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Friday, July 27, 2018

5 Essential Habits to Practice as You Recover from Alcoholism

“Your mental health is a priority.
Your happiness is essential.
Your self-care is a necessity.”
-Anon

I don’t know where you are exactly in the great scheme of things, let alone your scheme of things.

You may have just got yourself clean and sober (finally), as I managed to do nearly a decade ago. Or, like many who are simply fed up with the drunk life they feel trapped in, you may be reading this because you’re just plain sick and tired of it all. Sick and tired of looking around to find another somebody has left your life or another something else has been lost, and neither may ever come back.

You may be looking for answers because the questions never change: “When will this ever stop?” or “Does it get better when there’s no more of me left to care?” Here’s a question for you: “How could I ever lead a sober life?” The answer, my friend, is a simple “Habits - good ones.”

My name is Andy, I’m a recovering drug addict and alcoholic (clean and sober for 9 years now), and I really don’t know where this finds you in what you consider to be your “great scheme of things.” I only hope it finds you well and wants to learn something about staying well, for people like us.


This is my great scheme because it’s my life. Staying well is staying abstinent. It’s practicing only good habits each and every day. It’s hard work, but it’s attainable, and I reap the rewards. Recovery has bad days, it’s true, but the ocean of good days just end up washing those away.

Good habits - that was a lesson well learned in my own drug and alcohol rehab. Here’s what they told me:

Around 60% of what you did yesterday, you’ll do again today. Wait for it - you will do it tomorrow too unless you want or have to change it. We are creatures of habit, whether it’s where we decide to take lunch during the working day, or where we keep that all-important first drink or first hit of the day - it’s habit, and, as recovering alcoholics, we need good ones. Only good ones. Fact.

Good habits are more than just a way of giving yourself structure. The habits I have built up during my recovery are more than that. They became a way to find out who I really was, how I could learn to react to situations that in the past were triggers to addictive behavior, and also they were a place to hide away if I needed one, a secure and safe place for me to be. My recovery security blanket, if you like.

This article - 5 Essential Habits to Practice as You Recover from Alcoholism - is my way of sharing part of my recovery’s education with you. Like everything in an alcoholic’s slow journey to a clean and sober life, it’s better if it’s shared with others. Let’s begin:

Strength

Rehab provided me with the best education I’ve ever had, and I majored in “me.” Everything I needed to learn about what lay ahead of me was a reflection of what lay inside of me, and that self-realization was the foundation of my recovery. I already felt I was an expert at all that was wrong with me, my faults and my failings. Rehab flipped that coin, and I learned the opposite - I learned my strengths.

Here are just a few of those strengths, amongst others:
  • Intelligence
  • Creativity
  • Loyalty
  • Humor, and most importantly for me
  • Empathy
Hard to do when you’re drunk, but sober, with a clear head, and with the right guidance, you can create your own list. Believe me, you’ll be as surprised as I was. Yes, we may be an alcoholic, but that is just a part of us, and it’s certainly never been our entirety. As part of your recovery, write your list, and remind yourself of it every day.

Less Stress

No-one lives stress-free, right? Right. Our world certainly isn’t set up for it. However, you can take one great leap for yourself in that direction if you learn to manage the stress you do live with. If you’re a recovering alcoholic, the one thing - the only thing - that can take you back to where you once were is a relapse. Unmanaged stress is one of the biggest triggers of relapse, and it needs to be dealt with.

Here are some practicalities you can put in place to ensure stress is not only managed, but the events and issues in your life gain a new perspective:
  • Always, always put your needs, primarily your physical and mental health, above all else
  • “Go easy” (as one of my counselors once said to me) - recovery isn’t a race, it takes time
  • Avoid unnecessary drama when you can - you don’t need it
  • Learn about stress management: exercise, keeping a diary, yoga, meditation, etc.
New Activities = New Habits

The beginning of your recovery is going to present you with familiar challenges. You may well be returning to a similar, if not, identical routine as the one you had previously. My advice? Change everything that you can change, and plan and make the most of the free time that you may now have. The answer to this unquestionable power of routine is to develop new activities and new interests. If you’ve always wondered about something, simply go and find out.

Regardless of the state, I would find myself in sometimes, I always was happy playing basketball when I could and I was able. No surprise that it took up a good amount of my time during my early recovery, and I still play competitively 3 times a week now. Furthermore, art is becoming an increasingly important part of my life now. Find out exactly what your basketball or your blank canvas is. 

Exercise

Your alcoholic life will have taken a toll on your body, and, sadly, some damage will be beyond repair. Not only is cleansing your body of alcohol an exceptionally strenuous undertaking even when medically supervised, you go through it when your body is at its lowest ebb physically. Once you’re on the other side of this essential step, your body needs help to get back working as well as it can.

As they say, a healthy body really is a healthy mind, and, although it may not feel like it at first, there is nothing better for you than to engage in some form of regular exercise, preferably aerobic in nature. You certainly don’t have to hit the gym to do this. In fact, I’ve always found gyms to be a very insular place to get fit - I have always much preferred either team sports or group activities, like a cycling club for example. Not only do you get fit, you socialize with new and like-minded people.

Eat Healthily & Drink (Water)

Having a nutritious and balanced diet, accompanied by making sure you’re always hydrated, is the other essential boost that you can continually give to your body during recovery. The combination of this and the regular exercise described above will ensure you provide your body with the best possible path to its own recovery from your alcoholism. One last word on this - never allows yourself to feel hungry, as this will exacerbate any cravings you may still have.

Given The Opportunity

These 5 essential (and good) habits - strength, less stress, new activities, exercise, and diet and hydration - are the cornerstones of my recovery, and I have no wish to imagine where I’d be if I didn’t have these things in my new and sober life.

At the beginning of your recovery, they may feel a little insignificant, and they may not actually take up a great deal of your time. However, given the opportunity, they will grow and flourish and become as intrinsic to your new life of recovery as the premeditated act of abstention. Just given the opportunity, and we all deserve that.

What good habits have you found helpful in your recovery? Are you wondering how you could make a recovery yourself? Please feel free to share a comment below - thanks. Like I said before, I hope this finds you well. Take care and go easy.

This is a guest blog post.

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