Learn / 8 Ways Healing Can Be Joyful
Challenges are a natural part of any growth process—but that’s not all there is to it. Healing can also be punctuated by small wins, big triumphs, exciting breakthroughs, and deep connections.
At the end of the day, the self-knowledge, empowerment, and resources you gain are immeasurably rewarding.
Here are 8 ways to find joy in the journey of addiction recovery.
This may not exactly sound joyous, but the payoff is nothing short of life-changing.
So much of addiction and maladaptive behavior comes from avoidance.1 As humans, we avoid the things we’re scared of: our past traumas, our emotional pain, and our deepest insecurities. Substances are an easy way to check out of feelings we’d rather not deal with—and sometimes, with very valid reason. Maybe we’re not emotionally ready, we don’t have adequate support in place, or we can’t afford the disruption in our lives. Avoiding is a coping strategy2 that’s designed to help us survive. But the problem is that it works until it doesn’t. And some coping strategies have serious consequences for our health.
True healing requires the deep, vulnerable work of facing our fears. While it’s not easy, doing so in a therapeutic environment means you’ll be surrounded by professionals who guide you through the process, and peers who are doing the same thing right alongside you. Taking on this brave task taps you into your personal fortitude and shows you what you’re really capable of. As you get used to facing life’s challenges head-on, they’ll start to feel more like normal ebbs and flows and less like full-on crises.
The healing journey is a deep dive inward. Parts of it may be uncomfortable—but growth requires us to move beyond our comfort zones.
The upside of recognizing our pain (and the need to do something about it) is that it can serve as an entry point onto a path of self-discovery. As Rumi famously said, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”3 Being utterly honest with yourself is an illuminating process. You’ll discover strengths you didn’t know you had.
Knowing yourself puts you in control of your own life. It increases your self-acceptance, self-trust, emotional intelligence, and ability to have healthy relationships. “I argue that we are in an inescapable relationship with ourselves4 that requires both self-love and self-respect,” says Jordan MacKenzie, Faculty Fellow at the NYU Center for Bioethics. “Self-love gives us a noninstrumental reason to know ourselves, while self-respect demands that we take this reason seriously.”
One way to honor this relationship is to reconnect with your physical self.
A common response to trauma is dissociation5—that is, mentally and spiritually disconnecting from ourselves when physical escape isn’t possible. Dissociation is the body’s natural way of protecting us. But when we do this habitually, it becomes our default state. By numbing ourselves to negative emotions, we also numb ourselves to positive ones, diminishing our ability to feel fully engaged with life.
Movement- and touch-based therapies are helpful for reconnecting with the body in a safe and guided way. Many rehabs offer these as part of a holistic treatment program:
It’s especially important for physical and sexual assault survivors to do this in a trauma-informed setting. And while it may be challenging, it can also be one of the most transformative, and ultimately enjoyable, aspects of the healing process.
By grounding into our bodies and staying present with ourselves, others, and the world around us, we experience more of what life has to offer.
Changing long-held patterns means dealing with life in ways that don’t rely on old coping mechanisms—and that can feel awkward at first. Thankfully, rehab is a great place to practice. Whether it’s letting yourself cry instead of looking for a distraction, or talking through a problem with a recovery peer instead of stewing in resentment, you’ll get to try new approaches until you find what works for you. And, you’ll have encouragement from counselors and support staff along the way.
By the end of your stay, you’ll be empowered with new knowledge of how to navigate relationships that you can take with you into the real world and continue to build on.
“We get our needs met by communicating them. And that can be really hard,” says Nedra Glover Tawwab, therapist and author of Set Boundaries, Find Peace.
Boundary-setting sounds easy, but in reality, it’s an advanced skill. Insecure attachment (a result of childhood trauma) tells us that if we upset our loved ones, they might leave. And that makes it hard to state a need or preference when you’re unsure how the other person will take it.
“Boundaries are statements that make you feel safe and comfortable in your relationships,”6 says Tawwab. And, contrary to what our fears tell us, they help to preserve them. Learning to tolerate the discomfort that often follows these statements takes time. With practice, you’ll see how boundaries set a healthier tone for your relationships and create the space necessary for you to meet your needs. This grows your sense of ownership over your life—and what’s more rewarding than that?
Residential rehab gives you a chance to try healing modalities that you may not have otherwise. You may find that you relate to the philosophy behind DBT, that acupuncture reduces your cravings, or that the path of yoga aligns with your recovery journey. Hopefully, you’ll walk away from rehab with resources for ongoing therapy, which can lead to a beneficial relationship with a new therapist.
Many rehabs include complementary therapies as part of their treatment program, even if it’s clinically based. Often, patients choose to continue with therapies or activities they find helpful, adding to their fulfillment in life after rehab.
Being healed doesn’t mean hardship stops happening. It means you get better at dealing with it.
In addition to treating your symptoms, rehab also provides a training ground for life. Most residential programs have a 28-day minimum because this allows enough time to establish a rhythm in a new, healthy routine. Much of your time in treatment is spent building a toolkit of healthy outlets, coping strategies, and connections you can turn to when you need them. These can include exercises for self-soothing, processing, or releasing emotions; connections for professional care; sober community; and restored relationships with your loved ones.
Addiction is a form of self-harm, and is often fueled by negative self-talk.7 The healing process teaches us now to recognize when we’re telling ourselves a story, ask whether that story is accurate, and replace it with a more helpful belief. Especially when we have less than nurturing childhoods, we get the message that self-criticism will help us achieve the change we desire. But what if all it achieves is turning us against ourselves?
“We are often at war with our difficult emotions—judging and hating ourselves for our fear, anger, clinging or shame,” says meditation teacher Tara Brach. But “our continued evolution, healing and freedom depends on learning how to embrace what we have pushed away.8
We deserve love, even when we’re not exactly where we want to be. The journey toward healing is a lifelong process—and approaching it with acceptance and self-compassion helps us find joy in it all.
Longtime yogi Richard Rosen challenges the idea that we have to punish ourselves in pursuit of progress: “But must the process of ending sorrow be sorrowful itself?…What about the idea that our effort toward happiness can itself make us happy?”9
We may never fully “arrive,” but things can get better and easier along the way, and we can learn to enjoy the ride.
Rehab can be a great place to start. An immersive environment gives you space to do this vulnerable work in a safe, supported way, with all the necessary tools at your fingertips.
Browse our searchable directory of residential rehabs to learn more about their programs, facilities, and staff, and reach out to centers directly.
Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod
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