Through my time dealing with addiction, I have compiled some very important tips for living every day sober. It’s important to recognize that you’re not alone. When you find yourself up all night, plagued with drinking dreams, or feel you can’t make it through the day, it’s not the thoughts that matter—it’s your actions.
1. Allow transition time
Getting out of treatment and facing the early stages of recovery is scary stuff. You wonder if you can make it, if you really have what it takes. You are no longer in the safe environment of the treatment facility, monitored and able to talk with a counselor when you need to, comforted by interacting with others in your same situation; Once you’re at home, you’re pretty much on your own. This can be overwhelming for some recovering addicts, and many relapse because they a) don’t allow themselves transition time and b) don’t have a plan for how to remain sober.
Recall what your counselors told you during treatment: it takes time to heal. Naturally, the coping skills and techniques you learned and practiced then will come in handy now, but you do need to allow time for it all to become second nature. Don’t panic. Just follow your action plan that you worked up in treatment with your counselor and take it one day at a time.
Will there be rough patches where you feel you don’t know what to do? Of course there will be. And some will be tougher to weather than others. Again, give yourself time. Stick to your plan.
2. Seek support
Getting through the first weeks and months of recovery is nearly impossible without support. The fact is that no one is so strong and determined that they won’t encounter challenging situations—some of which may derail sobriety in a matter of hours. To combat that, addiction treatment experts and treatment facilities strongly recommend continued participation in 12-step support groups.
Why? These groups are comprised of members just like you—or people who have similar addictions and are mutually supportive of each other’s continuing recovery. It helps to have someone to talk with, or listen to, who’s been where you’ve been, who’s fought the same demons, or who’s nearly destroyed their lives because of their addiction and are now on the path of sobriety.
Make no mistake about it. Living clean and sober isn’t easy. It will probably never be easy. You will need the support of your 12–step sponsor and fellow members to get through the first few months. This is a critical part of your recovery process. Once you’ve become more confident in your ability to maintain your sobriety, you may wish to cut down on some of the meetings—or not. Many people in recovery choose to continue their meeting attendance years after they’ve left treatment. Consider it a maintenance practice. Or, think of it as giving back to others as others have given to you.
3. Have a buddy system
Remember when you were a kid and your parents told you that you couldn’t go into the water without a buddy? Guess what? It works. Having a buddy—a non-drinking, drug-free one—whom you can spend time with is an excellent way to forestall getting into situations you can’t control. Put this high on your list of tips on how to live a sober life.
4. Make plans
It’s amazing that this is one step many people in recovery fail to do. They may come out of treatment with a so-so list of things they may want to do, and even start out trying to achieve some of the easier ones. But they neglect to do the ongoing revisions and updating of plans for their future. How shortsighted is that? The simple practice of outlining different accomplishments or plateaus that you want to achieve helps to keep you focused on the long term—instead of only concentrating on what’s happening here and now.
This is particularly important when your current situation is somewhat iffy. When you feel like you’ve made a mess of your life, if you have nothing to look forward to, guess what kind of mental mind-games you’ll start playing? You’ll feel sorry for yourself, wallowing in despair, and neglect both important and spiritually uplifting relationships, activities and future goals.
Start by making a list of short-term goals. These should be fairly easy to accomplish, things you’re pretty sure you can do. This may be getting to work on time every day for a month, learning something new on the news at night, doing some daily exercise, reading a new book a week. It helps if the activity or goal is something that interests you, but it doesn’t have to be. Incorporate your short-term goals into your daily routine. It’ll be a lot easier to manage.
Then, as long as you’re making a list of short-term goals, think longer term: six months, a year, and five to ten years. Where do you want to be at that time? What levels of achievement do you want to have accomplished? Do you need a degree to get there? Are there additional or new skills you need to learn and master? Whatever will assist you in achieving your goals should be on your master plan.
Incorporate the steps you need to take into your action plan for the future—and take the required action. For example, seeking or finishing a degree, apprenticeship or mastering a complex skill may seem like a formidable task. But once you begin on that path, each day brings you that much closer to achievement. Don’t think about how long it will take or how difficult it may seem. Focus on doing what you need to do now, today, and this week. Let things unfold from there.
As you progress in your recovery, new opportunities will present themselves—if you are open to them. Be on the lookout for these new ventures and revise your plans to include them. Don’t forget to add activities that enrich your mind, body and spirit. After all, plans aren’t all about hard work. They need to include fun as well.
5. Make a schedule and a to-do list
One key tip comes from time management professionals who advise making out schedules and to-do lists. For those in recovery, this is doubly important. Sometimes we all need a little help keeping things together, what we need to do when, appointments to keep, projects to keep on track, events and occasions to attend.
Make out a weekly schedule, to the hour, if necessary, and follow it religiously for the first few months. This will help you to restore or establish a normal routine. People in recovery need stability, and having a regular routine they stick to is incredibly helpful in the first stages.
Just so you don’t forget important projects or things to do, make a list of each activity or item that you need for each day. This is a little different than a schedule, which may include working at your job from 9 to 5 each day. On your to-do list could be items like doing the laundry on Thursday after work, or putting out the trash on Friday morning before 7 a.m., or various projects you’re working on at home or the office. You also need to prioritize the list, since this will make it easier to tackle them one at a time.
While it is tempting to go through the easy things first, don’t fall into this trap. You could wind up frittering away your day on the small things and never get to the more involved items. You should handle the ones that have the most importance first—such as a work project that has a tight deadline, or one that will require a great deal of research and effort that you will work on in stages. Once you’ve handled an item on your daily to-do list, scratch it off or make comments about how far you’ve progressed on it. By day’s end, look over your to-do list and make a list for the following day. This practice has two immediate benefits: it provides a sense of satisfaction for things you’ve accomplished and it gives you direction for the next day.
6. Organize your environment
Look around your home. This is where you spend a great deal of time. This is your sanctuary. It should be a place where you feel comfortable, where you rest and rejuvenate and where you enjoy some privacy and solitude. You can’t do that if the place is a mess. Make organizing your home environment a priority. Donate things that are no longer useful or that someone else less fortunate may be glad to receive. Organizing at home also helps make it easier to handle daily and weekly chores. Having cleaning materials on hand and in place cuts down on the frustration of searching all over for something that you need but can’t find.
Organizing at home also means maintaining a clean environment. Don’t allow dirty dishes to pile up or laundry to accumulate. Keep the floors cleaned, swept or vacuumed. Scrub out the toilets and shower or tub and make sure the kitchen is spotless. Just because you’re living alone or hate housework, you still need order. It helps your overall outlook when where you live reflects attention to detail.
One other tip about cleanliness is important here. If you are just coming back to your home environment following treatment, enlist a friend or family member to go through your home to clean it out of any alcohol or drugs. This is not something that you should do on your own at this point. It is too tempting and could bring on relapse despite your best intentions. Have your friend or family member do a complete sweep of the surroundings, including garage, cellar, attic, RV’s, boats, sheds or outbuildings.
Carry over the organization to your work location as well. Again, taking a tip from time management professionals, organization is a key to successful individuals. In this case, you are the individual who is working on success—a successful future in sobriety.
7. Join new groups
You will inevitably be lonely as you embark on your new life of sobriety. Counter that by joining new groups. Make sure these are groups of individuals who are clean and sober – but that doesn’t limit you to 12–step groups. Find a church group or a group of sports enthusiasts, hikers, skiers or a hobbyist group whose members don’t drink. Associate yourself with other like-minded individuals who refrain from drinking or doing drugs.
Better yet, join several groups. This helps you to keep a balance and also opens you up to new experiences and new acquaintances—who may very well become friends.
8. Work out
A simple way to add a routine and do something helpful for yourself at the same time is to incorporate a daily workout into your life. This can be as simple as doing cardiovascular exercises in the morning before your shower, taking an early morning walk in the neighborhood or joining a gym. As you work out, your body produces natural endorphins, which make you feel good without drugs. It also helps your body to be healthy, and a health body is part of the mind-body-spirit equation so important in recovery.
9. Learn something new
Have you always wanted to learn a foreign language? What about how to play chess, or how to do woodwork or cabinetry? Perhaps you’re interested in computers or learning new software applications or sculpture, painting, ceramics or model plane building. The local YMCA or community center, community college or civic groups offer classes in many different activities. Check it out and get involved. Often these are free or only a nominal cost.
10. Have fun
Being in recovery should be a joyous time. You’ve come through treatment and are now embarking on your clean and sober life. Your future is yours to chart, whatever direction you want to take. During this period of recovery, however, it’s important that you carve out time to have fun.
Every day you should strive to laugh, to do something for yourself that you find enjoyable, something that isn’t a chore or on your to-do list. Just have fun. This is a tip that is often overlooked as something frivolous. It isn’t. If you neglect to enrich your day with laughter and enjoyment, you’re missing out on a key component of a successful recovery.
11. Enrich your spirit
Everyone has a unique concept of the spirit. Whatever it means to you—whether that’s a higher power, God, the power of your own spirit or something else—it is important to seek enrichment of that spirit. You can do this by attending church or semi-religious services, by meditating, doing yoga, communing with nature or just self-reflective exercises. Lifting your spirit and striving to be the best person that you can be are important for your recovery.
12. Strive for balance
Remember, balance is the key to harmony. You need to achieve and maintain a balance of mind, body and spirit. This homeostasis will help you weather any tough times, keep you focused on your short- and long-term goals, and serve you well throughout your recovery.