My Best 7 Tips for Newcomers After 2,000 Days Sober
I had one day sober when I went to my first sober party. It was about 9:30pm, and suddenly the girl who danced on the black leather couch at the club was now the girl standing in the doorway of the bathroom of someone’s apartment clutching her red plastic cup of seltzer, “checking” a phone with no new messages.
That was November 11 of 2012, and it had actually been an additional two weeks since I’d had a drink, but then I found out that weed “counted.” So I started over and continued to hit the 12 steps hard and take all of the suggestions. I’ve been sober ever since.
The 2,000 days that followed were made up of hours so intense that I had to move through them one second at a time and months that felt effortless. I got a ton of advice and suggestions from people in and outside of the rooms, and have ultimately found my own way in the world as a sober woman.
Tried-and-True Recovery Tips
Everyone works their program and lives their sober life differently, but there are certain things I have found personally always hold true, as they have from day one to today.
#1 Don’t Follow That First Negative Thought
In your first year, it’s true that on many matters, you can’t really trust your thinking, at least the kind that gets you into situations you maybe should have thought twice about. You’re here to learn how to live a happy, healthy life from others who seem to have nailed it, so be wary of those first paranoid, judgmental, angry, scorned thoughts you’ll have in reaction to life and the people in it. Impulsivity was a big part of my personality when I was still active, whether I was drunk and hopping into a cab with some rando or stone-cold sober sitting at work, firing off emails that really needed some time to breathe first.
In fact, in addition to becoming willing to ignore those thoughts, definitely, definitely don’t act on them. You know in your gut if it’s not a great move. You really do. So, hold your tongue, say the most respectful or kind thing you can muster if you must say anything in the moment, and pick up the phone, meditate, go for a run, call five people, whatever you need to do in order to avoid repeating old patterns of doing something that feels soothing in the moment that can be damaging in the long-term. You may even find out later that you misunderstood intention, tone, or that your mind was creating a story where there was none.
#2 Do Not Rely on Help From Just One Person
Create that sober network and find other people with a lot of time who can advise you and who you can talk to about your sponsor, or your friend, when you’re having a tough time with that person – because you will. And there is nothing like feeling shaky about such an important relationship to make you toy with the notion of giving up. Also, you never know when your sponsor will be available or not, and sometimes, unfortunately, they relapse, too. You want to feel like you’ve got a solid squad you can trust.
#3 Feelings Pass and Things Get Better If You Don’t Pick Up
You will have the thought more than once that there is nothing that would ease your nerves people like a drink or a hit. Well, don’t. Feelings and situations really do pass and get better as long as you don’t pick up. It’s a rule of the universe. We did not make this up to trick you. I can’t give you a timeframe on any given situation, but I haven’t relapsed (I’ll say ‘yet’ for good measure) but I hear it’s not a lot of fun. It’s a real bummer.
Don’t throw away your progress when things get hard, and you will see that you’ll start to actually grow and possibly avoid being in the same painful place again by taking the time to reflect – whether what’s causing you pain is or isn’t in your control, you always have choices to make your life just a little easier .
#4 You Really Can Change If You Do The Work
As long as you are willing to grow, change, and be uncomfortable at times, the “new you” is someone who is able to experience what AA refers to as “the promises” on a pretty consistent basis. Your life will begin to change for the better – even if it’s only because you’re changing the way you relate to it before you make any big moves to upgrade any given work/life/relationship/living situation.
Here’s a simple breakdown of those promises:
- We’re able to actually feel peaceful and calm on our own, without a drink or a drug, and figure out what makes us feel genuinely happy.
- We aren’t plagued by financial or emotional insecurity because we’re making smarter, conscious, responsible choices.
- We stop rehashing the past, holding on to grudges and reliving painful memories and come to terms with everything once and for all and move forward.
- We stop being self-centered (we all get offended by this claim at first blush, until we realize, yeah, we kind of were) and start caring about other people and greater causes while still taking care of our own needs.
- We start to realize we can handle things that used to feel overwhelming and crises-level crazy in a pretty simple and rational way, and most importantly of all, we don’t live our lives operating from a place of fear.
#5 Show Up When You Say You Will
If you are looking for excuses to get out of a work, social, or meeting/fellowship (hanging with other sober peeps) other commitment because you:
- Kind of don’t feel like it
- Are not sure you’re going to like it
- It’s inconvenient
- You won’t ‘get anything’ out of it or
- Are Anxious
Suck it up. I have not regretted a single instance of showing up when I didn’t particularly want to follow through, even if things didn’t turn out as “fun” or “fruitful” or “insert expectation here” as I may have wanted. The great thing about this is, people will show up for you, too, and you’ll feel good about being a reliable person.
There is always a clause that allows you to bail or reschedule: if your sobriety will really be at risk or if you are actually not feeling well. Taking care of yourself is extremely important. We didn’t for so long! If you are feeling squirrely about your friend’s big birthday bash at a bar, tell her you’ll take her out for brunch or dinner at a day and time that works for her, and, duh, actually follow through on that. If you are legit too sick to head out, stay home from whatever it is.
#6 Hey, After A Little While, Try Starting to Trust Yourself Again
I took every suggestion my sponsors, friends, and ‘the literature’ gave me for the first three years of my recovery. Even then, though, there were people who really messed with my head, weighing in on my medications when they shouldn’t have, projecting whatever their own sponsor told them right onto me at very inappropriate times, and policing me like I was still counting days. It took me nearly five years to find the courage to start living the sober life that worked for me and standing by it on a middle ground between remaining connected to the program and the people in it and learning to rely on myself and have faith in the universe.
When we get sober, we see things more clearly, and if you’re working a program, chances are you’re getting back in touch with reality and rationality, perhaps you’re even meeting for the first time. Don’t let anyone bully you into doing something that doesn’t feel right, and feel free to speak up for yourself in a kind and honest way. At some point, the training wheels have to come off.
#7 Therapy and “Outside” Professional Help is a Wonderful Thing
Sometimes, our issue really is just alcoholism. Often, though, there’s something else driving that train: post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or just some issues we really need to deal with that a meeting is not going to fix.
For me, continuing to see my therapist through it all offered me additional perspective and offered a solid buffer through a rough patch when a few sponsors made me feel like throwing my hands up and quitting.
Not only can it be nice to have an impartial third party to talk to, but if you do have other issues to address, things can only get better when you start treatment and recovery for those, too.
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