Everyone wants to have a quick and simple remedy for how to “make it” in recovery. Who wouldn’t desire an easy, painless solution to how to overcome the anxieties and doubts, the fears and guilt and shame that often trail along even after completion of a drug and/or alcohol treatment program? Sorry to disappoint anyone who’s looking for a sure-fire plan to succeed in recovery. If there is one, it has yet to be discovered. But this does not mean that there aren’t proven effective solutions that have been thoroughly researched and evaluated in real-world conditions, tips that have helped many in early recovery find something to latch onto that can give them a sense of direction, some kind of meaning, and, most of all, hope. Here, then, are six strategies for successful sobriety. In a way, consider them an amalgamation of the best of what’s out there in the recovery community, as much of what is here reflects the advice and recommendations of experts in the field. As always, it is important to remember that recovery is a uniquely personal experience, meaning every person will experience it in his or her own way. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to living well in sobriety, just as there is no one treatment approach that works for every type of addiction and every person learning how to overcome the disease. Therefore, take what resonates with you here and put it to use in your own situation. Adapt, modify and tailor these six general strategies to what works for you. If it doesn’t make sense, or you’ve already found something else that you feel is more appropriate, use your best judgment. After all, this is your life in sobriety. You want to maximize the upside and minimize the downside.
Stick to the Plan
You’ve already likely committed to some vague plan now that you’ve completed rehab and are entering the world of the newly recovered. This probably includes a daily regimen of eating regular, nutritious meals, ensuring that you get the appropriate amount of sleep each night, plenty of physical exercise – to the extent that you are able – attending 12-step group meetings, keeping any appointments with your doctor or therapist, returning to work, reading recovery literature, and so on. So you’re not out there swimming alone in a fog with no beacon to guide you. Sure, it takes time to become accustomed to the kinds of things that have been recommended for you to do daily. It does tend to all jumble together at first and none of it is what you’re used to. Maybe you had an altogether different idea of what recovery would be like or maybe you were somewhat prepared for what the first few days and weeks would be like. It is still a new and different way of living and one that you will need time to adjust to. Naturally, depending on how long you were addicted and what type of addiction you had, whether you had any co-occurring disorders or other medical conditions, your plan may have a number of other daily recommendations in it. The most important thing to remember in this strategy is to stick to the plan. You need to make allowances for the time it will take you to feel at home living in your newfound sobriety. It can feel scary and bewildering, at first, but this will subside over time. Keep going to meetings, get a sponsor and begin working the Twelve Steps, make use of your 12-step support network, and be kind to yourself. You will be successful in sobriety if you stick to your plan. Now is not the time to make radical changes to the basic plan. You will be able to branch out and do different things as you get stronger and feel like you’ve got a firm recovery foundation upon which to build.
Keep the Long View
Rehab for alcohol or drug abuse or addiction, treatment for compulsive gambling, compulsive sex, workaholism, overeating, and/or other process addictions no doubt took a lot out of you. On the one hand, you’re glad to be through that phase of overcoming your addiction. On the other hand, you are understandably eager to get back to your life and pick up where you left off. Not so fast. This should be a gradual transition into everyday life. Returning home can be a joyful or stressful situation, or both. You are not the same individual today that you were when you entered treatment. For one thing, you’re no longer filled with toxic substances. You’ve had some time to learn about the disease of addiction and at least began the process of learning about and practicing some time-proven coping strategies. You’ve simply got to allow yourself some leeway here so that you can begin the real recovery work: learning to live a healthier lifestyle in sobriety. Of course you want things to get back to normal. But the new normal for you is considerably different than the normal life you had prior to rehab. That’s a fact. If you have committed wholeheartedly to recovery, you know that you cannot return to those old ways. You’ll have to part with former friends or acquaintances you associate with your past drug and alcohol use, your gambling buddies, casual sexual encounters – along with the places and things where you used. There is no possible way that you can have one foot in both worlds. You’re either in recovery or you’ll soon find yourself back among the addicted, living only to satisfy your incessant urge to use. This strategy encourages you to keep the long view of recovery. Recognize that this isn’t a one-time thing, something that you try for a few weeks to several months and then go back to your former life. You’re going to be in recovery – should you decide that this is the life you want to live – for the rest of your life. As such, there is no immediate timetable that you have to adhere to, nor should you pressure yourself to quickly achieve goals that you are clearly not ready to tackle. What does the long view mean? Quite simply, it means that you give yourself as long as it takes to master a certain skill, to feel comfortable being able to cope with cravings and urges, to learn how to better communicate with others, to begin the process of mending damaged or fractured relationships, to make amends for the wrongs that you have done that have brought pain to others as a result of your addiction. Sure, the list of what you feel you need to do, as well as what you think right now that you want to do is probably quite long. For some, however, the list is incredibly short: stay sober and don’t slip. By keeping the long view of recovery, you know that you have time to make steady and measured progress toward goals that are reasonable and realistic for you to attempt. As you gain strength in recovery, you’ll be adding to your goals and your horizons will broaden. But for now, just remind yourself that you will recover day by day, by living day by day, in the present, and fully committed to sobriety.
Learn From Your Mistakes
Know going into recovery that mistakes are part of the learning process. This will be extraordinarily helpful and allow you to make smoother progress than if you become so fixated on what you’ve done wrong that you’re unable to continue. Naturally, no one sets out to make mistakes. That would be a recipe for disappointment. But the fact is that mistakes do occur, despite the best intentions. It is much healthier to understand that you will encounter some setbacks as you try different things and work on honing your skills to achieve your goals. Consider the fact that learning any new skill, language, improving your knowledge and experience in almost any endeavor requires time. There is also a learning curve. You don’t start out having all the answers. This comes with time and study and practice. When you find that you’ve not been able to complete a task or project or achieve a goal to your satisfaction or as you anticipated, it doesn’t mean that all your efforts are in vain. It is also not a failure. What’s most important in this strategy for successful sobriety is that you analyze what you did that was effective, as well as what didn’t turn out quite as well, and see where you can make improvements the next time around. And there will be a next time, especially if you take to heart the recommendation to learn from your mistakes. As some have said, a mistake is just an opportunity. It may be an opportunity in disguise, one that takes some effort and practice to be able to see, but it is an opening to new possibilities – if you are willing and able to keep on going on your learning journey in recovery.
Think Small, Act Big
Getting started in recovery can be intimidating and confusing. You may not know exactly where to start. Sure, you may have been given some recommendations as you completed or neared completion of rehab, but it’s one thing to listen and read about tips and quite another to actually get out there and make use of them. This comes with time and practice, as well as a great deal of determination and effort. Here’s a strategy that can help you ease into the goal-setting part of recovery and make it a little easier for you to be successful in your sobriety. Think of small goals to begin with. There’s no need to go after the toughest project or task you can possibly think of. Just because others are involved in something that you’d really like to do, if you are not ready for it yet, it’s probably best that you start with something that is more reasonable and manageable. That way, you’re more likely to be successful in your attempt. While you begin with small tasks and projects that you have a reasonable likelihood of being able to achieve or complete, go into the activity with a positive attitude. Be optimistic and determined and follow through with determined action. So, while you may be starting small, you are acting big. Why is this strategy effective? You lay out plans that are achievable. You work at it and gain confidence and self-esteem with each successful task, project or goal achieved. Another tip about thinking small and acting big is to learn how to break down complex or difficult tasks or projects into smaller and more manageable chunks. This is a skill that will come in handy when you are more established in your recovery foundation. In fact, it is a highly desirable problem-solving skill that is extremely beneficial for everyone – in any stage of recovery.
Appreciate What You Have
Sometimes don’t you find that you get so caught up in your immediate concerns that you forget to value what you’ve already accomplished? This is a common theme that is often heard in the rooms of recovery. The early stages of recovery are so chock full of new things to do, activities that you may never have been involved in before – such as participation in 12-step meetings – and daily to-do lists that may seem like they’re never-ending, that you feel you don’t have time to do much of any sort of reflecting. Here’s a way that you can help build your successful sobriety foundation. Take the time to appreciate what you have – and you already have a great deal, if you stop to think about it. You have your sobriety. You have embarked upon the recovery journey, a new life that you have freely chosen. You are no longer clinging to the outer edges of your addiction. You have learned how to overcome addiction and are willing to do whatever it takes to maintain your sobriety. You are also less likely to become envious of others or disappointed in not having gotten further when you follow or adopt this strategy.
Believe You Can Succeed … Then Work Hard to Achieve It
Undoubtedly the most important thing for you, if you are new to sobriety and just beginning your journey in recovery, is how to set realistic goals and how soon you’ll be able to achieve them. If you follow most of the previous strategies, you’ll be on your way to being able to do just that. But there is a little more to the equation than wishing it was so. A critical component is the belief that you can succeed. If you have such a belief, whatever amount of effort you need to put into achieving a goal will not only be worth it, but it will also make the time go faster while you are in the process of obtaining or attaining your goal. What is often helpful to newcomers to sobriety is to begin with small and manageable lists of goals. These should be considered as a work in progress, something that you will be revising as you go along. That is because many new opportunities will present themselves, some that you may never before have considered or that seemed totally out of reach, some that you rejected as undoable, or simply didn’t know about. When you are making progress, visible through the accomplishment of a number of the smaller goals on your list, you’ll want to expand into new areas. This should cause you to stretch yourself a little, to go beyond your current comfort zone as you seek to learn and master new things. Such effort, in turn, will increase your knowledge and your experience and will broaden your horizons. You will begin to see many new and different possibilities than ever occurred to you before. This is the exciting time in recovery, and it comes to everyone who works diligently, with perseverance and determination, sticks to the plan, who maintains hope and a positive attitude, learns from their mistakes, thinks small and acts big, and appreciates what they have. Are there more than six strategies for successful sobriety? There are as many strategies as you find that work for you. If you happen upon something, some practice or technique or plan that consistently produces the kind of results you are after, then you have discovered something useful and valuable to you. Definitely use what you have learned, but also be open-minded so that you are able to recognize and take advantage of new strategies and tips that you hear about or see demonstrated or learn for yourself. This is what successful sobriety is all about – constantly learning and growing and achieving a happy, balanced and productive life in recovery. The next question, probably the most important one of all, is: are you ready to go for it? Only you can determine the answer. Hopefully, you’ve gotten some inspiration and motivation from these six strategies so that you are willing to give it a try.