Being in addiction recovery is not an easy process. There are many ups and downs. Sometimes, the struggle to be sane and stay sober can be extremely difficult. While going to a trusted addiction treatment center, regularly attending recovery meetings, and surrounding myself with a supportive network all helped towards my recovery, one notable decision that helped me a lot was getting a dog.
You might be thinking: Getting a dog? What does that have to do with giving up your addiction? Believe me, I was not very convinced that these two are connected in any way until I myself experienced the restorative benefits of taking care of a pet. To give you a short background, I’ve never had a pet in my life. My family is not just the type to take care of animals inside the home. So even when I moved out and got my own place, the idea of getting a pet did not enter my mind.
Fast forward to when I was just fresh out of rehab… I was offered a puppy by my cousin whose dog just gave birth. She said that having one might help me with my recovery. At first, I was reluctant. As a single person living alone and struggling to stay sober, am I even capable of taking care of another living being? My cousin said that she’s willing to take the puppy back after two weeks if it does not work out but I should at least give it a shot. I looked at the photo of the puppy and gave in. What I did not expect was how this decision actually helped me in so many ways.
It gave me a sense of responsibility which is empowering
The first few days of having the puppy in my house were exhausting. I had to feed the puppy, potty train it, play with it, walk with it and just give it a lot of attention. I also had to buy toys and do some research on how to take care of it. To be honest, I was ready to give up during those early days. It was just a lot of work!
However, in retrospect, I realized that that experience kept me busy and it took my mind off my addiction. Instead of thinking about drinking or using drugs, I had something else to occupy myself with.
The responsibility of raising the puppy all by myself also helped restore my self-esteem, which used to be pretty low. Before I had a pet, I was always questioning myself and I was not confident that I could put my life back on track. I was afraid nobody would trust me anymore. But since I was responsible for this puppy, I suddenly had this drive and motivation to do better, even in just this single task.
It helped me establish a routine
Before I had my dog, I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted and when I wanted it. I had an erratic, irregular life schedule. In my spare time, I would just laze around the couch, eat in front of the TV, or a lot of times, I would stay out and party until the wee hours. During the weekends, I would sleep and wake up at odd hours, with no routine at all.
This all changed when I had my puppy. Suddenly I had to have a routine. I had to wake up early for a short walk around the neighborhood. I had to make sure meal times for my puppy were at regular schedules. I also had to give up staying out late as much as before because I was worried about leaving my pet long hours, which made me less tempted to visit bars and the usual party hangouts.
The routine I developed for my dog also gave me an opportunity to create a daily routine for myself. I also started doing more physical activity because I had to walk and play with my dog every single day.
I gained constant companionship
Being in isolation is tough. I admit that the feeling of being alone and having nobody to turn to are some of the reasons why I would reach for a beer or use recreational drugs. My family and friends all have their own lives to lead, their own issues, and their own struggles so I used to feel that I couldn’t impose on them or expect them to be there for me 24/7.
While being in a supportive recovery group helped me a lot in this struggle, having a dog was life-changing for me. I didn’t realize how loyal dogs can be and that they are warm, adoring, and devoted beings. Just being around my dog makes me feel loved and comforted. It seems like my pet knows when I’m feeling down and it instantly cheers me up with its antics. One of my favorite parts of the day is when I come home and my dog is there to excitedly welcome my return. This simple gesture makes me feel that everything will be okay.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, help is available.
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