Having the chance to live a proud, sober life is amazing – but it doesn’t always feel that way in the beginning. In fact, early sobriety can feel pretty aimless and even a little bit depressing until you find your way.
Much of this is directly related to the fact that an active user’s “purpose” is focused entirely on accessing, using, or managing their drug use for months or years at a time. Everyday activities, goals, and dreams fall by the wayside in the often almost violent need to be high or drunk at all times.
This makes it incredibly hard to move forward into a healthy, sober life once you do give up your drug of choice. But the reality is that you need a new purpose and new conviction in order to maintain your sobriety and enjoy your sober life, too. Here’s how to find it.
Take Time to Grieve the Loss
When you’re using, your brain and body become accustomed to functioning with substances on board. In fact, alcoholics often refer to alcohol as an “abusive old friend.” They know that no matter what happens, alcohol will be there to help them through it; this creates a strong attachment to the substance.
Taking the substance away is unavoidably necessary – at least if you want to survive and thrive, anyway. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t effectively a form of loss. You may find yourself grieving for the loss of your “old friend” despite knowing well and good it’s a death sentence to keep using. You may even feel that you can’t move on or have any sort of enjoyable life without it.
This is normal. In fact, it’s a very standard part of recovery. Let yourself feel those feelings – under the close guidance of a therapist or support group, whenever possible – and know that they are temporary.Acknowledge the role substances played in your life, but keep reminding yourself of the reasons you’re moving on.
Re-Evaluate the People Around You
Tough fact: many of the friends you surround yourself with in active use are toxic, bad influences, or otherwise jeopardize your sobriety. Some of them may even be family members, a partner, or people you’ve known your entire life.
Although it’s never easy, especially in the first few months of sobriety when you might feel lonely, now is the best time to start making some decisions about your social circle, and the people who you want to keep in your life. Limit contact with people who trigger you or encourage you to use. Enact firm boundaries for potentially toxic people you can’t cut out entirely, such as adult children, parents, or siblings.
There are two important roles associated with choosing to surround yourself with good people. First, does the person care about you enough to actively participate or at least support you in your growth? Secondly, do they encourage you or drive you to use more often than not?
If you answer “no” to the first question or “yes” to the second, it’s time to part ways and cultivate people who will support you. And the best way to do that is to reach out to the recovery community around you: AA meetings, NA meetings, rehabilitation centers, alumni programs, and even sober meetups!
Start Working to Make Amends
The “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous is nearly famous, and with good reason. While it certainly isn’t the only effective way to recover, it does contain some really helpful steps for finding your way into your new life. One of the most important is step 8, which has addicts find ways to make amends to those they’ve harmed.
This starts with accepting and facing your own mistakes. Look, every active user has something in their past they wish they hadn’t done. You can’t go back and fix it now, but finding ways to make amends where you can will help you align your life with doing better – and it’ll make you feel better about yourself, too.
You may never fully repair the relationship. In fact, the person you harmed might even tell you to go fly a kite or walk away. But knowing that you tried your best to make amends? That’s still healing for you.
Plan Your Career
Whether you had a career before or you’re just thinking about what you want to do for the first time, having work goals can help give you something to aim for. This is the time to really think about what you’d like to do, what’s realistically available to you, and the steps you can take to get there.
Not sure what to do? Think about your hobbies outside of substances (maybe you enjoy drawing, or fixing computers). Try to remember what it was you wanted to be when you were a child – is that still an option? Or, is there an industry or segment of the working world you always found fun?
Try on lots of hats and do plenty of research. Volunteer a few days a week at a place that lines up with your career goals. Use BLS.gov and CareerOneStop to discover local workforce management organizations we can help you find your path. See a career counselor at your local community college – this is often even free.
Remember: you don’t need to launch yourself into becoming a doctor on day one. Just outline a few baby steps and start moving forward. The rest will come.
Be Patient With Your Sober Life; Stay Connected With Your Recovery Community
We can’t tell you that every single day is going to be wonderful in early sobriety. Some will feel amazing, like you’ve finally figured it out. And there will always be days where you feel like you can’t go on even another minute now and again. Over time, these ups and downs will smooth out, and you’ll become better able to cope with them. Essentially, they become a nuisance rather than totally rerailing your day.
Make a list of coping skills and supports. Keep this list nearby for when the rough days come around. Lean on your sponsors and get deeply involved with the recovery community – heading out to a meeting when you’re losing your grip on cravings just might save your life. Stay away from events that trigger you (e.g., bars) and use sites like Meetup to find out where other people invested in sober living hang out.
And most importantly of all, don’t give up. It may be impossible to see now, but you are going to come out of this on the other side feeling stronger, more stable, and more in love with your new sober life. Sometimes, all you need is a little bit of time.