“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Will Durant (American Philosopher and Historian)
“Habit is the intersection of knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do), and desire (want to do).” – Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)
Top 5 Rituals for Recovery
Whether you realize it or not you are your habits. We become what do. Not what we say we will do, or dream of doing, but plain and simple what we do day in and day out is who we are.
The importance of this in relation to recovery (from any addiction or trauma) can be understood in terms of rituals. Don’t be afraid of the term ritual. Nothing woo – woo here. Rituals are a way of speaking about the habits in our lives that hold great meaning. For example, the difference in meaning between these two for an addict might be brushing the teeth (habit) vs. scoring drugs and taking them (rituals).
One of the difficult parts of the recovery process is the loss of these rituals that had previously imbued our existence with so much significance. From my own experience when I stopped calorie counting, body shaming and compulsive exercise I experienced intense feelings of loss. Primarily loss of identity and loss of purpose. Without my rituals of addiction, life seemed meaningless.
This is where things get really interesting.
The science of neuroplasticity suggests that our brains are plastic. By generating new rituals to replace the old, self-sabotaging ones we can change the neural pathways in our brains and retrain ourselves to think, act, and even live the life of the person we wish to be.
In my decade of being both in recovery and involved in the recovery space as a mentor and yoga instructor I have seen wonderful transformations come from the creation of new rituals, in particular what I consider these Top 5 Rituals for Recovery.
However there is one caveat, in order to fully transform the self out of the addicted personality and into the new self these rituals need to be practiced every day.
5 Rituals for Recovery:
- Start Your Morning with Intention
I don’t know about you but I often wake up and instantly feel reactive. I am reacting to the alarm (did I oversleep?), reacting to hunger/thirst (coffee please!), reacting to whatever resistance I have to my day (taxes…no). You can imagine what the day would bring if I kept going like this! By practicing a morning ritual that allows us time to pause and focus on how we want to handle the day we train ourselves to be active creators in our own lives. Remember: The mind creates before the body takes action.
- Start with a big glass of water and squeeze of lemon (at Ekka we love to add a green like chlorella to our water also). This will do wonders for jumpstarting digestion and intentionally starting the day from a place of wellness. Then coffee! (Or your drink of choice.)
- Next, find a moment to “pause” and consciously think through the challenges you will face that day and how you will handle them. Choose a positive affirmation and say it three times. Something simple like “I can do this” or “I am worth it” is sufficient. This sets the tone for the whole day.
- Finding a moment to “pause” could be combined with a meditation practice or journaling. I have also used the car ride to work as a time to “pause” (turn the news off and eliminate distractions) and even the moments it takes to stir the coffee and add the cream and sugar. It is not about the amount of time spent each morning but the intention in it.
- End Your Day with Gratitude
How often have you felt so tired during the day and then, as soon as your head hits the pillow it’s like someone turned the faucet on stress and anxiety! During recovery our brains need downtime to process the many layers of change we are undergoing and update those new neural pathways. By closing the day with gratitude we promote an environment that supports sleep, not stress!
- A bath is wonderful place to start, followed by 15 – 20 minutes of positively reflecting on what went well that day (can you do 20? It is harder than you think!).
- If this seems inaccessible (4 kids, 6 dogs, 3 jobs, I get it) an easy substitute is a cup of bedtime tea with honey (honey actually promotes the production of melatonin in your brain, for extra sleepiness) and spend a few moments before bed mentally going over what IS working in your life. Start small (the dog still loves me etc.) and you move on from there.This may feel unnatural in the beginning. As humans we are conditioned to focus on what is going wrong out of a biological need to ensure survival! However, in order to grow beyond fear and anxiety we need to actively train the mind to pay attention to little victories and thereby pave the way for bigger success.
- Do Something for Your Physical Body
There are so many benefits to moving the body and cultivating a space for the body to heal. In terms of recovery it is essential to change the underlying relationship to the body from lack of care to radical self care in order for recovery to be congruent throughout the whole self. Our bodies are our homes. We live in them every second of the day and how can we cultivate peace in our lives if this environment is toxic and uncared for?
This needs to be unique to the individual and the type of recovery. Stronger movements like hiking or power yoga are great for detoxing from drugs and alcohol and for boosting endorphins in the brain. For restoring the nervous system from trauma or for individuals in recovery from anorexia or with exercise restrictions restorative yoga with long relaxations allow deep healing in the mind and body to take place.
The bottom line is: try a few activities out and see which you enjoy and that give you a balance of challenge and relaxation and show up for one of them every day. Always check with your primary care physician before starting any exercise program.
- Get to Know Your Inner Self
Remember how the absence of all those rituals of addiction can leave a void in our identity and make life seem meaningless? Now is the time to go into that void and figure who was behind the addiction or trauma the whole time. This essential piece allows us to be strong in ourselves no matter what happens in our lives. It aligns us with our deepest values so that we can make decisions and move forward from there and promotes harmony with the self on all levels. It is also an ongoing and challenging process for even the most stalwart in recovery!
Why is this so difficult?
Because in introspection we are left completely with ourselves. The broken pieces, our shame and all the other parts we wish we could just drink away, or shove under a mouthful of ice cream, or run out of our bodies or [insert your addiction]. It is here that we come face to face with some of life’s hardest questions.
Rituals of Introspection:
(I found for most in recovery this is the hardest part of the work, so start short and sweet.)
- Begin with a just a few moments of mindfulness a day. Focus on the breath in and breath out. Check in and see what is there: What thoughts? What desires? What aversions? Just notice the feelings (comfortable and uncomfortable) and practice being non-judgemental and non-reactive towards yourself.
Every time we stay with healthy discomfort in a non-reactive manner (like feeling cravings without giving in to them) we build a capacity within ourselves to tolerate greater levels of intensity. So when the challenges of life flare up, which they will, the ability to stay strong in the self is already in place.
- From there add in small daily chunks of mindfulness (like trying to brush your teeth more slowly, rather than fast fast fast!). This adds up quickly to more acceptance of what is, more ability to let go, and more of sense of peace with life as it is.
- Finding a good therapist, spiritual teacher or mentor to work on some of the deeper questions will open up space for more joy, awareness, and growth. This is an ongoing process. We are never “done” growing or working on ourselves.
- Open Up and Give Back
It is here that we come full circle. This final ritual really allows for us to go beyond surviving in recovery to really thriving in life. By connecting with others on their journey of healing we share the burden of recovery when it is to great shoulder on our own. It is in this space vulnerability and support that we heal each other and lift each other up.
Rituals of Connection:
- The recovery process is as unique as the individual undergoing it. There is no one size fits all and it can be a challenge to find “your” tribe. The people that you can really open up with, give and receive support, celebrate and grieve together. The are so many groups, meetings, classes and programs both online and offline!
- A practical solution to this can be to go find someone in recovery whom you admire. Someone who reflects deep qualities you would like to cultivate in yourself as you heal (remember neuroplasticity). Ask them where they go for support, what their journey was like and if they have any suggestions for you.
- Then and throw yourself into it wholeheartedly. Share your struggles, share your victories, ask for support and most importantly take the time every day to support to another person on their journey. It this step that we shift from “me mind” to the “we mind” and truly understand that your healing is my healing. By supporting you I support me. We are stronger together.
If this seems like a lot it’s because it is. But so was the addiction and/or the trauma. So start small, one ritual a day and gradually build in the others. Over time these rituals take less effort and become more automatic and before you know it, a whole new life appears.
Nuria Reed is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur, and person in long-term recovery from anorexia. She is the Chief Wellness Officer and co-founder at Ekka Recovery, a monthly subscription wellness and inspiration box, specifically designed to assist individuals in recovery to create a new and healthy lifestyle. You can learn more about Ekka’s holistic methodology at www.ekkarecovery.com.