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Living a Fulfilling Life Post-Recovery

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 7 in 10 and 2 in 3 U.S. adults are recovering or in recovery from substance use and mental health challenges, respectively. However, relapse can be a major barrier to building and living a fulfilling life in recovery. As the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) notes, while 60% of individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) will enter sustained recovery, many will relapse first. Relapse has been deeply intertwined with the recovery process because early recovery is an especially vulnerable time for temptations and cravings. In early recovery, you can experience the thrill of sobriety with the distress of reentering the real world.

The real world is full of life stressors and challenges that cannot be avoided. When left unaddressed, life stressors can chip away at your resilience to use substances again. Despite the benefits of the adaptive coping skills you learn in treatment, recovery is a multi-phase and intensely individual process. Finishing treatment is not a finish line to living a fulfilling life in recovery. Rather, recovery is a lifelong process in which you continually learn and grow as a person.

At The Guest House, we know addiction and mental health recovery is an ongoing process across your lifetime. Your ability to live a fulfilling life in recovery does not start and end with treatment. Instead, a fulfilling life in recovery is built on a wide range of tools, services, and resources. Through our commitment to holistic care, you can find the guidance, techniques, and coping mechanisms you need to lead a fulfilling life.

The thought of relapse during or after treatment can feel understandably worrisome. However, the perception that addiction is a chronic relapsing disease does not have to be the only reality for you. With education, services, and resources dedicated to relapse prevention, the perception that addiction and relapse are forever can be dismantled. Fostering a fulfilling life in recovery can happen through the ups and downs of life with support. Therefore, increasing your awareness of the relapse stages and the tools for relapse prevention can help you build a fulfilling life.

Considering the Impact of Relapse in Building a Fulfilling Life in Recovery

As noted by authors Guenzel and McChargue in Addiction Relapse Prevention, the normalization of relapses in addiction treatment can impede a fulfilling life. Over-normalization can make maintaining recovery tools and those important interpersonal connections more difficult. Thus, addressing the stages of relapse, relapse risk factors, relapse prevention strategies, and the stages of recovery repair can provide insight into finding your path to living a fulfilling life. Listed below are the three stages of relapse:

Emotional Relapse

  • This can occur when you worry about your substance use
    • Thinking about a previous relapse
    • Worrying about not wanting to repeat your relapse
  • You are not actively thinking about using substances or plan to use
  • In denial over potential risk factors
    • Impairs the use of effective relapse prevention techniques
  • Signs and symptoms
    • Isolation
    • Restlessness
    • Irritable
    • Anxiety
    • Defensiveness
    • Avoiding meetings
    • Not sharing during meetings
    • Hyperfocusing on other people’s problems
    • Poor sleeping and eating habits

Mental Relapse

  • The internal conflict between the desire to use substance and remain sober
    • Mental turmoil can diminish resilience
  • This can occur when you try to think of scenarios where misusing substances would be acceptable
    • Frequent thoughts of misusing substances
    • Convincing yourself that using substances during the holidays or on a trip is okay
  • Difficulty recognizing high-risk situations
  • Unable to believe you are high-risk
  • Signs and symptoms
    • Craving substances
    • Thinking about people, places, and things associated with your past use
    • Glamorizing past use
    • Seeking opportunities and or planning a relapse
    • Lying and bargaining

Physical Relapse

  • This occurs when you resume using substances
    • Can be broken into a lapse and a full relapse
      • A lapse occurs during the initial use of a substance
        • Minimization can diminish recognition of the significance of the lapse
        • Can increase the desire to use and lead to a full relapse
      • Relapse occurs when you return to the chronic, uncontrolled use of the substance

While you have more insight into the stages of relapse, you may still have questions about the roots of relapse. How could you find yourself in any of the stages of relapse after treatment? What prevents you from realizing you are in danger of relapsing?

The VA notes that an important part of recovery and building a fulfilling life is understanding the roots of your distress. Much like in treatment itself, recovery after treatment is a constant commitment to deepening your self-awareness and self-understanding. Moreover, leading a fulfilling life in recovery is also based on the foundational support of the skills and connections you build to respond to and manage the challenges of life.

With more insight into your innermost self, you can understand the why, what, and who behind your distressing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Therefore, looking at the risk factors for relapse can help you recognize the steps you need to take to build and sustain recovery throughout your life. Listed below are some of the risk factors that can contribute to relapse:

  • Low self-efficacy
  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Insufficient or difficulty applying adaptive coping skills
    • Increased difficulty in high-risk situations
  • Living in risky substance environments
    • Poverty
    • Community violence and crime
    • Increased exposure to substances
    • Living in or near places where substances can be easily obtained
  • Staying in contact with individuals who still use substances
  • Challenges with negative affect
    • Anxiety
    • Fear
    • Sadness
    • Anger
    • Guilt
    • Shame
  • Lack of motivation
  • Poor social and emotional support
  • False positive expectations about substance use
    • Increased social skills and connection with others
    • Decreased emotional distress
    • Improves positive affect
  • Feeling bored without substances to fill your time
  • Untreated co-occurring conditions
    • Mental health disorders
    • Physical health issues

Understanding some of the risk factors for relapse is an important step toward building a fulfilling life. With knowledge comes the opportunity to empower yourself to build the necessary tools to break down barriers to recovery. Following this, you can truly work towards and build on the support tools throughout the stages of recovery for long-term healing.

Addressing Tools to Support a Fulfilling Life Post-Recovery

The steps to lasting recovery can be explored through three stages:

  • Abstinence stage: Here, you focus on adaptive coping skills to manage cravings and avoid relapse. This involves:
    • Practicing self-care
    • Learning how to say no to unhealthy situations and people
    • Engaging in nonjudgmental acceptance of your substance use
    • Being active in support groups
      • Peer support
      • Alumni program
    • Understanding the stages of relapse
    • Letting go of relationships with active substance users
    • Engaging in self-honesty and reflection
    • Fostering interest in healthy activities and hobbies
  • Repair stage: Here, you focus on repairing the damage addiction has caused in your life. You may focus on repairing:
    • Self-esteem and self-worth
    • Relationships
    • Employment
    • Finances
    • Education
    • Meanwhile, you will also work to address trauma and adverse life experiences by:
      • Engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to work on negative thinking patterns
      • Making amends in your relationships when possible
      • Learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable
      • Developing balance in your life
        • Continuing to improve self-care strategies and build a healthy routine
      • Fostering healthy alternatives to substance use
        • Participating in sober activities and hobbies
        • Attending sober events and meeting
  • Growth stage: Here, you focus on building important life skills you missed out on due to addiction by:
    • Learning to identify and repair negative thinking and self-defeating behavior patterns
    • Recognizing generational trauma’s impact on you and your family’s life
    • Learning to let go of resentment from past experiences
    • Setting healthy boundaries with others
    • Continuing to work on and reevaluate recovery goals
    • Being of service to others
      • Volunteer in your community
      • Share your lived experiences with others in recovery
      • Participate in alumni programming
    • Challenging your fears with mind-body therapies

The variety of tools you utilize throughout the recovery process can give you the mechanisms needed to live a fulfilling life. While there are some universal tools for healing like self-care, each individual is different. Therefore, even within self-care practices, your need for supporting a fulfilling life in recovery is unique to you. As a result, learning about different therapies and interventions is beneficial to helping you find the right tools for your life. In particular, experiential therapies are valuable holistic approaches to care to support treating you as a whole person.

Transforming Your Life With Experiential Therapies

As the American Psychological Association (APA) states in “Experiential Therapy”, experiential therapies are a set of approaches to care based on the mind-body connection. Experiential therapies focus on promoting and using knowledge uncovered through active experiences to facilitate personal change. When you are immersed in a therapeutic experience, you can uncover difficult-to-access trauma. Through the process of action, you are better able to express, explore, and understand the roots of challenging thoughts and feelings.

Listed below are some examples of experiential therapies and how they can help you start living a fulfilling life:

  • Art therapy: Utilizes creative and or artistic processes to increase self-awareness, reduce negative thoughts and feelings, and work through conflict
    • Painting
    • Drawing
    • Sculpting
  • Music therapy: Utilizes music and music-related tools to support self-expression and foster positive changes in mood
    • Listening to music
    • Playing an instrument
    • Singing
    • Writing lyrics
    • Dancing
  • Psychodrama: Focuses on re-enacting or re-creating stressful and or traumatic situations in a safe setting to stimulate critical thinking and open communication
    • Helps you let go of the negative and or suppressed emotions related to the situation by:
      • Role-playing
      • Role reversal
  • Outdoor therapy: Focuses on the mind-body connection by relieving stressors through physical activities and mindfulness
    • Fosters team building for community connection and support through activities like:
      • Wilderness therapy
      • Adventure therapy
        • Outdoor expeditions
        • Rope courses
  • Animal-assisted therapy: Focuses on improving social, emotional, and cognitive functioning through companionship and caring for animals
    • Equine therapy
    • Emotional support animals
      • Dogs
      • Cats

Looking at some types of experiential therapies highlights the variety of ways that express therapies can be utilized to support different needs. Whether you experience challenges with SUD or co-occurring mental health disorders, there is an experiential therapy for you to build a fulfilling life. Experiential therapies are particularly effective as a tool for healing trauma. Much like experiential therapies, trauma-informed writing is an expressive intervention that supports building a fulfilling life.

Benefits of Trauma-Informed Writing for a Fulfilling Life

Trauma-informed writing presents another means for you to express difficult-to-process thoughts and feelings. In “Emotional Processing in an Expressive Writing Task on Trauma” by Shawn Joseph Harrington et al., expressive writing or trauma-informed writing is an easily accessible intervention to treat trauma. According to the VA, multiple forms of expressive writing can be used to support building tools to live a fulfilling life, including:

  • Therapeutic journaling
    • Keeping a regular journal about events that bring up specific emotions in your daily life
      • Anger
      • Grief
      • Anxiety
      • Joy
    • Can be used to address specific upsetting, stressful, or traumatic life events
  • Autobiographical writing
    • Reflecting on important life events to give meaning to those experiences
    • Helps you build a sense of personal identity to recover from trauma and live a fulfilling life
      • You learn to recognize that you are the author of your experiences, not the trauma
        • Offers personal agency
        • Able to reflect on life path to understand your present
  • Gratitude expression exercises
    • Engaging in gratitude journal interventions
      • Increases well-being and positive affect
      • Improves social relationships
      • Increases optimism
      • Enhances life satisfaction
      • Lowers negative affect and depressive symptoms
    • Interventions can include gratitude letters and gratitude journaling
      • Gratitude letter
        • You write a letter to a person you have never sincerely thanked
      • Gratitude journaling
        • You identify at least three good things that happened in your day
        • Then you reflect on the causes and impact of those good things

Trauma often gets stuck as it manifests itself as bodily pains and self-defeating behaviors like substance misuse. Thus, trauma-informed writing allows you to process your emotions and experiences by venting and engaging in meaning-making. Some of the ways trauma-informed writing can support you in living a fulfilling life include:

  • Improving effective coping for trauma-related symptoms
  • Helping to reduce tension in the body
  • Improving your ability to focus
  • Helping to foster growth after trauma
    • Better able to find meaning in trauma
  • Increasing your ability to move forward to live a fulfilling life
    • Acknowledging your feelings
    • Accepting your feelings
    • Expressing your feelings
    • Letting go of those feelings
  • Enhancing self-reflection, awareness, and resilience
  • Improving self-regulation
  • Clarifying your life goals to live a fulfilling life
  • Offering insight
  • Increasing ability to see things from multiple perspectives
  • Fostering positive emotions
  • Supporting physical health

Looking at the way trauma-informed writing functions and its benefits showcases the importance of the mind-body connection in healing. Trauma does not only manifest itself as self-defeating thinking and behavior patterns. Challenges with processing trauma also often manifest themselves in the body as tension and other chronic physical pains. Therefore, understanding the mind-body connection between your physical and psychological distress can support your well-being for a fulfilling life in recovery.

Understanding the Mind-Body for Your Mental Well-Being

Your mind and body are deeply entwined as they impede and improve each other. For instance, depressive symptoms can manifest as negative thoughts and feelings, and in the body as fatigue. In addition, the opposite is also true as challenges with chronic pain can increase feelings of distress and lead to depressive feelings about your life. Regarding trauma, traumatic experiences create a significant amount of stress that can feel too overwhelming to process. Thus, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related symptoms often lead to avoidance behaviors like substance misuse.

Moreover, when you are overwhelmed by stress from trauma, that trauma can become stuck in the body and manifest as physical symptoms. As noted in “Understanding the Stress Response ” from Harvard Health Publishing, your fight-or-flight response to trauma is a survival mechanism that is stuck in overdrive. Your unresolved trauma leaves your body to overreact to everything as a life-or-death situation. However, understanding the mind-body connection between your trauma and physical and psychological symptoms can help you heal. Mind-body practices like outdoor therapy, somatic experiencing, meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can be incorporated into your daily life to support building a fulfilling life in recovery.

Learning How to Build a Fulfilling Life at The Guest House

Here at The Guest House, we champion a holistic approach to healing because we know true recovery is a whole-person process. By understanding the roots of your trauma, you can dismantle self-defeating thinking and behavior patterns to heal in mind, body, and spirit. Therefore, we are committed to delivering an individualized treatment program to address your specific needs to lead a fulfilling life in recovery. With a wide variety of evidence-based practices and therapeutic modalities, we can meet you where you are on your recovery journey. Through therapies like equine therapy, adventure therapy, art in healing, and somatic therapy, you can heal and build the tools you need to live a fulfilling life in long-term recovery.

Unaddressed trauma can cause psychological distress that leads to self-defeating behavior like substance misuse. In addition, trauma can also become stuck in the body and lead to physical symptoms that impair functioning. However, through a holistic approach to care, you can engage in therapies and interventions that support living a fulfilling life in recovery. Therapies and interventions like experiential therapies, trauma-information writing, and the mind-body connection can help you address and process trauma. The expressive nature of mind-body therapies and practices makes it easier to acknowledge, understand, and process difficult-to-access feelings. Thus, at The Guest House, we are committed to providing a wide range of evidence-based therapies and modalities to support your specific needs. Call us at (855) 483-7800 today.