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Bringing Balance Back: Why You Need Routine and Structure

Entering recovery brings many changes and challenges to your life. Especially early in the process, you may feel a bit overwhelmed, as it seems that just about everything about your “old” life must now become different. Establishing new routines, or patterns, to help you structure your time and plan for better choices is a great way to address this challenge. Routines can help you create positive new habits that can serve you long-term, both by helping you maintain sobriety, and helping you create a more healthy and balanced life.

Routine introduces the elements of rhythm and habit into our daily lives. Rhythm is important because the body has its own natural, synchronized rhythm system (sometimes referred to as “the body clock”). Our bodies are “set” to work better when our sleeping, eating and exercise patterns take place on a fairly consistent schedule. Reinforcing this body process is the fact that our minds, too, strongly depend on systems of pattern and habit. Because they have so much information to process, our brains depend on habit to help us regulate many common daily processes. Think how overwhelming it would be if you had to consciously attend to each and every experience that occurs in your life, from brushing your teeth to the steps involved in driving your car, and you can understand why the use of habit is a necessity.

Once a new behavior is habituated, it eventually becomes the “default” setting, replacing the old setting for a particular behavior (ex: your chosen activity for addressing boredom).-Rita Milios

Working with our innate, programmed system of rhythms and habits is a good idea because then we are working with our natural processes, not against them. And when we create positive life-enhancing habits to replace self-destructive habits, we are getting a double reward – the creation of a positive, new experience plus the possibility of habituating that positive experience. Once a new behavior is habituated, it eventually becomes the “default” setting, replacing the old setting for a particular behavior (ex: your chosen activity for addressing boredom). At that point, the need to remember and consciously initiate the new behavior significantly reduces; habit takes over that job.

Science supports the idea that habit and routine are important, especially in early recovery. A NIH report on early abstinence and risks for recovery (An Individual Drug Counseling Approach to Treat Cocaine Addiction: The Collaborative Cocaine Treatment Study Model; 1999) states that “structuring one’s time is an important aid to recovery. Having definite plans and staying busy helps the recovering addict to avoid having excess free time…” The report further explains that “unstructured time can lead to boredom” and increase the risk of returning to old (unhealthy and risky) patterns. But structured routines help you feel more in control; they give you a sense of having taken responsibility for making positive changes; and they help you build confidence. The NIH report suggests the use of both daily routines and weekly routines to establish healthy new patterns.

Positive Daily Routines

Your daily routine may include activities such as the following:

  • A regular wake-up time
  • Preparation for work day (or other, if day off)
  • Daily practice (ex: exercise, meditation, inspirational reading)
  • Meals
  • Hobbies or family time
  • Chores
  • Sleep

Positive Weekly Routines

Your weekly routine might include:

  • Exercise schedule (if other than daily)
  • Attending support group meetings
  • Learning or practicing a new skill (ex: meditation, yoga)
  • Socialization (with supportive, non-using friends or family)

Are You Out of Balance?

We often hear or read about the need for our lives to “be in balance.” What that means is that we need order, rhythm and harmony in all areas of our lives. So you should carefully consider just how much time you will devote to each of the activities and responsibilities that make up your daily and weekly routines. Eating and sleeping are necessities; still you do control the amount of time you spend on these activities. And you control when and how the activities take place. (For instance, sometimes eating will coincide with your socialization time.) By consciously and deliberately scheduling your time, you can make sure that you include all the healthy, helpful habits and routines you need to assist you in your sobriety, and also eliminate large gaps of “free” time that might encourage you to slip back into old, unhealthy patterns.

Sobriety is, in a sense, the start of a new way of living. Why not take charge of it in such a way as to create the most healthy, balanced and positive lifestyle possible?

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