What ‘Living Life on Life’s Terms’ Really Means to Those in Recovery

Apr 28, 2017 | Blog, Recovery

‘Living life on life’s terms’ is a commonly heard phrase in recovery communities around the world. It originated in 12 Step programmes, and now it’s a widely embraced view. Learn what this means for your addiction recovery.

Living Life on Life’s Terms


  • More than a motto, ‘living life on life’s terms’ is one of the secrets to a successful recovery.
  • Visit our blog to learn how ‘living life on life’s terms’ can help you strengthen your recovery.

When you’ve just come out of rehab, the mere prospect of living your day-to-day life can be overwhelming. As a new member of the recovery community, you have undertaken the task of completely restructuring your life. Old, addictive habits and behaviours have been identified with the hopes of eliminating them, and a litany of healthier habits and behaviours have been selected to replace them. This is the essence of addiction recovery.

But simply knowing what you want to do does not necessarily mean that you’ll be able to do it. Old habits truly do die hard, and there are bound to be addictive thought patterns (i.e. means of acting out addictively) buried in your thinking. It’s essential that you are able to identify and respond to these thought patterns as they arise.

The struggle to release yourself from your former way of living and thinking and replace it with more effective thought patterns lies at the very core of the recovery model. In fact, many champions of recovery have devised a sort of recovery motto that expresses this struggle:

Living life on life’s terms.

In this post, we’ll explore what this means to the recovery community and offer some advice on how you can implement this way of thinking in your onward journey.

What Are Life’s Terms?

Author and psychotherapist, Paul Dunion, defines life’s terms as the ‘conditions determining what it means to be alive’. He says there are two elements to this condition:

  1. Our desires, intentions and actions
  2. The role (and inevitability) of fate

It’s important to note the difference between these two elements. The first one has everything to do with our own terms – the things we want, the things we aspire to and the actions that we take in light of that. The second encompasses everything that is out of our control. And to be honest, a great number of things fall into the latter category.

You don’t have to call it ‘fate’ if you’re uncomfortable with this notion. You could also think of it as luck or mere circumstance. But the reality is that there are many aspects of our environment that are completely out of control. These are life’s terms.

When you decide to live life on life’s terms, you’re rejecting the warped thinking that fuelled your addiction. Substance abusers often have difficulty accepting reality, and this persistent state of denial allows them to create an ultimate reality in which they live life on their own terms. The problem, of course, is that this simply doesn’t work.

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How to Live Life on Life’s Terms

When we decide that we are ready to live life on life’s terms, we acknowledge that life is bigger and more complicated than us. But this is easier said than done. That’s why the act of acceptance is such an important tenet of recovery.

Once we understand that we can’t control every aspect of life and our environment, we usually experience one of three responses:

1. Trying to Defy the Nature of Life

Perhaps we feel that life isn’t fair (a reasonable assertion), or that things should be fundamentally different. Rather than accepting that we cannot change the nature of life, we may decide to live in protest of this. Doing so creates the illusion of power, despite the fact that everything from the weather to the behaviour of other drivers on the road is completely out of our control.

2. Deciding That Our Intentions Trump Fate

We’ve already acknowledged that our intentions, desires and actions are part of what it means to be alive. But it can be easy for us to decide that these elements of our existence should take precedence. In other words, fate takes a back seat. The problem is that, with so much out of our control, this decision often contradicts our life experience. Anger and cynicism result – both of which can serve as relapse triggers.

3. Deciding That Life is Simply Too Much

This is a scary one, but it’s common for those struggling with acceptance in recovery to decide that it’s simply all too much to deal with. This is a form of fatalism, in which the person ultimately determines that there’s no reasonable way forward. At this point, you give up on your own intentions and desires and resign yourself to the grim reality of life.

Any of the above can be common reactions to a lack of control over your own life. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead, you can resolve to live life on life’s terms – and make the most of your experience in spite of it.

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Honest Living in Addiction Recovery Can be a Beautiful Experience

It isn’t easy to deal with the complications and curve balls that life sends your way. But with strong resolve, an appropriate outlook on life and the support of a recovery community, you can make this happen. And the result is absolutely beautiful.

Living life on life’s terms is all about honouring who you are as a person whilst accepting that there are many aspects of your life that are out of your control. This requires a profound state of humility, but the payoff is worth it.

When you have harmonised your own desires and ambitions with the reality of life, you’ll find yourself in a sublimely serene state of existence. You’ll discover how to find fulfilment in daily life as well as how to appreciate the role you play in the grand scheme of things. An immense sense of gratitude for the simple joys of life will result – and this is a fantastic position to find yourself in.

The Edge Can Help, With Ongoing Recovery Support

This approach to life is an integral aspect of recovery. It is taught in 12 Step Groups around the world. We also teach the young men enrolled in our programme to embrace this attitude. Whether you are still trapped in the cycle of addiction or are looking for ways to strengthen your resolve in recovery, our innovative addiction treatment programme can help. Contact us today and prepare yourself for a new life in recovery.