Finding Your Purpose: A Key Element of Recovery

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Scott Brassart

A few days ago, I was co-hosting a webinar and one of the participants, an individual who is struggling to stay sober, said that he felt directionless in his life, and he wondered if maybe that was part of the reason he’s been unable to manage more than a few days of sobriety at a time. My response was yes, absolutely. If an addict does not have some goals for his life once he or she gets sober, that individual is missing an important motivation for sobriety.

Human beings need purpose. Without purpose, we find ourselves locked in the trap of just getting by. If we don’t know what inspires us, we’re stuck in the daily grind and we can never truly find happiness or fulfillment. Without purpose, we struggle to get out of bed, let alone accomplish anything that helps us feel good about ourselves.

As active addicts, we were especially inept in terms of knowing our purpose. If we had a purpose, we drifted away from it. If we were looking for a purpose, we gave that effort up as a lost cause. In recovery, we must overcome this. If we want to stay sober and live a better life, we have to find our purpose.

But how do we go about this? Usually, we’re not like the lucky people who just innately know who they are and what they’re meant to do in life. Stephen Spielberg was born to make movies. Albert Einstein was born to figure out the structure of the universe. It’s likely that neither of them ever wanted to do anything else. The rest of us aren’t so lucky. We don’t have that utterly awesome talent that lights our way, so we need to do a bit of soul-searching to find our path.

When we find ourselves in this situation, the following questions can help:

  1. What did I love to do as a kid? As children, our minds are as open and free as they can be, and because of that, children are more able to know what they enjoy and what they don’t enjoy. If we can remember the things we loved as a kid, we’ll find clues about what might make us happy as adults. For example, I loved to play basketball. My takeaway from this is not that I’ll never be happy unless I’m playing in the NBA, it’s that I enjoy being part of a team.
  2. What is my deepest pain in life? Yes, we can find our purpose in pain. A close friend lost her brother to a brain tumor when he was 11. After that, she was never going to be anything but a brain surgeon. Today, she’s one of the most highly regarded neurosurgeons on the planet.
  3. What is my secret fantasy? If you consistently daydream about something, no matter how unrealistic it seems, then you’ve got an interest and you can find a way to work with it. For years, I daydreamed about writing novels and movies. In recovery, I’ve done both, and what I learned from that experience was that I love conveying information more than I love storytelling. So today, instead of working as a creative writer, I focus my efforts on helping people recover from addiction and mental illness.
  4. If I could change one thing in the world, what would that be? Sure, this sounds like a beauty pageant question, but it’s still a great way to find out what matters to you. If, as a child, you had a bad home-life but some really great teachers who loved you and supported you, you may want every child to have a similar experience. This doesn’t mean you have to become a teacher, but it does mean that you might want to involve yourself in education in some way – perhaps as a coach, a textbook writer, an administrator, or even as a counselor.
  5. What makes me tick? Think about the times in your life when you get excited. Think about the times in your life when you feel fulfilled. Think about the times in your life when you feel joy. Then think about how you walk through life on a moment-by-moment basis. When does your life give you energy? When you’re excited, fulfilled, joyful, and energetic, you’re ticking. And ticking is probably related to your purpose.

If you can answer these questions clearly and concisely, you can identify your purpose and you’ll have a clear direction in life. You’ll also have an impetus to establish and maintain lasting sobriety. Better yet, your entire life will start to click.