When I posted on Facebook a few weeks ago that I was celebrating my eighteenth month of sobriety I received this comment: “I’d love to get some recommendations on how you’ve done it! I always seem to go a couple weeks and then end up drinking again.”
I read it before a hike, so of course it was swirling in my head as I entered the woods. I had so much to say. First though, because she said she frequently goes a few weeks without alcohol, I answered under the assumptions that the detox /withdrawal phase wasn’t something she needed support with, but rather she was asking for help on how to make sobriety stick.
Here are some of the suggestions I gave her based on what I’ve found helpful, especially during the first 6 months. Of course I suggested she take what sounded helpful & leave the rest. Maybe someone else reading this will find something helpful here as well:
I chose to take a 30 day break or “sobriety experiment” to see if I could stick to it, and I did. Then I stretched it to 90 days, then to 6 months, and then I knew I wanted to stay sober forever. (That doesn’t mean that I don’t take it one-day-at-a-time when necessary.) I suggest committing to at least 30 days. It takes longer than a few weeks to really feel some benefit physically, and it will give you a few chances to face some social and/or emotional challenges that will help strengthen your sobriety muscles and give you rushes of pride and confidence. It’s as simple as this: go to bed sober each night. Commit to the longest amount of time that doesn’t freak you out, while at the same time just go one day at a time, or one minute at a time if necessary. When you reach your goal set a new one.
The first day I knew it would be a challenge was about 5 days in. It was my full shift at work, I’d be getting home at 9pm, and the next day I could sleep in. I always looked forward to wine after work on these days. I was afraid I’d buckle. So I prepared. I cleaned my house, put on fresh sheets, scrubbed my bathtub, and bought myself an essential oil diffuser,oils, bath salts, candles, and a new book. I planned what I’d have for dinner, prepped it, and got myself yummy fizzy waters and a dessert. A few hours before my shift ended I was looking forward to my luscious evening at home more than I’d ever looked forward to wine! I don’t have to go all out like this anymore but it helps to know what my transition plan is before I get home from a long day so I don’t pace around trying to figure it out.
I suggest looking at the times of day and situations you are most likely to drink and plan ahead, be it after work, while cooking dinner, etc and plan things to do instead, make yourself a list.
I suggest taking a break from challenging social settings in the beginning. Look at it like you are on a retreat. Know it’s ok to say no.
If you do go out with friends who drink take your own car. Have a text buddy. Have a plan B. Invent fancy mocktails and always have one in your hand. No one knows or cares what you’re drinking. If they ask say you’re on a detox or have to get up early. If you feel awkward, realize once they are one or two drinks in they really aren’t paying much attention to you. But you may be surprised that you don’t feel awkward and end up having fun!
I didn’t go to AA until my 30th day. I’ve gone a handful of times since then. It’s not really my thing, but I do go to Refuge Recovery.
I suggest checking out Refuge Recovery or AA or Smart Recovery to see if you connect with them. There are also many online resources, communities, and phone meetings available these days.
Reach out to friends and acquaintances who don’t drink, or don’t drink much, to do non-drinking activities like hikes or movies.
If you feel comfortable telling people, tell them. I told everyone I knew and announced it on social media the first week. In hindsight I don’t know how I did that! But I do know it plays a large part in keeping me on track. If you don’t feel comfortable telling the world, don’t. But try to find at least 3 people you can text or call who get and support your decision.
Go on Instagram and check out the sobriety and recovery hashtags. There is a huge sober community over there and it has a way different vibe than Facebook. Many people I know create a separate account for sobriety related things if they are still anonymous to friends, coworkers, or family. Don’t discount online friendships. Some of my closest friends I’ve never met in person, or only once or twice. But I can call them whenever I need, and they get me.
If you can, avoid gossip or drama or toxic, complicated intrigues. It may feel like it gives you energy or entertainment but it’s really stressful on the mind and heart, and we want to feel peaceful and even.
Don’t worry about the label
Don’t worry about whether you are an “alcoholic” or not. If it helps to call yourself an alcoholic, go for it, but you don’t have to have a label to stop. You can quit just because you think it’s limiting you, because you want more energy, less brain fog, you’re tired of wasting hours or days hungover. I’ve personally gone from trying to accept the label, to disregarding it completely, to recently starting to see that it might benefit me to label myself. Maybe we all have a different idea what it means. To me it meant physically dependent, and I never was. But I don’t have an off-switch so maybe I am. This is a personal subject, but just know it doesn’t really matter- if you want to quit, quit!
Discover What You Love
Think of all the things you’ve said you want to start doing and haven’t, and DO them. Paint. Run. Do yoga. Write. Take a dance class, a pottery class, music lessons, cook, be creative.
Yes that word is everywhere now, but there is a reason! Our society has been neglecting it for decades and it’s the reason some people turn to substances to check out. And it doesn’t just mean manis and pedis. To me it means taking care of my body and mind and being aware when it’s stressed. It means meditating daily, moving my body regularly, reaching out to people, journaling, not eating too much sugar, saying no, avoiding drama, and getting good sleep, and yes, having a mani/pedi once in a while. It’s mainly keeping in good touch with myself and not ignoring my needs.
Write a vision of what your life (health, home, finances, relationships) will look like sans alcohol in 6 months, a year, five years. Write a letter to alcohol and tell it everything – thank it for how it’s helped you, tell it how it’s harmed you, explain why the relationship is over now, and say your good-bye. Know there will be sadness and grief. Feel it.
Read this article: Enjoli
Don’t compare yourself to others
Stay true to yourself. You may feel you weren’t “as bad” as some of the stories you’ve heard and read, your friends might still be drinking like you did and seem to have no problems, but only you know how alcohol has been affecting your life.
Thank you, my Facebook friend, for asking me to contemplate what helped me on my Eighteen Month sober-versary, it allowed me to really reflect back on the past year and a half. I hope it helps you and others!
If you have a question you’d like me to answer on this blog, please email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.