When you think about people who improvise, jazz musicians might come to mind. Improvisation is a central part of a lot of jazz music as performers create solos right in the moment. You might hear the same musician play a section in the same tune many, many times and never hear exactly the same solo.
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If you don’t think about jazz, you might think of improv comedy (after all “improv” is right there in the name). The guiding spirit of improv is that you react to whatever your scene partner says or does with the idea of “yes and…” in your mind. The improv comedian is always accepting new input from their fellow performers and building upon it—creating comedy out of thin air.
If you are a sports fan, you might think about improvisation in terms of ways players often have to give up on a plan (when the defense breaks through the offensive line and threatens the quarterback in a football game, for example) and try to make something happen on the fly.
But even if none of those things come to mind, the fact is that many—perhaps even most—parts of life turn out to be exercises in improvisation. For folks who have struggled with drugs or alcohol, one area of life where this is certainly true is in the recovery journey.
But First, the Fundamentals
Before we dive too deeply into the notion of improvisation, however, we want to be clear about the importance of learning the fundamentals.
It is hard to become an exceptional jazz improviser if you haven’t put in the work to learn how to play your instrument well, some basics of how music tends to be structured, and how to play well with other musicians.
Similarly, you won’t be too successful as an improv comic if you don’t do your due diligence to learn how your troupe works together, what the team’s boundaries are in terms of content, and how to manage the audience suggestions that tend to drive improv performances.
And all the improvisational skills in the world won’t help you much in the sports arena if you haven’t learned the rules of the game you are playing, learned the basic skills of your positions, and worked to be a good teammate.
The same is true when it comes to your recovery from a substance use disorder. You need to know the fundamentals that reliably support your ongoing sobriety. For example, you will want to find a 12-Step or other recovery program to be a part of. You might make adjustments to your diet, the amount to exercise you get, and to your sleep schedule. And you will want to be sure you are actively addressing any mental health disorders that might be threatening to undermine your sobriety.
From the Fundamentals to the Fun
Improvisation—in music, comedy, or sports—can be extremely fun. And that can be the case when it comes to improvising on your recovery journey.
For example, engaging hobbies are known to support your sobriety—but the nature of that activity is entirely up to you. Any hobby, no matter how odd it might seem to others (and as long as it does not involve drugs or alcohol), is fair game. Get into cosplay. Collect bowling balls (or, you know, take up bowling). Start writing limericks. As long as you find it fun and engaging, it is perfect—and supports your sobriety.
Or you might take one of the fundamentals—like improving your diet to support your physical health, your mental health, and your sobriety—and use it as a space for improvisation. Cooking is a great improvisational activity, for example. Gardening can be, too. You could get in the habit of throwing themed dinner parties or baking treats for your coworkers. Any and all of these activities allow you to put your own flair into food—improvising in a way that firms up the foundation of your recovery.
Keeping a journal might provide another space for improvisation. Journaling can be a good way to support your recovery, but there is no single “right” way to do it. You might use your journal as a place to count your blessings, as a place to doodle or sketch, or even as a place to write those limericks we mentioned earlier. Engaging with your creativity, expressing gratitude, processing your feelings, and more are all things you can do in a journal—and all of them can help ensure your recovery journey continues to head in the right direction.
Don’t Improvise When it Comes to Getting Treated for a Substance Use Disorder
When it comes to reclaiming your sobriety, there is less room for improvisation. Your best move is to get into treatment. At Bel Aire Recovery Center in Kansas, we offer evidence-based treatment including detoxification and rehabilitation that we follow with a commitment to a continuum of care that ensures you can start your recovery journey with confidence. If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol, we are ready to help.