Ten Tricks for Early Recovery
The early days are fragile. One thing can send you off course, one thing can make you forget your goals, one thing can deceive you into thinking it wasn’t that bad, one thing can convince you that you need “just a little” alcohol to survive your life. The human condition is hard. It is a roller coaster of emotions and we are all on our own, unique, ride. Alcohol offers an instant escape hatch, as it can temporarily make the ride seem easier/more fun/less boring/more meaningful. But these manufactured chemical feelings don’t last, they are fleeting, a few hours maybe. Some people even say the relief is only a few minutes and then the addiction (with it’s insatiable ghosts) takes over. What always lasts the longest is the hell-ish ride of shame and regret that unhealthy drinking brings you on for most of the day. But you already know that, it’s why you are here reading this. And I know sometimes we just want quick little tricks, little tidbits to hold on to, to make it through the not so amazing moments, without contemplating the alcohol escape hatch. So here are a few tricks that I would not have made it through early sobriety without.
Being a “tiny” bit judgmental. Social settings are hard, which is why a lot of people isolate in early sobriety. And that works for some, for quite awhile. But eventually, you are going to be faced with a social engagement that you can’t say no to, and you are also going to want to get out. And people are going to be drinking, and it is going to feel odd that you aren’t joining them. You might feel awkward/jealous/etc. In those situations I held onto this little beauty, that I picked up from the HOME podcast (see #2 below). Look at the social situation in a totally different, slightly judgmental, way. Consider the idea that drinking is a very primitive way to make life fun. Look at those who NEED alcohol as a little “low brow”. (This extends to wine memes, boozy book clubs, etc.) Think about how much better you are than everyone else, because you don’t need a chemical to have fun, and you have much more interesting things to talk about and joke about. Don’t you dare say it out loud, but have fun saying it in your head and feeling like the sophisticated one.
Podcasts. If you haven’t yet explored this app on your phone, you’re welcome, because a whole world is about to open up for you. My two favourite podcasts in early recovery were “Home” and “The Unruffled”. But there are literally thousands, so sample around and find some voices you connect with. Like a beacon in a storm, these voices might save your life on a bad day. I often listened while driving, while cleaning my house and folding laundry or I would put on some headphones and take the helpful voices with me on a run or walk. Bam, like magic, you will find yourself in a new thought pattern. Yay, technology. (I have massive gratitude for recovering in this time.)
Baths. Super cliche I know. But for some reason, having a super luxurious bath to look forward to, often got me through bedtime with my kids. I would put in a scoop of epsom salts and a few drops of essential oils, and I would light candles and read a book and spend a long time in there. (I still do this a lot.) Treat yourself like the beautiful specimen that you are! How much more opposite than poisoning yourself can it get, right?
Sugar. Well this is about as simple as it gets, but I am serious when I say that ice cream and brownies saved me from wine and beer MANY (most!) nights in early recovery. I want to make two very important disclaimers before I discuss further. First, if you have a history of disordered eating, don’t listen to me (I have that same history as it turns out, but I am no health expert). Disordered eating and disordered drinking are such common companions, it is kind of mind blowing that there is not more talk about it. Women who starve or binge and purge, they tend towards addiction too. Second disclaimer, I am a firm believer in overall wellness being directly linked to nutrition, so don’t use this trick of mine as carte blanche to eat all the cupcakes in the world (unless you really need to in order to stay sober, then eat them all). What I am saying is that over and over I meet women in early recovery who are being so hard on themselves for their eating habits, for swapping out wine for cake, like I mean they are BEATING themselves up over it. And I’m like “pardon, what’s the problem? You’re still sober, aren’t you?” Alcohol is full of sugar, when you remove a nightly wine habit your body is going to crave it. So eat other sugar. And don’t worry about it, seriously! Somehow I managed to dodge that flavor of shame, and my early recovery was drenched in guilt-free brownies and frozen delights. I kid you not, I ate something indulgent, like ridiculously indulgent, every SINGLE evening for the first year (ask my husband). Without being hard on myself. Yes, it helped having a fast metabolism and exercising like a beast in early recovery (anyone else try training for a marathon when they were two seconds sober? It is common too…). In early recovery I ate sugar like it was my job, because I knew the craving for a cold IPA disappeared halfway through a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. So please, stop being so hard on yourself and eat the sugar if it is helping. Somewhere in year 2 you might feel ready to cut it out, but for now, pick your battles. I honestly found it to be one of the single most useful tools in keeping the alcohol out of my mouth during the evenings in the early months. Seriously, don’t discount sugar as your little sobriety helper.
Yoga. Cliche again. Hear me out. I find that so many of the women that I meet in recovery circles are some of the most intelligent, forward thinking, self actualization seeking, leader-types you will ever find. Yogis and women in recovery are both light seekers. Use yoga wisely in recovery, and it will change your life. I participated in all kinds of yoga for years before I even considered getting sober, heck I used sweaty yoga as a way to beat hangovers. Looking back I was kind of hooked on the ambiance of the studio and I wanted a yogi body, but I was definitely missing the mind-body connection part (like the actual point of yoga). Then I got un-numb. And that first time that I realized what was really meant by a mind-body connection in the middle of an amazing class, it was a true AHA moment. Yoga has been instrumental in my recovery, and I continue to go deeper and deeper with my practice (it seems like there is no end to the depth!) Did you know that your body stores all of the trauma that has EVER happened to it? Even if you aren’t someone who identifies as having gone through a major traumatic event, did you know that a drunk sexual encounter gone too far in your teens, or a blackout at a moms gone wild weekend both count as trauma? So does child birth, dysfunctional relationships and all that self-hatred you spewed at yourself for not being able to control an addictive substance. All that shit is trauma. (This seems like a good opportunity to insert a quote from Dawn Nickel, co-founder of She Recovers: “When we come into recovery so filled with shame and regret, remember, that shit you did…was just the shit you did. It wasn’t who you are.”) So all that trauma, it gets stored in your body. And you stuff it down, and you numb it away. And you wonder why you can’t connect to your true self. And then you get sober and you’re in a yoga class and all of a sudden you really feel yourself, like your true self, and it is emotional and incredible. And you keep coming back because yoga is total therapy (at least this is how I hope it goes for you). There is a lot of recovery magic available in the yoga studio if you are open to receiving it. Choose your studio based on the type of people that seem to go there (and never choose a studio that throws beer and yoga events, obviously).
The Morning. If night time feels hard, go to bed, call it a day. Just hold on to the hope and beauty of the morning. The promise of the morning, that is waiting just for you. For me, real sleep was something I was really lacking for my entire adult life, alcohol just doesn’t allow it. And mornings were foggy at best, irritable and shaky more usually, and actual hell on earth at their worst. Recovery mornings have been completely magical for me. I set up a coffee routine that would make baristas blush. I wake up positive and refreshed (most days, anyway). I light a candle, I play peaceful instrumental music, (lately it is Garth Stevenson). And if I am annoyed and grumpy during the evening, whether on my couch or at a social function, I just hold onto that magical morning feeling, I remember the promise of tomorrow morning, like a special secret in my back pocket, that only I get to access, because I chose to live better. (And an extension of this concept, if this is your thing, is sunrises. I have become slightly obsessed with seeing sunrises, because that would have been such a ridiculous notion at the height of my drinking. Sunrises are pure joy for me.)
Honoring your Home. The place where you spend most of your time, well, it is important. (I am not going Marie Kondo on you, that show makes me anxious about losing all my books and seashells!) This is a simple idea that can really have massive effects. When you get sober, it helps to create a little space that feels sacred, that feels different than your old life, that feels full of new life. I created a little corner in my tiny city living room, and I ordered a cheap print of a Leonard Cohen lyric that spoke to me. “There is a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in”. I actually paraphrased this lyric to my husband when I first got sober, when I knew it was my last day 1. The quote means a lot to me, because I made a choice and went through with it, finally. And if I am being truthful here, I feel a twinge of pride, sometimes subliminal, every time I get home and see that print. I have continued to decorate my house, and especially my sacred little corner, in small ways that remind me daily of the new life I have chosen. I think the long term impact of the regular reminders (and that daily twinge of empowering pride) is absolutely huge.
Coffee Dates. Try to make them happen. Don’t fret if this seems overwhelming and completely out of your comfort zone at first, put it to the side for now. But when you are ready, if you are ready, see if you can find people to go for coffee with. Full disclosure, I drop my little kids off at a huge school every morning and there is literally a smorgasbord of potential coffee dates for me to courageously ask, and more disclosure, it isn’t that weird in our neighborhood and school culture to ask someone to grab a coffee after drop off. So this is a trick that is maybe more accessible for me than it is for everyone reading this. But the big picture is the same. You need human connection and you need to make dates that don’t involve happy hour or bottles of wine. You may survive recovery without human connection for awhile, but your chances of surviving forever are slim. That is why there are so many groups for support. I found coffee dates with people I didn’t know that well to be a huge part of my first year of recovery. Overall, the idea here is to say yes to new things, with new humans. I said yes to things I may have found awkward before, people I may have thought myself different from. Even if you hit it off with one new person during this experiment (this happened to me), this is a person who didn’t know you as a heavy drinker, and this is truly the biggest breath (the most giant gulp, actually) of fresh air ever. Old friends that stick by and support are nice, super nice and special. But the feeling of being seen without the shadow of your past, without hearing the well-intentioned “funny stories”, the feeling of being seen for who you are with zero drinking history, it is very empowering. You will feel like a new version of yourself, you will feel like the person they are seeing, because you actually are this new version of yourself. How cool is that? My first year I was shocked at how much these simple connections meant to me. This was maybe one of the most enlightening epiphanies so far, my need for human connection, and specifically, female connection. I know it is scary, so do it when you are ready, and don’t put any extra pressure on yourself.
Fiction. I mean books. And I don’t mean self-help, recovery lit or Eckhart Tolle style publications. (These have a huge place in recovery too, but we aren’t talking about them here.) I mean fantastical, lose-yourself-for-days, care so much about the characters it’s weird, fiction novels. My first few months of recovery were spent at a cottage, a place full of boozy memories and still filled with some very boozy people. I would survive the evenings by remembering my special characters and my special secret world waiting for me under my pillow. I would go to bed early just to get back to the stories. My old drinking habit stole reading from me, it just wasn’t the same in that life. So I took it back, and It feels so darn good. Have an amazing escape-style fiction novel on the go at all times, and use it to run away when you need to.
Patience. Don’t expect to get from week 2 to year 2 in less than 102 weeks. Recovery is a process that you lean into. You pick up practices here and there as you build your patchwork quilt, as you stack good things upon good things and build your tower of power. Some tricks will work out, some will seem useless. Some days you will feel like you aren’t “doing it right” because life is still chaotic or unpleasant. You are doing it right, exactly how you need to be doing it. Your journey is yours and yours alone, trust it and honor it. Don’t become a perfectionist at recovering or push it to happen faster than it is. Be kind to yourself, and make the next right choice. That is it. And if you choose wrong one day, just choose again the next. Eventually, you will wake up, and realize that you became who you always wanted to be. Just be patient with yourself as you incubate your new self. You are creating a masterpiece, and this takes time.
You’ve got this. xx