How I Learned to Prioritize Healing Every Day

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I never owned a laptop before, but I decided it was about time to get one. In a way I never expected, I became consumed by an urge to set up my new device with all kinds of apps and software. Day after day, I found hours slipping through my fingers as I sat in front of the screen, making tweak after tweak to get everything just right. But I always thought to myself, “Let me just get this right, and then I can go back to living properly.”

I slowly let go of the things I’ve learned to be essential to my recovery – things like paying careful attention to my needs and keeping up daily routines of self-care. Not too long after, I relapsed after my longest and most fruitful stretch of sobriety yet.

Just days later, I began a month-long program of intensive Islamic studies. I was there to learn, but also to assist as a staff member. The atmosphere was great, but the schedule was demanding. My entirety was invested into the program, with no time or energy remaining for the pursuit of my healing. I sensed this, but I did not make much of it. A few days in, I relapsed yet again.

These two events share one essential thing in common: I consciously made a choice to delay my pursuit of healing so that I could dedicate my focus to something else. In both cases, I harmed myself and compromised my commitment to sobriety. This time, I would not let the lesson go unlearned. I could no longer let a single day pass without prioritizing my healing above any other pursuits.

Why can’t I be like everyone else?

I mentioned in the story above that I began to sense a lack of balance during the early days of my Islamic studies course. What I should have done is slow down, take a pause from all the action, feel the pain that thrived within me, and take reparative action. For example, I could have taken a day off from class and spent the time to rest, exercise, journal, and pray. That is what prioritizing healing above all else would have looked like.

One challenge to making such a choice was that when I looked around me, I saw people who seemed perfectly committed and focused on the task at hand, such as the other staff members. The focus, collectively, was on the course, and so it was easy for me to forget everything else.

“Each day requires significant time, energy, and emotion be dedicated to healing – even when that means turning away from other pursuits.” – BrTwoThousand

I felt something I have felt several times before: that I am different. I must think about something others don’t – my sobriety. So, while those around me seemed able to really immerse themselves in the course, something else constantly demanded my focus: seeking and maintaining my health. It’s a lonely feeling at times.

I realised that I need to accept that other people choose to focus on different things. As for me, this is who I am, and so my priority, every single day, remains the same: seek balance and healing. I am climbing out of a deep, deep hole and there is still much distance to cover. Perhaps, when I am out, my attention can be directed elsewhere. Until then, I will continue climbing.

What it really means to prioritize healing

Prior to my recent slips, I had spent months focusing very keenly on my healing. But now I had allowed just a few days to pass wherein I gave recovery no more than a passing thought or two, and that’s when I fell. To have neglected my recovery in this way, even for a day, was a grave mistake.

When situations screamed “Slow down! Wake up! Danger ahead!” My response? With an expression of confusion and aloofness, I looked at the signs and said, “Oh. Just give me a bit more time. I’m busy right now.” That, my friend, is precisely how not to prioritize healing.

Each day requires significant time, energy, and emotion be dedicated to healing – even when that means turning away from other pursuits.

No pursuit is nobler or greater than my recovery

My recent experiences reminded me of something that can be painful to swallow: that no matter how noble or important or even exciting some activity or project may seem, I still must be very reluctant to dive in and immerse myself in it. That is because I am committed to something that demands so much energy and attention: my recovery.

This hurts. It hurts because it’s easy for me to see recovery as necessary, but not worthy or valuable in itself. That it’s merely a bridge I must cross to get to my destination where I’ll do all sorts of great and noble things. It hurts to be reminded that it’s not time for “great things” yet, and that I’m still stuck doing gruelling grunt work.

Today, I am adopting a completely different way to view my recovery. It is a perspective which inspires me and makes it entirely obvious that no pursuit really matters like my recovery does. I want to share it with you, and I hope you also find inspiration in it.

So, what is recovery really about which makes it so great? Recovery is about regaining the full potential of my humanity.

My humanity, at its peak, offers me so many things which are pure gold, things that really matter – connecting with Allah, genuinely and deeply caring about another person, feeling connected to the creation which surrounds me, deeply appreciating the gifts of my body, heart, mind and soul. I am talking about gratitude, love, sincerity, integrity. I am talking about tears and laughs. Dreams and aspirations. Sorrow and grief. Hope and celebration.

This is the full human experience for which we were created.

Unhealthy and unbalanced living strips this experience away from me and locks me in a place of numbness and darkness. Once I am there, I lose sight of what I’ve lost. I become fidgety and anxious and needy. Life loses its flavor and its color.

A keen focus on my health and life balance, on the other hand, helps restore my humanity, and continuous practice and refinement helps me to achieve new heights and gain new experiences. I know this because I have experienced it.

There’s so much for me to gain in this world, so much I want to do and achieve, so many things I want to be. And I will pursue these things with passion, insha Allah. However, nothing has true value if I am not gaining, maintaining, and nurturing my humanity. At any given moment, I must not hesitate to completely drop whatever is demanding my attention and come back to healing if the situation demands this. This has to be my principle in life, because in recovery I am gaining everything as everything that’s good and worthy lies in my humanity. I have no way to regain my humanity except through keen focus on and commitment to my healing.

  • shafiq ahamd says:

    this article is wonderful. my request to the admin if this there is material on purify ur gaze in urdu language. if yea plz let me know. thanks

    • BrTwoThousand says:

      AsSalamu Alaikum Shafiq, and thank you so much for your kind words. Perhaps an admin can offer more advice on the matter, but I believe the content is only offered in English currently. I hope you will still be able to take part with us?

  • K113ar says:

    What an excellent article mashallah it has struck a cord with me. An excellent reminder also! Well done!

    This article definitely relates to me. After months and months of sobriety I slipped up. The reason for slipping is because I wasn’t applying my self care plan daily and I became over confident with recovery. But the tiger hides in the shadows and jumps out when you are most vulnerable.

    You’re absolutely spot on about what sobriety means. One thing I would like to share or sum up is progress in our daily life = happiness
    When we strive to achieve things everyday then this is taking care of yourself as it allows us to focus.

    Mashallah great article

    • BrTwoThousand says:

      Thank you so much K113ar for your kind words! I’ve had a similar experience several times, where a bit of sobriety causes me to believe that I have nothing to worry about anymore.

      AlhamdulAllah, I can say now that in my current sobriety I haven’t felt that way.

      I think the reason I might start to become complacent is if I feel that the only way I am worth and valuable is when I am permanently sober. When I hold on to that belief, then a part of me will jump on the opportunity to say “hey, look, I’m permanently sober! Now I can feel worthy!”

      But, the truth is that our worth and value as human beings is inherent. It doesn’t take achievement, or anything at all really, to prove our worth. Allah created us as an ennobled people.

      With that belief, then sobriety becomes more about our desire to live up to a higher potential, one which we believe is quite real and already inside of us, just it has been covered up with our illness.

  • Seeking Tranquility says:

    Thank you K113ar for your additional insights.
    Jazakallah khayr Brother2000 for reminding us to prioritize healing and balance in order to focus what really matters in life: servitude to Allah.
    Please pray for me especially during one of the times duas are answered because a sincere heartfelt dua you make for your brother in his absence is a beautiful deed that has immense rewards.
    In your prayer for me, you can use any Prophetic dua or pray with these words:
    “O Allah forgive him, heal him, & purify his heart, mind and body.
    Guide him to the right path, bless him with beneficial knowledge, prosperity, excellence in deeds and joyful life.”
    May Allah bless you. Amiin.

  • Seirios says:

    Wow. Alhamdullilah. For a few months or so I didn’t get any updates from PYG and I all but threw it out the window and didn’t want to see those emails again because I didn’t want to think about this stuff.

    At the moment, I am in a study room in my university with papers sprawled all over the desk; I am in the midst of finals and I have three finals this week. I’ve been working my brain hard but I’m not progressing as much and fast as I want to. So I took a break and checked my email, and when I saw this one I was like why not?

    After reading this article I think I’ve realized a few things. That I’m not focusing on my recovery, I’m tense about my exams, I’m trying to take big strides when I should probably take it a little slower, etc.

    When I read the paragraph about living unbalanced leaves you to feel anxious, needy, and with a lack of color in life, I realized that that may be me right now…I feel like after I relapse, I overcompensate by becoming overly religious. I think doing very small things are sins and I seek forgiveness from Allah from them, but they might not even be sins! I believe the word for this is “scrupulosity”…meaning I have a type of religious OCD.

    I take every aspect of Islam perhaps too seriously. For instance, regarding things of the Sunnah, I don’t compromise. This includes not trimming the beard, not listening to music, not wearing my pants below my ankles, not saying lies, etc. Am I doing too much? Can anyone help me out with this? I just don’t feel relaxed and am always worried…perhaps too afraid.

    Man. I’ve never opened up to strangers like this but Id really love for a brother or sister in Islam to help a little. Sorry for word vomiting there.

    Beautiful post btw!!

    • Seeking tranquility says:

      May Allah heal you and bless your life brother. Regarding religious OCD, I think one of the best resources if not the best is http//Islamandpsychology.blogspot.com
      Trust me it works.
      Through experience, I have realized that Shaytaan uses smart evil tactics to ruin the life of the determined Muslim who want to live an excellent life of obedience to his Creator.
      His tactics are among many others one of these :
      1. Extremism
      2. Spiritual OCDs.
      In fact shaytaan causes some physical diseases.
      It maybe not be scientifically proved but there is sahih hadith that says it. I read it years ago in an amazing book in a library.
      It is called the world of jins and shaytaan by Al-Ashqar.
      I read it once. I look forward to actually buy the book in sha Allah. So that I can re-read it every month and try to follow it in sha Allah.
      3. Bid’ah/innovations in religion.
      4. Wahn: weaknesses that prevent you live an optimum life and achieve your life goals.
      5. Sexual addiction.
      Perhaps PYG programs can help you take you sexual life in control.
      6. Many others.
      I recommend that you buy the creed series of Al-Ashqar.
      I just read a glimpse of it and I look forward to buy all of them in the near future in sha Allah.

      It is amazing to see that you are trying to follow the sunnah to the letter but trust me if you fall to one of the above Satanic traps, a better role model than you for the Muslim community near you is an ordinary man who:
      1. Establish the dominant Islamic principles and duties such as avoiding major sins, believing in the six articles of faith, practices the five pillars of Islam, maintains the times of kinship, etc and do ibadah acts with sincerity in accordance to the Sunnah.
      2. Well educated.
      Masters a professional skill, learns fundamental Islamic Sciences, reads not only related to his field of interest but also fiction, productivity, business, Islamic literature, etc.
      3. Have fun and enjoys life.
      Even if it is chilling with his friends while they watch a new movie whether it is the next episode of starwars or hunger games.
      I don’t succumb to my less sexual addictions when I watch a good movie. It is often sparked by a semi- nude, listening to popular music with licentious lyrics ad or lonely time that create fantasy.
      And I want to stop my sexual addictions.
      Meanwhile, I may continue watching good movies(I know even good movies are not free from sins). Science tell us that exercise, sports, watching good movies, traveling or picnics, spending quality time with positive friends make you happy.
      And it is true. Of course there are fake science research findings funded by interested companies that says red wine and listening to every kind of Music makes you happy. I don’t buy those stuffs even it is published in great scientific journals.
      4. Excels in his career and contributes in making our world a better place to live in.
      As a result of this he is happy, looks forward to paradise humbly recognizing that he is not achieving the level of religious excellence that Allah expected him to be.
      In fact in Allah’s eyes he maybe more beloved to him than you and he may forgive his minor mistakes.
      Remember Allah loves the Muslim who enrich his life and the life of others.

      Encase you want to go for the extra mile and achieve a high level of taqwa you can. And still have fun while not even listening to positive music nor watching good movies.
      For instance you can have fun by learning the art of humour, improving your communication skills, mixing with good people Muslim and non-Muslim alike, being playful, etc. And if you like reading you might check ” The halal way of entertainment or having fan”. I don’t remember the exact title but I have seen it is review in the publisher of the book, International Islamic Publishing house. You can buy it from iiph.com or amazon.

      I hope this helps. Good luck. Thank you for your patience.

      • Seirios says:

        JazakAllah khairan SeekingTranquility!

        Your post helped me a lot. You kind of described me in a nutshell…I’ve come to realize I have major religious OCD, and sometimes the way I practice Islam is a little extreme. I think what you said about weakness to prevent me from living an optimum life hit home. I get caught up with these small things that I’m missing the much bigger picture..

        I think I really need to lighten up and live life without so much fear. My family keeps telling me that I can’t live life thinking I’m sinning every step of the way!

        Since my last post I’ve actually trimmed my beard and started to listen to music again, and have lightened up with Islamic rules. I still have religious OCD, but inshaAllah it will get better.

        I went to that website and I haven’t read it yet but it looks like it’s perfect for me!

        BarakAllah feekum, may Allah bless you and BrTwoThousand. Ameen!

    • BrTwoThousand says:

      AsSalamu Alaikum Seirios, thank you so much for your message. I pray Allah blesses your pursuits and helps you find the clarity you are seeking.

      Your experience with religiosity sounds very, very familiar. It’s a confusing, confusing experience. As I grew in recovery, my understanding of spirituality and religiosity also matured, alhamdulAllah. I obsess less over small things, and I have found a renewed connection with the Quran.

      Knowledge of the religion comes with the help of our teachers, so I would never discount the importance of learning and asking. Still, without the effort of recovery, our own personal lens through which we interpret everything will always be foggy.

      I will be honest, relief from confusion is one of my primary motives for recovery. I have found that without progress in recovery, it is very very difficult to gain the clarity I yearn for.

      Also, bear in mind that we are powerless over the clarity we seek – it is in the Hands of Allah. Surrender to Him, and giving our most sincere effort to learn and grow will take us very far, insha Allah.

      Back to gaining clarity, I think very much of it lies in recovery. How is your recovery work like right now? Is there anything you can do to take it a notch up, especially given your recent realizations?

      Thank you Seeking Tranquility for your share on religious OCD. I could not agree more with your realization about shaytaan’s smart, evil tactics. May Allah expel him from our thoughts and hearts and continuously protect us.

      Sincerely,

      BrTwoThousand

      • Seirios says:

        JazakAllah khairan BrTwoThousand! Thanks for your reply.

        You seemed to explain me very well…I get confused about small things and don’t feel sure of myself when it comes to small Islamic matters. Very often, perhaps several times a day, I think a small thing I did is a sin and I have to seek forgiveness from it…I get afraid, asking myself “what if this is a major sin?” and repent just to feel safe. I go to a learned Muslim therapist who told me that “Allah isn’t waiting to punish you” when I told him I ask forgiveness over small things. Although I know Allah is vastly merciful, I get hung up on very small “sins”, even if they are sins.

        I think I’m desperately seeking relief from confusion just like you said. To answer your question, I have been free for about four weeks, and haven’t had the desire to turn to my addiction, or very rarely if at all. I have lightened up a lot regarding beard length and music, because one of my cousins helped me understand these aren’t big issues…ever since I trimmed my beard (I had a really big one before) and started wearing my pants normal I’ve had no need to return to my addiction for some reason! Alhamdullilah. However, I have started do be very religiously OCD lately, such as when making wudu; I keep thinking I’m not doing my wudu properly. I feel like I’m still being uptight about it.

        So although I’ve stayed abstinent, I don’t know if I’ve progressed a lot with my recovery. I just want to practice Islam perfectly, but I don’t want to be extreme.

        Sorry for the long message!

        May Allah guide us all.

  • Bilal says:

    Salam, how do you guys balance the full time work of education with my recovery. How do you make time?