Cultivating Joy in Recovery:
Endless Possibilities

By May 26, 2020 May 29th, 2020 No Comments
Cultivate Joy

“Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”


Early sobriety from alcohol use disorder is the perfect time to start cultivating authentic joy back into your life. I find it helpful to begin by deconstructing common misconceptions about joy and alcohol addiction. Over the years, I have so often heard my clients and other women in recovery claim they drank to feel joy and escape boredom. I want to dispel this misunderstanding here, because I think grasping this piece is so important to building the foundation of joy during recovery. 

There are actually two myths here: 1) that drinking is bringing you joy, and 2) that life is inherently boring (and that it’s “happening to you” rather than a result of your choices).

Misconception #1: Drinking to Feel “Joy”

Is it really true that drinking was the solution to loneliness and boredom? I invite you to think about what happened when you drank—and ask yourself if joy is what comes to mind. What drinking does, among other things, is it creates an illusion that it’s bringing joy into our day. But actually the opposite is happening. When we drank, we were more likely to be: 

  • lonely and isolating,
  • creating emotional turmoil,
  • suffering from brain fog, and 
  • deteriorating physically.

In reality, every single one of these experiences is guaranteed to lead to LESS joy. So, if drinking wasn’t actually bringing us joy, what was it doing? It was providing a temporary sense of relief from pain for a moment, while actually digging deeper trenches of long-term suffering in our entire lives (and for those who love us), thus feeding a cycle of needing more and more relief and escape. Its cons always outweigh the perceived benefits, like a casino, where the “house always wins.” And because of this, when we were drinking, we were “losing”: our lives were absent from anything resembling joy, authentic engagement with people, or being free of boredom.

Misconception #2: Boredom Is Out of Our Control

So let’s look at this statement: “I am bored with my life.” I have heard this statement so often among my clients and others in early recovery. My favorite addiction counselor during my outpatient intensive program used to say, “Life is not boring; you are.” And back then, I would think, wow, that is very harsh. But if you really think about it, life is full of opportunities to create, share, learn, and experience. Day in and day out, there truly is an infinite amount of things that you can do with your life. Life itself is far from boring! The missing piece of reducing boredom is truly our unique relationships to cultivating joy. Sustained joy is all about you making deliberate choices, especially on the little things, throughout your day. 

And that’s great news, ladies, because it’s an opportunity that is perfectly timed with early recovery, as we are searching for how to live an authentic life with purpose, vitality, and joy.

Quote about cultivating joy2

How to Cultivate Joy

How exciting it is that we get to create a new life! Everything is a possibility again, because in recovery, we get to write our own scripts! Joy is so important that I’ve included it in my Stay-at-Home Sober Guide as one of the strategies that’s critical for early recovery. As you begin to explore and discover what brings you joy, it’s important to actually bring it into your life on a daily basis. So schedule JOY in your routine every day! 

When you recover or discover something that nourishes

your soul and brings joy, care enough about

yourself to make room for it in your life.

—Jean Shinoda Bolen

Maybe you’re wondering, where and how do I start? I invite you to begin with the more obvious things you KNOW bring you JOY, even if it’s been several years since you connected with them. And then eventually add other things too. It can be a slow process with baby steps. Enjoy actually exploring what makes you feel joy. 

Quote about cultivating joy

I used to think joy meant high-intensity activities like parties, amusement parks, celebrations, holidays, and loud music—things that had the “wow” factor. That’s because I have an extroverted personality, and I felt that I required a high amount of energy and activity to feel joy. But in recovery, I’m learning that joy is much deeper, more meaningful, less transient, and less superficial. I had been missing so many opportunities to feel joy in the everyday things, including the quieter moments, especially connected to nature. 

I encourage you to look more deeply than perhaps you ever have to see the JOY in all things, everyday things like watching the sunrise or sunset in your living room or bedroom, listening to the sounds of nature, planting a garden and then ultimately watching it bloom, preparing a new keto dessert, talking to an old friend, or even communicating with a loved one in a more meaningful way than you ever have.

Deepening relationships can be profoundly healing, especially for women in early recovery. With a sober mind, you have this unique opportunity. In fact, as I began to explore this concept of joy, I discovered it is more akin to love than the initial “rah-rah” fleeting pleasure I used to think it was. 

A joyful life is made up of joyful moments
gracefully strong together.

— Brené Brown

So, I’d like to offer you some ideas for bringing joy into your life and home—things that are easily accessible and don’t require grand gestures. We’re in a time now of transitioning from sheltering in place to slowly returning to the outside world. So you can choose activities to do at home as well as outside of the home. 

I do want to emphasize getting into nature as a priority. We tend to refer to “nature” as something out there, but we are nature. There is no part of us that is separate from nature, and we are wired to be in sync with it. Being in sync with nature’s rhythms and interacting with it will help foster joy and facilitate healing your mind, body, and spirit. For example, get your hands dirty gardening, with your bare feet in the grass. There are scientifically proven benefits to touching soil!

Cultivating joy through growing

I invite you to explore both high-intensity and socializing activities as well as some powerful, but more calming, ones. High-intensity and socializing activities include:

Cultivating joy of cooking
  • Music
  • Board games
  • Charades
  • Badminton, bean toss, or other yard games
  • Card games
  • Action movies 
  • Comedies
  • Stand-up comedy routines
  • Baking or other fun kitchen projects (e.g., decorating cookies)
  • Arts and crafts (children-focused “hands dirty” activities)
  • Quality, supportive, loving conversations or gatherings
  • Outdoor kid activities (sidewalk art with chalk, hopscotch)
  • Outdoor activities (walk, jog, cycle, golf, pickleball)

Powerful but calming activities include:

  • Intimacy, especially sex
  • Anything with nature
  • Gardening
  • Music
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Decorating
  • Crafts: sewing, quilting, knitting
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Mind teasers: crossword puzzles, Sudoku
  • Painting/drawing
  • Learning to play an instrument
  • Online classes
Over time your life will probably completely transform because you’re open to new things and because what you focus on grows. If you focus on joyful things, joyful things will find you. I love this quote by Katrina Mayer: “She found joy and wonder in every little thing she did, and guess what? Joy and wonder found her and every little thing she did.”

Joyfulness is an energy that fosters health and vitality. Carlos Santana said, “If you carry joy in your heart, you can heal at any moment,” and I have seen this time and time again with women in recovery. I am a living testimony of it too!

As you explore the many things that life in recovery offers, make sure you create time and space in your schedule for JOY every day! Your health and happiness will flourish as a result.

And thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on joy, as it’s opened up my heart and soul deeper than it was before I began.

Stay strong, Humble Warrior Women. Until next week, Namaste!