What I Didn’t Know Would Happen in Addiction Recovery

Hiker looking at mountain range at sunrise

Most people seeking help for an addiction problem are initially doing so because they’ve simply had enough. Many are terrified of life as it is and of it continuing like that – they cannot face that future.

This is understandable, as addiction is a terrible illness that drags people down; it rips apart relationships, families, and friendships; and of course, tragically, can lead to someone dying before their time. It’s very often an ugly death as well, but even if someone doesn’t physically die they are often surviving a living death.

As an addiction recovery phrase puts it: “My addiction killed me, but refused to bury me.”

So, first of all, an addict looks for help to stop their addiction and learn how to stay stopped. However, if addiction recovery is maintained, one day at a time, people soon begin to discover that there is so much more to it. There has to be or relapse is likely.

When I went through the 12 Steps in 2002, so many people who had already done this recovery program said to me things such as: “You’ll become who you’re meant to be“; “Stick around to see the miracle“; and “Do these steps and you’ll get a life beyond your wildest dreams.”

It didn’t make much sense to me back then – but it absolutely does now. In fact, this is true not just for addiction recovery but also for healing from any of the other mental health problems.

These are some of the unexpected positive transformations that I didn’t know would happen in my addiction recovery.

A sense of relief and hope

The first thing I felt when I went to a meeting of like-minded people was a huge sense of relief. It was not only hearing that people had thought, felt, and behaved in a similar way to me, but most of all, that they knew of the overwhelmingly deep sense of loneliness I had so often felt most of the time.

Even though I had probably more friends than most, loneliness had been with me for many years. It was what I now know to be a sense of disconnection from others.

As these people at the meeting – who were not at all “oddballs” or tramps as I thought they would be – briefly shared their stories, there was this deep understanding of aloneness. I had never spoken about it before as I was certain nobody in the history of humankind had ever felt it except me.

So, I felt the greatest relief I had ever known. This was swiftly followed by hope because these people were talking about a solution to all the same problems I had.

More time

I recall in the first couple of weeks of recovery that I had more time. It seems obvious now that I would have more time, without any of the chaos and recovering from that chaos afterwards, as well as mopping up the mess – but I did not realize just how all-consuming it had been in my life. 

Suddenly, I had all this time. Time for recovery, but also time to start to do other pleasurable things that had been forced into the background due to how I’d been living for too many years back then.

Financial stability

The efficient way to pay. Shot of unrecognizsble people wanting to pay with a credit card outside

I also had more money in my pocket. I could start to pay off what I owed and avoid getting into that situation again.

Something often said around addiction recovery circles is: “How did I ever afford my addiction?” It’s not just the cost of the alcohol and/or other drugs – or the cost of a behavioral addiction such as gambling, sex, or shopping – it’s also that many people with addiction and/or mental health problems cannot hold down or get a job or run a business.

When people find recovery, it seems that a majority really start to excel in their work life. In fact, a complete turnaround often happens.

As an example, in my early recovery days I returned to work at a newspaper where I once worked as a freelancer (until they told me there were no more shifts for me, due to where I was in life at that time). I told my former boss what I was doing in life now and he gave me another chance. Within just a few months of showing I was trustworthy and competent, I was offered a full-time job there in a higher position than I’d ever worked.

Improved mental clarity and emotional health

Part of the reason for the transformation mentioned above was that I had a clear head for the first time in years.

As well, perhaps one of the most unexpected and precious gifts of addiction recovery is the attainment of inner peace and serenity. Through practices like meditation, mindfulness, and with therapy and 12-Steps recovery tools for living a better way, it’s possible to manage stress and find a sense of peace that I’d not thought possible.

In fact, one of The Promises of the 12 Steps is: “We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.”

Better sleep 

Peace of mind leads to better sleep. Working through the 12 Steps or letting go and resolving many problems through talking therapy, will also boost peaceful sleeping.

Recovery from addiction improves sleep too because it restores the body’s natural balance. Eliminating substances that disrupt sleep patterns makes for better rest and enhanced sleep quality.

Improved physical health

Alcohol and drug abuse take a toll on physical health, as do many other mental health problems. In recovery, as a new lifestyle is developed, people will see a significant improvement in their health and find they have much more natural energy.

Some of this also comes as we increasingly learn recovery tools for dealing with situations and events in life. So we use up far less of our valuable energy on things like frustration, self-pity, or anger.


Affectionate young couple drinking coffee or tea while standing on their balcony at home in the morning with a beautiful nature view. Watching the sunrise with a romantic partner. Copy space.

Addiction and mental health issues often strain and destroy relationships. However, recovery can heal and strengthen relationships or, in some cases, give someone the strength and clarity they need to leave an unhealthy relationship.

This applies to our relationship with a significant partner but also counts for all our relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. The recovery phrase: “The opposite of addiction is connection” makes sense here, as feeling disconnected is a common, painful feeling with addiction and other mental health problems.

Recovery reconnects us to our “self,” others, and to living among the human race, as we increasingly develop empathy, understanding, and forgiveness.

Rediscovery of self, self-esteem, and self-love

Much of what is behind addiction and mental health problems is a losing (or seemingly entire loss of) self-esteem and self-love. Our sense of self, who we truly are, can seem like nothing, which gives that feeling of emptiness so familiar to anyone who’s struggling.

Recovery is called recovery because if it’s done in the right way – thoroughly, fearlessly, and honestly – with the help of someone who has walked the same path for themselves (such as a sponsor in the 12 Steps groups, a professional coach, counselor or therapist), we recover our true self. With this return, we can begin making the right choices and decisions and, crucially, always be true to ourselves.

Meaning in life

Recovery gives a real sense of meaning in life. This is because relationships are regained and rebuilt, so we can once again be there for our children, partners, parents, grandchildren, siblings, friends, and colleagues.

But we are also in a unique, privileged position to help others, especially those struggling as we once were. In fact, this is what Step 12 is about in the 12 Steps recovery program

Having a sense of purpose in life can be a strong motivator (and is one of the key aspects) in maintaining recovery and staying on the right path.

Personal growth and resilience

Young woman is writing diary, sitting under tree in park. College student is writing note.

As we recover, we develop valuable life skills such as self-discipline, self-awareness and emotional regulation. These traits not only help us avoid falling back into addiction and/or mental health struggles such as depression or anxiety, they also enable us to develop the resilience and dedication to continue growing.

At first, the part of recovery that means we need to look inside ourselves and face ourselves, including trauma, seems extremely daunting. But from my own experience and from helping others over the years, the more we look inside ourselves the easier it gets in general – and the more we will be keen to keep on with the amazing recovery journey.

How Tikvah Lake Recovery Center can help

From healthier relationships and experiencing improved physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health, the surprises in addiction recovery are deeply rewarding. We get our real self back – and that’s everything.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or mental health problems, reach out to us here at Tikvah Lake Recovery. We offer 24/7 professional care in a relaxing, private, and luxurious environment created with recovery and well-being uppermost in mind.

Situated right beside a beautiful lake in the sunny state of Florida, Tikvah Lake is a family-run center committed to helping people find themselves again. 

Our friendly experienced team of experts provides fully personalized, evidence-based treatments, detoxification programs, an introduction to the 12 Steps, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), holistic wellness approaches, and much more.

We give you or your loved one all we can, using our skills and experience to help ensure a swift and strong recovery. Get in touch – and start your recovery journey today.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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