ASK A THERAPIST
Over the course of the pandemic, I developed some new problems with substance abuse that I didn’t have before. It started as a way to cope. But it went too far. I’m working on getting sober, and I’m doing well. How do I make sure it lasts? —Isabel M.
First, let me applaud you for doing well with your sobriety. This is quite an accomplishment. I hope you feel good about it.
The pandemic has been a perfect storm for addictive behavior. Substance abuse often originates as a way to escape from boredom, repetition, claustrophobia, isolation, fear, or overwhelm. But abusing substances is not a healthy remedy for these issues.
At its root, substance abuse thrives where there are harmful and limiting beliefs about ourselves and our circumstances. The voices in our head tell us that we are not good enough or cannot succeed. Let’s replace those messages with a new narrative. Each time you set a small goal and accomplish it, your more accurate perception of yourself will help you stay sober. So make an agreement with yourself that you will not drink or take substances for the day, and when you achieve this milestone, bask in the success of it. Yes, you can succeed, and yes, you are good enough.
If you stumble, forgive yourself and move on. You are not perfect, and getting sober is messy. Relapse is a part of the process, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Shame and guilt are often fuel for our drinking, pill taking, and smoking; forgiveness will be an integral part of maintaining sobriety.
Here are a few tips that will help you stay sober. Creating a daily routine that incorporates nourishment, exercise, and connection to others will be integral to your success.
- 1. Remove the temptation. Take all of the alcohol, narcotics, and weed—or whatever substances you might struggle with—out of your house for now. Give them to a friend or simply throw them in the trash. Removing them from your environment will help eliminate the immediate threat of relapse.
- 2. Set small goals. When you wake up in the morning, set a goal for the day: “I will be sober.” If you accomplish it, amazing. If not, forgive yourself. Say something like “For all of the things I did yesterday that I’m not proud of, I forgive myself.”
- 3. Be accountable. Let your friends and family know that you are trying to be sober, and be honest with them about your progress. Don’t feel shy, ashamed, or guilty if you relapse. Connect with someone every day on a personal level. Substance abuse loves deception and isolation—so make sure you reach out and stay honest.
- 4. Nourish yourself. Make sure that you are eating healthy, nutritious foods. When you’re getting sober, consider what you put into your body as a reflection of how you feel about yourself. Eating well is one way for you to practice self-love.
- 5. Get outdoors. Put your feet on the ground. Literally: Sit on a patch of grass in your backyard, in a park, or at the beach with the bottoms of your feet on the earth. Imagine all of your limiting beliefs releasing into the dirt.
- 6. Be optimistic and positive. Your sobriety is a search for a deeper, happier, more authentic part of yourself. This is a noble pursuit. Remember your motives. Be clear on them. You deserve this.
Carder Stout, PhD, is a Los Angeles–based therapist with a private practice in Brentwood, where he treats clients for anxiety, depression, addiction, and trauma. As a specialist in relationships, he is adept at helping clients become more truthful with themselves and their partners. He received his PhD in psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in August 2015.