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funI was so grateful to finally get clean it never occurred to me to question what fun would look like in recovery. Although it made me sad, a part of me was prepared to adapt to a fun-free existence if that was the clean and sober trade off .

When I had less than 90 days clean I ended up at a 12-Step picnic in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. I’d been exposed to the  hip Hollywood recovery crowd at a world convention a few months before I got clean. When I got out of rehab in New Orleans, I boarded a Greyhound Bus back to LA. I knew I needed these people in my life if I was going to make it. The only person I recognized was a teenager with 6 months clean who I’d lived with in someone’s kitchen when we were using. I kept my eye on him for some sign of acknowledgment all day while going through the motions of selling sodas for the hospitality committee. The day was a series of  my self-conscious awkward attempts to fit in.

The picnic ended with a meeting. Everyone shared their gratitude for the gorgeous day and the fun they’d had – everyone that is except me. I wanted to cry. If this was what fun was going to look like in recovery, God help me.  I only had one idea of fun and it was a memory or fantasy I’d been chasing for a million years. Fun would be a hotel room, a lot of drugs, a lot of money, and a lot of sex with someone who I was attracted to and excited by. Anything less was not going to cut it as fun in my books. The happier people sounded the deeper inside myself I went. I was consumed by such immense sorrow  it left me lost and alone. I hated this and was not having fun. “Patty, would you like to share?” Suddenly everyone was looking at me and before I knew it I was saying out loud everything I’d been thinking. Fuck it. Too late now for pretend gratitude. When the meeting ended people told me to hang on, that it would get better. More people talked to me that night than in the previous week of meetings strung together. By the time I went to bed, I felt pretty good.  I had hope that there was life after drugs.

I share this story because everyone experiences something similar to this when they first get clean. I had absolutely no clean fun reference points. I’d been high from 12 to 28 so whatever fun I’d had happened under the influence. The only thing now that was impeding my ability to have fun was my self-obsession.  Feelings of insecurity, self-consciousness, and adolescent awkwardness permeated my every activity in public. The pressure I put on myself to “appear cool and unaffected” was killing me. In truth, life without drugs was unchartered territory and I’d always relied on the comfort of the emotional detachment heroin had provided in social settings. Without it I felt exposed and vulnerable.

In spite of my cynicism, I said yes to every invite and we traveled in sober packs – to concerts, to parties, to dance clubs. Soon my life was as rich as it had been before drugs isolated me. Along the way I developed deep friendships that exist to this day.

The interesting thing is rediscovering what fun means to me as I get older. Every few years, I have periods where I no longer know where I belong socially. Things that interest me now tend to be more solitary. Too much solitude- even if it’s spend doing things I enjoy – becomes lonely and I’ll think “I need to enhance my personal life, meet new people, go out and have fun” but these thoughts are filled with that question “What does fun look like to me now?” Sometimes I will go out and realize I am the oldest person in the room and start to wonder where my peers are.  It can make me feel as awkward as my early days in recovery. Thankfully I have enough experience to know that if I keep an open and curious mind my experiences will reflect this. When I shared my thoughts at that picnic years ago, I discovered that I wasn’t alone.  I find this to be true now too. I talk to other people who are single and over 40 or over 50 and ask them what they do for fun and – maybe it’s my generation – but it seems a lot of them are asking themselves this question and have started trying new things, testing new waters and are more than happy to include me.

It is so easy to get caught up in life and responsibility that we forget to play. If we lose our sense of playfulness and joy old ideas will creep in that say the only real fun is found in a bottle or a substance. Don’t let your disease trick you with this lie. If you feel like your life is lacking fun, commit time to exploring different things until you discover what fun looks like for you.

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Patty is a nationally recognized certified recovery coach and writer. She lives in New York City.

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