How to Maintain Your Sobriety
As a recovering drug addict with over twenty years of sobriety, I understand this can be a difficult and complex situation to write about. Everyone is different, and people use drugs for vastly different reasons. There’s millions of ways to be an addict, so just to start my article off on the right foot, let’s agree that this is a difficult subject to write about.
My Experience with Addiction
So instead of discussing the varying commonalities among drug addicts and those who maintain long term sobriety, or other irrelevant statistics, I’m just going to share some experience and practical advice with you.
For every one person who wants to learn how to stay sober or clean, there are equally as many answers. Drug addiction is a highly personal thing. It’s something that many people share, but then again, they don’t. Some addictive behaviors may be similar, but the inner workings of an addict’s mind is a mystery for each and every one that exists. In order for anyone, and I mean anyone to first obtain and second maintain sobriety through whatever hard times exist, no matter what happens in life… that takes very serious dedication.
The “dedication” part of it is where so many addicts have trouble. And, conversely, this makes the argument for me that ongoing support and participation in some kind of regular meeting or group is supremely important in maintaining that dedication. Dedication can change like an opinion, but if you have someone else helping to hold you accountable, the odds improve significantly that your dedication will not shift off course, which frequently leads to a relapse.
Now, most addicts who want to quit using their drug often enter some sort of substance abuse treatment center while they are highly motivated and even excited. But as time passes, so can the determination to stay away from their drug. Some addicts enter the treatment system as a result of external crisis. Some come in with high levels of motivation for drug treatment, but others have less. Regardless of their level of motivation, however, entering a drug treatment facility can be a frightening experience and one that requires a high level of interest in resolving ones’ addiction. I should also note that regardless of their motivation, the fact that they reached out for help should be commended and supported.
One time in an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting, someone asked how the old timer’s had stayed sober. Many of them admitted to slipping and relapsing occasionally, but the simple way to stay sober is just to not pick up the drink in the first place. Sounds simple enough, right? Just don’t have that drink. Just don’t smoke that drug. Just don’t take those pills. Words of wisdom, for sure, but hardly easy.
So how does a person not pick up that drink, or stop using that drug? The answer is SUPPORT. There is no doubt that the first thirty days of any detoxification process may be the most difficult and a lot of close observation and support is necessary during this time. This is often hard to do in a home environment, especially in today’s world of working parents. It’s hard to have 24/7 observation over anyone, much less a drug addict who may come up with extremely creative ways to get his or her next fix as soon as a blind eye is turned. This is where in-patient care can be of the most help.
In Patient Assistance
When someone is getting in-patient care, it basically means they’ve been admitted as a patient into a drug rehab or treatment facility. It also basically means they can’t leave until the in-patient treatment part is complete. Afterwards, they may recommend a half-way house, or possibly ongoing personal and/or group therapy for the initial and long-term maintenance. Reason being, is that anyone serious addict who has been through treatment more than once can tell you, getting sober is easy. Staying sober is hard.
Staying sober has as many challenges as there are stars in the sky. Addictions have a nasty habit of coming back at just the right time, like a thief in the night. And the problem is, it usually only takes one use to trigger a full-blown relapse. Just one.
So how can anyone avoid this? Well, for starters, inpatient drug treatment is very helpful in getting you clean. A half-way house can provide monitoring and counseling, while still giving you exposure (and freedom) to the outside world. Ongoing group counseling and/or personal therapy is where you’ll find the strength to turn down that opportunity to use your drug “just once more”. It won’t hurt anything, right? No, wrong. This is because of the nature of addiction. You can’t be an addict and also have the ability to control your drug. If you’re a real addict, your drug controls you. This is important to know in order to fight it off. Once you realize your drug can easily overpower you if you let it, it’s up to you to let it or not. It’s just as easy to pass on a drug as it is to pick it up and use again. The difference comes from strength. And we all know, there is strength in numbers. So there’s your argument for long term AA or NA (Narcotics Anonymous), or a host of other ongoing treatment groups.
Other things you can do to help maintain your sobriety include:
- Keep Busy – A drug addict’s worst enemy is boredom, so by keeping yourself busy, you’re also keeping your mind off your addiction, passing time productively, and replacing bad habits with better ones.
- Talk – Don’t keep your addiction a secret. The more people around you who know about your struggle, the more support you’re going to find. It’s embarrassing the first time you tell someone you’re an addict, but becomes easier over time. No matter how easy or hard it is to say it, if you do, you’ll likely find that most people will rally around and support you.
- Go to Meetings – This is also part of “Talk” above, but just with people who share similar experiences with addiction. It’s one thing to sympathize with a person, but to have experienced something yourself and to have a better sense of exactly how that addict is feeling is a whole level of power altogether.
- Seek professional help. Sometimes, depending on the drug and its’ withdrawal symptoms, professional help is the only way to get clean. But even if it’s not, you still need a doctor monitoring you, helping to make sure your body is strong and not suffering any serious effects from long term drug or alcohol abuse. It’s no secret, it’s not uncommon for a serious alcoholic to die shortly after stopping drinking, so having proper medical attention relative to the person and the substance they’re abusing is very important to recovery.
- Take Care of Yourself – Eat better, go to the Gym, start exercising, whatever. Do those things you know you need to do simply to make your body feel better. When we exercise, we feel better. When we eat healthy, we feel better. When we get proper rest, we feel better. Pay attention to your body and start working in time for yourself to “make you feel better” without using drugs or alcohol.
- Reassess friendships – This one needs little explanation. If you have a drug problem and continue hanging around other people who also have drug problems, you’re just making it easier to relapse. To rid your life of serious drug addiction, sometimes you need to rid you life of people who might cause you to relapse.
- Find new ways to enjoy life – Therapy can help you learn to love yourself and enjoy life in ways you weren’t able to before. Listening to old-timers in your groups can give you insight into the mental changes that take place, over time, in a recovering addict’s mind. Learn to love yourself. If you truly love yourself, you’ll take care of yourself better than you ever did before.
Best of Luck!
Life gives no guarantees, except that it’s never easy. We all have good days and bad days. Don’t let the bad ones push you back into your addiction. Controlling an addiction is a full time job, and one that you really can not do by yourself. Assess your situation now. If you have an addiction of any kind, admit it to yourself, and get the proper help. I want you to succeed. But start by realizing you are in control, not the drug, and get as much support as you can. Remember the old saying, “one day at a time”. You don’t have to strive for a lifetime of sobriety, you only have to strive for a day’s worth… one day at a time.