me now!” 

She continues, “These days, fun is whatever I want to do in freedom, because I don’t have to worry about getting booze or finding booze after. I’ve started new hobbies that I would have never done (I made a macrame plant hanger!) and I’m looking to do other things that are new. It’s a completely different perspective.”

Kip struggled with the concept of fun initially. “Early on, it was so hard to even know what fun was,” he says.

“First, I accepted the fact that I didn’t know what fun was without drinking. Then after some growth, I started to try out things I had done in the past: Going out, concerts, sporting events, get-togethers, all without drinking. I allowed myself to feel! Some things just weren’t for me, like bars and drinking social get-togethers. I could almost feel other people’s pain in their drinking. It didn’t serve me in any way and was definitely not fun. But concerts, sporting events, and outdoor festivals with music, I began to find the real meaning of fun in them.”

He continues: “It was in the little things I could notice since I was in no way worried about a drink or in need of one. The sounds, the smells, singing along with every song, and remembering it. Each play, the roar of the crowd, the people watching. It was fun because I was present, in the moment, and not just using it as a means to a drunk. I am still discovering those things, and mostly it is me allowing myself to feel, to experience, and that it is OK to have fun, to feel joy, and to laugh just because life is good — no, great.”

“Now that I’ve been sober, all my fun time has been genuine and real. And even if it’s not as fun, it’s something real and memorable.”

Ashley gained some insight into what she thought was fun. “I’m still bored a lot and things aren’t ‘fun’ like they were when I was drinking. The truth is things were never really that fun when I was drinking. I was just too numb and/or angry to see the difference,” she says.

“Now that I’ve been sober, all my fun time has been genuine and real. And even if it’s not as fun, it’s something real and memorable. Drinking is just something I used to do. It’s something I finally don’t want to do because terrorizing my body is just not something I enjoy anymore.” 

For others, they still know how to enjoy themselves but it is considerably more memorable now that they’re sober. “I love going to concerts, I always have, and I’ve been saving ticket stubs since 1989,” says Gary.

“The big difference now is that I can look at a ticket stub and remember how great the show was! I have so many, from many years that I just don’t remember at all,” he says.

I love learning about other people’s interests and revelations in recovery. So often, they’re helpful insights and lessons that we could all benefit from, and sometimes we could also do with some brevity and learning how to bring more joy into our lives. 

How to Have Fun in Recovery

Let’s first acknowledge that fun today — in the midst of a pandemic — looks a whole lot different than having the freedom to roam around. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun — you just have to get creative! You can still have socially distanced fun and protect yourself from COVID-19.

Here are a few ideas to get you started

  • Think about the kinds of activities you did as a child and consider exploring them again: there is no age limit on drawing, painting, sculpting, or any kind of arts and crafts
  • Check out virtual events on Facebook, Meetup, or Eventbrite. Now that you’re not limited to location, you might find there are many more possibilities available 
  • Look at the local college guide or Coursera for evening classes you could attend online: does a new language interest you? What about cake decorating?
  • Get creative when socializing with friends: have a virtual mocktail party, or a sharing circle; host a book club, or even watch a movie together but in your own home
  • Last, don’t have expectations. It might take a few tries to find things that interest you, or to have fun. The key here is being open to exploring. 

It can feel like our world is turned upside down when we enter recovery, but you’ll find that in a short period of time you’ll be having more fun than you ever did when drinking. Except for this time, you’ll remember it!