Did you know that those of us diagnosed with mental illnesses are twice as likely to struggle with substance abuse issues than the general population? We are at a higher risk of developing an addiction to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism or means to self medicate. What’s worse, if we are genetically predisposed and alcoholism runs in our families, these statistics are even higher!
Let’s be real, maintaining your sobriety throughout your twenties feels like a never ending battle. It’s possible to go long periods of time without drinking, unless it’s summer…or Christmas…or the weekend. You feel me. Living that sober life is tough s*!t and it can be increasingly difficult to maintain while trying to balance your mental health and social life.
Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who can engage in celebratory drinks from time to time without spiraling out of control. If this is the case, I secretly envy your self control! But what happens when a major life event hits you like a freight train out of nowhere? Someone breaks up with you, you lose your job, or maybe you end up grieving the loss of a loved one. What happens when you’re backed into a corner and it feels like the only way to make it through the fog is to numb your pain and surrender to your wicked vice?
As someone who has spent the last 10 years recovering from one bender after another, I completely understand the appeal. Life isn’t always easy and it can be VERY tempting to check out when we’re faced with an obstacle that feels impossible to conquer. We fixate on the temporary relief that follows that one drink, or that one hit, knowing full well that it will relieve our suffering…even if only momentarily.
This is why it’s so unbelievably important that us addicts take preventative measures to ensure we don’t relapse when times get tough. It’s why we wake up every day and make the conscious decision to lead a lifestyle that aligns with our goals and dreams. Even during a pandemic. Especially during a pandemic!
I’ve been wracking my brain these last few weeks trying to figure out how (amongst all of the craziness) I’ve been able to cope without my beloved Bombay. How my long lost bff Karen hasn’t graced me with her presence (for those of you that don’t know, Karen is my drunk alter ego, she’s a real treat).
Suddenly I realized that my ability to maintain my sobriety is a combination of preventative measures I’ve built up over the last 10 months. 5 crucial steps that have proven to be very effective and prevented me from relapsing despite my unpredictable circumstances.
Step 1: Maintaining a Drug + Alcohol Free Home
You can’t lean on your addiction if you’ve removed drugs and alcohol from your home right? False. Addicts know exactly how and where to track down their next fix at all times. We know how easy it is to pop by a liquor store, make that phone call, and shut out anyone that tries to stand in our way. Our impulsive fixation is a daily struggle and one that requires nonstop discipline and awareness.
By removing any and all substances from your home you create what I like to call an intentional pause. It’s that very small window of time between the moment you are triggered and the minute you decide how you’re going to react to the situation. If your drug or drink of choice isn’t readily available to you, you get to decide whether or not you hop in your car and give in to your cravings.
Your intention is what will make or break you. Maintaining a drug and alcohol free home has helped me immensely when experiencing moments of weakness because it forces me to evaluate the situation and take action. I like repeating to myself, “it’s not that I can’t drink, it’s that I’m choosing not to”. This allows me to take back my power and gain control over my addictive tendencies.
Step 2: Spend Time Outside
Before moving to Vancouver I never really spent a whole lot of time outdoors. This was mostly due to the fact that Alberta felt like I was trapped at the North Pole and I preferred staying cooped up in my apartment rather than resembling a human popsicle. If you’re fortunate enough to live somewhere with a more mild climate, I encourage you to take advantage of it!
Removing yourself from a particular environment that may be triggering for you is one of the best ways to prevent a relapse and maintain your sobriety! It doesn’t have to be anything crazy. I find going for a walk around my neighbourhood or taking my dogs to the park is the perfect way to get myself out of my head and into my body.
Fresh air and a change of scenery is extremely important for those of us battling the ins and outs of our addiction. Connect with nature, go sit on the beach and get lost listening to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore. Find a way to reconnect with the power of the universe and free your mind of old coping skills and intrusive thought patterns that are no longer serving you.
Step 3: Incorporate Daily Exercise
Have you ever seen the Netflix series Shameless? If not, stop what you are doing and go binge watch all 10 seasons right now. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic…there are no excuses.
One of the main characters (and my personal favourite) is Lip Gallagher. He’s a recovering alcoholic who attends AA meetings, smokes like a chimney, and has taken to running in order to maintain his sobriety. Lip is my spirit animal, he gets me.
Daily exercise of any form is hands down one of the best resources available to recovering addicts. It’s an outlet that forces you to shift your mindset and channel your addictive tendencies into something more positive and tangible. Our brain releases endorphins when we engage in physical activity which activates our opiate receptors. Our opioids system is what controls our addictive behaviour.
Below is a list of my favourite ways to break a sweat.
- Weight training
Step 4: Cultivate Sober Relationships
One of the biggest challenges I faced when I began my journey towards sobriety was cutting off relationships with my fellow addicts. You can’t get clean when you’re immersed in the party culture. You just can’t. It’s like dangling a piece of raw meat in front of a lion and expecting it not to pounce. Ya right…
Building sober relationships is a LOT of hard work. Stop and ask yourself how many people you know that don’t drink or engage in some form of recreational drug use. Couldn’t come up with any? Me neither. Our society has glamourized the use of drugs and alcohol making it exceptionally difficult to meet other sober people. But I promise you they are out there! They just aren’t hanging out in nightclubs or bars.
Surrounding yourself with sober friends who can hold you accountable and support you throughout your journey is a total game changer. These are the people that you can depend on when you’re feeling triggered and require support. Rather than enabling you, they hold your hand and help guide you in the right direction or provide you with alternative resources and coping skills #soberfriends
Step 5: Ask for Help
Sobriety can leave the best of us feeling extremely isolated and alone. Within the first couple of months I found myself refraining from social interactions and spent the majority of my days laying around in bed. The depression was real and it felt like this was a demon I was forced to face on my own, after all, I was the alcoholic and it was my responsibility to abstain from drinking right?
The reality is that sometimes we need help. Sometimes we can’t carry the weight of our addiction by ourselves and it can be extremely beneficial to connect with other people embracing sober living. Schedule an appointment with your therapist, call your best friend, or attend a local AA meeting. Whatever you need to do to alleviate the pressure that stems from maintaining your sobriety solo, do it!
You don’t have to fight this demon alone. Ask for help if you’re struggling and reach out to your support group when you need to. That’s what it’s there for.
Sobriety is complex. It’s messy, draining, unpredictable, and yet SO rewarding all at the same time! If you’re struggling with temptation or breaking free from habitual coping mechanisms, utilize your resources.
Maintain a drug and alcohol free home at all times. Spend time outside and incorporate daily exercise into your routine. Cultivate sober relationships and ask for help when necessary.
I believe in you! I know you are stronger than your addiction and capable of maintaining your sobriety no matter what life throws your way.
“It’s not that you can’t, it’s that you’re choosing not to”
Beautiful Train Wreck