When I first got sober, I felt like I was losing my freedom. But it turns out that when you have an addiction, recovery is what makes you feel free.
Addiction Changes Your Brain
This is true on many levels, including physiologically. The reward system in your brain produces the pleasurable feeling you get from healthy rewards like eating, having sex, and listening to music. When you chronically use substances, your brain gets used to being flooded with dopamine; it adjusts by lowering dopamine receptors and reducing the reward system’s sensitivity.
Dopamine helps you anticipate rewards, so that when you’re stuck in active addiction, your brain only associates pleasure with drugs and alcohol. However, tolerance builds, and they stop even being pleasurable.
At a certain point, you’re chasing a feeling that no longer exists to the detriment of everything else in your life. You need to drink or use in order to feel okay. That is the opposite of freedom. When you get sober, your brain starts healing.
What Recovery Brings to Your Life
When you’re not chronically intoxicated, you have control over your life. You can actively make decisions—and trust those decisions. You can repair damaged relationships and make new ones. You can show up for people and be of service.
In active addiction, there were so many activities I couldn’t imagine participating in sober. If I couldn’t get alcohol at a certain time of night, I was preoccupied, moody, and anxious. Recovery gives you the freedom to enjoy yourself without substances. You can be where you are, because you are not either intoxicated or wishing you were.
Active addiction makes it difficult—if not impossible—to handle difficult emotions. You either bury, distort, or amplify them with substances. Each of these is unhealthy on its own and makes stress unmanageable. In sobriety, we learn healthy ways to cope with our emotions, without picking up a drink or drugs.
It’s not that people who are sober never struggle; it’s that we are much more equipped to deal with stress when we are not on the emotional rollercoaster of active addiction. When I think back on how it felt to live in my mind before I got sober, it reminds me how freeing recovery can be.
Still, no matter how long you’ve been in recovery, you may get nostalgic for your drinking days sometimes. I’ve been there; it’s normal and understandable. It’s easy to romanticize something that was such a big part of your former life when you’re not living the day-to-day of it. But it’s important to remind yourself not only why you got sober—but how much freer (and fuller) your life feels when it doesn’t revolve around a substance.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for mental health disorders and addiction in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help free you from substances. To learn more, call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.