Upon getting sober, you’ll be told many times that it won’t be all sunshine and rainbows. This seems like an obvious statement, as life has ups and downs. But the reason you’ll be told this is because you need to be prepared for how you’ll handle such ups and downs when drinking is no longer an option.
Lately I’ve been dealing with some hard things in life, things that feel beyond my control. I’ve been regretting past choices I made because of the current situation those choices have put me in. I tend to dwell on things like this, and they take up all of the open space in my mind and affect every aspect of my life. The old me would probably have started drinking in order to push those overbearing, anxious thoughts aside. But the sober me doesn’t have that choice. I know that today, escaping from myself isn’t an option. Instead, I need to utilize other tools—healthier ones.
When life has me down today, in sobriety, there are a few things I will do instead of turning to alcohol:
1. Reach out to friends and family. I’ve always had this option, but when I was drinking I didn’t lean on the people who loved me as much as I should have. In fact, I sort of pushed them away so that I could continue to drink. I felt uncomfortable talking about what was wrong in my life, like it made me less of a person to admit that there were imperfections in life. That was ridiculous, because everyone struggles. Today, I reach out to friends and family to talk about what is on my mind, and I know they will be there to offer everything they can. When I’m not drinking and burning bridges, it’s much easier to reach out to someone and know they’ll be there.
2. Work out. Working out has always been a good outlet, but I tend to forget that when I am in the throes of self pity. When you’re feeling down, exercising often feels like the absolute last thing you want to do. But it’s one of the best decisions you can make. When you exercise, it literally releases happy chemicals into the brain—mainly dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that affects feelings of pleasure and happiness. Working out is also a good stress reliever and a confidence booster. After a good, hard workout, problems have a way of seeming smaller and more manageable.
3. Write a gratitude list. I only started doing this recently, but I know many people in recovery who like to do so daily. It’s as simple as it sounds—grab a pen and paper, and write a list of all the things you are grateful for. Seeing these blessings on paper after you finish is a good reminder that life is not hopeless. Even on the days when it seems like everything is going wrong, you have sobriety to be grateful for. And my bet is that you can come up with quite a few other blessings as well.
4. Remind yourself that the only day you can do anything about is today. I’ll admit it, I am terrible about this. I tend to think about tomorrow, next year, 10 years from now. I am a planner and find it difficult to focus on only today. But in the big picture, that’s the only day we can really do anything about. Much like sobriety, it’s about taking life one day at a time. Breaking life down into small, simple pieces makes it a lot more manageable.
5. Cry. Yell. Feel. I used to hate expressing emotion this way because it made me feel weak and vulnerable. But getting sober meant going through a lot of emotions, and now these are emotions I am comfortable with. In fact, I cry all the time. I cry when I am happy, when I am sad, when I am frustrated. Letting emotion out that way may not change the situation, but it can relieve a lot of the build-up you may feel inside.
6. Get fresh air. This may not work for everyone, but for me, being in nature is calming. It makes me realize I am a small part of a big world, and that my problems are equally as small in the grand scheme of things. If you live in a city, find a park. If you live in the country, go for a long walk, or sit and watch the animals interact. Fresh air has a way of hitting the restart button on my brain and I always feel just a little more at ease after spending time outside.
7. Do what you can with what you have. I like to feel like I have control over a situation, even though this isn’t always realistic—and I know I’m not alone there. But some things are just beyond our control. Still, I feel better if I can take little actions, like writing out a list of what I need to do or change. It’s a way of at least doing something so that you feel you have some sort of control over what is going on.
8. Write—even if you are not a writer. Remember, no one has to see what you write. Grab a pen and a notebook and just put your thoughts down somewhere. Doing this is better than letting them all swirl around in your mind over and over. Journaling is therapeutic, and is recommended in many situations. Though it won’t necessarily change anything about your current situation, it may change your mindset, which can be helpful. Attitude and outlook go a long way when it comes to dealing with struggles.
9. Remind yourself of other hardships you’ve overcome. Whenever I feel like my world is crashing down around me, I like to remind myself that I also felt that way the day I got sober. I didn’t want to get sober, and I was convinced my life was over. I felt hopeless, helpless, empty. I didn’t think I could possibly feel full ever again, let alone enjoy sobriety. But in retrospect, sobriety was the best thing to ever happen to me. Something that I thought was the end of my life was really the beginning, and that’s a powerful reminder when I am going through a difficult time. Things have a way of working out as time passes, and they may even turn into blessings.
The bottom line is that problems don’t have to be solved by drinking. There are many other ways to adjust your mindset and your attitude, and even to take action when life gets tough. It’s just a matter of having the tools and knowing you have options.