There used to be an advert for a chocolate bar called a Mars bar in the UK and the slogan was, ‘a Mars a day helps you work, rest, and play’. It was a clever advert because it was trying to convince us that eating a daily Mars bar was part of a balanced lifestyle when in reality, doing what they said, would be anything but.

I’ve come to think about balance more as being regulated, ‘in sync’, or spending most of my time in a calm and/or alert state. Rather than being alarmed, fearful or in terror. I find not drinking or using drugs contributes to this immensely. In my old life taking drugs and drinking used to start off with the promise of pleasure and fun which they did deliver but increasingly at a cost that outweighed the rewards and most of my reward as it turns out was the relief of distress.

In the book, ‘what happened to you? Conversations on trauma, resilience, and healing’ by Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey, they talk about “filling our reward bucket”. They show a picture of 2 buckets, and in one, the regulated / balanced bucket we get most of our reward filled with relationships, a life rhythm, intimate contact (sex), a little sweet and fatty foods and a belief system. In the other its much less relational contact and most of the bucket is filled with drug and alcohol use and sweet and fatty foods (I’ve used the image from the book in the article).

Both buckets are seeking reward but the key difference between the first and second buckets is in what we use to fill it and the proportions of those things. In addiction we use drugs and alcohol as a big part of filling the bucket. In recovery we need to find something else to put in the bucket to replace the drugs and alcohol so that we feel adequately regulated and rewarded (our bucket is sufficiently full).

Taking drugs and alcohol out means we need put something else in, things like a new positive social network, work – including volunteering, somewhere safe to live, purpose and meaning i.e., a belief system or something to aim at.
Recovery is a journey that requires balance. It involves finding a way to balance the demands of daily life with the time and effort needed to maintain sobriety and build a fulfilling life in recovery. Achieving balance can be a challenge, but it is an important in the long-term.

Here are some suggestions on how to cultivate balance in recovery:
1. Build a support system: Surround yourself with people who support your recovery and understand the importance of balance. This can include friends, family, support groups, and healthcare professionals.
2. Prioritize self-care: Taking care of yourself is crucial to achieving balance. This includes getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, and engaging in activities that bring you joy.
3. Set boundaries: Learn to say no to things that are not important or that will take up too much time and energy. This can help you prioritize the things that matter most.
4. Practice time management: Make a schedule or to-do list and stick to it. This can help you stay organized and make the most of your time.
5. Manage stress: Stress is inevitable so it’s not about avoiding it all together but too much can throw off your balance. Learning healthy ways to manage stress, such as through exercise, meditation, or deep breathing, can help you stay on track.
6. Practice gratitude: Focusing on what you are grateful for can help you maintain a positive outlook and find balance in life.
7. Set realistic goals: Set achievable goals for yourself, both in your recovery and in other areas of your life. This can help you stay focused and motivated, and also give you a sense of accomplishment when you achieve your goals.

Remember that achieving balance is an ongoing process. It may take some trial and error to find what works best for you. But by taking small steps each day, you can gradually build a more balanced and fulfilling life in recovery.