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Entering Recovery

Recovery – Which Way Now?

One of the biggest challenges facing the ex-drinker in the early days of sobriety is what to do with all of the free time he or she now has available as they enter recovery.

Whether you realised it or not, when you were drinking it was pretty much a full time occupation; one  which kept you busy, absorbed and involved for most of your time, for most of the day and for most days.

Whether it was nursing yourself through recovery from the previous days’ drinking; planning where, how and when you were going to get your fix for the current day, or by stumbling your way through the haze of increasing intoxication, drinking left you little time think about anything else.

how to live without alcoholAs the saying goes, “Nature abhors a vacuum”, meaning that when you finally do get sober and remove drinking completely from your life, you are left with a huge void. Suddenly all the hours that you previously spent preoccupied with drinking are now free for you to do with as you wish. For many people this is a new and sometimes overwhelming experience for them, and they struggle to usefully occupy this time they now have. But unless the void is filled with constructive  activity – things which not only replace the drinking behaviours but which provide a sense of accomplishment and wellbeing to the individual – then the temptation to return to old drinking habits will be ever present.

So the initial aim of recovery should be to find ways in which to channel your energies which not only provide you with activities to fill your time, but which replace in some way the emotional benefits you once got from your drinking.


De-cluttering your life as you enter recover can have an enormously cathartic effect on your psychological wellbeing, as it quite literally “blows away the cobwebs” which have gathered as a result of the neglect caused by your drinking years.

Spring cleaning your living space not only gets rid of all the dead wood that has built up over the years, but also reacquaints you with old and perhaps forgotten resources which once meant something to you. The books you bought which have been left gathering dust; hobbies which you once enjoyed but let lapse, or the goals and aspirations that you harboured in your pre-drinking days.

If you feel overwhelmed by the idea of tackling everything at once, then don’t. Start with an area which has the greatest appeal, such as your bedroom, your study, the kitchen, or whatever. Just go wherever your energy takes you. Alternatively just have bursts of 15 minutes or so wherever and whenever you feel like it – you may find that this will take on an energy of its own as you get into the flow.

What you are also doing as part of this exercise is to establish a new frame of reference for your sober future. The associations with your old drinking life are eliminated and you create a new environment which reinforces the positive changes you wish to make in your life.

The Power of Rituals During Recovery

Again, whether you recognise it or not, whilst you were drinking you were living your life according to some sort of routine. Although life may have felt haphazard, you did certain things at certain times, as dictated by your need to drink, and when you quit you will most likely find that you no longer have any routine to follow.

It helps, therefore to create some kind of routine to follow in the early days of recovery just as a means of developing new alternative habits for yourself.

It doesn’t really matter what these rituals are, and they will vary depending on your own preferences and personality, but aim to do these things every day at a set time or in a specific place.

The list below gives a few examples and ideas:

    • planning your recovery from alcoholKeep a daily journal. Record your progress each day, or list the things you have achieved as part of your sobriety.
    • Keep a recovery diary. List each day sober and mark each “highlight” with a celebration. Eg “90 days sober – book day at health spa.”
    • Make an exercise plan and keep a diary of your progress. How many miles have you walked / cycled / ran / swam / rowed each week? How many minutes at the gym, or how many steps have you walked. Create a spreadsheet to record your progress.
    • Monitor your health. How is your body recovering now you have stopped drinking? Record your blood pressure, resting heart rate, body weight, body mass index, etc. What vitamin supplements are you taking and how much water are you drinking each day?
    • Make a reading list. What are the top 20 books you have always wanted to read? Set aside 30mins to an hour at the same time each day as your reading time.
    • Relax. Spend some time each day in meditation or listening to relaxing music. Use this time to “recharge” your batteries and to restore your inner calm.
    • Walk around the block in your lunch hour. Learn to develop your sensory awareness. What do you notice on your daily walks that you haven’t seen before? Notice how the environment around you changes day by day.
    • Coffee time. Arrange to go out with your partner, or meet a friend for a “posh coffee”. Don’t worry about the cost – it’s cheaper than alcohol and it will start to reprogram your beliefs and attitudes about socialising.
    • Blog time. Join an online forum for ex-drinkers to share experiences and to help maintain your resolve to stay sober.
    • Admin time. Establish a routine for your personal admin. Update your finances, file your paperwork, answer your emails, schedule your appointments, and update your to-do list. Generally keep on top of things on a daily basis.

You may find that initially you become rather obsessive over some of these rituals, as there can be a tendency for the mind to transfer the pattern of addiction from one thing to another. In the early stages of recovery this is often a natural way for the mind to fill the void created by stopping drinking. Provided you are aware of these extremist tendencies this is nothing to worry about, as things will settle down over time as you restore natural balance to your life.

Build Self Esteem

There may well be other underlying issues in your life which have been a factor in your drinking history, and now that you have stopped, these may well come to the surface and challenge your new found resolve to quit.

Whilst you will want to address and resolve these issues going forward, this is unlikely to happen in the first few weeks of you stopping, and so it is of the utmost importance that you protect your self esteem during this time, and focus on doing those things which make you feel good and avoiding those which make you feel bad.

If this sounds selfish, then it is supposed to – during this period of transition you should put your own needs first at all times. This does not mean you need to be uncaring or insensitive to those close to you, or that you should disregard the feelings of others. But equally you should be keenly aware of those around you whose own agendas may put your recovery at risk.

For instance, there may be those who in the past have received a certain payoff as a result of your drinking. Perhaps it justified their own behaviour for instance. Or perhaps the positive changes you are going through – your personal growth – is threatening to others. This can be particularly difficult when this is a partner, who worries that if you change from the person you were when you were drinking that this might threaten the relationship they have with you, even if your drinking was harming that relationship.

These are genuine issues which you will need to resolve once you are strong enough, but in the early days of recovery they can represent the quickest way to relapse if you allow them to dominate your thinking.

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