Five Tips for Finding – and Keeping – Hope in Addiction Recovery

Five-Tips-for-Finding-and-Keeping-Hope-in-Addiction-RecoveryHope can be defined as an embrace of the prospect that there are better and brighter days ahead, that with recovery new life is around the corner, and that getting sober is not just possible but well worth the hard work.

That first step toward recovery takes hope. Whether it’s in the dogged commitment of even one close friend or family member who tells you your life can be better and drives you to the rehab center, or the sheer possibility of a new tomorrow and another try at getting clean, hope can mean the difference between recovery and relapse.

But if finding hope — and then keeping it alive — is essential to recovery, what does that hope look like in real life? It’s one thing to understand what hope is abstractly, and another thing to practice hope in daily life. Here are five tips to help you keep hope alive through every stage of the recovery process:

  1. Make a list of everything in your life for which you are grateful when you are sober. The practice of gratitude can be done daily as you slip into bed at the end of the day. You might even record your thanksgivings in a journal — they do not have to be earth-shatteringly large, they can be as seemingly small or ordinary as the smile of a stranger or the feel of the sun on your face.

Being intentional about noting the things for which you are grateful will remind you of all the good things your sobriety allows you to enjoy. When you’re sober and able to notice these ordinary blessings, you’ll also have more to look forward to in a future of sobriety. Practicing gratitude, then, will help you find and keep hope.

  1. Get connected (or reconnected) with a faith community. Having a purpose that is larger than yourself and your own life is one way to plant yourself firmly on a foundation of hope. The Christian tradition finds its source of hope in Jesus Christ. Even when all other sources of hope can fail in this life, Christians believe that Jesus’s life, death and resurrection are a demonstration that a loving God will not give up on humanity – and that because of God’s love there is reason to hope even in the darkest of times.

Other faith traditions may offer their own vocabulary for hope. A faith community that doesn’t just talk the talk of hope, by preaching their reasons for hoping, but walks the walk – through active engagement in recovery ministries and other life-giving expressions of God’s love in the most hopeless of situations – will connect or reconnect you both with this God who doesn’t give up on you and with a group of people who are seeking a relationship with God, too. Connecting with a God who won’t give up on you can be the very thing that keeps hope alive in those times when you will be tempted to give up on yourself. And hope, like recovery, requires the support of a community seeking the same thing.

  1. Listen to stories of hope. Hope is contagious. The more you can surround yourself with people whose stories are hope-filled, and whose lives testify to the power of hope, the more hopeful you’ll be about your own story. Read stories about recovery. Cultivate friendships with people who have stories of hope. Invest in the close relationships that have helped you take the first steps toward recovery – these can be an ongoing source of hope for you.
  1. Visualize the new sober you. Spend even just a few minutes daily visualizing the new, sober you. Are you dancing, singing or doing something else you love? If you cannot visualize what “sober” looks like for you, then visualize yourself in an open space of perfect peace, freedom and total serenity. The image that comes to your mind can be a source of hope and a reminder of what you are working for.
  1. Be gentle with yourself and with others. Perfectionism and self-loathing are quick ways to kill hope. When you judge yourself and others by unachievable standards of perfection, then it will be far too easy to despair when failure happens. Similarly, relapse need not become license to despair. Accepting your imperfections as “holy sandpaper” by which your Higher Power, or Life Itself, is shaping you into a better person and building your character, makes hope easier to grasp and hold on to.

One way to cultivate this gentleness is to laugh. Find ways to laugh about the imperfections that make you who you are. Find ways to laugh in general. A little laughter can go a long way in easing unhealthy tendencies toward performance, perfectionism and self-loathing — and, in turn, can be a helpful antidote to despair.

In its essence, recovery from addiction is about finding hope and holding onto it. These five tips, while by no means an exhaustive list, will help you begin not just knowing hope when you see it, but putting hope into practice in your own life.