No. Obviously, you can become a monk if you want to. But that’s not required. Although I’m a huge fan of the haircut.
I think this concern comes up because people mistakenly associate recovery with self-denial–shutting off their emotions, denying their urges, being a cold rock in a chaotically emotional world. But it’s not like that at all. In fact, a major component of building better mental health is learning how to have emotions. So you’ll likely discover yourself feeling much more than you have in the past.
I’d say I’m happier and able to enjoy life more than ever now that I don’t have to chase happiness and run away from unhappiness. Instead of chasing emotions or fulfillment, they’re experiences that I generate, that don’t rely on external stimuli. Struggling with my mental health was all about chasing feelings and trying to avoid experiences. And that’s something to consider here if you’re worried that giving up compulsions means missing out on pleasure or spontaneity: In the same way that somebody chasing a feeling of safety will find themselves constantly feeling unsafe, I would expect somebody chasing pleasure to find themselves constantly feeling a lack of pleasure. They’d become unable to handle any other emotion and that would become its own cage. By learning how to have any emotion or experience, you’ll find that you can bring happiness into your everyday life.
One thing that helped me in exploring this particular topic was looking at my actions holistically. When we’re struggling with our mental health, we often enjoy the things that make our mental health worse. These actions cause pain in our lives or the lives of those around us. However, we don’t connect the enjoyment or pleasure with the pain it causes. But this is like somebody that says they like jumping out of moving cars but they don’t like all of the scrapes and bruises and broken bones they get from landing on the hard pavement at 100 km/h. You can’t separate those experiences. You can’t enjoy jumping out of the car but then go seeking help for all of the nasty consequences and blame them on the pavement. Those nasty consequences are part of jumping out of the car. If you don’t like them, then you don’t actually enjoy jumping out of the car. So if you’ve been doing things in the name of pleasure that had consequences you didn’t like, it might be useful to look at that from the perspective of somebody that likes jumping out of moving cars but hates the consequences of that. You might be worried that cutting out compulsions means giving up your favourite past-time of jumping out of cars. But did you really find pleasure in that?
I think the big bonus of building better mental health is that I can make choices now that are actually aligned with what I care about, that I actually will enjoy. So I don’t have to react to everything that pops up inside of me. For me, having great mental health is about having the ability to choose to be myself. I can be myself in any situation, experiencing anything inside or outside of me. Sometimes that’ll mean going out for drinks with friends. Sometimes that’ll mean turning down an invitation to go drinking because I actually want to wake up early to go to the gym with friends. And sometimes being myself will mean doing both! But I don’t have to make the choice out of fear. I don’t have to react to whatever random urge or thought pops into my head. I don’t have to react to external pressure. I can make a choice to act in a way that matters to me, that’ll help me be healthy and happy over the long-term. That’s the freedom of recovery. So I wouldn’t describe it as self-denial or even self-control at all. I’d say it’s freedom.