You Can’t Bottle Joy

And You Don’t Have to Buy It!

by Ginny Hunneke

I am grateful to have discovered that life is so much sweeter without the crutches of drugs and alcohol. If someone told me this 20 years ago, I’m not sure I would have believed that you could have fun in sobriety.

Like most of us raised in our alcohol-soaked culture, I believed that we need alcohol (and maybe a few other things) to have fun and be happy. It’s a lucrative lie, bringing in more than $90 billion annually in alcoholic beverage sales.

Unfortunately, we not only buy the ad pitch, we buy and abuse the product in record numbers. With an estimated 1 in 10 Americans considered alcoholic, this lie costs us more than $223.5 billion (yes, that’s billions!!) annually in health care, crime and other economic impacts. We fill up on inferior substitutes while starving to feel empowered and alive.

Some people think it’s an incredible hardship to navigate life without social lubricants. Until I was 28, I shared that belief, but long-term recovery from addiction has given me a profoundly different perspective.

Unfortunately, too few people in recovery are willing to step up to the microphone to share the discovery that our lives can be significantly richer, our experiences deeper, and our pleasure more joyful without the use of mind-altering substances. Perhaps because the stigma and shame around addiction is still so strong, many of us choose to stay silent. Grateful, but silent.

What’s So Great About Sobriety?

In the absence of these positive recovery stories, substance abuse prevention and addiction treatment programs all too often focus on the pitfalls of using. “Scared straight,” so the saying goes. But those of us with experience in motivational theory know that fear is a very poor motivator. Quite the opposite, fear often feeds substance use and abuse.

For a while now, I’ve been playing with a subversive hypothesis. What would happen if we shared the benefits of un-adulterated joy to motivate recovery, responsible use and abstinence? What if we created a dialogue around the joys of sobriety? What if we created a fun conspiracy?

Sounds impossible, you say? Okay, I’ll start…

In case you were wondering, here’s what the last 20-plus years of sobriety have been like for me:

Let There Be Light

It’s not all dark church basements and reciting 12 Steps and Traditions. I actually spend a lot of time in the sunshine and outdoors (kayaking is one of my favorite natural highs). There are many of us basking in the bright light of uninhibited joy, awe, and wonder — gifts we begin to uncover as we learn to live substance-free.

HD Memories

When I share special moments with friends, I can remember the details and savor them. The textures of my experiences are more vibrant, my senses are clearer, and my memories are more enduring. This wasn’t true when I used mind-disabling drugs and alcohol.

The Thrill of Adventure

When I engage in something new and challenging, I get to explore the edges of my comfort zone and the possibility of failure. Without the numbing effects of drugs and alcohol, I’m fully awake to the risks and potential consequences of my actions —and I get to own them. When I decide to take a leap of faith anyway, only to discover I have learned to fly? I get to own that too. I wouldn’t trade those thrills for any chemical courage.

Authentic Relationships

When I immerse myself in a relationship, there are no doubts for me as to whether or not my emotional experiences are genuine and sincere. My friendships and romantic relationships are heartfelt and clear. I can express myself and my needs authentically. I can empathize with the needs of others. This wasn’t true when I used mood-altering drugs and alcohol.

Leaving Drama at the Door

When I am confronted with drama, I can choose to engage it or detach from it. And, now that I no longer have to cover for my addiction, I create a lot less drama of my own. I accept that I am solely responsible for my attitude and outlook on life. No one can make me feel anything that I choose not to feel, nor am I responsible for the feelings of others. This wasn’t true when I used drugs and alcohol.

You Can Count on Me (and So Can I)

Now, when I make a commitment to myself and others, I honor it. I no longer experience the anxiety of not fulfilling my commitments because I can’t remember making them or because I lacked the capacity to fulfill them in the first place. I live in integrity. If circumstances alter my ability to follow through, I can accept the consequences and do what I need to do to resolve the issues. Without the crutch of drugs and alcohol, I have learned to stand on my own two feet (which work really well, I’ve discovered!).

Authentic Fun: Relief without Regrets

Now when I feel stressed or overwhelmed, I make plans and take time to relax and play. Over the years, I have discovered that the more I make time for un-adulterated fun, the more perspective, enthusiasm and creativity I have to solve my problems, attend to daily concerns, and achieve my bigger goals. I’ve also found I have a lot more time to play when I’m not trying to clean up all the messes I used to make “having fun” under the influence of substances and her best friend: bad judgment.

Playing with My Emotions

In recovery, I have embraced the importance of taking time to replenish my spirit and nurture my creativity as a birthright and necessary element of my emotional wellness. Instead of dampening my emotions with drugs and alcohol, now I play with them, literally. The good, the bad and the in between. They can all be gateways to releasing unhealthy inhibitions and self-consciousness.

Through play, I have learned to connect more deeply with myself and others, my best judgment, and my capacity for love, laughter, and joy. This wasn’t true when I used drugs and alcohol.

But Do I Miss it?

When people ask if I miss being able to have a drink, I answer with a smile and without any reservation, “Absolutely not!”

The truth is, I love my life. And without drugs and alcohol, I don’t have to miss a moment of it or wish any part of it away.


More Blogs on Substance-Free Fun & Recovery

New Playgrounds and New Playmates

Celebrating the Fourth Without a Fifth (or a 6-Pack)


Cover photo: Surf by Eleder JH | CC BY-NC 2.0

  1 comment for “You Can’t Bottle Joy

  1. Kathy Norman
    October 22, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    You nailed it! Sharing big on my wall!!

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