For those in early recovery, staying sober can be hard. Staying positive can be difficult, amidst difficult withdrawal symptoms and feelings of hopelessness. Staying on course can be tough as holidays get close or as old party-going friends encroach. How can you stay in recovery and navigate life sober?
Whether you have just completed a rehab program or have started the recovery process on your own, you may be feeling overwhelmed at the thought of the long road ahead. Recovery is a lifelong journey, so how can you stay committed and motivated over the years? We can tell you that it does get easier, and early recovery is perhaps the most difficult period. Once you get through this, however, you will be well-equipped for the journey ahead. Below, we provide expert tips for staying in recovery and staying positive during the process.
How to Stay Sober in Early Recovery
- Get to the root of your addiction.
Many people turn to drugs and alcohol after difficult circumstances in life. For example, the vast majority of women in substance abuse treatment have experienced trauma in their lives – such as physical violence, emotional harm, or sexual abuse. Some individuals turn to substances to cope with mental health struggles – like depression, stress, or anxiety – in hopes of feeling better. Some use drugs due to feeling pressured by someone else, in an unhealthy relationship. No matter what drove you to use drugs and alcohol, you must face it before moving forward in your recovery.
If you have been or choose to go to professional treatment, this will be a core part of your recovery journey. Speaking with a counselor about your past, and potential contributors to your substance abuse, can help you cope with and work past that history. Doing so can lift burdens off your shoulders, and be a true turning point in the recovery process.
- Know your triggers.
Early on in your recovery, it is likely you will still experience some cravings or the occasional urge to use drugs. Your body and your brain are adjusting to sober living. This is a critical period for recovery—by staying sober now, you can help carve the path for your success down the road. You can do so by identifying and avoiding your personal triggers that lead you to want to drink or use.
What makes you crave drugs or alcohol? What triggers you to want to use? Triggers might be external, such as a person, place, item, or circumstance. Triggers can also be emotional, such as stress, sadness, boredom, and negative thoughts. In order to stay in recovery, it is important to know what exactly has the potential to set you off track. By knowing your relapse triggers, you can begin to avoid them and steer clear of a potential relapse. Or, you can prepare to handle them effectively. This brings us to our next piece of advice.
- Have coping mechanisms in your toolkit.
To stay in recovery, it is essential you know how to cope with difficult cravings, feelings, and situations that might arise. In your using days, you may have turned to the bottle or to smoke in order to comfort yourself. In your recovery, however, you will need to figure out healthy mechanisms to deal with difficult days. A drug treatment program can help with this.
During treatment, you will uncover the root of your addiction, identify your relapse triggers, and further, develop a toolkit to handle triggers during times of need. For example, if you become stressed at work, feel bored in quarantine, or attending a holiday party, you will be able to turn to your established coping mechanisms to avoid cravings and relapse. While everyone’s addiction recovery toolkit is unique, common coping tools include:
- Talking to a sober friend
- Getting outdoors
- Taking time to relax and rest
- Fulfilling a hobby, such as drawing, building, or reading a book
- Attending a meeting or support group
- Recognize the signs of relapse.
Substance addiction is a relapsing disease, but relapse can be prevented simply by knowing the signs. Despite what you may have heard, relapse happens long before you pick up a drink or drug. Most often, relapse starts in your mental or emotional state, before becoming a physical reality.
Signs of relapse can include, but are not limited to:
- Addictive thinking patterns
- Reminiscing or glamorizing your old, substance using days
- Compulsive, self-defeating behaviors
- Seeking out people or situations who use drugs and alcohol
- Irrational thinking and irresponsible behaviors, that are outside your norm
- Starting to think that drugs and alcohol are a logical escape for any pain you’re feeling
- Negative feelings towards your recovery and sobriety
- Withdrawal from family, friends, and things you love
To stay in recovery, be sure to understand these warning signs of relapse. Additionally, be sure to educate your family and friends on these potential relapse signs. This is so that, even if you cannot recognize the warning signs yourself, your loved ones will be able to intervene.
- Develop a structured schedule.
In a treatment center, you will develop a structured schedule and routine to kick off your recovery. This is for a reason. Having structure can give you purpose each day. It provides accountability for you to be on time, to attend meetings or obligations, and to fulfill certain responsibilities each day. Having a routine also can provide you with personal meaning, in that you can feel accomplished by checking off your daily tasks and sticking to a regime.
Additionally, having a schedule can keep you busy. Boredom is a common relapse trigger, and those who do not plan out their days can put themselves at risk, especially in early recovery. By staying busy and making a plan, whether that means specific activities or time set aside for self-care, you can avoid too much “free time” that can lead to thinking about drugs and alcohol.
- Set goals.
Speaking of purpose, a key step in the early recovery process is to set goals for yourself. As you set off on your journey towards sobriety, think about what you want to accomplish and why you are making such big life changes. Do you want to become healthier physically? Do you want to rebuild relationships that were hurt by your addiction? Do you want to finish school or land a successful job? Do you want to be able to support a family one day? Do you want to be happier?
What exactly is it that will motivate you to stay sober and to stay in recovery?
Write your goals down and reference them when you are feeling low. Keep check on yourself and your progress as you work towards those goals. Setting goals can give you purpose and propel the recovery process forward.
- Practice healthy living.
Drug and alcohol abuse can take a major toll on your mental and physical health. To stay in recovery, you must prioritize getting healthy again. Sobriety, on its own, can have significant health benefits – making you feel and look better. However, creating a healthy routine can also bolster your recovery and can significantly boost your mental well-being and self-esteem. You may establish a healthy lifestyle by exercising more, joining a sports league, going on walks with your dog, eating regular, well-balanced meals, getting ample hours of sleep each night, practicing mindfulness and meditation techniques, and simply making time to do the things you love.
- Have a sober support network.
Relationships play a big role in our lives and happiness. As you enter this journey of recovery, it is important to establish healthy relationships with people who support your sobriety. Your loved ones—those you trust to uplift you—will be a major asset in your recovery. However, it can be beneficial to develop friendships with people who are also sober and in recovery. These are the individuals who know what you are going through, and who you can call on during times of need. The people you meet in treatment, in your support groups, or in your 12-step meetings are the people who will truly make up your sober support network.
How to Stay Positive and Motivated in Recovery
Early recovery is not easy. Your brain and your body are still getting used to this sober life. You are facing major life changes ahead, and still may be experiencing cravings or withdrawal symptoms. You may feel exhausted mentally and physically, because of the toll substances have taken on your health. As a result, there will be days you want to give up or quit. There will be days you just don’t feel motivated to keep going. So, how can you stay positive in recovery, and stay committed through it all?
First, remember the benefits of sobriety. Think about your reasons for staying sober. While these are deeply personal and can look different for everyone, there are common benefits that recovery can bring to anyone’s life. These include:
- Looking and feeling healthier, due to better sleep and nutrition
- Greater sense of happiness and mental well-being
- Stronger, more trusting relationships with the ones you love
- More stability in terms of your living and finances
- The ability to be present for – and remember – major milestones
- Safety and security, without those dangerous situations you used to find yourself in
- Productivity and progress towards your life goals
You can also stay motivated in recovery by reminding yourself of the goals you’ve set, and reminding yourself of your main drivers to keep on a sober track. That may be a loved one, or it may be for yourself. If you are ever feeling down, you may consider writing in a gratitude journal or establishing a gratitude list. These tools can help you recognize why you are in recovery and what in your life is making it so worthwhile. You may also choose to attend a meeting or sober support group. By being around others in recovery, you can re-establish a sense of accountability and commitment to this journey.
Staying in recovery is not easy, but it is entirely possible. Substance addiction is a treatable disease, and with the right steps taken, you can set yourself on a successful path to stay sober. If you are interested in more advice, or in learning about our treatment programs for young adults and teens, please do not hesitate to reach out to Turnbridge. Contact us at 877-581-1793 to learn more.