The best thing about getting sober is that you get to live life again. For many of us, we get to actually experience many opportunities that we never really could during our use. Holding down a job, maintaining healthy relationships, and learning how to deal with emotions might seem like everyday stuff to non-alcoholics and addicts, but for us, this is charting new territory.
To be honest, it can get pretty stressful.
So when we decide we are ready to live full lives again, what can we do to ensure that our busy lives don’t get in the way of our sobriety?
First of All, Why do we get Stressed?
the reality is that, when I am stressed, tired, or irritable, it is because there are situations in my life that I have been unwilling to surrender.
I get stressed because I am trying to control and inflict my will upon something or someone that is 100% not my issue to control. Sure, I can rationalize my involvement and importance until the cows come home, but when I am being really honest with myself, I can admit that MY wants and MY needs are often out of alignment.
Working a Program
The absolute best defense we can take against stress and uncomfortable situations in sobriety is to work the steps. The steps are a “design for living” because they give us a framework for any and every possible situation in our lives. Step work can technically begin at inpatient treatment, but upon discharge is when the real work begins.
After we do our initial 12 steps to remove the obsession to drink and get high, we can actually apply them to just about everything else we might face.
- You can’t find a job, surrender it to a higher power. Step 3 ensures that if we put in an effort and surrender the results, the right thing will come.
- You get a job but hate your coworker, write a fourth step to discover where YOU can do better, and then make either a verbal or living amends to rebuild a positive work environment.
- If you can’t seem to save money, look at your defects in 6 and 7 to discover what parts if there are still aspects of addictive behavior patterns that might be fueling extra spending
- If you find that you have anxiety and racing thoughts when it’s time to go to sleep, write a 10th step inventory and let it all go.
- You find that you suffer from depression and anxiety, use step 12, working with newcomers is a surefire way to get out of your head and change your perspective.
Although the initial process of working the steps for the first time can often take weeks, everything after that is more like a spot check. A mini fourth step can take 5 minutes once you know what to look for. The self-reflection in steps six through 11 isn’t as difficult when you have sober people you can bounce your ideas off. Learning how to quickly and effectively utilize the steps as a design for a living doesn’t seem so hard when you begin to do it more often.
Research has shown that exercise decreases depression, helps people sleep better, and improves mental functioning. When we first get clean and sober, exercise can often be the farthest thing from our minds. Many of us are so unhealthy when we come into these rooms that walking upstairs can be a major challenge.
A few years after I got sober I discovered rock climbing. It was the perfect activity for an addict alcoholic like me, who sometimes missed the thrill of plain ole’ dangerous living and a cocaine high. Its been a few years now that I’ve been climbing, and I have learned to love it for a whole new set of reasons like that I:
- get to push myself through fear and overcome doubt
- learn how to manage my breathing and learn how to stay calm in stressful situations
- fully and completely learn to trust another person with my life
- learn how to support and feel pride in myself and in others
Whether you prefer running, weight lifting, swimming, or yoga, it doesn’t matter. The benefit lies in the doing. If you exercise, you will think better, feel better, and sleep better, all factors that diminish stress levels.
I can gauge my spiritual condition by how willing I am to interact with others. I know I’m on the beam when I get to a meeting early and I’m excited to see my friends.
When I linger for a few extra minutes in my car before going in, judge others, and try to leave without talking to anyone, I am not doing so hot.
I have sober supports who call me out when I act like this. It brings me back to a place of neutrality at worst, and serenity at best.
When we invest ourselves in the fellowship and the people around us, it’s a lot harder to focus on our own little worries and problems.
The fellowship and being reliable sober support might sound stressful, and at times, they might SEEM inconvenient. However, when we open ourselves up to it, we find that the phone calls and probing questions only bother us when we are forced to get out of ourselves before we feel like it.
Beat Stress for Good
Apart from all of these tools, there is always :
- Meditation and breathing
- Outside help
- Making to-do lists
- Al-anon and CODA if your stressors tend to be other people
Just because we get sober doesn’t mean life is going to be all rainbows and butterflies. We are going to deal with the tough stuff. What matters now is how we choose to do that. Will we bring healthy outlets into our days, or will we run back to the darkness, where things were “easier”? Always remember to breathe, and that asking for help is a strength.