Addicts and alcoholics aren’t generally accustomed to living a life of routine. We may have certain rituals, getting high in the morning or drunk at certain events. We may be used to taking a swig when we first wake up to try and cure our hangovers. But in general, any kind of healthy routine is a foreign concept to us. In fact, the signs of addiction will often include slacking at school or work, or even skipping them all together. We make our own routine, getting high or drunk whenever we wish.
This is problematic when we enter recovery. Just because the drugs and alcohol are no longer in our body does not mean that we have become sober in the truest sense of the word. There is more to sobriety than detoxification. We must learn to act sober, to lead a truly sober lifestyle. If we maintain the same habits and behaviors we exhibited while in active addiction, it will not be too long before we reason with ourselves that there was no reason to quit in the first place. And as soon as we make this rationalization, our families and loved ones will have to watch us suffer a relapse.
It is for this reason that routine should become a part of every addict’s relapse prevention program. We must instill a sense of order in our lives, and become more functional human beings. In order to do this, there are three areas in which we may wish to establish a routine. These are health maintenance, home maintenance, and the manner in which we approach our program of recovery. We must have a sense of each component individually, so that we can tie them together to form a functional maintenance plan for our everyday lives.
Routine Health Maintenance
Health maintenance technically begins every morning when we roll out of bed. We may not think of our hygiene as health-related, but it very much is. You’ve probably experienced that sense of refreshment when stepping out of the shower, that feeling of cleanliness that makes it a bit easier to breathe in the morning. Many of us have also neglected our dental care while in active addiction, and we must learn how to brush after every meal. Not only will our morning ablutions be good for us, but they won’t hurt our ability to socialize with others and put an end to the isolation we experienced in addiction.
We must also pay proper attention to our nutrition, which has a major effect on both our physical and mental health. The standard is three meals a day, while some suggest breaking this up into six or seven smaller meals. Whichever approach you take, try to make sure you are eating healthy. This doesn’t mean that you can’t treat yourself from time to time. But if you make too much of a habit of it, your treats will never really feel much like treats. Try to keep them scarce. It’s healthier, and you’ll enjoy them more.
Be careful not to let yourself go hungry, or succumb to eating disorders. This sort of thing will be much less healthy than simply getting some physical exercise every once in a while. Regular exercise can help you stay energized, while helping you to clear your mind as well. Even the light exercise you get from a practice such as walking meditation will do you wonders, provided that you make time for it on a regular basis.
In fact, you should always remember that your mental and emotional health need just as much tending as your physical health. For your mental health, try reading or exercising your brain through puzzles or some other mental activity each day (there’s a mobile game called Trivia Crack that serves as a great replacement addiction for the purposes of filling the void). For your emotional health, simply try spending some time each day trying to do something that makes you happy. Try Zen sitting meditation to calm your mind and your emotions, or simply reach out to someone in your support network who you haven’t talked to in a while. It will work wonders.
Routine Home Maintenance
Home maintenance is an important part of your routine, especially when you consider how integral your mental health is to your sobriety. A cluttered room is a cluttered mind, so try to keep your personal space clean. If you have a tendency to hoard (even if you’re just one of those people who holds on to old letters and bills “just in case”), then you should make an effort to clean up at least once a week. Actually, you should be extending this policy to your entire house. No one likes cleaning their kitchen or bathroom, but it’s a lot better to do light cleaning once a week than the heavy cleaning you’ll do if you wait months.
Also try to establish a routine that will ensure your space stays as clean as possible. Make your bed as soon as you wake up every morning. Do not wait, or you likely won’t do it. Clean the dishes and the stove every time you cook and eat. Do not wait, or you likely won’t do it. The longer you put something off, the more tiring it will be to even think about getting it done. So clean little things as you go. Wipe off the bathroom counter after you get ready in the morning. Do your laundry before you run out of clean clothes.
Basically, just keep things clean enough so that light cleaning once a week will get the job done. If something like a pipe or appliance breaks, either Google how to fix it (these skills are always handy to have in your toolbox) or try to find a professional right away. You never want to put yourself in a position to build resentments toward your own home.
Maintaining Your Sobriety
Many of the above routines are simple things you’ve been hearing your whole life. Each may be a routine you have not embraced since your addiction began, but that doesn’t technically make it new. Sobriety, however, requires a routine with which you were likely unfamiliar prior to entering recovery. This might make things a bit more difficult for you, as you will need to enter a whole new world and embrace a whole new set of routines in order to stay sober. Fortunately, none of these are particularly difficult if you have the willingness to put in the appropriate time and effort.
You may actually focus your routine to incorporate some form of sobriety into nearly every part of your day. For instance, you might try waking up a bit early before you get ready for the day and read some sort of recovery-based literature. This could be a chapter from Alcoholics Anonymous or some other book that focuses upon recovery, or it could be a meditation from a book such as Daily Reflections or Twenty-Four Hours A Day. At some point in the day, one must also attend a recovery meeting. Find a way to fit this into your schedule, and attend regularly. This should be part of your daily routine for at least your first 90 days in recovery. You may cut back slightly after this, although it is not recommended. If you do cut back, still make sure you attend a meeting on a regular, routine basis.
These meetings are also a great place to meet with your sponsor, who you should be talking to every day if possible. Most sponsors will make time for you when they can, so scheduling is not an excuse. Even if you don’t have anything pressing to discuss, contacting them once a day is a great way to show your accountability, both to your sponsor and to yourself. This part of your routine is non-negotiable; if you do not have a sponsor, get one. Recovery is not something that can be accomplished alone. Your sponsor will guide you, and help you ensure that you stay on the right track.
Tying It All Together
It may sound as if this is all a lot to be fit into one schedule. And at first, it may feel that way. But as you push yourself to maintain your health, your home, and your sobriety on a routine basis, you will find that it does not become so strenuous over time. In fact, you may get a feeling from your new schedule that you have not quite experienced before. This feeling is serenity, contentment, fulfillment. This is the feeling you get when you know in your heart of hearts that you are on the right track.
If it all feels like a little much at first, try making a written schedule. Do this at the end of each day, focusing on what needs to be accomplished for the next day. Your meetings will already be scheduled in. You might also factor in time for your meals, getting ready in the morning, exercise if it’s one of your workout days, etc. Anything that constitutes a usual part of your routine, or anything mandatory such as work or school, should be written into your schedule first. You’ll then see when you have free time, which you can use for emotional maintenance (i.e. fun) or other pursuits.
Formulating a new routine may feel like work at first, but the hard part is simply keeping it up long enough for your new routine to become natural. Once you reach this point, the only obstacle you face is keeping yourself motivated should unexpected complications interfere with anything on your schedule. After a day or two of breaking routine, it can be hard to get back into the swing of things. You can do it, however, if you put some backbone into it. You can start off with a clean slate, and learn to remake yourself anew. Once you do, you will reach a level of sobriety and usefulness that will make you feel more functional than ever before.