Healthy Habits for Long-Term Sobriety
So you did it. You made the decision and stuck to your guns. You are SOBER now. Well, alright! Me too! I have some sober time now and feel much better. I go to a lot of recovery meetings and see all sorts of people come and go. Many people come in, get sober and then relapse. But some of them stay. If you are anything like me, you look at those people that have long stretches of sobriety (like 5 or 10 or 20 years) and think to yourself, “How in the heck did they do that?” Okay, I use different…er…expletives, but you get the point. I know people who weathered health issues, divorce, and even death and somehow managed to stay away from booze and drugs. What are these people doing that keeps them sober through tough times?
“Surround yourself with people who get it.”
So I sat down and thought about it. What kinds of things does my friend Dave do that keep him sober? How does my sponsor stay so even and calm? What makes them different than the others that relapse so often? As far as I can tell, there are a few things that all of these long-timers do that seems to work for them. Consistent daily spiritual and emotional habits play a significant role in their long-term sobriety. Below is a list of six habits that help people stay sober for a long time.
“There is not a drug on this earth that can make life meaningful”
How People Achieve Long-Term Sobriety
People who have long stretches of sobriety stay connected. They do this in many ways, like going to meetings, and reaching out to other alcoholics and addicts. First of all, long-timers go to recovery meetings often, almost religiously. Not only that, they adhere to a set meeting schedule every week. I know one guy who says, ‘If you want to kick my butt I am at this meeting every Wednesday at 7 am.’ Well, he didn’t say “butt.” Meetings allow us to continue learning, to build relationships with kindred souls, and to be available to others who need help.
Another way to stay connected in sobriety is by reaching out to “new-comers.” When I was newly sober, I was shy and shut down. I desperately wanted friends, but after years of isolation did not know how to reach out to others. Luckily, people with more sobriety than me called, texted and made sure I knew I was welcome. It made a massive difference to me and made me want to come back. Little did I know at the time, those people who welcomed me needed connection as well. Addiction is a disease of isolation. If we force ourselves to spend time with others, we are less likely to think about drugs or alcohol.
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”
Many of us, whether we are alcoholic or not, want the world to be a certain way, and we want people to act the way we think they should. When the world doesn’t obey, many lash out or retreat. Alcoholics drink or do drugs to cope. Strange logic, but ask any addict, and they will tell you this is true. To get sober, we have to look at the world differently. The world is going to do what it wants. We have to accept whatever life throws at us and stop trying to manage everything. When I was the king of my kingdom and trying to control every tiny thing in my world, I did a miserable job. And I drank over it. Today I have to honestly ask myself what are some things in my situation that I cannot change? Just about everything. I don’t have to drink over it today. When I accept what is, I feel okay, and I don’t need alcohol or drugs. I learned that from my sober mentors. People with long-term sobriety have honed the talent of acceptance and have real peace.
Yeah. Yeah. Gratitude Schmatitude. If you are like me, you are sick to death of hearing about gratitude. I hear it in meetings. I hear it from my sponsor. Some days I just don’t feel grateful. I guess that’s a normal part of being human. As an alcoholic, though, I have to be mindful of my moods and attitudes. Too much time spent grumbling about traffic, my coworkers or the state of the nation can spell disaster for me. My inner world will become unbearable, and I will reach for alcohol. So, I try to do what my sponsor says to do: make a gratitude list every night before I go to bed. Sometimes my gratitude list is pretty pitiful. I am grateful that I have a job and a place to sleep. I am glad I have fingers. The cookies at lunch were not bad. After some practice (and sponsor direction), I found that when I list positive things about my life right before bed, I wake up in a better mood. It seems that there is a correlation between what your thoughts are just before you go to sleep and the feelings you have when you wake up. Gratitude can influence many things in our lives. Check out this blog post about gratitude and how it affects your health. People who practice gratitude are not only happier, but healthier too.
4. Help Others
In the Big Book, it says we have to help others, or we will get drunk. That sounded strange to me at first. My sponsor and other people that I admire dedicate themselves to helping others. They sponsor people. They give rides. They bake cookies or buy newcomers a cup of coffee. I didn’t see how that could keep me sober. I was a mess. How was I going to help anyone? I was the one who needed help. After a few months, I started to see how it works. One day, I walked into a meeting, and my focus was not on getting help. I wanted to give help. I talked with people who were newer than me. I picked up trash after the meeting. And something shifted in me. I was, well, happy. Moving the focus from myself and my needs gave me a short reprieve from the drama in my head. Later, when I was ready to sponsor, I found real peace when assisting someone who was struggling with addiction. I felt a calm I had never known. Today I have come to depend on it. I know that if I help someone else, I will feel better. Every time.
5. The Present is a Present
When I first got sober, I kept hearing “one day at a time.” It made sense. An endless string of sad days stretched before me with no alcohol to calm my weary nerves. I couldn’t bear the thought. I could do one day, though. And the next day I could probably make it for that day. With a little sober time, staying in the present meant so much more. I realized that I was rarely, if ever, where I was. I was always thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Long-timers told me that “fear” meant Future Events Appearing Real. They said things like “avoid future-tripping.” They also taught me that my past is a gift. It got me to where I am, and I can use my experience to help others. If I can look at my past without guilt and release the future from all the “what ifs,” I can be present right now. People with years of sobriety have learned to mentally stay where they are and face what comes when it comes. I am still working on this one, but it gets easier with practice.
Step 11 says:
“Sought thru prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.”
The people I know that have lasting sobriety take the time to reflect and quiet their minds. This usually happens in the morning and before bed. In the morning there are a few concepts to think about before we go out into the world. We plan to not make a plan, essentially. We decide that, for today, we are not in charge. We follow the dictates of a higher power in thought and action. If we are angry or doubtful, we pause and ask for inner direction. We ask our higher power to show us what our next steps are to be and to give us whatever we need to take these steps. At night we review our thoughts and conduct and write it all down. Where were we selfish, dishonest, fearful? Were we kind? Do we owe an apology? Reviewing our behavior at night shows us where we did well and what things we can improve upon tomorrow.
Personally, it has taken quite some time for me to incorporate this practice into my days. Maybe it was difficult at first because my brain was still addled from the alcohol. My mind raced constantly. With time and practice, I found that my day goes better when I take time to reflect in the morning. I also noticed that the nightly inventory helps me to empty my spiritual cup and start the next day fresh. I still can fail miserably and forget to do this or think I am too busy or tired to set this time aside. Guess what happens when I fail miserably. I feel miserable. So I get right back into the swing of things and make the time to reflect.
The emotional gifts of this practice keep deepening with time. Daily meditation and quiet reflection help me to moderate my attitudes and behaviors throughout the day. I feel more calm. I am less emotional or prone to treat others poorly. People with long-term sobriety try to spend their days living consciously. Like the longtimers, I am learning to respond, rather than react.
“Sobriety is the greatest gift I ever gave myself.”
Why Stay Sober?
I try to adopt the daily habits of people with long-term sobriety. Why? Because I want to stay sober for a long time too. I don’t want to give up the happiness and peace I feel now. I have a way of living now that no alcohol or drug can enhance. Hopefully, with time and practice, I can achieve long-term sobriety and adopt these behaviors effortlessly, like my sober friends.
-Chris D. (usually grateful alcoholic)