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40 Tips For Staying Sober Under Pressure
Getting sober is a sprint, staying sober is like running a marathon without a finish line. On the plus side, you have people cheering you on and giving you support at various checkpoints. On the negative side, you will have long stretches of isolation, sweating bullets, seeing spots, and feeling like your legs are going to give out as you hit the runner's wall. This is when sobriety requires effort, discipline and endurance or you will suffer a relapse.
Most people in recovery undergo at least one relapse, but you learn from each experience. Staying sober is a 24 hour ordeal and every minute, you learn to identify triggers, temptations, environmental hazards and -- sometimes -- the welcome distractions to help you stay sober.
A big part of getting sober is plugging you into a new environment, detached from your usual acquaintances, and receiving constant guidance from trained professionals. Your job is getting sober. So once you're reinserted into your daily life with the same routine as before -- minus the alcohol -- it's undersandable why someone would struggle adjusting to staying sober. So whether you're a skeptic, a believer, a data-driven engineer or artistic painter, a few of these tips should apply.
40 Tips For Staying Sober
1. Change Your Diet
You ever try to cut something out of your diet you ingest every day? Coffee? Sugar? Methamphetamines? Suffice to say, it's difficult, but it can be an excellent way to help you stay sober. Removing daily substances from your system causes a sort of waterfall effect of changing mental and bodily functions. Metabolism rises and falls, bowel movements, and even one's ability to focus on tasks. Food can be a trigger as much as family or a job can. As a result, change it. Take on a diet that's sustainable (not just a fad) and stick to it to help establish a new routine.
2. Get Another Job
One of the first things you discover after getting sober is how much time you have. It's one of the reasons we track your time saved in the app. Addiction devours your time which is a factor in many people's relapse. They get bored and wander back to what they "think" they'd rather be doing. Get another job. Not a stressful one. Something simple like working at your local (walking distance) deli. Choose your hours and fill up that idle time. You'll save money on gas, potentially groceries, and keep yourself busy in a productive manner.
3. Move To Another City
Or even another state. Returning back to your old stomping grounds is one of the fastest ways to relapse. You need to get out of your old space, routine and mindset. One of the most efficient ways to do that is simply by moving. Get a fresh start in a safer space.
4. Head To A Meeting
Regardless of how you feel about AA (skeptic or believer), it's beneficial to go to meetings to hear what others have to say. Listen to the community and recognize you're not alone, others are in a similar situation. The meetings help reinforce what you know, but give a sense of community.
Journaling is great for a multitude of reasons (getting in touch with your emotions, keeping track of daily milestones, memory retention, etc), but an element that's not often talked about is how your brain functions when you're putting pen to paper. Research studies have shown that people activated more parts of their brain and increased their ability to learn when putting pen to paper as opposed to typing. For someone struggling with their sobriety and learning a new way of life, this is one of the best exercises you can do.
6. Make New Friends
Especially if you're recovering from drinking. Many people drink with the same group of "friends". So go out and make new friends. There's a variety of meetup groups online and plenty of free events. There's no shortage of ways to get out and meet some new people with similar interests.
7. Get Active
If you're struggling to stay sober and it's not particularly blustery outside, then get out there. Go for a jog! Or if it is terrible outside, run the stairs inside or find a stationary bicycle. Find ways to trigger some dopamine and keep your body (and mind) healthy.
8. Create An Airtight Schedule
To prevent a relapse, one of the best things you can do is manage your time wisely. Again, there's a lot of hours in the day and you will feel each hour tick by at a snail's pace, especially when cravings occur. So create an airtight schedule. Keep a rigid schedule and stick to it. Exhaust yourself. Get your mind off drinking. With time, it will get easier, but especially when you're jumping back in, keep a strict schedule.
9. Go Get A Massage
Being sober can be stressful, but it doesn't need to be -- and it certainly won't be forever. Treat yourself. You're not punishing yourself for not drinking, you're rewarding yourself, so go out and get a massage to work out some of that tension and feel proud while you're pampered.
There are very few illnesses and ailments yoga won't cure. It aids in digestion, balance ((mentally and physically) and can help you ward off depression and cravings. Even if you're unable to attend a class, there are plenty of channels on YouTube where you can walk through a yoga routine. Bend, relax, and find your balance.
11. Stay Hydrated
In general, we have a hard time discerning hunger from thirst and, in the case of cravings, it can feel just as necessary as food, water or sleep. If you feel yourself wanting a drink, drink some water instead. Redirect your drinking to stay hydrated.
12. Set Goals
It's important to remember that you're going to be craving alcohol to reward the short-term part of your brain, not the long term. Create some goals for yourself to remind yourself of what you're working towards.
13. Change Your Job
If you've returned from rehab and picked back up at your old job, similar to living in your former home and friends, you run the risk of a relapse. Returning to a routine you're familiar with -- when you were engaged in alcohol -- isn't healthy. Obviouosly, you don't want to put yourself in financial danger, but if your job was a factor in your drinking, then you need to put your needs first. Quit, and find a new one.
14. Pursue A Hobby
Paint, music, creating short vidoes, you name it. There's no shortage of hobbies and creative outlets. Some of the most creative people used artistic expression to showcase what they're feeling. Don't fear the struggles, let them out in a healthy way.
15. Be Present
Often times, when we start to feel the pull of liquor, calling us to a relapse, it's because we start thinking of the "good" times (which were bad times but with rose-tinted, tunnel vision). Instead, be present, look at the things around you and identify only facts. Say them out loud, what you're wearing, where you're sitting, what year it is, what city you live in, that the light is on, that the walls are blue, etc. Doing this can help stop rapid thought and bring you back to the present.
16. Think Of Your Thoughts As Fish
Have an open mind, but for a few of us in recovery, this does work. When you catch yourself thinking of drinking, of wanting nothing more than to have one glass of whiskey, then stop and close your eyes. Take that thought and imagine it as a fish and let it float out of your vision. With each thought that arises, do the same. Imagine them as fish passing in front of you. It begins a process of "thinking of thinking" and as strange as it may seem, it helps pull you out so you can calmly observe from afar.
17. Abandon Shame & Guilt
Two hugely negative emotions that undoubtedly contribute to relapse is "shame" and "guilt". These don't belong in your life. It's not a denial of who you are or what you've done, but a celebration of who you are now and how far you've come. Holding on to your shame and guilt will lead you down a path of depression that is almost certainly going to lead you to a relapse. Let those emotions go and focus on what's ahead of you.
18. Celebrate Your Milestones
Recognize your achievements. Again, staying sober isn't a punishment, it's a reward. But understandably, it may not feel like it initially. Going to rehab and coming back to your day-to-day life is kind of like accidentally burning your house down; you're endlessly thankful to be alive, but you've got a lot of rebuilding to do. This is one of the reasons, the I Am Sober app focuses on celebrate your milestones, so you see the immediate reward as you build to longer and longer milestones. It is a big deal and you should celebrate as such.
Regardless of your religious affiliation, try praying. You're putting your struggle into words and asking for help. Prayer is a way to speak openly and honestly and put into words what you're feeling in the moment.
20. Head Into Nature
Nature is a great refresh. Whether it's a hike or a nice park, heading into nature is a good way to watch the natural world moving and slow down your thinking. Get your mind off drugs and alcohol, by walking into nature and enjoying the colors, the sights, and sounds.
21. Adopt A Pet
This may sound counterintuitive, i.e. I'm trying to take care of myself, and you want me to take care of an animal? But in reality a pet provides multiple benefits. First, it gives you a strict schedule. Time that may otherwise be spent heading out and buying alcohol has to be spent taking your dog for a walk -- they need to go out. It gives you responsibiliy and let's face it, if the golden rule was "treat thy neighbor as thy pet" we'd have a lot more harmony in this world.
22. Check In With Your Emotions
When you feel the pull of alcohol, stop and check in with what that feels like. Don't try to fight it or curse yourself for "letting" it happen, see if you can interpret how it feels; the quality of the urge. Do you feel a tightness in your chest? Strain in your shoulders? Does your neck get hot or your fingers tingle? Think of how the feeling is affecting you and try to ride it out.
23. Show Gratitude
When you feel yourself needing a drink, start reminding yourself what you're thankful for. You can do this out loud or silently to yourself, but start reciting all the things you're thankful for and appreciative of. Studies have shown that gratitude can improve your mental wellbeing and actually help you make better decisions.
Similar to getting a new job, another way you can fill your time is volunteering. Animal shelters, aquariums, homeless shelters or even AA meetings. There are plenty of altruistic organizations that are looking for volunteers. Put your time to good use and do something you feel passionate about.
For many people who complete their stay at a rehabilitation center, therapy becomes part of the outpatient program. It's continual treatment to help you get better, continue checking in and isolate why you turned to alcohol in the first place and how to avoid triggers going forward. Therapy is a great (and safe) outlet to discuss your struggles honestly.
26. Remind Yourself Why You Became Sober
This goes hand-in-hand with journaling, but you can use a scrapbook, make notes on your phone/notepad, anything, but the main purpose is to give your future self mementos of why you became sober. A large network of support is necessary to stay sober, but your biggest supporter needs to be you.
Meditation is a healthy way to calm ourselves. It helps you become still and track your rapid thoughts. When you're struggling to stay sober, meditation can help you refocus and bring a healthy stillness to you. It stops you from fidgeting or thinking of scenarios where you'd end up drinking. Stay calm, play some relaxing ambient noise, and be still.
28. Get Involved Online
You can also dedicate your time to online communities. Blog your progress or post in sober-friendly discussion forums (or reddit). While it's true, people on the internet can be cut throat, if you find the right community, you'll find nothing but support. Tell your story, address your struggles and don't be afraid to be open with others. You can always reach out to the I Am Sober app community and receive some healthy support there as well.
29. Research Your Condition
When something is wrong with you and you don't understand it, it's infinitely more scary. One of the benefits of being diagnosed with Alcohol Use Disorder is you know what the problem is, so look it up and research it. When you feel the pull to drink again, you can stay sober by reading up on what's happening in your head that's making you think you want to drink.
30. Spend Time With Real Friends & Family
If you're fortunate enough to have friends and family that have continued to stay by your side, then seek them out. If you're having a hard day, they will rush to your aid to ensure you don't slip back. They shouldn't become a crutch, but they will always be thankful you turned to them instead of to your addiction. More than that, you'll be thankful too.
31. Rehab (Again)
As anyone can tell you, you can't expect a 30-day program to keep you sober for a lifetime. If you feel yourself struggling consistently each day, then check yourself back into a treatment center. You don't need to have had a relapse to return. Get help before it becomes a problem again.
32. Schedule Time, Not To-Dos
As you map out your day-to-day routine, a fast way to overwhelm yourself is by making a list of "to-dos." To ensure you stay proactive, schedule time slots for events, meetings and activiites instead of to-dos. You'll never finish everything you want to do, but if you set strict timelines, you'll keep yourself on track for staying sober.
33. Skip Events
Wedding, funerals, late night dancing... if you are struggling to stay sober, then start skipping events. Everyone's feelings are important, which means your emotions and health are equal to people who may be celebrating or mourning. If a funeral is too difficult for you to attend right now, feel confident to say you can't attend. If a wedding is happening, but you're worried about being surrounded by alcohol, then politely decline to attend. Don't be afraid to say no and take care of yourself.
34. Head To The Gym
One of the healthiest things you can do for your brain and body is to work out at a gym. Not only does this put you in a safe space to keep your mind off cravings, but it's a reserved space that forces you to be proactive. Lift weights, run the treadmill, or utilize the pool to swim laps. Obviously, releasing endorphins will reduce your perception of pain (which is a huge perk), but it'll also exhaust you, so even if you find yourself wanting to walk down the street and buy a six-pack, ideally your legs will feel like jelly and you won't be able to leave (let alone "want to").
35. Talk It Out
This is something you can do online, face-to-face with a friend, or, if all else fails, a mirror. Having a conversation triggers parts of your brain you don't access when you're thinking about something on your own. While having a conversation with other people is ideal as they offer new insights and lines of thinking, talking your obstacles out loud to yourself doesn't hurt either.
36. Give Yourself A Ball Of Light
Again, if you're fearing a relapse due to guilt, distress and shame, then close your eyes and imagine this scenario. Picture your past self standing before you, then take your love and compassion and hold it in a ball of light in front of you. In your imagination, give the ball to your past self and watch as your love surrounds and eventually engulfs them. This is exercise is a little out there, but it has proven to be beneficial for staying sober.
37. Internally Check In
Schedule an exact time each day to internally check in. There will be days that are hard and on those days, you're going to be thankful you scheduled time to check in and not feel overwhelmed. Regardless of a good or bad day, check in with your mind and body, how hard the day was, what some triggers you noticed were, and how you avoided them or lessened them. This is an integral part of the recovery process so that you constantly prepare yourself for more challenging days.
38. Go For A Walk
It does not need to be rigorous exercise, it does not even need to be long. Go for a 15 minute walk and you'll be better for it. Walking helps clear your head, increase circulation, and promote better heart health overall. You need to put your health at the forefront of your day-to-day activities and a 15 minute walk should be possible regardless of the weather or time of day.
39. Breathing Exercises
Breathing is a great way to give yourself something to focus on instead of your rapid thoughts. Try breathing through your diaphragm, fast and deep breaths in through your nose, then long and slow breaths out through your mouth. This will probably make you sleepy, but it'll also help to center you. Rhythmic breathing can help you focus your attention -- away from thoughts of drinking.
40. Follow Through On Your Thoughts Of Relapse
One of the last things you can do is extend the "short-term" brain to "long-term." When you feel the pull of alcohol, clawing at you to relapse, then instead of consistently cutting out the thoughts, explore them as far as they'll go. In other words, instead of saying, "stop thinking about how far it is to the liquor store," imagine you walk down there, buy the bottle of vodka, come home and start drinking. Imagine your sober streak disappearing and finishing the bottle that night. Imagine how your friend and family will feel and how it will effect your day the next day. Walk through your day-in-the-life scenario and imagine what it looks like to have lost your sobriety and goals. Imagine the conversations you'll have with friends on why you did it. Imagine another stint at another rehab center... and so on. One of the biggest perks about sobriety is being able to think ahead, long-term. This is in stark contrast to alcohol and addiction in general which foster short-term rewards. So, use your sober brain to think about the long-term consequences to your short-term reward and recognize what it would do to your life.
Staying Sober Isn't A Punishment
Sobriety isn't just fun, it's an experience. Alcohol numbs the emotions; all of them. And while many people enjoy the numbing of pain, sadness, and fear... it also prevents the experiencce of love, compassion and happiness. Being able to feel is a tremendous gift, one that we have the luxury of exploring. Staying sober is fun and incredibly rewarding, but these are 40 tips for the times when staying sober is easier said than done.