The Top 10 Secrets of Lifelong Sobriety
It takes about three months to get a chemical addiction out of your system—one week physically and twelve weeks psychologically. Even after that, the danger of relapse remains strong for at least a year, and there are cases of people returning to addiction decades later. Often, all it takes is one major new stress, a few weeks of overconfidence or a little “surely one drink won’t hurt you now” needling.
If you want to not only get sober but stay sober, and stay sober permanently, here are the top habits you should cultivate. Review this list every few months to make sure you aren’t letting anything slide.
1. GOOD PHYSICAL HEALTH
Fitness, good nutrition and adequate sleep increase not only physical resilience, but emotional resilience and strength of resolve. If you didn’t get a thorough physical checkup during detox, do so immediately and make a plan with your doctor for long-term healthy living.
2. PRODUCTIVE HOBBIES
Set aside daily time for an activity that gets you into the flow of creating and accomplishing— something you can really enjoy that puts your creative energy to good use. You’ll be surprised how energizing it is to stop crashing in front of the television and take up one of the following:
- Soap carving
- Model building
- Playing a musical instrument
- Outdoor hiking
- Training for a marathon
3. HELPING OTHERS
Besides making amends for the problems that an addiction caused, look for no-strings-attached opportunities to contribute your time and talents for other people’s benefit. Volunteer in your favorite cause, whether that’s rehabilitating abused dogs, raising funds for cancer research or counseling others recovering from addiction. Also help others in small everyday ways: pick up a dropped package, clear the table without being asked, or buy fruit salad for your office, for example.
Learn to appreciate your own uniqueness and the wonderful gifts you can give the world. This may take some time in therapy if you’ve been accustomed to trying to fulfill someone else’s dream for you, or to hearing nothing but criticism. But as the saying goes, “I know I’m somebody because God don’t make no junk!”
5. POSITIVE THINKING
Even if you aren’t quite ready to expect only good things from life, everyone can practice turning negative thoughts into positive ones:
- “Just my luck” becomes “This is an opportunity to practice patience.”
- “I’d never stand a chance” becomes “I’ll gain something worthwhile just by trying.”
- “I can’t stand this heavy traffic” becomes “I can use commute time to listen to the educational podcasts I don’t have time for at home.”
6. GOAL SETTING
Closely related to positive thinking is planning and scheduling future achievements that have meaning for you. For maximum effectiveness, have two or three short-term goals and one long-term goal in the works at all times— and every time you reach one, set a next-step goal after you finish celebrating. Live a life of ongoing learning and growth.
Now that we’ve covered expecting good things and planning meaningful achievements, it’s only right to remember we can’t always force life to go according to our tastes— and that’s okay. Live with what you can’t control and work with what you have, and you’ll be much less tempted to blame circumstances for “driving you to drink.”
On the heels of acceptance comes mindfulness: the ability to experience where you are, and how you feel, with all your external and internal senses without passing judgment on anything. When you feel tense, stop, let everything go, and just be in the moment. It’s incredibly refreshing.
9. SPIRITUAL MATURITY
The classic Twelve Steps for recovering addicts is a good starting point to review the key principles of spirituality. Or try this list:
- Admit your weaknesses and mistakes.
- Take a long, deep look at yourself.
- Be willing to change whatever needs changing.
- Promptly pay any apologies and amends you owe.
- Treat others with the same respect you want people to give you.
- Practice stilling yourself and seeking communion with God, the Universe or whatever name you give your concept of a Higher Power.
- Keep reviewing your favorite inspirational classics for new insights.
- Repeat all of the above on a regular basis.
10. RELATIONSHIP NURTURING
Extroverts or introverts, we’re all made for human community. Cultivating healthy relationships gives you motivation to stay sober, provides additional perspective on your struggles, and leads to a longer, healthier life in every respect.