Many of us early in recovery from addiction struggle to find a comfortable daily routine or pace. Without the false energy, confidence, or hope that opiates so easily imitated, we desperately wish we had something to substitute. After so many years relying on a drug, we have forgotten how we used to maintain our energy, confidence and hope in our future. We have almost forgotten how much better real energy, confidence and hope feel. Despite what we initally see as a long and labourious road, we march forward like refugees, away from our old, war-torn lives toward a better place. Although we have never experienced recovery, we know that’s where we need to go.
Although we stopped chasing the drug, our daily routine continues to suffer from years of neglect. Our routine has become disrupted, and contains more catastrophies than usual. Naturally, we get back to work, pay bills, settle any lingering legal obligations. We build a deep sense of security as we demonstrate to ourselves, day by day, little by little we are capable of a full recovery.
Sigmund Freud once said the two primary drives of the human being are to “love and to work” Both inspire meaning and purpose in our lives. Satisfaction of these needs powerfully motivate us. It was the “short circut” of a specific dopamine system we call addiction that slowly robbed us of both.
Modern neuroscience tells us he was right, and a neurochemical called ” dopamine is likely why. Let me briefly explain. The human nervous system, of which the brain is “head” communicates using a very select number of chemicals. We call them “neurochemicals”. Dopamine, one of these neurochemicals, is primarly involved in the brains “go-system”. Since “job one” of the brain is to respond constanly to the environment, the brain uses dopamine to select what in the enviroment we perceive, store memories of what we need and desire, plan possible actions, engage the motor system to act, and evaluate the results.
As our dopamine system recovers, often assisted by the use of buprenorphine, dopamine functioning is restored. It is then that we are reminded of the importance of quality sleep as “the foundation” of maintaining that restored functioning.
For this reason. I recommend that the first task of recovery is to work towards a routine which promotes restful sleep. We are usually well aware of the actions which do not help us sleep restfully, but have lost the awareness of what actions help us get restful sleep. The answer is simple- activity.
The brain “loves activity” both physical and mental. Often overlooked is the brains need for social activity. By “trying” or “experimenting” (taking action) with daily activities which provide pleasant results overtime, we assist the dopamine system to recovery, and our normal bodily cycles to synchronize.
You can start anywhere in any amount. Some people like to go to the gym. Some like to walk their dog, and some may need to organize a drawer, or write a letter. The list is endless, but all of them are activities which can be done daily. Activity burns calories, relieves stress, and allows for the brain to calm down. Substitute activites for chemicals toward the end of the day for the above so as not to interfere with the brain’s natural sleep system. Activities like worksheets to train your brain to relax at bedtime have found to be useful. Until your sleep becomes more restful, you will be wise to perfect the art of the nap. If this is not possible, the next action may be to discuss the obstacles with your therapist or doctor.
However you chose to start this daily journey, make it important enough to write down regularly, track progress, share struggles with your family, friends, doctors and therapists. Remember, your dreams begin to come true when we realize we will create them one day at a time.