If you are in recovery from a SUD (substance use disorder) with drugs or alcohol, you know just how challenging getting to that place has been — as do I! It’s no small feat for anyone, making the choice, doing the work and becoming sober. On the heels of early recovery, when you’ve stopped using, detoxed, and begun walking the next steps, you may feel so passionate about the freedom you have found through getting sober. Some refer to it as the “pink cloud” or the honeymoon period.
It can feel like relapse would never happen to you. The unfortunate truth is that relapse happens to so many people in early recovery before they reap the benefits of sobriety over the long haul. Relapse is always possible — no matter how long you have been in recovery — but maintaining long-term sobriety is also possible, especially with a realistic and determined mindset. Remember relapse is a process, not an event.
I hope that these seven ideas for maintaining sobriety while enjoying and cherishing life are helpful to you in your recovery journey.
7 Strategies for Getting Sober and Maintaining Sobriety
We all know that there’s no magic bullet solution in recovery. It takes hard work and growing over the years. I know from experience, though, that the process of staying sober gets more manageable and, dare I say, enjoyable at times, too. These tips blend common, time-honored strategies with more unique approaches that may not have crossed your mind. If something else has worked especially well for you, please comment or connect! Let’s dive into these creative solutions:
1. Pursue Healthy Balance
This idea may seem obvious, but it is first on the list because it is so important. It is foundational, in fact, to the other tips and to walking the steps of recovery. Living through years, even decades, of active addiction can lead to an imbalance in your physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. Sometimes the problem is not that you are doing the wrong things but that you are throwing yourself headlong into new habits.
Even if they are “good” habits, this behavior can echo addiction. Maybe you begin habitually or compulsively overeating. Maybe you pick up smoking again. Maybe you fall so hard in love with a workout program that it’s all you can think about. It is easy for addictive behaviors to transfer into your life in recovery, whether the habits you form are for better or for worse. There is no one solution here, but it is imperative to be vigilant if you see yourself replacing addiction with a behavior that you can’t or shouldn’t keep up.
If at all possible, nourish your body with healthy but reasonable food — you likely need the nutrition in early recovery! Get active in ways that make you happy. Get outside. Embrace imperfection and do what you need to do to pour more effort into your overall well-being.
2. Set a New and Structured Schedule
One thing that helps people in their early recovery maintain sobriety almost universally is setting a new schedule. The significance here is twofold. First, it can help you to avoid old routines and habits that may be a trigger for potential relapse. Secondly, a structured schedule helps to eliminate idle time while reminding you to make time for the things you enjoy.
Though schedules can seem rigid at first (especially if you have not previously adhered to one very often), they can be a powerful tool for taking back your own time — the time you feel that you waste daily, the time you may feel you “lost” to addiction, and the times that you may lose to situations that make your sobriety vulnerable.
3. Remember (and Avoid) HALT
Triggers are very personal. They are unique to everyone. However, certain things make all people feel worse and more prone to old crutches, whether they are in recovery or not. If you are here, that means you are likely hoping to maintain sobriety through life. Therefore, triggers are especially important to be mindful of. That’s where HALT comes in.
It stands for never letting yourself get too:
I find this acronym SO brilliant in its simplicity. It’s easy to remember and spell out what you should do — stop and take care of your needs before you turn to self-medicating.
4. Harnessing the Therapeutic Power of Art
One strategy you may not have thought of in the context of maintaining sobriety is artistic expression and/or art therapy. It doesn’t matter if you do or don’t consider yourself an artist. Even better if you are artistically inclined, but many people who see success with art therapy claim they haven’t drawn since kindergarten.
As ECHO Recovery (an art-based non-profit organization) shares, the process of detoxing and staying sober in the early days can be difficult because the body’s chemical dependency causes misfires of the fight or flight response. It leaves your body tired, stressed, and seeking homeostasis — a physical and emotional state that brings comfort.
Art is a powerful tool for leveling out those racing signals and emotions. It also is a medium that can express different parts of the journey, such as the principles of love or service. Additionally, it takes discipline, and it can generate feelings of release and reward when something is completed and can be shared with others. Lastly, it is also effective in tandem with direct counseling, as an individual can paint or draw visual representations of difficult and/or healing concepts coming up in therapy.
5. Equine Therapy
If you aren’t familiar with equine therapy, it isthe therapeutic practice of working with those thousand pound beautiful creatures can be awe inspiring, how tuned in they are especially when you are working with a professional. It can be a great tool in battling addiction and staying sober. Even if Equine therapy is a foreign concept for you, you likely understand the power and comfort of connecting with animals. Horses can be specially trained for this purpose and are furthermore highly intelligent and empathetic beings. Sometimes you need a connection with someone who won’t talk to you but just listen. Additionally, equine therapy facilitates natural time outdoors, getting sunshine, vitamin D, and fresh air. One fascinating program to check out is the F.A.R.M. Team. They specialize in helping those in recovery programs get back into the workforce through teamwork and connection working on the farm. Additionally, it provides time to bond with and connect the horses, the farm and nature. Everyone, even those who are not in recovery can connect and benefit from this awesome activity.
6. Focus on Finances
This tip may feel a little out of the left-field, but the reason that putting a focus on finances is important is that active addiction is linked to financial distress. Though there are exceptions, financial hardship can co-occur with addiction because of impulsive spending on drugs or alcohol, keeping up appearances, or just generally feeling out of control.
That feeling of not “having your house in order” financially can be difficult to bear in two ways. One, it is a painful reminder of active addiction. Two, the stress associated with financial hardship can be triggering and can contribute to a relapse. Fear of financial insecurity for the person new in recovery and their family members can make or break you and your relationships. Starting new habits and sticking to a budget is kind of the same principle as implementing routine and scheduling, as I previously mentioned. It can feel, or at least seem, rigid, but it can be freeing in reality. It can help to create a clean slate, make amends with the past, with yourself, and with others while also helping you live out the recovery step related to discipline and peace of mind.
7. Celebrate the Milestones
Sobriety may not feel like a celebratory topic. But it absolutely is! It is something you can — and should be proud of, every moment of every day! It may be your greatest accomplishment in the sense that everything you do after getting sober stems from that choice in some way. Celebrating may feel foreign or even a bit scary at first because parties and merriment may be associated with your active addition or with triggers.
It may be necessary to find new ways to celebrate, like getting a cup of coffee with your sponsor, visiting a park and having a special picnic with your spouse and kids, or making a special purchase for yourself. Remember that “chips” or “steps” or days sober are not the only causes for celebration. Acknowledge the small victories, too. For example, maybe you walked by a store where you used to buy alcohol on your way home from work, but today you didn’t even notice it and just kept listening to a song on your headphones instead.
This may seem trivial, but as someone who has been in recovery for some time, I say celebrate, believe me I understand it is huge. Celebrate everything and other moments just like this. Why is this important? Because recovery is hard work, and you deserve both tangible and intangible tokens of how far you have come already.
Remember, You’re Not Alone
I hope these strategies for working on long-term recovery are helpful to all who come across this blog. It is my privilege to create this space where we can learn from and support each other. If you have other strategies, share them in the comments and connect with me and others in the community on social media. Find me on: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
And, as always, if you are in recovery, starting the journey and need someone to talk to, reach out. You’re not alone.