As we begin to recover, it is important to retrain our minds to think differently, process emotions differently, and make a conscious choice to change.
We now need to learn how to chose sober activities, sober events, sober emotions, in a sober way, that doesn’t require drinking or using.
The addiction we’ve been clinging to, has been the central focus of our lives for a long period of time, and is now something that we can never do again.
Re-train your mind into thinking that this new lifestyle, is your ONLY lifestyle option. Remember the reasons why you chose to go sober in the first place.
Respond efficiently to triggers, re-direct your mind and chose new activities, stay connected with society, grieve and accept the change of your new lifestyle.
Recognizing & Responding to Triggers
In recovery now, it is important to recognize and respond appropriately to our triggers.
It is essential for anyone in recovery to avoid triggers that have led them back to drinking or drug use in the past.
First start by conquering your fear- use a journal to identify your triggers.
Start by writing about a time in the past where you were faced with a trigger- what your reaction was, where it occurred, who you were with, and what you were doing.
Now using those same triggers, write what you wish you could’ve done differently in that moment. Write how you wish you felt and the reaction you wish you could’ve had instead, etc.
Study this. Practice this.
Familiarize yourself with the responses and emotions that you would’ve preferred to have in those situations. What would you have done differently?
Writing down your triggers will help you keep track of them, and recognize them when and if they happen again, or if you are placed in situations that may be similar.
This will also help in conquering that trigger- the more you write about it, the more you talk about it, the less intense it all becomes.
The hope is that eventually it won’t be a trigger to you at all.
If you are placed in a situation that is similar to a previous trigger, you will be able to recognize it and respond more quickly and appropriately than you have in the past, because you’ve already conquered that trigger in your mind.
Re-Direct Your Thinking
As we know, relapse often happens when we’re bored- those moments when we’re sitting at home, watching tv or playing candy crush- can often be the hardest moments.
Anything we do that doesn’t require our full attention and full energy, will create this little itch in the back of our minds.
What you are feeling isn’t boredom, it’s freedom.
Your mind is free from your previous addictive thoughts, actions, emotions, etc.
When you won’t allow yourself to think of using, what do you chose to think of instead?
Re-direct your mind.
At this point, most people would likely engage in a list of activities to keep their mind off of being bored.
For a certain period of time, all we knew for enjoyment was substance abuse. Now being sober, we have to learn how to fill our time with enjoyable sober activities instead.
Finding a hobby or two is essential for long-term success. It can be relaxing, provide mental well-being and pleasure, as well as preventing boredom.
Here are a few examples of some activities you can do in your free time:
Go to a meeting
Meeting with Friends
Going to Yoga or the Gym
Now, it isn’t a bad thing to stay busy, but maybe we can take a moment to re-train our sober minds, so that way we don’t always have to be running at full speed just to feel safe from relapse.
Slow it down, accept the low speed for once, embrace it. Use these moments to practice training your sober mind.
Every time a non-sober thought pops up, practice re-shaping your thoughts- guide your mind into something else or to someone else; a new activity you want to try, a mental to do list, a conversation you had, a time you felt happy, or what’s for dinner?
Or perhaps, chose to think about everything you are grateful for, how these things have only gotten better since you’ve been sober; something that has gotten more enjoyable since being sober- something you like doing better sober, than not, etc.
If you let your mind get stuck in the past, you will never have the chance to move forward.
Remember, you are sober for the first time in a long time. It’s okay to struggle- think of it like you are a new person, your mind is fresh- you may have different interests now, different likes, hobbies, thoughts, emotions.
It’s okay to give yourself time to re-train and re-think.
During your process of recovery, it’s important to stay connected and surround yourself with other healthy people who are in recovery.
This could mean participating in local recovery support groups, possibly attending AA or NA meetings, hanging out with others in their recovery as well, etc.
Having strength in numbers is important during recovery; aftercare programs and connecting with as many other individuals in recovery as possible, will give you the extra support you need!
This also means separating ourselves from non-sober friends, avoiding a visit to old hangouts or places you were drinking or using, tearing ourselves away from potentially-triggering situations or activities, etc.
Finding the strength to separate ourselves is one of the hardest things to do in recovery, but something we must learn to do.
Developing new hobbies, making new friends, surrounding ourselves with others in recovery, will help re-shape our thinking; re-train your mind into thinking that this new lifestyle, is your ONLY lifestyle option.
Make this new lifestyle your reality.
Grieving the Past & Accepting Change
Once we become sober, it does not mean the process of change is complete. It continues indefinitely, and that challenge alone is what makes this new lifestyle of sobriety, worthwhile.
No one ever said the change to sobriety would be easy, but just because it’s not easy, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
Grieving the death of your old lifestyle, is acceptable. Feeling anger, loss, grief, or bitterness right out of the gates of sobriety, is natural.
The addiction we’ve been clinging to, has been the central focus of our lives for a long period of time, and is now something that we can never do again. The only comfort we have known, is gone, and that creates this huge gap in our lives that we now have to work to close-up.
You can’t let these negative feelings about losing your old lifestyle or habit, affect your sobriety. This is where re-training your mind is used the most- to re-shape your feelings towards a lost past.
This doesn’t mean that you forget the past, or try to pretend it didn’t once exist. No, remembering and working with our past, changing with it and learning from it, is the most efficient way to get through it. It has been said that ‘grief is not about forgetting, but remembering with less pain.‘
We need to be more accepting of change, because it is something that is going to keep on happening, and there is nothing we can do about it.
But it shouldn’t be viewed as a negative. Remembering why you are working on your recovery, why you are sober, etc., may be the key to pushing you forward.
We don’t want to forget our past, because we want the opportunity to learn from it, and remember that even throughout these feelings and the struggle that sobriety comes with, there was a reason we chose to go sober in the first place.