Reinventing Yourself in Recovery — Living an Inspired Life After Addiction
by Michael Walsh
When clients come to me looking to change their relationship with drugs and alcohol, some don’t arrive on a high note. [Updated March 2023]
They may have legal issues, financial challenges, and difficulties in their most important relationships.
While they may feel like the path to getting sober is daunting (or even impossible), I know that they’re potentially on the precipice of the most profound transformation they may ever undergo.
Life after addiction can be difficult in the beginning. But with hope, commitment to taking action, and the right support — literally, anything is possible. People often feel that changing their relationship with alcohol means they’ll lose something they might not be able to live without.
But the truth is, recovery provides a massive opportunity. An opportunity to reinvent yourself. To take steps away from who you used to be, towards who you want to be, and maybe deep down inside sense that you’ve always been.
It’s never too late to become that person.
Reinventing Yourself Once You’re Sober
Maybe you’re someone who is struggling with your drug or alcohol consumption and you’ve made some big mistakes.
It might feel like you’ve dug yourself into a hole you can’t possibly climb out of.
Maybe that’s what John Gargano thought at some point in his journey. In 2004 John was convicted of multiple drug distribution charges. Facing a decades-long prison sentence, it’s hard to imagine that John didn’t assume his life was essentially over.
But for whatever reason, he didn’t give up. Since his crimes weren’t violent in nature, he had the opportunity to petition U.S. President, Barrack Obama, for clemency — which was granted 12 years after his conviction. Along with the clemency, President Obama sent John a note that said, “I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong, and change your life.”
Fueled by this incredible gift of encouragement, from arguably one of the most powerful people in the world, John was given the hope he needed to take action and turn his life around.
Once released from prison, John got a part-time bartending job, started attending community college part-time, and eventually graduated from New York University (NYU) with a bachelor’s degree in leadership and management.
John’s story is epic, no doubt about it. Stories of this magnitude prove that even the biggest obstacles can be overcome. But many people manage to reinvent themselves in profound ways without such aggravating circumstances as John’s. And their stories are equally inspiring.
You might not identify with the specifics of John’s story. Maybe you find yourself in a position more like Diana’s. A few years into retirement she found herself spending her newfound freedom drinking every day. She intuitively knew that something had to change.
Diana had no arrest record or crumbling marriage to compel her to change her relationship with alcohol. Instead, she had an inner knowing that she would someday regret wasting her golden years in a haze of intoxication, largely in response to boredom and lack of purpose.
Her recovery journey began simply by reading books like Quit Like A Woman by Holly Whitaker. Holly’s book and many others like it fall under a new genre called “quit lit”. Reading the stories of other folks in situations similar to hers, Diana started to reimagine what her life could look like.
She focused on all the things she used to enjoy doing and new things she wanted to learn. As she set aside the bottle, she took up a pickleball paddle and joined a vibrant local community of pickleball players, many of whom became dear friends.
Diana began painting again and started a blog where she shared her story with anyone who was interested. She was reinvigorated by the active and creative life she was building — and it all began by simply imagining what it would look like to reinvent herself once alcohol was out of the picture.
Life After Addiction
Recovery is different for everyone. Some have a lot of work to do cleaning up the damage that was done while in an unhealthy relationship with drugs and alcohol. Others transition more easily into a life of recovery.
My story of life after addiction landed somewhere in between John and Diana’s stories. At 42 years old, I found myself desperately wanting to reinvent myself and starting the journey to essentially rebrand myself in recovery.
As a result of my drinking and drug use, I had a criminal record, poor credit, and gaps in employment. These things weren’t easy to face but with commitment and support, I was able to take accountability for my past and eventually resolve each one by one.
But first, I took the time to get clear about who I was, who I wanted to be, and how I wanted to create meaning and purpose in my life. The first step towards the new version of me that I wanted to create was volunteering my time.
This was a way for me to be useful to others and it felt amazing. Finding selfless ways to be of service to other people is often a helpful tool for people in recovery. When stuck in patterns of substance use, life can feel very small and fully focused on getting our own needs met.
Volunteer work opens up your perspective and allows you to see that you can make a positive impact on the lives of other people.
Living a purpose-driven life was one of my highest priorities and finding meaningful work was a big part of that. So I embarked on a new career in mental health, substance use, and addictions (MHSU). I had no education, training, or professional experience to point to when applying for my first job in the field. But I had lived experience and I was honest about my history and the hard work I’d put in to turn my life around.
In the mental health and substance use space, lived experience is often as highly valued as education and professional experience. Many people in recovery choose to go into the field because they’re uniquely qualified to support others trying to get sober.
There are now many professional organizations and individuals who focus on helping people who have gotten sober find meaningful employment in life after addiction. On A Dime Transformations is one such organization in Canada. They’re a team of peer support specialists, doctors, social workers, and career coaches who work to connect people coming out of treatment with employment.
Finding Hope and Taking Action in Recovery
Overcoming a substance use issue may be one of the hardest things you ever have to do, but I can promise you this — it may also be the most empowering experience of your life.
Once you see yourself successfully changing your relationship with drugs and alcohol, you realize that you truly can accomplish anything. How about Canadian Joe Roberts who came back from living on the street to become one of the most sought after speakers in the world speaking for major companies and organizations and just an unbelievable turnaround!
Your dreams of becoming a triathlete, a parent, or an entrepreneur are all within your reach. Developing mental resilience or physical health can be achieved by taking on new and exciting challenges.
Programs like 75 Hard are a great example where people commit to improving their skills and discipline over a few short months. Following through on a program like this builds fortitude and self-worth which helps you set bigger goals and feel confident in pursuing them.
I’ve had clients decide they want to go back to school through programs like the University of Victoria and Camosun College with great success. Others have needed someone to help them hone in on what their passions are and how to venture into entirely new career paths.
I work with my clients to cultivate hope in recovery and then take aligned action. When you work with me, we spend time identifying what your dream life looks like while coming up with a plan to overcome any obstacles that may be in the way of getting there.
The sky truly is the limit when it comes to reinventing yourself — all you have to do is decide that you’re ready to do what it takes to build the life you most desire!
Get Help Creating Your Personal Roadmap
It can be really scary to arrive at the realization that you have a drinking problem, no matter how big or small.
But it’s a lot less scary when you have an experienced guide to help you sort things out.
I’m an accredited Addiction Recovery Coach offering worldwide virtual support, and in-person support across Canada. If you’re interested in exploring 1:1 recovery coaching to help you cut back your drinking or stop drinking entirely, I’m happy to answer your questions.
I offer a no-charge consult call to anyone who has questions about their own substance use, or the substance use of a family member. These calls are completely confidential with no pressure to make a decision before you feel entirely ready.
I’d also like to invite you to read more about my personal story here.