Sobriety would be easy if you always felt satisfied, content, and in control of life all the time. Unfortunately, that’s not reality. A human being living in the world is going to inevitably face times when they feel like they are facing more than they can handle. The experience of recovery can often feel like a very intense emotional roller coaster, with the feeling like you are careening between a wide variety of emotions.
Hard feelings, including anger, fear, sadness, or even just tiredness can make it harder to maintain sobriety, because they cause your brain to start looking for ways to cope. You can protect yourself by being prepared for these hard experiences, and working out a way to weather the storm without relapsing.
Stressful-inducing situations only get worse when your brain kicks in with overwhelming thoughts and fears. It’s easy to let your visualizations of the future, or past, or just your fears in general to overtake you and feel like too much to handle.
In these moments, it helps to move your focus away from your anxieties, to make your brain stop from running in unproductive circles of worry. It may be helpful to visualize a red “STOP” sign as an emergency way to refocus your mind on other things. After that, you can begin to make yourself feel more calm and focused on the present.
One of the most powerful relaxation tools is something you always have with you – the breath. Anxiety and intense worries can make your breathing speed up and get more shallow, so taking slow, deep breaths can help you calm down almost instantly. Try inhaling through your nose for three counts, holding it for three counts, and then exhaling through your mouth for three counts.
Bringing your attention to neutral or positive things in the environment can take your mind off of what is troubling you. While you could just turn to a phone, computer, or television to distract you, it is even better to find those things in the environment around you. Start forming a list in your own mind of five things you can see, five things you can hear, five things you can feel, and five things you can smell. Pay special attention to things that seem nice or that can bring you a moment of happiness, and dwell on that. Other effective ways of grounding yourself in the present moment and taking your mind off your stresses including taking a slow, thoughtful sip of water, and walking carefully, paying attention to the feel of your feet on the ground.
Take a Break:
The world will not fall apart if you leave all your presumed responsibilities alone for a bit to take care of yourself. Time spent on your own needs and wants is not “wasted,” rather it’s the things that fuel you and allow you to live a productive life. That means taking time for nutritious and tasty meals, regular and adequate sleep times, and regular exercise and physical activity. It also means carving out space in your day for regular activities you enjoy and that bring you pleasure. If you ever feel too consumed with stress to keep going, take yourself out of the stressful situation, and spend time doing something you like to do.
Don’t Give Up:
Sobriety, and healing the internal hurt that was once covered up by your addictions is not going to be an instant process. It will take a lot of time and hard work on your part. There are many resources and other people out there who can offer invaluable support, but in the end, you must be the one to work through it.
Other people may tell you cliches about how “it will get better,” that may be very hard to believe. However, just like learning to walk or talk as a toddler was at one point a super hard challenge that you got through, this is also something that will get easier, if you persevere.