When you’re recovering from addiction, there’s no shortage of advice about how to stay sober. People will tell you to exercise every day, eat healthy, get plenty of regular sleep, go to 90 meetings in 90 days, start meditating, make sober friends, and so on. Most of the advice you get from therapists, doctors, and fellow recovering addicts will be useful in some way, but it’s also a lot to take in. It’s even harder to incorporate all of it into your life. It’s hard enough to stay sober without adopting half a dozen major life changes at the same time.
It’s easy to feel discouraged for not doing everything you ‘should’ do in recovery. The only really important thing is that you don’t go back to drinking or drugs. Everything else serves that goal. Instead of focusing on everything you haven’t done yet, try focusing on small wins. It might help to keep a journal and write some of these down. Here are some ideas.
What were you able to do today because you didn’t drink or use? If you have been struggling with addiction, you have probably missed out on some things. Think about what you did today that wouldn’t have been possible when you were using or drinking. It could be something like waking up without a hangover or driving home without fear of getting pulled over. It could be that you transferred money to savings for the first time in years. Whatever it is, recognize it and feel proud. As these wins accumulate, you will feel like your effort staying sober is paying off.
What step did you take to make your life a little better? Not every improvement has to be heroic. In fact, most of our successes are an accumulation of small, mundane actions. Did you go to a meeting? Did you find a bottle and pour it out? Did you decide to drink tea rather than soda? That’s great. You’re heading in the right direction. We build better lives one decision at a time. Most of those decisions seem insignificant, but they eventually accumulate.
Big changes begin with small steps. Everyone knows the disappointment of planning a major lifestyle change only to have it fall completely flat. This usually happens with new year’s resolutions. You talk yourself up, convince yourself that you’ll really lose two stone this time, and by February you’ve scrapped the whole plan.
Studies have shown that people succeed far better in the long run if they start with the absolute minimum and build gradually. If you goal is to start exercising, that might mean taking a five minute walk after lunch or doing 10 press-ups every morning. You can always add more once you’ve established the habit, but establishing the habit is the hardest and most important part.