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Staying sober can be difficult. Our lives often need to change in many ways, and it’s a scary process. From meditation teachers and therapists to psychiatrists and sober living directors, we asked nine professionals for their tips on staying sober.
Dr. Reef Karim, Lumion Center
Addiction is a powerful medical, psychological and social disorder but most of all it’s a spiritual disorder. As such, staying sober requires not only a support network but also a diverse and consistent daily practice for lifestyle management.
Here are nine tips an individual should use to stay sober.
1) Daily Structure
It’s crucial that any individual working on staying sober must have structure and consistency which usually requires lifestyle management changes. This means changing where you live, who you hang out with and how you lead your life.
2) Stress Reduction
Feeling empowered with stress management is also very important in staying sober. The ability to reduce one’s own stress through techniques and activities like diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, yoga, acupuncture, martial arts, dance, creative arts and/or seeing a therapist is powerful and well needed.
Trying to stay sober is almost impossible without having a purpose – even if that purpose initially is just to stay sober. A purpose driven life gives you meaning; something to live for; builds self worth and helps you focus.
So many people suffering from an addiction identify as an addict instead of identifying as an individual with strengths and vulnerabilities including having a substance abuse or behavioral addiction problem. A shift in identity is necessary.
5) Spiritual Growth
Spiritual growth is also key in healing from an addiction. When one spends time on spiritual growth, the focus is on meaning, purpose and connection internally and then with others.
6) Learning to Face Discomfort
Many people suffering from an addiction will relapse when faced with a stressful circumstance – either something new or a repeat of something old. The inability to face uncomfortable feelings, have difficult conversations and sometimes sit in that discomfort leads many people to bad behaviors and bad choices.
7) Medication Management
Although medications, alone, aren’t the answer, they can assist in symptom reduction and medical and psychological stabilization.
8) Support Network
Addiction is so powerful, literally possessing people such that they need their pills/drugs/alcohol/behavior as much as they need air; this requires not only insight, courage, clarity, focus and professional help but also an internal support network.
As dopamine depletion and novelty seeking seem to be associated with addiction, finding healthy sources of novelty can be quite important; novelty traveling, learning to dance, working out, martial arts, sports, cooking, etc. Doing new things will enhance your neurochemistry and can act as a buffer when cravings occur.
Good luck with your treatment journey!
Dr. Reef Karim
Dr. Reef Karim is a board certified psychiatrist, addiction medicine specialist, and relationship therapist. The founder of Lumion Center, Dr. Karim is a senior attending physician and an Assistant Clinical Professor at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience. He is a published research scientist in the field of behavioral & chemical addictions with articles in the International Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Addiction Medicine, and other prestigious journals. Visit Lumion Center at www.LumionCenter.com or call them at (855) 701-4040.
Dave, Atlas Recovery
Sobriety is a constant effort that requires a lifetime of maintenance and routine to help keep things fresh. There is no single path or cure that works for everybody. My secret to staying sober is to keep things fresh and roll with the changes life has to offer.
The first year of recovery is the hardest. Sobriety is a huge lifestyle change that takes some time getting used to. The first 90 days or so there usually is a lot of support around people and recovery is still new. As time goes on for people in recovery things change. Later on in your recovery people need to learn how to adapt with all of the changes life has to offer. Life doesn’t automatically become amazing because you get sober. However you will be able to deal with the punches that life has to throw your way better if you have coping skills to help get you through the tough times.
My recovery secret about keeping things fresh even means doing these things when I don’t want to! Sobriety is hard but keeping my routine helps me continue on this path that I’ve worked so hard for!
Dave is the founder of Atlas Recovery, a structured sober living community in Los Angeles. Prior to getting sober, Dave was in the music business for 10 years.
Garrett, Hollywoodland Recovery
I think one of the most important parts of staying sober is friendships and fun. Having a supportive network of people around you that can help you with your recovery while also having fun in recovery is so important. I think as a young person especially, a group of friends you can bounce issues off each other and spend time with can really help for long term sobriety.
At 8 years of sobriety, I was in a situation where I saw a dealer and my drug of choice, being able to call a friend in recovery and walk away from that situation while engaging and discussing it, was so important for my recovery. Recovery feels like it should be boring, and adding friends who can have fun while in recovery can teach someone a lot about who they are and what they like as well as developing the social skills that are crucially needed in early recovery.
Garrett is the executive director of Alta Centers and Hollywoodland Recovery, two addiction treatment centers in Los Angeles. An active member of the Southern California recovery community, Garrett shares his passion for recovery with the large community around him.
Elizabeth, One Mind Therapy
My number one tip for staying sober is to find a community. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a recovery program community. It can also mean good friends who are also sober, a group of people who meditate together, a weekly therapy group, or a book club. My recovery always feels the strongest when I know I have good social support. I think it is especially helpful if the community of people is open to talking about the real stuff that is going on. It is important to hang out with people who are really interested when they ask “How are you?” Surrounding yourself with people like this will keep you accountable and connected.
Elizabeth is a MFT Trainee and meditation teacher. She leads groups at treatment facilities in Northern California and works one-on-one with individuals through One Mind Therapy.
Susan, Changing Tides Treatment
My top three tips for staying sober are:
• Get my endorphins up: this is simple and very practical and the main tool which can spiral “up” rather than down and into isolation and depression. Simply- it’s biophysical in nature and does not have much to do with analyzing, over-thinking, or talking as a therapeutic or process, but can utilize the mind and body with connecting with others or learning. This is great for kinesthetic learners (like me) who are attracted to movement and being outdoors. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that signal the brain in response to pain or stress. Creating endorphins through exercising, being in nature, learning something new and laughing can create immediate endorphins. Raising my endorphins is the number one practical activity for preventative relapse and having fun in sobriety for me. My personal favorites: riding horses, digging in the dirt, involved with creativity (drawing, theater and performance, creative writing) and laughing with friends.
• Service work: this is number two on my list but vitally important to get out of self. Volunteer somewhere. Anywhere. Be of service will get us out of self, out of depression, give us feelings of gratitude, and get us out of isolation. I do service work with the homeless population, US Veterans, people in recovery, the elderly, community events, and animals.
Susan is the Executive Director of Changing Tides Treatment in Ventura CA. She is also a clinician, a published author and her sobriety date is 04.01.1990. Changing Tides LOC is Detox-OP, a boutique treatment center specializing in mindfulness and in accordance with the healing properties of the ocean. Visit them at www.ChangingTidesAddictionTreatment.com.
Griffin, Second Chance Sober Living
“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line.”
In early recovery a lot of us come into the rooms with our heads down. The things we did in active addiction were so shameful and guilt ridden it’s hard for us to even comprehend forgiving ourselves. Getting clean is an accomplishment in and of itself but learning to love ourselves again is a process all it’s own, full of the same white knuckling it takes us to get off drugs and alcohol.
Luckily it isn’t impossible; an addict, any addict can lose the desire to use and find a new way to live. This seems daunting in the beginning. It certainly did for me. But I took suggestions and did a few simple things that made me into a person I am proud to be, and a person who exhibits love and hope, tenacity, and determined appreciation and gratitude.
The biggest thing I did, was deliberately set up things that reminded me that I was a good person. I set reminders, read quotes, took pictures of things I would appreciate, I did things that would remind me that I am a good person, a person who was worth the life that recovery brought me. I created my self worth, it was tedious at times but these simple things really did help.
Stay Strong, Stay in the Center
Griffin runs Second Chance Sober Living in Asheville, North Carolina. He writes for various blogs and websites, and is passionate about sharing his practices that have helped him to stay clean and sober. Visit him on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram.
Patty, Scottsdale Recovery
Anyone who has struggled with addiction knows that getting sober is only half the battle. The ongoing struggle to stay sober is incredibly challenging. It’s critical for addiction professionals to prepare addicts to deal with recovery obstacles, create a better quality of life after rehab prevent a return to drug or alcohol abuse.
How can this be accomplished? Relapse can occur for several reasons, including:
• Environment – when addicts are in rehab, they are in a very controlled, supportive environment. Once inpatient treatment is completed, an addict needs to know how to adapt back in their own environment. In many cases, that environment is a trigger to use again. Addicts must understand that if their environment tempts them to relapse, they may need to change their living, work, or relationship situation to avoid a relapse.
• Inability to cope – addicts receive new life skills to replace old habits while in rehab. It’s critical to adhere and practice these new life skills in order to stay on the path to sobriety. Not doing so will likely cause a relapse.
• Not having a support network – unfortunately, many of the relationships an addict may have had before going into rehab were either based on a shared addiction, or relationships with family, friends and coworkers have been greatly damaged by the addicts behavior. Recovery is difficult alone. Accessing individuals and processes who understand the problems of trying to live a sober life will help prevent a relapse.
The above information illustrates a simple yet difficult fact about staying sober and avoiding a relapse: the life you led before going into rehab (environment, habits and relationships) need to now all be focused on supporting your new-found sobriety. Understanding that getting and staying sober is a whole new way of life, embracing change and surrounding yourself with a supportive environment will help you stay sober.
Patty works with Scottsdale Recovery, a treatment center in Scottsdale, Arizona. A leading provider of addiction treatment in the state of Arizona, Scottsdale Recovery offers a full continuum of care with both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. Visit them at www.ScottsdaleRecovery.com.
Matthew, One Mind Dharma
Staying sober is not a one-time thing. It’s a process that continues to unfold as we live our lives. In any stage of recovery, we can benefit from remaining open minded and willing to try new things. When I got sober, my sponsor asked me if I would simply consider that there’s a better way to live my life than the way I had been living it. Although I didn’t know what this “better way” was, I couldn’t deny that it was possible there was a way to live more at ease.
As my life has grown and recovery has progressed, I’ve continually had to learn to be vulnerable and willing. In some moments, I really need service. In other moments, I need to just relax with a book. By being honest with myself and learning to pay attention to my experience and needs, I am continually humbled. Although I may know what works in general, the truth is that I usually don’t know exactly what to do.
Matthew is an empowered Buddhist meditation teacher with One Mind Dharma and owns Mindful Marketing, a marketing company specializing in working with addiction treatment centers. He leads meditation groups in Sonoma County, online, and at many addiction treatment centers.
Bobby, Elevation Behavioral Health
I think that one of the best things we can do for our recovery is to build close relationships with those around us. Although there are many factors that go into both addiction and recovery, my personal experience has been that connection is one of the most important. In our using, we often are either disconnected from everyone or connected to people in unhealthy ways.
When we get sober, we can find people with whom we can build close relationships. Making new friends is great, but we really need to connect deeply. This may be a sponsor, a therapist, or even a friend. As we progress through our recovery and face difficulties, we need these people to turn toward and confide in. The presence of a trustworthy friend can make all the difference in those times of stress, craving, or overwhelm.
Bobby works with Elevation Behavioral Health, a dual-diagnosis treatment facility in Agoura Hills, California. As an admissions counselor, Bobby helps people find the right path to recovery and meet them exactly where they are in life.
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