Body, Mind and Spirit after Addiction
Addiction is a devastating disease which affects the addicted person in body, mind and spirit. After receiving treatment for an addiction, the work for the addicted person is only beginning. The addicted person has to find a way to heal from all the pain and anguish that the addiction caused. Since the addiction affected you in body, mind and spirit, it’s important to find ways to heal all three of these systems.
Healing the Body
Any addiction will cause changes to your body and especially your brain. Your body and brain need time to heal from the addiction and adjust to life without substances. There are some things that you can do in the meantime to help your body heal.
- Proper nutrition – During active addiction, most addicts don’t have the money or the inclination to eat properly. The body may be depleted of the essential nutrients that it needs to function. A balanced diet with lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables will provide you with the vitamins and minerals you need.
- Supplements – Because addicts often lack proper nutrition, you may want to take a multivitamin to help replace vitamins you did not get during your addiction. Even with proper nutrition, it is difficult to eat a sufficient variety of foods to get all the vitamins and minerals the body needs. There are also over the counter supplements that can help with some problems that are common among recovering addicts. Some examples are melatonin for sleep, and St. John’s Wart or vitamin D for depression. Always check with your doctor before taking any vitamins and minerals. Even over the counter supplements can sometimes interact with medications you take or cause problems with certain disorders.
- Water – It’s important to drink plenty of water every day. Your body is composed mostly of water and needs to be replenished to keep your organs in good working order. Everyone is different and may need different amounts of water. However, it is recommended that men drink about 13 cups of water and women drink 9 cups of water a day.1
- Exercise – Getting regular exercise will help reduce depression which is common in people recovering from addiction. Exercise releases endorphins which make you feel good. Endorphins are the body’s natural morphine. They bind to the same receptors in the brain as pain medication, heroin and other opiates.2
Healing the Mind
Your psychological health is just as important as your physical health, and it can be severely damaged by addiction. Recovering addicts often have low self-esteem, guilt, shame, depression and anxiety. They are also prone to cravings to return to their addiction. During active addiction, the addicted person uses their substance of choice to cope with life problems, emotions and other issues. In recovery, the addict needs to learn to use other coping skills to deal with these issues. There are a lot of things that you can do to help heal your mind after an addiction. Here are a few things to try.
- Self-esteem – You can improve your self-esteem by changing negative thoughts about yourself. When you notice yourself thinking things like, “I’m stupid” or “I can’t do anything right” make a conscious effort to change these thoughts to something more neutral or positive. Positive self-talk can help improve self-esteem. Positive self-talk is simply reminding yourself of your good qualities and your strengths. Try this exercise to improve self-esteem. Write down five to ten of your good qualities. Pick a couple of these qualities and write a paragraph about why these qualities are important and how they help you in life.
- Guilt and Shame – Often addicts do things in active addiction that they aren't proud of. When we do something we know is wrong, we feel guilty. Shame is felt when we internalize guilt and feel we are a bad person because we have done something wrong. Guilt and shame help us to do the right thing in moral situations. While they serve a purpose, they are not meant to be held onto for long periods. To alleviate guilt and shame, try making amends for the wrongs you have committed. Amends can be more than just an apology. They can involve doing something good for the person harmed or the community. Amends do not have to be made directly to the person harmed to be effective. It is not always possible to make amends directly but indirect amends, like doing volunteer work or helping someone anonymously, can help too.
- Depression – People who are depressed tend to dwell on the past and think more negative thoughts than happy people. Try this exercise to let go of the past. Write down all the things that you are dwelling on. You can symbolically let go of the things you wrote down by burning the paper or by attaching it to a balloon while imagining the past floating away with the balloon. Remind yourself that you cannot go back and change the past so you need to let go of it. There are obviously some forms of depression that are more serious and cannot be relieved so easily. If your depression persists, interferes with your functioning or you have thoughts of harming yourself or others, seek professional help. Some depression can be more chemical than psychological and may need medication to be alleviated. Therapy can also help you work on letting go of the past and learn to think more positively.
- Anxiety - People who have anxiety tend to be more focused on the future and worry about things that might happen. Staying in the present moment and learning about mindfulness can help relieve anxiety. Changing thoughts that start with “what if” or “I should” can help relieve anxiety. Relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, meditation or yoga can help alleviate anxiety symptoms. However like depression, if your anxiety persists or interferes with your functioning, seek professional help.
- Cravings – It is normal for the addicted person to have cravings for their substance of choice. Having a good support system can help because cravings can stop when you talk about them. 12 Step groups have a saying, "secrets keep you sick." This means that when you don't verbalize a craving and you keep it a secret, you are more likely to act on it. The need for support is why many addicts choose to go to Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Other recovering addicts understand cravings and can help you cope with them. Focusing on the consequences of returning to active addiction can be a good tool as well. Try keeping a list of the negative things that could happen if you return to active addiction. You can include things on your list like health problems, jail, arguments with family members or your spouse and losing material possessions.
- Coping Skills - An important part of healing the mind is developing healthy coping skills. There will be times in recovery when life doesn't go the way you want it to go. Or you will feel things that you don't want to feel like pain, anger or sadness. Coping skills are the tools that will help you deal with life's problems. Some examples of coping skills are talking to someone, distracting yourself, doing something active or physical, doing something fun, finding a creative outlet and spending time with family and friends.
Healing the Spirit
Spirituality can be an important part of your life, and it's often neglected while in active addiction. Spirituality is not necessarily about any particular religion - it can be about believing in something bigger than you or it can be about personal well-being and personal development.3 However you think about spirituality, it can be an important part of your recovery to heal your spiritual self. Here are some ways to heal spiritually.
- If you attended a particular church or believed in a particular religion before your addiction, try returning to your church or religion. Attending regular services and participating in religious activities may help you heal spiritually.
- If you are unsure what you believe in, you can try going to different churches and learning about different religions. Research churches in your area online and find a couple that feel right to you. Try going to a different service each week until you find one you feel good about.
- Talk to religious leaders in your area to learn more about their beliefs and explore your own. Let them know you want to work on healing your spiritual self and ask them what they suggest.
- Try reading the sacred books of different religions. The more you learn about what other people believe, the more that you may find that some feel right to you while others do not. This does not mean that any particular spiritual path or religion is right or wrong. It’s more about finding the one that is right for you.
- Read books about spirituality. Examine what the authors believe in and see if it fits with your life and what you believe in.
- Try watching television shows or documentaries about spirituality. Look for something that you feel is right and you think you can believe in.
- You can find a Higher Power that you believe in. A Higher Power does not have to be connected to any religion but it can be. If you attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, your Higher Power can be your sponsor, your home group or the group as a whole. A Higher Power can be nature, science or God. It is whatever you believe in that is greater than you.
- You can choose to work on your personal development as a part of healing your spiritual self. Look for things that you feel will make you a better person. Try new activities and learn more about the world. Think about your values and beliefs. Ask yourself questions like, “What can I do to better myself and my world?” and “What are my values, beliefs and morals?” Think about who you are as a person and who you want to be.
- Having a purpose in life can help heal your spiritual self as well. Try finding a cause that you believe in. Doing volunteer work can help you work toward a purpose. Or find something that you believe in that you can work to improve. Many recovering addicts choose to work in fields that will help other addicts.
I know that healing your body, mind and spirit may seem overwhelming. However, you have plenty of time to work on healing your whole self. It is an ongoing process which you may work on over your entire lifetime. You spent years in addiction and it will take time to heal from the damage done. The important thing is to continue working to improve yourself and your life.