“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”- Will Durant (American Philosopher and Historian)
Whether you realize it or not you are your habits. We become what do. Not what we say we will do, or dream of doing, but plain and simple what we do day in and day out is who we are.
The importance of this in relation to recovery (from any addiction or trauma) can be understood in terms of rituals. Don’t be afraid of the term ritual. Nothing woo – woo here. Rituals are a way of speaking about the habits in our lives that hold great meaning. For example, the difference in meaning between these two for an addict might be brushing the teeth (habit) vs. scoring drugs and taking them (rituals).
One of the difficult parts of the recovery process is the loss of these rituals that had previously imbued our existence with so much significance. From my own experience when I stopped calorie counting, body shaming and compulsive exercise I experienced intense feelings of loss. Primarily loss of identity and loss of purpose. Without my rituals of addiction, life seemed meaningless.
This is where things get really interesting.
The science of neuroplasticity suggests that our brains are plastic. By generating new rituals to replace the old, self-sabotaging ones we can change the neural pathways in our brains and retrain ourselves to think, act, and even live the life of the person we wish to be.
In my decade of being both in recovery and involved in the recovery space as a mentor and yoga instructor, I have seen wonderful transformations come from the creation of new rituals, in particular, what I consider these Top 5 Rituals for Recovery.
However, there is one caveat, in order to fully transform the self out of the addicted personality and into the new self these rituals need to be practiced every day.
I don’t know about you but I often wake up and instantly feel reactive. I am reacting to the alarm (did I oversleep?), reacting to hunger/thirst (coffee please!), reacting to whatever resistance I have to my day (taxes…no). You can imagine what the day would bring if I kept going like this! By practicing a morning ritual that allows us time to pause and focus on how we want to handle the day we train ourselves to be active creators in our own lives. Remember: The mind creates before the body takes action.
Finding a moment to “pause” could be combined with a meditation practice or journaling. I have also used the car ride to work as a time to “pause” (turn the news off and eliminate distractions) and even the moments it takes to stir the coffee and add the cream and sugar. It is not about the amount of time spent each morning but the intention in it.
How often have you felt so tired during the day and then, as soon as your head hits the pillow it’s like someone turned the faucet on stress and anxiety! During recovery, our brains need downtime to process the many layers of change we are undergoing and update those new neural pathways. By closing the day with gratitude we promote an environment that supports sleep, not stress!
This may feel unnatural in the beginning. As humans we are conditioned to focus on what is going wrong out of a biological need to ensure survival! However, in order to grow beyond fear and anxiety we need to actively train the mind to pay attention to little victories and thereby pave the way for bigger success.
There are so many benefits to moving the body and cultivating a space for the body to heal. In terms of recovery, it is essential to change the underlying relationship to the body from lack of care to radical self-care in order for recovery to be congruent throughout the whole self. Our bodies are our homes. We live in them every second of the day and how can we cultivate peace in our lives if this environment is toxic and uncared for?
This needs to be unique to the individual and the type of recovery. Stronger movements like hiking or power yoga are great for detoxing from drugs and alcohol and for boosting endorphins in the brain. For restoring the nervous system from trauma or for individuals in recovery from anorexia or with exercise restrictions restorative yoga with long relaxations allow deep healing in the mind and body to take place.
Remember how the absence of all those rituals of addiction can leave a void in our identity and make life seem meaningless? Now is the time to go into that void and figure who was behind the addiction or trauma the whole time. This essential piece allows us to be strong in ourselves no matter what happens in our lives. It aligns us with our deepest values so that we can make decisions and move forward from there and promotes harmony with the self on all levels. It is also an ongoing and challenging process for even the most stalwart in recovery!
Because in introspection we are left completely with ourselves. The broken pieces, our shame and all the other parts we wish we could just drink away, or shove under a mouthful of ice cream, or run out of our bodies or [insert your addiction]. It is here that we come face to face with some of life’s hardest questions.
(I found for most in recovery this is the hardest part of the work, so start short and sweet.)
Every time we stay with healthy discomfort in a non-reactive manner (like feeling cravings without giving in to them) we build a capacity within ourselves to tolerate greater levels of intensity. So when the challenges of life flare up, which they will, the ability to stay strong in the self is already in place.
This is an ongoing process. We are never “done” growing or working on ourselves.
It is here that we come full circle. This final ritual really allows for us to go beyond surviving in recovery to really thriving in life. By connecting with others on their journey of healing we share the burden of recovery when it is to great shoulder on our own. It is in this space vulnerability and support that we heal each other and lift each other up.
The recovery process is as unique as the individual undergoing it. There is no one size fits all and it can be a challenge to find “your” tribe. The people that you can really open up with, give and receive support, celebrate and grieve together. The are so many groups, meetings, classes and programs both online and offline!
If this seems like a lot it’s because it is. But so was the addiction and/or the trauma. So start small, one ritual a day and gradually build in the others. Over time these rituals take less effort and become more automatic and before you know it, a whole new life appears.
(This blog post was originally published on the She Recovers blog as a guest post on May 2nd 2017. You can read the original piece here.)