Maintain your sobriety with these 9 helpful tips
On July 14 2016, just over two years ago I was on the streets of San Francisco hopeless and broken. I had no idea how to live life without drugs. Everything I had tried had failed and I had no idea how to maintain sobriety in any form. I had a realization that day though. I had to live my life in a different way. Not just parts of my life, but all of it. I knew if I wanted to maintain sobriety there had to be a massive change in my behavior. I knew my first step was to get help detoxing off drugs, but the terrifying part was what was next? The following list contains the 9 most helpful tips I have found in maintaining my sobriety over the last two years.
1. Mental Health
I decided to put mental health as the first on this list because I realize what a controversial subject it can be in the recovery community. In my addiction I was always being diagnosed as depressed or bipolar. I was put on many different pills which I believed was a way for me to avoid looking at my real problem, my addiction. I also understand that many people with addiction are truly suffering with different forms of mental illness that can greatly hinder their chances at maintaining sobriety if left untreated. I received the best advice I have ever had from a psychiatrist my last time in treatment. He believed that it is nearly impossible to diagnose a mental illness in early recovery, and thought that I should focus on recovery and letting my brain heal. He told me to come back to him when I had been clean for 90 days. For me the summary of this experience was, give yourself some time to heal, and if you are still suffering go to a mental health professional and get help!
Exercise was an absolute life saver in my early recovery. I was often depressed and struggled to find excitement in anything those first few months clean. To sum it up, I felt dull and uninterested in most areas of my life. My brain was still rebounding. Exercise became a therapy for the lack of chemicals in my brain. Exercise gave me a boost of motivation and elevated my mood. Creating healthy routines is essential in maintaining sobriety and exercise helps create a simple and effective routine every single day.
3. Self Care
Self care is an umbrella term that can encompass many of the other tips on this list. When I was using drugs I neglected self care in every way possible. For me self care includes the physical aspects of taking care of yourself, such as hygiene, exercise, finding a routine, therapy, participating in a recovery group, and many other things. Self care has another very important aspect though, being kind to yourself. I had been so unforgiving and hard on myself my whole life. Early on in recovery, someone asked me if somebody treated me the way I treated myself, would I want to be friends with that person? My answer was absolutely not. It was a huge realization for me. Treating yourself with loving-kindness and forgiveness is essential to maintaining sobriety and building a successful life. I found that doing the next right thing, on a moment to moment and daily basis was the best way to cultivate self-esteem and love for myself.
Most of us had hobbies and things we were passionate about before our addiction. Most of us let go of these things in our addiction, simply because we don’t have time or just don’t care anymore. When I first got clean I felt so empty and it seemed like so much was missing. It was suggested to me to rediscover things that I used to enjoy doing. For me, that was mountain biking. Committing to participate in the activities I used to love so much has brought so much joy to my life. Find those activities or hobbies that you lost in your addiction and dive back in.
When I got clean, I don’t think I had an honest and true friendship in years. My addiction would not allow it. My spirit was craving real friendships, but I was really scared to put myself out there. Through going to meetings and recovery related activities I was able to meet like minded people with a common goal of staying clean. Building friendships forced me to get out of my house and do things, even when I didn’t feel like doing so. These friendships kept me accountable to people besides myself, and slowly helped me develop trust in others. When I’m feeling down in my recovery I remember that I have friends that love me and support me and I try to reach out. This has been a huge factor in maintaining my sobriety. You can’t do it alone.
6. Building a life you are proud of
This is a simple one. The better your life is, the harder it will be to relapse. For me this was about setting specific goals that had meaning to me, and taking real steps and actions to reach those goals. I made a list of goals that I hoped to achieve at 6 months, 1 year, and 5 years. When I made the list I was pretty cynical about my ability to reach those goals. Remember, goals are just dreams if you don’t take action. I set out on a course of action for all my goals. By the time I reached a year, I pulled that list out and looked at it. I had completed every single goal I set for myself. It was the proudest I had ever been of myself. I had built a life worth living. Figure out what you want for yourself in 6 months or a year, and take the steps to achieve those goals.
Finding a group of like-minded people who provide a safe place for you to talk about recovery is crucial to maintaining sobriety. For me this ended up being a twelve step program. Although I understand that there are many ways to maintain sobriety and recover, I highly recommend a twelve step fellowship. The twelve steps themselves have helped me to live a better life, but I believe the real value I found in Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous was realizing that I wasn’t alone. It gave me a safe place to not be okay when I needed it. It gave me people to talk to who had been through exactly what I had been through and made it out the other end sober. Whether it’s a twelve step group or some other recovery community, find your people and stick with them.
8. Helping Others
This was one that took time and conscious effort for me in recovery. Yet, it has become one of the most valuable things I have learned for maintaining sobriety. I spent the majority of the time in my addiction taking from and hurting others. It became a normal behavior. To maintain sobriety I had to change that behavior. As you stay clean the opportunities to help others will naturally arise. They are not always convenient and I don’t always want to take these opportunities, but I have never regretted helping someone else in recovery. I always feel better about myself after helping someone. Giving back to the recovery community has become one of the most valuable tools I have in maintaining sobriety.
9. Keeping Busy!
Stay Busy! We as addicts and alcoholics can easily become antisocial and bored. It provides a sense of comfort even though it can be quite miserable. I realized very early on, that if i wanted to stay clean I had to stay busy. Whatever you have to do to stay busy, even if it means going to multiple meetings a day in the beginning, do it! When you stay busy all day, you feel accomplished at the end of day. It doesn’t give you time to overthink and for an addict like me, that is so important.