This was originally published at The Fix.
So you did it. You took the leap and decided it was time to give sobriety a try. Maybe you hit rock bottom, or maybe you just decided your relationship with alcohol wasn’t a healthy one. Whatever the reason, you’ve decided to try abstaining from alcohol, which really means diving into a new lifestyle.
At first, it can all be a bit overwhelming. You have lots of questions: What do you drink when you go out with friends? Do you even go out with friends? What do you say when people ask why you’re not drinking? What do you do if someone gives you a hard time? What happens if you feel like you want to drink?
The beginning of recovery can be scary, but it’s important to know you’re not alone. Many people have come before you and faced the same fears and the same questions, and have managed to maintain sobriety for days, months, even years.
So if you’re new to the sober lifestyle, here’s some advice.
- Know why you are choosing to be sober. Really dig into this one. Grab a pen and write down the reasons you are no longer drinking, and then put that list someplace where you can easily refer to it. Maybe even take a photo on your phone so you always have it for reference. There are usually numerous reasons a person decides to get sober, but over time those reasons can fade away and it can become easier to want to throw it away and pick up a drink. However, if you are able to look back at the original reasons you stopped drinking, it may serve as a good reminder about why you should continue your sobriety.
- Be honest with the people you trust. It can be hard to tell people that you’ve decided to get help for your drinking, but it can be equally hard to carry the weight of that decision on your own. Maybe you won’t be ready to tell people right away, and that’s okay. When the time comes that you do feel ready, you’ll know. It will feel like a relief to let someone else in and talk about what has been happening in your life. Though you may be scared of their reaction, more times than not all you will receive in return is love and support. Letting other people know about your lifestyle change is scary, but usually worth it.
- Determine which friends will support you and which friends were simply party friends. Party friends are a real thing in sobriety. Most people who get sober will find that some of the people they spent the most time with weren’t really friends, but were just people with a similar lifestyle. These people allowed you to continue to use the way you wanted, without thinking it was abnormal or wrong. Upon getting sober, you may find that they no longer want to spend time with you. That’s completely normal. This is why it’s important to know what friends in your life are true friends, ones who will support you in your sobriety. These are the people to lean on and maintain relationships with.
- Buy a journal. Sobriety is tough, especially in the beginning. Often, there are so many thoughts and emotions swirling around in your mind that it can be difficult to pinpoint how you really feel. When this is the case, writing helps. You don’t even have to be a good writer and your words don’t have to move mountains. Just sitting down with a pen and paper and putting down whatever comes to mind is a therapeutic practice. In a way it feels as if the overwhelming number of thoughts can leave your mind and instead take up residence on paper. Give it a chance, and you may find it helps more than you ever imagined.
- Learn how to sit with your emotions. Often when people get sober, they have a hard time simply feeling. So many people who drink or use drugs do so in order to block out feelings that make them uncomfortable. Therefore, learning to acknowledge those feelings can be a battle. When you find yourself going through an array of emotions, sit down and ask yourself what emotion you are feeling and what the possible cause of it may be. Then, brainstorm what you can do to change that emotion or to come to terms with it. Simply learning about why you feel the way you feel and what you can do about it will go a long way in recovery.
- Make friends who are also in recovery. This one is so, so important because you need people who understand what you’re going through. It’s important to note that understanding is different than supporting. Someone can support you without really understanding what you are going through, especially if they have never gone through it themselves. But others in recovery will understand you in a way that cannot be rivaled. And when sobriety gets hard, these are the people who can help you the most. You may meet them in treatment, or at 12-step meetings, or even online. It doesn’t matter how you meet others in recovery, it just matters that you do.
- Find an outlet or hobby. When you stop drinking, you’ll be shocked at the amount of spare time you find yourself with. For many, this is difficult because they don’t know what to do. They’ve spent so long using in their free time that they have no idea what to do with their spare time. Sometimes this leads to relapse. So it’s important to stay busy in early recovery. Start going to the gym, or taking an art class, or writing. If you don’t know what you enjoy doing, then dabble in a few things. Eventually you’ll come across something you enjoy, and that’s what you’ll stick with.
- Literally take your sobriety one day at a time. One of the hardest things for most people in early sobriety to grasp is that sobriety is a choice you make every day. Often they begin to think in terms of months and years and the rest of their life, rather than think, “OK, I’m going to wake up and I’m not going to drink today.” That’s all it takes, is making that choice each morning. And before you know it, the days becomes weeks, which become months, which become years—and it’s all done one day at a time.
- Don’t forget to do the work. After treatment is done, or after the initial few weeks of sobriety, it can be easy to feel like you have it under control and don’t need to do things like daily readings or meditation, attending 12-step or other meetings, checking in with a sponsor or trusted friend, and whatever else worked for you in those first few weeks. But the truth is, these little things are vital to your recovery. Most people need to continue doing them in order to maintain sobriety. So even when it’s the last thing you want to do, do it anyway. You’ll thank yourself later.
- Don’t give up on yourself. Even if you’re struggling. Even if you relapse. Even if you think you literally cannot stay sober. Do not give up on yourself, ever. It’s when you give up on yourself that you lose any shot at making recovery work. You have to know deep down that you can do this, you can stay sober. You need to be your own advocate and believe in yourself, even when it’s really freaking hard. You need to do it, because that’s how you’ll make it in recovery. And recovery is a wonderful place to be.