The process of getting sober felt overwhelming to me when I started. So much of my life had been centered around drinking and using, that I couldn’t imagine what it would look like without it.
The first step, of course, is to admit that you have an issue with using substances and make the decision to get sober. Then you need to recognize that the structure of your old life won’t help you, so you need to rebuild your life to support sobriety.
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism up to 90% of alcoholics will have at least one relapse during the first four years after getting sober. Creating support for yourself can help you get back on track if you relapse or avoid relapsing completely.
Here are my four keys to building a sober life that I’ve seen as essential to my own recovery and the people I’ve worked with.
1: Find a Community
One of the first things I needed to do when I got sober was to find and build a recovery community. Active addiction inevitably surrounded me with unhealthy people who enabled me to continue my destructive habits.
In early sobriety, I needed to surround myself with healthy, strong, supportive individuals who could support and help me break bad habits and build good ones.
Both as a client in treatment and as an addictions counselor, I’ve seen lots of people who think that they can get sober on their own. Although it’s possible to get sober with no help from others, maintaining it is a different story.
The more support you have, the easier it is. The go-it-alone mentality just gets in the way of recovery.
I started to build my sober community while I was in a halfway house. A halfway house is exactly what it sounds like, a stepping stone. It’s a controlled environment with rules and boundaries that help you transition back to a normal life. With the right attitude, this environment teaches the necessary skills to reintegrate back into society.
When I was at the halfway house, we would go to meetings at least three times a week. Interaction and connection with others expanded the network of people with whom I could build healthy relationships. I created friendships throughout my time at the halfway house, which extended far past my time there.
More support gave me access to more resources. Folks in my recovery circle recommended options for therapists, meetings to attend, physicians and other health care professionals, and sober activities.
And I learned the bigger your network of support, the more likely it will catch you. If I was thinking of having a drink, I could call Tim. If Tim didn’t answer, I could call Susie. If she didn’t answer, I could call Dave, and so on. When I was struggling or having thoughts of using substances, I had more individuals to call who could help.
Find people who have similar interests, hold you accountable, and are reliable and kind. A strong sober community should be based on honest communication, understanding, respect, trust, and fun.
2: Obtain a Sponsor
Get a sponsor. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) defines a sponsor as “an alcoholic who has made some progress in the recovery program and shares that experience on a continuous, individual basis with another alcoholic who is attempting to attain or maintain sobriety through AA.”
A sponsor acts as a mentor and guide through the 12 Steps of recovery. In my experience as a counselor, a sponsor needs to be patient, tolerant, and have long term sobriety, at least 10 years.
A sponsor needs to walk the talk and make skillful choices in their own life. The relationship between the sponsor and the sponsee must be based on trust.
Getting a sponsor was a huge part of my own recovery. Together, we worked the 12 Steps of AA and through that process, I was able to forgive myself and others and let go of shame around my addiction. Having a sponsor let me feel less alone, even relieved as though a weight had been lifted off of me.
It’s important to know that not everyone who is sober is healthy. When choosing a sponsor, make sure that they are healthy emotionally, mentally, and spiritually and are prepared to take on the sponsorship role.
3. Learn How to Have Fun Sober
Early in my sobriety, I thought I could only have fun when I was intoxicated. I was genuinely afraid that I couldn’t enjoy myself without alcohol. I couldn’t even imagine being myself while sober, let alone having fun playing games.
Fun is an important part of recovery. Fun reduces relapse triggers like stress and boredom and stimulates endorphins. Having fun also increases attention span, improves relaxation, and decreases the likelihood of anxiety and depression.
In residential treatment, we actually had recreation time to teach us how to have fun while sober! We would play board games, card games, tie-dye shirts, paint, read, pottery, watch movies, and color. Trips to the mall, mini-golfing, and volleyball were also regular parts of the routine.
At the time I thought it was pointless and childish but the more I participated, the more I realized I did not need alcohol or drugs to have fun. Over time I became less socially awkward and started enjoying playing cards, going on nature walks, listening and singing to music, attending sporting events, or swimming with friends.
Fun is different for everyone, of course, so try out new things as well as old activities you participated in before using alcohol and drugs. Stay open-minded, give activities a chance, and relax into the possibility of having fun in a different way.
I read once that in recovery you may begin to wonder if the fun you had while you were under the influence was really fun at all. It’s crazy to think that I thought arguing with people, getting in trouble with the law, losing communication with loved ones, and blacking out were “fun.” I am grateful now that I can have fun in sobriety and enjoy myself wherever I am.
4. Rebuild Relationships
One of the biggest casualties in addiction is relationships. My alcohol and drug use deeply affected my relationships leaving them unhealthy and dysfunctional.
When I was using, both my thinking and my actions were destructive to relationships. I was selfish and self-centered, manipulative, and dishonest. My communication ranged from verbal altercations with others to ignoring all boundaries.
When I was drinking, I often had difficulty talking and/or walking, acted foolishly, arguing with others, and said inappropriate things. There were times I was so intoxicated that I would be asked to leave. Many of my loved ones got fed up with my behavior.
Going into recovery, I had next to no experience with healthy relationship skills. As I learned the importance of assertiveness and addressing issues as they arise, my selfishness slipped away. I implemented healthy boundaries and became more trustworthy.
I now see that what I get back from relationships is what I put into them. I do my best now to reach out to family and friends, show gratitude, and help when I can.
I do what I say I will, listen to understand, and address resentments. With as much mindfulness and kindness as I can, I’ve made amends to those I had harmed. What started off feeling difficult and awkward, over time has become the natural way I approach relationships.
But it didn’t happen right away. I had to be patient. It takes time for relationships to heal. I was always told for how many years you abused substances, the healing process takes twice as long.
Most people I made amends to were receptive, but not everyone. Not everyone wanted to accept my apology and I had to be okay with that.
My family and friends have patiently supported my recovery. They accept me for who I am and love me and for that, I’m truly grateful.
Recovery is a process. It is possible to stay sober, even though it may not feel as easy at first.
These are not the only tips for getting sober. There are many different aspects of obtaining and maintaining sobriety.
What have you found beneficial in your recovery process? What does recovery mean to you?