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My Core Strategies to Stay Alcohol-Free
After six and a half years sober, this is what keeps me going.
It’s been over six and a half years since I quit drinking, and my approach to sobriety has changed quite a bit over that time.
During my first year sober, my biggest challenges were:
Getting through cravings.
Learning to control my mood.
Improving my mental health.
The strategies that I used to stay sober during that year were designed to directly address these problems. I counted my days sober to provide self-encouragement. I “played the tape” to visualize my way through cravings. I worked with a therapist to improve my mood. Each of these tools was focused on resisting cravings and developing a positive mindset.
However, after so many years without drinking, my old problems have—more or less—disappeared. The cravings are gone altogether. My mood isn’t always perfect, but it no longer fluctuates so wildly from day to day. My mental health is in the best state of my entire adult life.
As I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, there’s always a chance that my old challenges will return, and if they do, I’ll be ready for them.
In the meantime, though, I don’t need to rely on my old sobriety tools in the same way that I used to. I’m able to stay motivated even if I don’t remember exactly how many days it’s been since my last drink. I’m able to maintain a healthy mindset without weekly therapy.
But, just because I’ve left these old tools behind, it doesn’t mean that I’ve started to take my sobriety for granted. Even after six and a half years sober, I still take action every single day to ensure that I don’t go back to drinking. In today’s newsletter, I’d like to share the core strategies that help me to stick with sobriety six-plus years in.
My number one sobriety strategy is to communicate my negative feelings to other people as soon as they arise. If I’m anxious or upset about something, I talk it out with friends and family rather than trying to face my problems on my own.
As an alcoholic, I was exactly the opposite of this. I tried to do everything on my own. I always felt like I was such a smart person that surely I could work through my problems without help. Asking for help felt practically like an admission of defeat.
But, where did that get me? It led to a decade-long drinking problem that I just couldn’t kick.
It was only once I started relying on others for help that I was finally able to get sober, and it’s only because I continue to rely on others that I have stayed sober.
There’s amazing power in talking through your problems with another person. It helps to clarify your thoughts, it’s a way to get support, and those people can provide you with new ideas and suggestions that you would never have reached on your own.
When I first started talking to other people about my addiction, I felt like I was a burden on them. I’ve learned since then that most people actually enjoy helping. Of course, there are limits to this, and I try not to overwhelm or “trauma dump” on friends. However, within reason, people tend to appreciate the fact that you trust them and respect their opinion.
The next strategy—which I do nearly every day—is exercise. I had tried exercising a little bit before getting sober, but I could never stick with it. (It’s pretty obvious, in retrospect, that it would be impossible to develop a consistent exercise routine when I was spending every minute of my free time drunk.)
After I quit drinking, I started to run regularly. Since then, exercise has played a larger and larger role in my life every year. These days, I mostly run, cycle, and lift weights, but I’ve tried many other types of working out too.
Back when I was a drinker, I was the ultimate skeptic about the benefits of exercise. When I heard that it helped people to get sober, I thought those people were either liars or never really addicts in the first place. I couldn’t comprehend how going for a run could possibly help someone overcome an addiction.
However, it turns out that working out regularly has helped me in more ways than I can count. It’s brightened my mood, reduced cravings, given me a sense of accomplishment, taught me to get out of the house more, helped me to meet new people, and drastically improved the way I look.
I’ve sometimes heard the criticism that when sober people turn to exercise they’re “just replacing one addiction with another.” I think it’s a pretty ridiculous assertion, but even if it were true, it’s a trade I’d take any day of the week. Who wouldn’t rather spend their evenings running through a park than crying on the couch with a beer in their hand?
A Well-Rounded Life
This final point might sound a little vague, but it’s important enough that I felt I had to include it: To stay sober in the long-term I’ve had to make sure that I have a complete, well-rounded life.
What I mean is that I regularly reflect on where I am in life, what I’m happy with, and what I’d like to change. I’ve gone to great efforts to find work that makes me genuinely happy, to seek out opportunities to volunteer, to improve my health, and to pursue enriching hobbies.
In the early days of sobriety, I didn’t do a great job at this. I was so focused on getting through the cravings and getting out of my depression that I didn’t feel like I had time to worry about all of the other aspects of my life.
As sobriety got easier, I was able to start improving other avenues of self-improvement. That other self-improvement, in turn, made sobriety even easier.
When I was an alcoholic, a lot of my behavior created negative feedback loops. I’d drink because I was depressed, then get more depressed because I drank. I’d get so stressed about upcoming projects that I’d get drunk to forget about them, but then the deadlines would get closer and I’d get even more stressed.
Since getting sober, the negative feedback loops have been replaced with positive ones. Sobriety gave me more time to pursue hobbies, which in turn made me want to drink less. Quitting alcohol improved my social skills so that I no longer felt like I needed alcohol to get through a party.
I think everybody in the world should take the time to make sure they’re living a full, well-rounded life, but it’s even more important for those of us who are recovering from addiction.
I quit drinking so that my life could be better. Now that I’m sober, I owe it to myself to follow through on that goal.
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