Redefining Fun in Recovery

3 min read · 3 sections
Finding fun in recovery isn’t just a pleasant thing to do. It’s important to self-care, which is critical to recovery. Learn more about the importance of fun and what research says about what actually makes something enjoyable. Plus, explore 10 fun-damental ways to pump up the fun factor in sobriety.
What you will learn:
Why fun and self-care go hand in hand.
What makes something fun.
10 ways to have fun in sobriety.

Why is it Important to Have Fun in Recovery?

Simply put, fun is a form of self-care that can ultimately help you avoid relapse. But let’s dig a little deeper to better understand what this means.

Relapse happens over time and in various stages. That is, you typically don’t just wake up one day and relapse without having first experienced some early warning signs. In fact, according to an article in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine by Steven Melemis, relapse often has several stages, the first of which involves what some call an emotional relapse.1

During this phase, people aren’t actively thinking about using yet. However, their behaviors and emotions are leading them in that direction. They’re often exhibiting poor eating and sleeping habits, bottling up emotions, isolating, missing meetings or attending without participating, etc.1 Without some changes, those in the first stage of relapse can progress to the next one.

The good news, however, is that poor self-care is often the root cause of this stage. Understanding exactly what self-care is and taking firm steps to improve it can help maintain sobriety.1

So what is self-care?

It’s not just manis, pedis, and deep-tissue massage. Sure, self-care includes physical aspects, but it’s also about psychological and emotional care. Generally speaking, self-care involves making time for yourself, giving yourself some grace and kindness, and ensuring that you have some fun along the way. Clearly, then, fun and sobriety go hand in hand.

What Makes Something Fun?

Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes fun. And those ideas change over time and throughout the various phases of people’s lives. Thus,  fun is incredibly subjective.

Where those in recovery can sometimes get into trouble is when their perception of fun gets a little distorted. The aforementioned Melemis article points out that particularly when those in recovery are under stress, they often glamorize their previous experience with substance misuse and downplay the negative consequences that led them to treatment and recovery in the first place. Thinking about their addiction almost longingly, they sometimes see the past as fun and recovery as hard work.1

In reality, addiction is grueling—and recovery can be filled with fun and enjoyment. It’s all a matter of not only seeking out new activities but also being willing to change your perspective on what fun entails.

Also keep in mind, you get what you expect. According to Melemis, if people expect to have fun, they typically do. If they expect to have a terrible time, they typically do that as well.1 So in addition to being open to trying some new activities, it’s helpful to think positively about them and assume you’re going to have a great time. Chances are, you’ll have a blast if you believe you will.

10 Ways to Have Fun in Sobriety

Since fun is subjective, it’s important to seek out activities that seem right for you, rather than the masses. So take some time to think about what fun means to you and what activities might fit the bill. Here are some questions to facilitate this process:

  • What activities did you enjoy as a kid that you might want to try again or adapt to your adult life?
  • What have you tried in the past that you maybe didn’t like initially but that you might want to try again? Chances are, you’re not the same person you were 5 years—or maybe even 5 months—ago. What you hated then might be outrageously fun today.
  • What have you always wanted to try but never had the courage to attempt? Now might be the time.
  • What do other people in sobriety do for fun? To find some answers, ask your peers during meetings, consult a counselor, or look for sober-centric local activities online.

As you consider new ways to integrate fun into your life, really lean in to those that fall under the pillars of self-care. That is, if you can meet your physical, psychological, and emotional needs while having fun at the same time, you’re winning big time.

To help you brainstorm for fun activities, here are 10 broad activity groups with a host of ideas for each.

  1. Exercise. There are countless ways to get some exercise and have fun at the same time, including everything from sports teams and rec leagues to dance classes and gardening. Consider whether you want to do something solo or if you prefer team, group, or small group activities with your sober peers. Pro Tip: Exercising outside can help you connect with nature, which can offer a host of additional mental and physical benefits.
  2. Travel. Exploring the world or even your own city or state parks can provide fresh perspective and the thrill of adventure. If travel is your thing, Google sober travel to find a companies or organizations that offer alcohol-free vacations, sober-travel groups, outdoor adventures for those in recovery, etc. You’ll also find some hotels and resorts that cater to sober travelers.
  3. Find a furry friend. Could you use unconditional love from a friend that never judges you? Would you like to decrease depression, improve your accountability, and increase your physical activity? Then a pet may be the purrfect fit. Whether you purchase a pet, foster one, or simply volunteer at a shelter or with a local rescue organization, pets can offer key benefits to those in recovery—not to mention a high fun factor.
  4. Read. Whether you’re into self-help or romance novels, sci-fi or biographies, reading can transport you out of the daily grind and into a whole new world. Pro Tip: Consider adding these 10 best-selling and/or award-wining books on addiction and recovery to your reading list.
  5. Get involved. “Involvement” includes everything from volunteering (with kids, construction/cleanup projects, seniors, etc.) to participating in local groups (e.g., bands/orchestras, government organizations, rec leagues, sports groups, etc.). Explore local ways to get involved and have fun  at the same time.
  6. Cook. Healthy eating is paramount to healthy living. And cooking, as well as its related activities, can be fun. Consider shopping at farmers markets for incredible produce, couponing, scouring the web for recipes, taking a cooking class, hosting a sober dinner party, and more.
  7. Be mindful. Many people in recovery understand the power of mindfulness and staying present in recovery. But you don’t need to sit on a yoga mat in your closet to practice it. Consider other environments, styles, classes, etc., such as mindfulness retreats, outdoor meditation, yoga classes, stand up paddleboard (SUP) yoga, walking meditation, goat yoga, and more.
  8. Listen. The possibilities here are endless. You can listen to: podcasts, music, audiobooks, TED talks, language learning apps, nature, guided meditations, standup comedy albums, live concert recordings, radio/online dramas, etc.
  9. Get outside. Sometimes just going outside to look at the world around you can be fun. But you can also camp, hike, walk barefoot in the grass, plant a garden, fish, ride a bike, picnic, play frisbee golf, swim, host a BBQ, play cornhole, build a bonfire, bird watch, photograph nature, stargaze, canoe, build a sandcastle, ride horses, visit an amusement park, watch the sunrise or sunset, drive through the countryside, etc.
  10. Express your emotions. As we learned earlier, bottling up emotions is a sign of emotional relapse. So look for fun activities to express them instead, such as journaling, painting, drawing, dancing, playing an instrument, singing, writing poetry, and more.

These 10 broad categories should spark some ideas for how you can redefine fun in recovery. The next step is to actually try some of them—and to think positively and remain open-minded in the process. Who knows? The search for fun may be a fun activity in itself.

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