Healthy Habits And Self-Care In Recovery

The road to recovery is not an easy one.  And just because you’re sober doesn’t mean your journey ends there. Practicing healthy habits and self-care for life after recovery is great way to achieve long term sobriety and continue living a fulfilling life free from addiction.  

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At the very core of addiction lies habit-energy—the seemingly irresistible urge to reach for the next drink, or the next dose of Xanax, or the next hit of meth, cocaine, or marijuana.

Someone with an addiction is in the habit of using the substance to cope with difficult situations and the emotions that come with them. Since the substance offers temporary relief—while never actually solving the problem—taking it becomes a regular habit.

In the recovery process, the addict learns how to replace the alcohol or drug habit with new and healthier habits. These healthy habits and self-care rituals serve as much more effective coping mechanisms. They get to the root of the challenge, rather than just masking it. They make healing possible.

Developing new healthy habits that are conducive to long-term sobriety takes time and effort—a genuine commitment to transforming one’s life for the better. But the recovery journey, while difficult at times, can also be filled with great joy and contentment.

The new healthy habits offer strategies for feeling better without the addictive substance. They provide ways of feeling nourished and satisfied that genuinely benefit the body and mind.

Gradually, the drinking or drug abuse habit weakens, and the new healthy habits take root. Eventually, the new habits become second nature—supporting the recovery process and sowing the seeds for a healthy and happy life, for years to come.

That’s what makes such healthy habits and self-care rituals so important for people who are currently in recovery—as well as for those who have recently completed the recovery process and now could use some additional support for creating their new life.

6 Healthy Habits to Support Addiction Recovery

A great place to begin is by creating healthy daily rhythms around sleep, meals, exercise, and emotional support. This daily structure can become a supportive container for recovery from addiction.

1. Attend 12-Step Meetings

A recovering addict should continue to attend 12-Step Program meetings, as needed or recommended by their therapist/counselor.

It’s also wise to receive additional mental-emotional support via regular work with a skilled therapist, in group or individual sessions.

2. Support Recovery with a Healthy Diet

Figuring out what to eat during the detox and recovery process can be rather confusing and intimidating for the recovering addict and their friends/family. The good news is that it’s actually very similar to eating healthy in general, with a few specific points of emphasis. The basic principles are:

  • Stay well-hydrated.
  • Replenish lost vitamins and minerals.
  • Eat a wide range of whole, unprocessed foods (organic when possible).

The healthier the recovering addict’s diet is, the better their physical and mental health will become—and hence, the stronger their sobriety.

The essential components of a healthy diet include the following.

Plenty of Water & Hydrating Foods

Alcohol—like many other drugs—depletes the body’s supply of fluids. So it’s essential for the recovering addict to drink plenty of fluids during their detox and recovery process, to stay well-hydrated.

High-quality spring-water is great. Other options are herbal teas, smoothies, soups, stews, and water-rich fruits such as watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches, pineapple, and oranges.

High Quality Protein

Protein provides the essential building blocks for the body to repair itself, making it a vital part of an addiction-recovery diet. Excellent protein sources include:

  • Wild-caught salmon
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Free-range eggs
  • Organic free-range chicken/turkey
  • Organic dairy products
  • Organic nuts and seeds
  • Organic bone broth
  • Beans/legumes: lentils, chickpeas, mung beans
  • Quinoa

Fresh Fruits & Veggies

Going for a full rainbow of colors—red, orange, yellow and green—is a good rule of thumb, for choosing fresh vegetables and fruits. When available, choose organic varieties of:

  • Leafy greens: lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, arugula
  • Berries: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries
  • Cruciferous veggies: broccoli, cauliflower,
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Root veggies: beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips
  • Citrus fruits: oranges, grapefruits, lemons

Healthy Carbohydrates

Some of the best sources of carbohydrates for an addiction-recovery diet include:

  • A wide variety of whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, barley, rye, corn, buckwheat
  • Organic rolled oats
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Sourdough bread
  • Organic potatoes

Healthy Fats & Oils

Heavy alcohol and other drug consumption can damage the brain. To function optimally, the brain requires fatty acids—making healthy fats a key component in an addiction-recovery diet.

Some excellent sources of healthy fats include:

  • Avocado
  • Coconut oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Olive oil
  • Organic butter and ghee
  • Fatty fish: salmon, trout, tuna, sardines, mackerel

Probiotics for a Healthy Gut

To restore the health of the microbiome, the recovering addict should include probiotics in their diet. Probiotic foods include:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Tempeh
  • Miso
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kombucha
  • Ginger beer

Natural Sweeteners

Alcoholics and drug addicts often crave sugar. In the recovery process, it’s important that they satisfy their sweet tooth with a piece of fresh fruit; and strive to replace refined sugar with healthy natural sweeteners such as:

  • Raw honey
  • Pure maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Date syrup
  • Coconut sugar
  • Stevia

3. Exercise Daily

Exercise improves strength and fitness, detoxifies the body, and releases mood-enhancing endorphins. For all these reasons, a recovering addict will benefit by making exercise part of their daily ritual.

There are many excellent exercise options, for instance:

  • A brisk walk first thing in the morning
  • A long leisurely walk in the evening
  • Swimming
  • Biking
  • Hiking
  • Playing tennis
  • Playing Frisbee
  • Joining a pickup basketball game
  • Lifting weights at the local gym
  • Riding a stationary bike or rowing machine
  • Dancing

4. Get Plenty of Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is vital for physical, mental, and emotional health. For adults, 7-8 hours is ideal.

To support healthy sleep cycles, it’s generally best to go to bed at around the same time each night, and get up in the morning, also, at more or less the same time.

To help relax the body and calm the mind before bed, a person in recovery can:

  • Take a warm bath
  • Enjoy a cup of chamomile, lavender, or peppermint tea
  • Sit quietly in meditation for 10-15 minutes
  • Practice some restorative yoga poses

5. Keep a Clean & Tidy Living Space

A beautiful, nourishing, and uplifting living environment can be a wonderful support for someone going through the recovery process.

They may be interested in applying feng-shui principles to create a harmonious flow of life-force energy within their home: rearranging furniture, adding mirrors and a water fountain.

But it can also be as simple as some fresh flowers, a beeswax candle, a favorite crystal, or some inspiring artwork.

6. Spend Time with Supportive Friends & Family

For someone in recovery, it’s important to devote time to connecting with friends and family members who are genuinely interested it their wellbeing.

These will be people whose presence is nourishing and supportive, and who know how to relax and have fun in ways that don’t involve alcohol or other drugs.

Learning how to be selective in who they spend time with—and so who they are influenced by—is a vital part of the recovery process.

Self-care Tips to Support Addiction Recovery

As recovering addicts loosen the hold that the addiction has had on them, they also regain their enjoyment of life. They learn to honor and appreciate their human lives, and experience genuine happiness, comfort, and ease.

A person recovering from addiction does an about-face from a lifestyle that is literally killing them—to a way of being rich with newfound hope and freedom.

One of the biggest challenges of recovery is discovering new ways to have fun, that don’t require the presence of alcohol or drugs. As their brain chemistry gradually returns to normal, the recovering addict may need to do things that feel foreign—experiment with unfamiliar ways of relaxing and having fun—before the healthy habits start to feel natural.

Here are some self-care routines that someone recovering from addiction can use to support their healing process. They don’t have to engage with them all. They can just choose one or two that resonate, and begin there.

Nurture a Positive Mindset

Acknowledging one’s powerlessness in the face of the addiction is an important step in recovery.

However, it’s also important to honor and celebrate personal strengths rather than weaknesses. One way to do this is to make a list of all the ways the recovering addict appreciates themselves—what they feel optimistic and proud of.

The Power of a Smile

A gentle smile alters brain chemistry, initiating a whole range of positive body-mind transformations. For instance: smiling releases neuropeptides that fight off stress; endorphins that act as pain relievers; and serotonin which acts as an antidepressant.

So the habit of smiling gently—or giggling or enjoying a deep belly-laugh—is an excellent one to cultivate.

Therapeutic Massage for Deep Healing

Healing touch can provide powerful support for the detox and recovery process. Therapeutic massage or other bodywork and complementary modalities—such as acupuncture, Reiki, and healing crystals—are well worth exploring.

Ear acupuncture, for instance, has been shown to be very effective in recovery from addiction.

Enjoy a Warm Bath or Sauna

A warm bath, sauna, jacuzzi, or steam room can provide a gentle detox and deep relaxation. And alternating the heat therapy with a brief cold shower or ice-bath is one way to invigorate the immune system.

Explore Essential Oils

There’s a deep connection between scents, emotions, and memory. Scents that evoke positive memories can reduce stress, increase positive emotions, decrease negative mood states, and disrupt cravings.

This connection between scents and emotions forms the basis of aromatherapy—using specific scents for healing purposes.

To receive the benefits of aromatherapy, someone recovering from addiction may add a few drops of essential oil to their warm bath. Alternatively, they can use an essential oil diffuser to release the scent into the air; or mix the oil into a body lotion.

Be Nourished by the Natural World

Fresh air, sunshine and natural beauty are beneficial to body, mind, and spirit. An excellent self-care routine for someone recovering from addiction is spending time in nature. For example:

  • Taking a hike along an ocean beach or through a forest.
  • Sitting on the banks of a gently flowing creek.
  • Visiting a beautiful city park.
  • Cultivating a flower or vegetable garden.
  • Tending lovingly to houseplants.

Pet Therapy

Playing, snuggling, and receiving unconditional love are just some of the reasons why taking care of a dog or cat can be a nourishing form of self-care for a recovering addict.

Express Creativity

For a person recovering from addiction, exploring new ways to express their creativity can be a beautiful (and fun!) form of self-care. The sky is the limit, but some artistic forms to consider are:

  • Music
  • Painting
  • Dance/Theater
  • Pottery
  • Quilting
  • Journaling
  • Creating collages
  • Culinary arts

Be of Service to Others

Sometimes, the best form of self-care is to take care of others—e.g., volunteering at a soup kitchen or animal shelter, or donating knitted hats/scarves to a refugee community.

But only if this doesn’t feel physically or emotionally draining for the recovering addict.

Supporting others helps the person recovering from addiction to realize that everyone has struggles, and that “we’re all in this together.” It can take their mind off their own challenges, for a while—and help them to realize that they have something positive to offer.

Take Up a New Hobby

Encourage the person recovering from addiction to take up a new hobby or renew an old one that they gave up while in the throes of the addiction. Some possibilities include:

  • Woodworking
  • Knitting
  • Stamp-collecting
  • Bird-watching
  • Playing music
  • Playing board games
  • Baking bread

Check Out Nearby Free Events

Another sweet self-care tip is to be on the lookout for free events in the community. For instance:

  • Museum exhibits
  • Botanical garden tours
  • Outdoor concerts
  • Farmer’s markets
  • Arts & crafts fairs
  • Poetry readings
  • Community dance parties
  • Planetarium shows

Enjoy a Quiet Night at Home

Being content “doing nothing” is a great gift, and one that the recovering addict will greatly benefit from. Relaxing at home, maybe watching a movie, or listening to music, or chatting with friends, or cooking a nice dinner for themselves—can be just as nourishing as more flashy options.

Tune Into Gratitude

Cultivating gratitude is one of the very best self-care tips for someone recovering from addiction. It’s especially powerful in the moments before falling asleep at night. Simply bring to mind all the things they feel grateful for, large and small, for instance:

  • Grateful for air to breathe
  • Grateful for food, clothing, and shelter
  • Grateful for friends supporting recovery
  • Grateful for songbirds
  • Grateful for fresh peaches

Continue for two or three minutes, or longer. Let this be the energy that transports them into dreamtime.

Nourishing Rituals to Support Recovery

An important aspect of addiction recovery is learning how to manage stress levels—without the use of the addictive substance. Little by little, the recovering addict learns how to relax their body and mind, and maintain an even keel by:

  • Slowing down, physically
  • Tuning into and meeting their needs first
  • Saying “no” to excessive requests/invitations
  • Avoiding other people’s drama
  • Using stress-reduction tools such as yoga and meditation

Healing rituals are another great way to manage stress levels and access internal resources. One or more of the self-care tips listed above might become a daily ritual for a person recovering from addiction. Or they may choose an activity rooted in their spiritual tradition.

Habit, Ritual & Addiction

But what’s the difference between a habit, a ritual, and an addiction?

These words can be defined in different ways. But in relation to addiction recovery, it will be useful to consider ritual and addiction as two different kinds of habits.

  • A habit is any activity that is repeated—a daily (or hourly or weekly) routine.
  • An addiction is a habit that has become chronic and compulsive, with destructive consequences.
  • A ritual is an activity performed with conscious intentionality, to bring benefit to body and mind.

As mentioned above, a crucial aspect of the recovery process is replacing the destructive habits associated with the addiction, with new healthy habits. And healing rituals can be especially powerful in this regard.

A recovering addict may choose one of the self-care tips listed above to become their morning ritual, or midday ritual, or evening ritual. Or they might choose another activity that supports their physical and emotional wellbeing. For instance:

  • Taking a morning walk
  • Yoga or meditation practice
  • Journaling
  • Prayer
  • Reading verses from a spiritual text

Any activity that is nourishing, comforting, and/or inspirational can become a daily or weekly ritual.

Harmonizing the Nervous System

Regulating stress levels includes harmonizing the body’s nervous system—so that the sympathetic and parasympathetic components function properly.

The sympathetic nervous system initiates the fight-flight-freeze response in the face of perceived danger. The parasympathetic nervous system supports rest-and-digest functions.

When a recovering addict’s nervous system is stuck in the fight-flight-freeze mode, they may perceive danger even when there is no actual danger. And this can fuel a pattern of chronic physical and emotional stress.

One excellent way of restoring harmony to the nervous system of the person in recovery is for them to practice disciplines that consciously engage the body, mind, and breath. For instance:

  • Restorative Yoga
  • Tai-chi
  • Chi-kung (Qigong)
  • Feldenkrais
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Somatic Experiencing

Simple Exercises to Calm the Nervous System

Restorative yoga is one excellent tool for healing the body and calming the nervous system. Legs-up-wall pose (viparita karani) and Child’s pose (balasana) are examples of simple restorative yoga poses that could be used as a daily healing ritual.

Another simple yet powerful ritual to calm the nervous system is to sit quietly and bring attention to the movement of the breath. Then, gently extend the exhalations—so that the exhalation becomes longer than the inhalation. With each long exhalation, say “ahhh,” which will help the neck and jaw to relax. Continue in this fashion for ten or fifteen rounds of the breath.

Spiritual Contemplation, Prayer & Meditation

Invoking and connecting with a Higher Power—the deepest resource for inner peace, joy, and stability—is an important aspect of the addict’s journey of recovery. So rituals that are rooted in a chosen spiritual tradition can be especially powerful. For instance:

Reading one or two verses from a scripture, or a passage from an inspirational book, or a favorite poem—first thing in the morning or right before bed, can also be a beautifully healing ritual. Once again, the sky is the limit, but possibilities include:

  • Recovery memoirs
    Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
  • Wayne Liquorman, The Way of Powerlessness: Advaita and the 12 Steps of Recovery
  • Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness
  • Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
  • Mary Oliver, New & Selected Poems

One Step at a Time

Gradually, the person recovering from addiction will be able to swap out unhealthy habits for new empowering rituals and constructive self-care routines.

But it’s important to remember that this is a process that takes time.

Make clear commitments have confidence and courage. But also be patient, kind, and gentle as they navigate their journey of recovery.

References & Resources

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