Recovery is an ongoing process. After you’ve been sober a while and have achieved “advanced recovery,” you will have developed many new habits to replace the old, destructive ones. To help avoid relapse, you will want to find more and more healthy activities with which to fill your time to help you maintain your sobriety.
Donna M. White writes for PyschCentral.com that, among other things, “creating a healthy schedule will help avoid relapse.” A schedule is important because during treatment your time was very structured. When you leave treatment you will want to continue planning your time for the best positive outcome. Of course you will have meetings, work, family interactions and other routine activities, but you will also have some free time. Because too much free time has the potential to increase your risk of relapse, you need to develop a routine that includes some healthy new patterns.
“When scheduling for free time,” White writes, “it is important to find constructive activities to fill that time. The key is not allowing time for frequent boredom.”
Note that while it is important to stay busy with healthy things, being over-scheduled, stressed or transferring your addiction to work or other addictive behaviors is not healthy. Sometimes work can be counter-productive to getting and staying sober because work itself can be addictive and can represent lifestyle imbalance.
Positive Ways to Fill Your Free Time
When scheduling your time with healthy activities, consider
- A physical sport or exercise
- A new career
- Interesting hobbies
- Supporting a cause
- Helping others
Exercising and eating well “provide nearly instant benefits, helping the body and the mind to manage most any difficulties, including anxiety and depression,” according to clinical psychologist and certified life coach John Duffy, PsyD., writing on PsychCentral.com.
Choose an activity that speaks to you, that is fun and that you like to do. This may be joining a basketball league, power walking every day, swimming, gardening, yoga or anything else that gets you physically active.
“Research has shown,” Dr. Adi Jaffe writes, “that the combination of yoga and mindfulness can provide energy, satisfaction, and stability on an addict’s road to recovery.” He points out that yoga produces long-lasting changes that help maintain a healthy lifestyle and is a positive way to cope with negative emotions, depression and anxiety.
Regular, aerobic exercise acts as a mood booster and can relieve depression by stimulating brain chemicals, affecting “neurotransmitters such as serotonin that influence mood and produce ANP, a stress-reducing hormone, which helps control the brain’s response to stress and anxiety.” During exercise, the brain releases endorphins to numb pain and facilitate peak performance. These chemicals also induce feelings of well being and even euphoria.
Helping Others Will Help You
A study by Dr. Maria Pagano found that 40 percent of the alcoholics who helped other alcoholics during their recovery successfully avoided drinking in the 12 months following treatment, whereas only 22 percent of those who did not help others stayed sober. In a later study, Dr. Pagano showed that 94 percent of alcoholics who helped other alcoholics during the 15-month study period continued to do so as part of their ongoing recovery. These helpers experienced the added benefit of lower levels of depression.
Service to others combats problematic patterns such as isolation, narcissism, resentment and relapse, and builds empathy, self-esteem and a sense of purpose.
Why is that? Helping others:
- Minimizes selfishness and entitlement
- Restores the capacity for empathy that was overtaken by addiction
- Combats egocentrism and self-absorption, which are common perpetuators of addiction
- Guards against isolation
- Reminds the recovering addict how far she’s come
- Creates a sense of responsibility
This “helper therapy principle,” embodied by AA/NA, “holds that when a person helps another person suffering from a similar condition, they also help themselves,” writes Rd. David Sack for PsychCentral.com.
Develop New Interests
If it seems like your life in recovery is boring, consider going out more, exercising, meeting new (sober) people or trying something new. This may include looking for a job or getting further education in a field you have always been interested in or volunteering at a local organization that is working toward a goal you support.