After my last drink, happiness felt so far away from me. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever “catch my bliss,” find my spark, or experience true joy again. Not to sound dramatic, even though early sobriety is a minefield of intense emotions, but I was often simultaneously depleted and overwhelmed. I made drastic blanket statements like, “I’ll never be happy again,” but what I really meant was, “I don’t know how to be happy anymore without drinking.”
Finding joy in recovery—when all of our known and comfortable sources seem off-limits without alcohol—can be difficult.
Brooke Hudgins (LPC), says that drinking tends to affect every aspect of one’s life, so it’s not uncommon to believe that sobriety will be the solution for all of life’s problems. “Although there are many rewarding things that come with being sober, guaranteed joy is not one of them. Life is still going to be busy and stressful and disappointing at times, and it can be hard to find the time and energy to be present and do the things that make you happy. The reality of life in sobriety may not live up to one’s expectations of what a sober life ‘should’ look like, and that can be disappointing in itself,” explains Hudgins.
A better life as a sober person is completely possible, though it may be an adjustment at first now that drinking isn’t the central focus of your life. As our inner world evolves, we may need to alter our outer world to reflect the many changes we’re experiencing in sobriety.
Learning how—and where—to activate joy is an invaluable skill in the healing journey. To get a better understanding of what joy looks like when you quit drinking, I asked some folks from the recovery community to share their experiences.
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1. Knitting and Crafting
“During early recovery, I had so much nervous energy, due to my anxiety that was no longer self-medicated with daily marijuana and alcohol use. I found joy and pride in learning new crafts I could take anywhere—especially into hour-long recovery meetings or long evenings not filled with partying or passing out easily with drugs in my system. It was meditative, plus I found a creative outlet in things I never considered like knitting, counted cross stitch, and vintage felt kits. The sequin work was so tedious but beautiful. Each stitch led to an end product I could take pride in AND it had kept me sober through those cravings/feelings. My favorite project during the pandemic, and the pandemic was so taxing on my sobriety, was a vintage counted cross stitch of all these sweet cacti. Now, it’s hanging on my wall—a constant reminder that creativity and beauty could come out of such an emotionally difficult time in my recovery.”
2. Fulfilling Everyday Responsibilities
Sometimes joy comes from facing the very things you’ve been avoiding. Choosing to honor personal commitments and responsibilities is a way to feel good about ourselves in early recovery. Sober mom of two, Amanda Cleland, enjoys completing tasks that used to weigh on her before getting sober.
“I am finding joy in accomplishing the little things that I once found stressful. Paying a bill, picking up groceries, cooking dinners. All these daily stresses that would once wear on me are now tasks I look forward to checking off my list. Knowing that I carry the decisiveness, initiative, and motivation that once seemed elusive is a beautiful and rewarding gift,” she says.
In some cases, we don’t need to explore brand new territory to have fun in sobriety. Sobriety advocate and sober mom Irina Gonzalez, Content Marketing Manager at Tempest, returned to her love of cooking—this time without wine. She found just as much joy, if not more, sharing meals with people who care for her, with or without booze:
“I used to constantly have ‘Dinner and a Movie-style’ parties for groups of friends before getting sober. I’d prepare a delicious three-course meal and we’d watch a movie that somehow correlated to the food. Each friend would typically bring a bottle of wine, which I happily finished after everyone left. So after getting sober, I was at a loss of how to recapture my love of cooking, especially cooking for others, without the wine. But then a friend encouraged me to restart my dinner parties again because, as he put it, people weren’t there to drink. They were there because they enjoyed my cooking and loved spending time with me. So I did! Since then, I’ve found ways to participate in group activities and always be the ‘food’ person. Before the pandemic, I started a book club and joined a board game group, and I’d always be sure to bring the food. Alcohol wasn’t really necessary at these events, and I loved having a space to connect with friends, eat good food, and just enjoy life.”
4. Seasonal Outdoor Activities
Our new pandemic-altered world has totally changed the way we socialize (sober or not). You’re more likely to find outdoor activities close by that don’t solely focus on drinking—there are tons! For writer and mental health advocate, Michelle Yang, seasonal outdoor gatherings are a joyful non-drinking experience the whole family can enjoy.
“I love taking our kiddo berry picking, to the cider mill or pumpkin patch, and inviting other families to join us. Getting outdoors together with the little ones is such a source of joy. Fresh air is good for all of us.”
Finding outdoor activities where you’re not obligated to drink inside dusty bars are far more common these days, and inviting other families, friends, or both is a great way to connect and feel supported with people who care about you.
5. Returning to Creativity
“I find joy in reconnecting with my creativity; my drinking robbed me of the curiosity needed for creativity, and having the headspace to make things is something I find brings a lot of joy into my life. Painting brings me into the present moment. I’m able to appreciate the texture of paint beneath the paintbrush and the aliveness of making something. It feels like the opposite of the destruction and numbness I used to experience when I was drinking.”
6. Settling into the Unknown
Where do we put all of this nervous energy now that we’re not drinking? For Gillian daSilva, saying “I don’t know” gives her mental space to breathe and feel joy when the pressure of life becomes too much.
“My greatest joy came from discovering that I didn’t have to understand or even know all of the answers to the questions that life throws at me. Saying ‘I don’t know’ is a release from the responsibility of having to carry everything and everyone, which I felt I was doing to my own detriment. I suppose another way of saying this is I found my boundaries,” explains daSilva.
7. Taking Stock of Your Personal Growth
Sometimes acknowledging how far we’ve come can help us take pleasure in our choice to get sober. It helps to stay present and practice gratitude. Jocellyn Harvey, writer, former coach, and Tempest Subject Matter Expert whose content can be found in the Tempest Membership library, shares her struggle finding joy in early recovery.
“I had my fair share of fun moments in early recovery, but it was also a challenging time. It’s okay if you struggle with feeling joyful. If so, try to notice the moments when you feel better than the day before. When you start to notice the spark come back. When you realize, ‘Hey, wait, I’m smiling more and laughing again.’ Over time you’ll start to collect joyful moments and feel gratitude, but if it doesn’t come for many months, that’s okay. Don’t force it. You will feel better as you move forward,” says Harvey.
8. Exploring Museums and Gardens
Wholesome days at the museum or botanical gardens brought me joy in early recovery. I wasn’t sure what to do with my free time (and there was a lot of it without drinking), so I found pleasure in new places that were completely unassociated with my drinking life. I wandered alongside children on a field trip in Ueno Park while living in Tokyo. Maybe that would’ve embarrassed someone else in their late twenties, but for me, it was healing.
I also connected to my inner child—a time when I didn’t need a substance to make me happy. If the alcohol thought train came through, I knew I had somewhere to go that brought me pure joy, and where I would leave full of Camille Corot and peonies instead of booze.
9. Find Community
Connection to others is a healthy way to feel alive and find joy again in recovery. It’s important to find people who “get it” and who can help you find yourself again when you’re feeling alone.
Sober mom and recovery enthusiast, Kristin (@kristintothemax on Instagram), says conversations and community made a huge impact on their happiness in early recovery.
“Our journeys are a web of unexpected friendships and conversations you won’t find outside the recovery community; we impact each other in some way or another, whether we realize it or not, and making an impact through sobriety is about as empowering as it gets. It was community, conversations, and creativity that brought me joy early on. Communities of ALL kinds are infiltrating and shaking up the social scene, where presence is treasured, not drink tickets. Sober conversations can lead to self-discovery, which might sound frightening, but those words exchanged can lead to awakenings and personal evolution,” says Kristen.
Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and even Tik Tok are all great places to meet other sober people. You can also meet new like-minded folks in Tempest Membership. It’s comforting to know that others experience the same thoughts and feelings that you’re experiencing while trying to quit drinking. Connection is a great way to activate joy.
10. Bookstores and Libraries
In my twenties, drinking made it hard to focus on things that brought me real joy or fed my personal growth. Books, for one, lost their importance when I chose wine and the busyness of other people year after year. I had trouble committing to a nightly routine, let alone to a good book.
In early sobriety, I took pleasure in turning page after page until stacks of well-loved books surrounded my home. I was empowered by the world of knowledge available to me and became a regular customer at bookstores like Powell’s City of Books while living in Portland, Oregon. Truly, I developed a growth mindset through this practice, which opened a world of self-discovery and brought real joy into my recovery.
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Recovery is a transformative process in every sense. Harris explains how hard it can be to adjust and learn to ‘have fun’ without drinking alcohol because initially, life may seem duller and less fun without it. But the spark will come back. Keep exploring. Try lots of different things. You may realize that you don’t love the same movies or tv shows anymore—watch different ones. Or maybe you don’t like the same music without a buzz—there’s an ocean of artists to choose from. You’re just learning more about you. You’re curating your tastes. And sometimes what we thought would feel empty without drinking is even more enjoyable in sobriety.
You will discover joy and happiness again, even if it takes practice. Your sober life can also be fun and lively. Life’s meant to be enjoyed, and from my experience, joy in recovery is often long-lasting and more meaningful in a way that I never experienced while I was drinking.