The Importance of Having Hobbies While in Recovery
The more you learn about recovery, the more you learn about yourself.
Recovery is different for everyone, of course, but we can make some generalizations without leaving anyone behind.
Here’s one: the initial phases of recovery can be tough. You may have read or heard about learning new, productive lifestyle habits while you’re in treatment. You may enter treatment looking forward to the group education classes and one-on-one help with getting your eating, exercise, and self-care habits up to par.
But those classes rarely happen on Day One.
Here’s another: during the initial phases of recovery and/or treatment, you may not be ready for all those things. Day One – or Week One – may be about simply getting yourself to breakfast, through your morning sessions, and making it to lunch.
Then you take a break, eat, and do it over again.
You learn that in some cases, it’s not one day at a time, it’s one hour at a time. One group session at a time. One meeting with your counselor at a time.
You may wonder: where’s all that yoga I heard about? Where’s the mindfulness? The meditation?
Then you realize you’re not ready for all that.
We’re saying all this because we want to be one hundred percent realistic with you: adding hobbies is a crucial step in your recovery. However, you might not be ready to add things to your life right away. In fact, for many people in recovery, the initial phases are about removing old things rather than adding new things.
You remove the counter-productive habits and influences from your life. Gradually, on your own time, when you’re ready, you add things.
Like exercise. Like new eating habits.
Like all that yoga and mindfulness.
And when you’re ready, you add a hobby.
How Hobbies Help
We’re not saying you can’t pick up all that new stuff right at the beginning of your recovery journey. We’re saying that if you get there, and find out you’re not ready for those things, don’t sweat it: your primary goal is recovery – and while those things support recovery, they are not the recovery itself. They may eventually become part of your daily routine and feel like an essential element of your recovery routine.
They’ll help ground you, focus you, and keep you safe and sane.
But when you enter treatment and/or recovery, you put first things first.
You add the hobbies when your mind, body, and spirit are ready. For some people that might be in the first week. For others, it might be later.
Now, about those hobbies: why do you need to add one?
The simple answer is that you need to find a way to fill the time you used to fill with alcohol and/or drugs. The longer answer is that picking up a new hobby is symbolic: it’s you taking charge of your life and making the most out of the moments you have.
But that’s not all: we’ve come up with ten clear and tangible benefits of adding a new hobby during recovery.
Here they are.
Ten Benefits of Having Hobbies While in Recovery
If you’re in recovery, hobbies can help you:
- Rediscover Old Loves. You may find out that something you did back when you were in grade school or high school still makes you happy. That’s great: you can reconnect with that original energy and enthusiasm to fuel your recovery efforts.
- Learn New Skills. It’s never too late to learn something new. Music, photography, tennis, gardening – anything you like. If it takes time, challenges you, and the end product satisfies you, then you’re not only learning something, you’re keeping your brain fresh, and setting yourself up for years of enrichment.
- Make New Friends. Hobbies don’t have to be group activities, but when they are, they’re a great way to meet new people and expand your social circle. Even activities like running, which happens solo most of the time, can be group activities: look around online for running groups, and think about running a local 5k charity event.
- Restore Self-Confidence. Every success in life builds on the previous one, and over time, these cumulative successes build self-esteem. When you’re in recovery, it’s important to feel good about who you are and what you’re doing. Hobbies can help with that: when you learn a new skill, it’s satisfying. When you run around your block instead of stopping halfway for a breather, it feels great. Build up enough of these moments, and you’re on the way to a solid, stable sense of self and well-being.
- Feel a Sense of Accomplishment. Almost all hobbies involve a product or metric you can observe. For instance, if you take up cooking, you can look over the dinner table and feel good about the wonderful meal you’ve created. If you take up gardening, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor – literally – or enjoy the flowers you’ve grown. And if exercise is your new thing, you can inspire yourself by getting stronger every day.
- Make Productive Use of Downtime. When you finish work, family responsibilities, or whatever takes up the majority of your day, it’s important to have something to help pass your idle hours – mostly as a trigger-management and relapse prevention strategy. Hobbies can keep your mind from slipping into the interruptive cycles of addiction and keep your body occupied with a productive activity. Fill your off-time with your hobbies, and before you know it, you’ll be ready for bed – or whatever is next on your schedule – and you’ll still be sober.
- Remember – or Learn – Who You Are. When you were young, your likely formed your identity over time, through a process of trial and error. Guess what? You get to do that all over again when you’re in recovery. Addiction can change who you were into someone you don’t recognize. Hobbies and passions can help point you back to the seeds of who you were before addiction took hold. You can never go back, but hobbies can help you move forward and recreate the new, sober version of you.
- Manage Emotions. One reason choosing a hobby that involves learning a new skill is a good choice is that the process of learning inevitably presents challenges you need to overcome. You may face frustration. You may get angry or discouraged – part of the point is not working through those emotions. You may feel fantastic and elated – part of the point is enjoying those emotions and then letting it pass. A hobby can help you learn to manage those emotions in the context of learning something you’re enthusiastic about, which makes it easier than in other, more serious situations. And those emotional regulation techniques will transfer directly to those other areas of your life.
- Handle Adversity. This is in the same vein as managing emotions, but with a focus on overcoming difficulty. One reason you may have developed an addiction is that the hardship and stress of life overwhelmed your coping mechanisms, causing you to turn to alcohol or drugs. Navigating the ups and downs involved related your hobby – especially if it’s a sport or pastime that involves competition – can help you keep things in perspective, recognize what’s important, what’s not important, and move forward with grace – without using alcohol or drugs.
- Learn to Trust Yourself Again. Or for the first time – depending on how early in life you developed your problems with alcohol or drugs. This is one of the core goals or recovery – trusting yourself to help yourself – but you probably know that. Addiction can upend everything in your life, and when you come out the other side, you may have to rebuild everything – internally and externally – from the ground up. Hobbies help with that process: each day you spend making productive choices and engaging in life-affirming activities, you reinforce your ability to self-manage, self-regulate, and make decisions that move you forward toward a fulfilling life.
How to Get Started
You may learn something new during treatment that you can transfer directly to life after treatment. It could be exercise, cooking, or one of the various mindfulness activities you tried. It may be journaling or reading. What you do is not as important as the fact that you do it, and the amount of time you spend doing it are not as important as the fact that you do it – whatever it is you find – consistently over time.
So how do you find your new hobby?
You decide what interests you.
Then you get online and type that interest in the search bar and see what comes up.
You may not find your new thing right away. It may take time, but you’re worth the wait. Go to classes, take free introductory lessons, go to workshops – get yourself our there and just start trying things. If you don’t like one thing, move on to the next.
Your new hobby is out there.
We’re sure of it.
One last thing: accept invitation from friends or new recovery peers to try new things or have new experiences. Having a hobby is truly rewarding – see the list above. Having a hobby you can share with a friend?
That’s even better.