By Cheryl Steinberg
So, you’ve stopped drinking and drugging. Now what? They say: it’s easy to stop; it’s the staying stopped that takes work. Here are 12 tools to have in your recovery ‘toolbox’ to support you in your recovery and help you maintain your sobriety.
1. A program of recovery (vs abstinence)
Recovery is not merely abstaining from drinking and drugging. If you don’t have some kind of program that supports you in your recovery (i.e. working the 12 Steps), then it’s only a matter of time before you relapse. People who simply don’t use are called “dry” or are “white-knuckling it” – holding on for dear life. That’s not recovery is about; it’s about truly living a full life – and without the need for mood- or mind-altering substances.
- take suggestions
- put same energy/effort for in your recovery that you used to put towards your addiction
- be honest with yourself and others
- ask for help
- offer help (service)
3. New people, places, things
Changing the people, places, and things that were associated with your active addiction is essential to being successful in your recovery. For one, being around people or things that remind you of getting drunk and/or high can act as a trigger, causing feelings of anxiety which you might want to soothe with a substance.
Another reason to change these things is because, even if you are able to say ‘no’ at first, after a while, being around people who are drinking or using will normalize these behaviors for you. In other words, you will start to think that it’s no big deal to have a drink or smoke a little pot. And, before you know it, you’re off to the races again.
Having a hobby or hobbies or passions will support you immensely in your recovery program. For me, it’s writing – which is something I get to do as my job! Take advantage of your sobriety by getting back in touch with doing the things you once loved or by getting to know yourself and finding out what your passions are (if you didn’t have any before or if they’ve changed).
5. Playing the Tape (all the way through)
Think about it using the alphabet. When you have a thought about drinking or using, tell yourself, “If I do ‘A’ (drink or get high), then ‘B’ will happen (I’ll get kicked out of my house); if ‘B’ happens (I’m homeless), then ‘C’ will happen (I’ll start robbing people again) and so on until you get to ‘Z’ which would be your worst imaginable consequence, such as prison or death. Addiction is very real, and very fatal. Both of those ending scenarios are very much a possibility. Don’t fool yourself.
Not only is exercising good for your physical health, it’s also good for your mental health. Having an exercise regimen can alleviate your PAWS symptoms– both physical and psychological ones – and can boost your self-confidence.
Like exercise, getting good nutrition will help you feel good and look good. Nutrition is also important in combatting PAWS.
8. Self-Awareness and honesty
For example, did you know that there are actually phases of relapse, with the last phase being the actual use of a substance? What that means is that being aware of your mood, how you’re feeling, your thoughts, and subsequent behaviors can help you stop the relapse process in its tracks and turn around before you actually relapse and use.
Also, being self-aware can help you know and recognize your PAWS symptoms, which can pop up any time in the 2 years after getting clean and sober (and sometimes over the rest of your lifetime). Recognizing your PAWS symptoms means that you can up your recovery game, by exercising, eating better, meditating, praying, and so on (see #11).
9. Gift of Desperation
Holding on to the memory of what it was like before you got clean and sober can help you tremendously in staying that way. Many people who have relapsed have said that they forgot the bad stuff and started to romanticize about using. That will spell trouble.
10. Avoiding High Risk Situations
H.A.L.T. stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. These are high-risk situations for people recovering from drug addiction. When you are feeling any one of these, a combination of these, or all of these, it’s time to halt and do something about it. Being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired can lower your defenses, making it more likely to begin that slippery slope to relapse.
Building a spiritual foundation has worked for many people recovering from addiction. Even if you don’t believe in God, you can be spiritual. And if that still doesn’t sound good to you, take comfort in knowing that there’s an actual science behind meditation, prayer, and breath work (see #12).
12. Learn How to Relax
Recovering doesn’t just mean staying busy. A lot of people, especially in early recovery think that they just need to fill up their days with a ton of activities in order to avoid thinking about using. And, although boredom can be Enemy Number One to your recovery, being busy all the time isn’t always best. If you manage to stop using for a while, but don’t learn how to relax, your tension will build until you’ll have to relapse just to escape again. Tension and the inability to relax are the most common causes of relapse.
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