Many say that the first month of sobriety is the hardest. Others say that things get easier after the first ninety days. Then, there are those who say that you must make it through at least six months, or even up to a year. In truth, however, people relapse at various stages in life. You should never assume that your disease is not an issue, for that is when you risk letting your defenses down. But, that said, early sobriety can be particularly difficult for most recovering addicts and alcoholics. For this reason, it may require a bit of extra attention.
Those who undergo treatment in one of our treatment programs will find early sobriety a bit easier to navigate. During intensive treatment, it isn’t so easy to simply go out and use. But the brain and body are still on the mend. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome still stifles the addict’s ability to feel normal without using. And if one does not follow certain guidelines, they will spend their months in treatment simply daydreaming about the time when they can finally use again. If you want to make it past early sobriety without the fear of relapsing as soon as you have the chance, you need to play it safe.
Various experts may provide different tips about how to survive early sobriety. We believe, however, that many of these tips can be grouped into three distinct categories. One revolves around finding reasons to stay sober. The second involves the need to overcome the addict state of mind. Finally, recovering addicts and alcoholics must find a routine that works for them. Nobody can tell you exactly how to run your program. But the following tips should get you off to a good start.
Remember Why You’re Doing This
Nobody enters recovery because their life is going superbly. We are pressured by family, employers, or judges. On the off-chance we do decide to sober up without pressure from any outside sources, we tend to do so after realizing that we have hit rock bottom. Our lives are in shambles. We have fallen into a ditch, and we do not know how to claw our way back out. But no matter how badly our substance abuse may hurt us, a funny thing happens over time—we completely forget about it. Perhaps not completely, per se, but it certainly doesn’t weigh on our minds as heavily as it did at first.
The answer is not to wallow in depression, the way we do when we first enter early recovery. Perhaps we need to feel sad and guilty for a time, but these negative emotions lose their usefulness. We must strike a balance, remembering our past while also forgiving ourselves. Because in the end, the goal is not to feel bad about ourselves forever. The goal is simply to remember how bad we felt when we first entered recovery. And to do this, we must remember why we felt so bad in the first place.
Most of it stems from guilt, shame, and a sense of loss. Perhaps we have lost jobs, relationships, or opportunities to succeed in various areas of our life. Maybe our health is in question after a particularly extended period of substance abuse. Upon waking up and realizing that we need help, we come to realize that this is not living. This realization helps us dull our mental obsession and make it past those initial cravings. But as we continue through early sobriety, these urges start to return. If we forget what dulled them in the first place, they just may get the better of us.
This is why we recommend making a list. Write down all of the ways in which a relapse might hurt you. Better yet, try to write this list from a positive viewpoint—not why you shouldn’t use, but why you should stay sober. Instead of writing that you don’t want your health to fail, write that you want your health to improve. Instead of writing that you don’t want to lose more relationships, write that you want to develop healthier ones. Keep this list somewhere you see it often, like by your bedside. Or, fold it up and carry it in your wallet so that you can’t buy drugs or alcohol without reaching past it. Even if you don’t take it out and read it, you’ll remember what you wrote. This will act as a great relapse prevention tool while you are still cultivating the right mindset to stay sober.
Cultivate the Right Frame of Mind
The list we’ve recommended above is a big part of cultivating the right frame of mind, but there’s much more. If we are going to get out of our funk and enjoy early sobriety, we must be good to ourselves. We should learn to enjoy the little things in life, such as sitting outside for a few minutes or taking a hot bath. Identify some things that you enjoyed before you started using, and try taking those hobbies up again in sobriety. Learn to socialize and enjoy the company of others without needing to drink or get high. This will help you to realize just how enjoyable sobriety can be.
At the same time, early sobriety is more than sunshine and bubbles. It will have its dark clouds. This is especially true when following a step-based program, as Step One requires us to let down our defenses. Breaking through your denial requires you to look at more than just the worst consequences of your substance abuse. It requires a full inventory of the things we have done, the ways in which we have hurt others and ourselves. We may have some happy memories related to our addiction. We use these to convince ourselves that we can one day go back to our substance abuse and learn to control it. This sort of thinking often gets people in trouble, and they do not always survive the return trip.
As we’ve said above, the key here is balance. Only through balance can we prevent the type of emotional disturbance that often leads to relapse. If we get too confident or full of ourselves, we might assume that we are immune to relapse. This is when we let our defenses down. If we get too depressed, angry or just plain hopeless, we may decide that sobriety is pointless. This is when we throw our recovery tools by the wayside and give up on ourselves. We become accustomed to extremes while in addiction, but our newly sober mindset must revolve around keeping a level head.
Of course, you can’t cultivate a sober mindset if you are suffering from too many physical ills. This is why you must take care of yourself throughout early recovery. Sleep normal hours. Stay hydrated. Try to maintain a nutritious diet. When our physical health falters, our mental health often falters along with it. If you let this happen to you, sobriety might not last very long.
Figure Out Your Own Program
Since our mindset is generally informed by our behaviors (and vice versa), we have to figure out the best way of running our program. We will hear many suggestions in early sobriety from people with a lot of recovery time under their belts. Some of these will work for us, but others may not. For instance, some people may tell us to write down a list of character defects and keep them in a jar or a hat. We are then supposed to draw one each day to work on it. But some of us prefer to actively identify the personality flaw that has been troubling us the most lately. In such cases, you should embrace the method that helps you the most.
This applies to most aspects of our programs. Going to AA or NA meetings is highly recommended, but you have to find the ones that work best for you. Since it is usually suggested we attend one meeting per day during our first ninety days of recovery, you have some time to figure this out. If you go to a meeting and don’t like it, then try a different meeting place. Or, you might even try the same meeting place but at a different time. Many meeting spaces have multiple meetings per day, so experiment a bit and see which meeting feels the most comfortable.
Finding a sponsor is something you should definitely do in early sobriety, but you have some leeway here as well. Talk to a couple of people. Listen to their shares. See whose worldview matches your own. Better yet, see whose worldview you would most like to share. When you’ve found the right person, you will likely know it intuitively. Approach them after the meeting and ask if they’re willing to sponsor you. If they can’t, get their phone number anyway. This is part of building a support network. We need a large network, but we shouldn’t fill it with random people. They must be people that we feel we can trust. When you need a shoulder to lean on, you’ll be glad you put some effort into this step.
Honestly, this doesn’t even begin to cover it. There are numerous little aspects of your program that you may adjust slightly to fit your own personal recovery. But the big things, such as meetings and sponsorship, are the most important focal points. You also have freedom to decide which recovery literature you want to read the most often, or what type of service work commitments you would like to take on. As long as you feel content and are not jeopardizing your serenity, you can make it through early sobriety without sacrificing the parts of yourself that make you unique.
Remember—this isn’t about becoming a completely new person. It is about bringing out the best parts of you that were obscured by your addiction. As long as you keep looking inward, you will find them in time.