While the initial goal of sobriety is to stop a destructive relationship with alcohol, the effects are far more wide-ranging. Recovery causes a cascade of improvements to life: Your physical health improves, you’ll enhance your mental health, you learn how to have healthy relationships and maintain boundaries, you expand your coping strategies, and your life (and job) prospects will improve. The effects can be pretty profound.
But it doesn’t happen all at once. Recovery takes time. You don’t suddenly wake up and discover what you were destined to do now that you’ve stopped drinking. While the process of recovery has recovered my childhood dreams, it took a few years to learn how to cope with life and to really do some soul searching about what I truly wanted.
That’s the thing about addiction: It strips you of any sense of purpose or passion in life.
I discovered that the vocation I chose at school was actually pretty accurate. I remember finding social work, writing, and law as potential career interests in high school. I quickly gave up on law when I realized it was arguing and paper shuffling all day. Social work and writing, however, stuck with me for the last 25 years, even though it appeared to get buried beneath my addiction — much like the rest of me.
That’s the thing about addiction: It strips you of any sense of purpose or passion in life. It’s the great demoralizer and banisher of dreams.
That’s why I feel fortunate to have found recovery; it gave me a second chance at life. However, it took awhile for my hopes and dreams to resurface.
That’s why I feel fortunate to find recovery; it gave me a second chance at life.
I spent the first few years going to meetings, doing step work, and being of service. Initially, that helped but I was left feeling empty, like something was missing. I felt so desperately envious of others around me who seemed to have their purpose in life: Doctors, nurses, lawyers, writers, teachers. I felt lost.
I began to question this reality and sit with the uncomfortable feelings that arose. I didn’t want meetings and a shitty job to be my whole existence — I knew I wanted more for myself.
I started writing again, launched my blog, and began to write for various publications. For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of purpose. Writing led me back to myself. I realized that I’d had a purpose all along, even in my addiction. But I needed to experience the struggles of a substance use disorder, trauma, and eating disorders to have an intimate understanding of those conditions. That gave me the unique opportunity to be able to write from a place of empathy, and that’s where others have found healing; when someone says “I’ve been through this, too.”
What writing also uncovered was that I am still deeply affected by the human experience and that social justice, equality, self-determination, and serving minorities are values and passions of mine. Just like social work!
How others have discovered their purpose now they’re in recovery.
I’m not alone in viewing recovery in this way. Many find that removing alcohol and drugs has allowed them to be the best version of themselves and uncover a new vocation that gives them a sense of purpose. Some go back to school, others excel at work, some retrain in a new career, and others discover hidden talents.
“I’ve always wanted to help others,” says Geoff, explaining that recovery has been the linchpin to everything his life has become. “But understanding the face of suffering and what I can do to remedy it, how I view my thinking, how I perceive the actions of myself and others, and the nature of interbeing is all due to the work I invested in ending my own substance use.”
“It was no longer about me and what I could achieve but how I could make a difference in others, how I could serve them. That was my real purpose.”
Others have found that their real purpose is in serving others. For Kip, recovery led him back into teaching and coaching, something he had walked away from. “Coming back to it was totally different. It was no longer about me and what I could achieve but how I could make a difference in others, how I could serve them. That was my real purpose. Recovery helped to teach me that.”
Michelle learned that nothing would be possible without first finding recovery. “I’m a speaker, advocate, and writer. This would never have been possible if I didn’t go through my sobriety journey.”
Austin explains that his recovery journey led to an interest in the human ability to overcome challenges, and that led to a new career.
“My own journey supported my interest in the human capacity to overcome limitations and transcend seemingly impossible circumstances,” he says. Austin observed that not only do people overcome impossibilities, but also achieve radical growth. “To me, these are scientific and historical questions that fascinate me. So, I became a researcher.”
I love hearing how people evolve in recovery. We are so much more than the challenges we have overcome. I know so many people who have found their voices through recovery, like Tawny who shares about sex positivity, Tracy who supports people who may feel confused about sexuality and gender, our editor, Irina, who not only is an incredible writer but is also about to start an awesome podcast, and Holly who knew that there had to be more to recovery that was on offer and made it happen. In my own life, I relocated to America, learned how to care for myself when I literally had no support network, learned how to vegetable garden from seed, became a dog mom, and applied to grad school. In three years, I will become a social worker and will be able to help others.
Today, life is so much bigger and more purposeful than the four bottles of wine I used to drink each night.