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Now That You’re Sober…

If you're sitting here contemplating your life, now that you're sober, you likely have a whirlwind of thoughts giving you pause. On the one hand, you've overcome a significant hurdle just getting clean and sober. This may have been the most difficult and painful undertaking you have ever encountered, but you came through on the other side, more or less intact.

Now what? For starters, you definitely need a plan. It won't do to simply cruise along day to day and hope for the best. Without a solid and carefully constructed strategy for your first days and weeks in recovery, you'll likely find yourself facing not only an uphill battle but you may even fall into relapse.

Not to worry. This is all doable, but you do need to do the work.

Here we'll cover some suggestions that you can either follow or ignore, depending on your mind-set and how diligent you intend to be about working your recovery. In any case, the following will be thought-starters to get you moving on crafting your own recovery plan.

Make Every Morning Count

One thing we know for certain is that we all get up in the morning, every morning, rain or shine. Well, some of us may be tempted to remain under the covers, dreading to face the day, but for the most part, we do motivate ourselves out of the bed and get ready for the day.

A good tip to help really get our motor running is to leave a little something that we're really looking forward to doing the first thing we get up. It could very well be some activity that we've put down on our daily to-do list and we get excited just thinking about it. What a motivator to get up and make the morning count! Maybe this is having coffee or breakfast with a loved one or family member or your best friend. Maybe it's going out for a brisk run in the early morning fog or swimming laps in the pool at the gym, school or your backyard (some folks have pools, right?).

The point is that having something to look forward to makes us more eager to rouse our bones and get a jump on the day. It sort of puts a spring in our step, to coin an old phrase. You get the idea. Anything that helps us to shrug off the sleep mode and get into gear – that doesn't involve using a substance, that is – is a great way to make every morning count.

Now that you're sober, you can use all the help you can get, and this is a suggestion that's easy, free and always available.

Think About Sharing

Do thoughts of the past tear at you during the day and keep you from your tasks or planned activities? Do you start on your appointed list of things to do and get sidetracked, plagued by memories of days past? Are you wallowing here or are you really concerned about something you've said or done that needs tending to?

What you'll likely find is that there are going to be days when it seems as if all you do is think about the past. You tell yourself that you're not going to and then, when you least expect it, here come those pesky reminders of days gone by. It could be that you're driving past where you used to hang out with your drinking pals or you hear the sound of ice cubes in a glass. Your mind instantly races right back to a time when such sights and sounds meant something totally different.

Now that you're sober, you should maybe think about sharing these thoughts with someone who can help you get past them. Don't just keep them bottled up inside. That's never going to release them. They'll just keep resurfacing to try to thwart your recovery plans.

Early recovery, especially, is a tough time to be dealing with reminders of the past. You're not yet skilled in using the coping mechanisms you learned about during rehab and maybe you feel as if you don't know exactly which ones will be the most effective.

Should you count to 100, rearrange the pantry, clean out the garage, exercise until you're near exhaustion, engross yourself in a book or a crossword puzzle? While these are all useful coping techniques for dealing with cravings and urges associated with memories of the past, as well as physiological and emotional urges, it may be tough for you to sort through them at the time you really need something to get you past this point in time.

If you still have continuing care or aftercare and have the availability of a therapist or counselor, it's probably a good idea to talk over these difficulties with that person. Certainly there will come a suggestion or two that you can work on. At the very least, you'll be reassured that you're not alone in this, that it's normal for those in early recovery. You just need to give it time – and keep working on your recovery.

Get Yourself a Sponsor

Remember the 12-step groups you participated in during treatment? When you were making your recovery plan prior to leaving rehab, it was strongly recommended that you continue going to meetings once you returned to your normal life. For some individuals who leave treatment, going to 12-step meetings is the last thing they want to do. They simply want to go home and forget the weeks or months in treatment and get on with their activities.

That, however, is decidedly the worst thing you could do. For one thing, you're still raw and vulnerable. You don't have much sober time under your belt. Without the support and encouragement of your 12-step group, you might just find yourself rationalizing and taking chances. It's just too risky to be out on your own without a lifeline.

Speaking of lifelines, one of the very first tasks on your agenda should be to get yourself a sponsor. You don't need to run up to the next person you see at the meeting and ask him or her to sponsor you, but you do need to start thinking about how you will find a sponsor.

Start by making mental notes of the people you meet in the rooms. Do you like how they express themselves? Do they seem to embody the principles of recovery (to the extent that you know what these even are, yet)? Is this a person that you admire and want to emulate?

Other good qualities to look for in a potential sponsor include honesty, easy conversationalist, reliability, long-time sobriety, and someone who will actually call you on your evasiveness when you try to duck your responsibilities or fail to show up when you say you will.

Don't worry if it takes you a few weeks to identify someone you'd like to ask to be your sponsor. Just make it part of your recovery plan that this is something you actively work at as soon as possible.

Why? You need to have a sponsor to help you understand the principles of recovery, to guide you through the Twelve Steps, and to serve as your sounding board when you need help or run into obstacles. No, your sponsor is not your counselor and will not serve as your therapist. For that, you need to look to the professionals. But your sponsor serves an all-important role as your guide into recovery. He or she has been right where you are right now, so nothing you're encountering is all that alien. As a mentor, guide and even friend, your sponsor is your best ally in your recovery journey.

Dreams You Can Believe In

While we're on the subject of early recovery, it's also worth mentioning that this is about more than just getting by. Recovery is also about making plans, following your dreams, and putting together possibilities that you can investigate and pursue, if that's what excites you.

What you need right now is to cultivate your ability to dream. Yes, dreams are somewhat fanciful, in part, but that's what makes them so exciting. We all need something that's beyond our current state to strive for. Sometimes, in fact, a great many times, this means stretching ourselves far beyond what we believe to be our current abilities or even capabilities. But we'll never know if we don't get involved and see what's possible.

In short, we all need dreams we can believe in. You are no different than the next individual entering recovery, feeling a little shaky, uncertain, maybe more than a little disheartened.

There's nothing like dreams you can believe in to make you a believer. And if those dreams get you off square one and into making action plans, so much the better.

Think you don't have anything worthwhile you want to do? That's okay, don't stress yourself about it. Trying to force something never works, just like you can't force someone to love you or even like you, you can't force a desire to do something. You simply have to allow it to evolve.

Here's a suggestion for how to get this exercise going. Think about what you've enjoyed doing in the past. What really got you excited as a kid or a teenager? Was it a particular hobby or recreational or sporting activity? Did you really like doing chemistry experiments or decorating cakes or working with wood? Did you like to paint or do ceramics? Was working in the garden something that you found enjoyable?

Start with what you like and see if there's a way you can incorporate some element of that into your life today. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate. In fact, it's probably better if you just start off small. Dip your toe in the water, so to speak. If it no longer holds any appeal, there's nothing lost. What you have done is to take action. Instead of just sitting around thinking there's nothing that you want to do, get out there and start doing something.

The very actions of doing something will jumpstart your creativity. Pretty soon you'll be thinking of ancillary or related projects or activities that you'd like to pursue. Once you begin to think of how you'd go about approaching this new hobby or endeavor, you'll have an opportunity to investigate what's needed, to put together plans, and get to work doing it.

So, for now, just keep it in the back of your mind that you need dreams you can believe in. Then, give yourself permission to dream, as often as you can. Dreams you can believe in is a little like rich crema in your Starbucks latte. It doesn't get any better than this.

Starting Over May Be Best

Another point that many in early recovery dread like nothing else is the idea that they may need to start over. Starting over means different things to different people, of course, but it almost always implies that you'll have to give up something or someone that you really like.

That's not necessarily true. If you think about entering recovery, you're already starting over. You've chosen to leave behind a life of addiction, self-destructive habits and behaviors. That's a good thing. In fact, it's the only way you've arrived at this point in your sobriety. So, from that standpoint, you've already overcome an incredible hurdle. That should make you feel a sense of accomplishment, because you did it.

But there may be more going on in your life, now that you're sober, that needs attention and change. While it's not recommended that you make major life changes, such as getting a divorce, getting married, even getting into a major romantic relationship, during your first year of sobriety, that doesn't mean that you should avoid making some necessary changes that will benefit your continuing sobriety.

One obvious place you may need to start over is with your former group of acquaintances. Let's not refer to them as friends, even though they were among your most frequent interactions. How good a friend were these individuals when they wanted to keep you coming back to use with them or encouraged you to keep on partying even when you and they knew it was killing you? These aren't your friends at all, especially if they resurface in your life and try to entice you back into your old ways.

During rehab you learned about the triggers, the people, places and things you associate with your past abuse of drugs and alcohol, of gambling and compulsive sex and other process addictions. Starting over means that you put into place a plan where you will find new friends, take alternate routes home so that you don't come into contact with those triggers. Starting over means you find other activities to fill up your time and put meaning into your life.

What if you can't start over, because the triggers are right in your own home in the form of family members or loved ones who continue to use or who are not supportive of your recovery efforts? If this is the case, you can still start over, but your sources of support and encouragement will come from outside the home. You will undoubtedly spend more time with like-minded individuals in recovery such as your 12-step sponsor and fellow group members.

You should also branch out and meet new people who share the kind of lifestyle and activities that you enjoy. Making new friends will allow you to continue working your recovery and boost your self-esteem and self-confidence at the same time. You can't change what others do or think at home. You can only change within yourself and make your own choices going forward.

It's the Little Things that Matter

Take the time at the end of each day to add up what you've accomplished thus far. What did you do today that you set out to do and did it go as you planned or anticipated? To the extent that you met a goal and completed it, give yourself a gold star. By that we mean you need to acknowledge that you did what you set out to do. This is a good thing and it's necessary to spur us on to do even more tomorrow.

Don't think for a minute that just because something you did today was rather small in the scheme of things that it doesn't count. It really is the little things that matter, for each and every thing that you do is important for your recovery. In fact, there's nothing that's too small to count. A smile you readily give to others is a small thing. Some might say that a smile is a throwaway, but in reality, a smile is a gift that is worth more than gold. With that smile that you display, you may bring a bit of joy to the heart of someone who really needs human interaction. Just as you once needed a smile and a hearty handshake and a welcome into the 12-step rooms, you can return the favor anytime, anywhere.

Like the Golden Rule of "Do unto others as you would have done unto you," doing little things matter. And they matter even more when you go out of your way to help someone else, to brighten their day, and to get outside yourself and your own concerns.

Now that you're sober, you have the world ahead of you. What you do with your life is yours to plan and to achieve. All things are possible. But remember this: You need to work your recovery. It won't just come to you. Be open to change and be ready and willing to do what it takes. Now that you're sober, embrace life, the life that you want in recovery.

Posted on February 17th, 2012
Posted in Staying Sober

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