Recovery and routine go hand in hand, but when a person is early in his recovery, he may not know how to begin creating healthy habits. In “An Individual Drug Counseling Approach to Treat Cocaine Addiction,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains why creating sober routines is a challenge at first:
Many addicts organize their entire daily routine around obtaining, administering, and recovering from the effects of their drug(s). Because of the time these behaviors require, many people with a drug-use disorder experience a void, or a sense of loss, shortly after stopping the drug. They have spent so much time working for drugs and associating with people, places, and things associated with taking drugs that they have difficulty imagining what to do when they are not using drugs.
Without structure and routines in place, recovering addicts are at risk for relapse for many reasons. They have too much free time in which to think about drug use, and stopping old behaviors is much more difficult when there aren’t new, healthy ones to replace them with. The following are five ways to begin changing old thoughts, habits and actions by creating new, healthy sober routines.
Healthy activity is an important part of any recovery routine. Exercise boosts self-confidence and personal health, and it can be a great way to meet others also interested in pursuing healthy lifestyles. An exercise routine does not have to be routine in content. While scheduling time for the gym is a great and healthy recovery routine that helps create structure and good habits, there are additional activities that provide exercise in entertaining, relaxing or social settings. Setting aside time for a peaceful walk with the dog, a weekly dance class or a flag football game after work is just as physically healthy as jogging on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike. What is important is finding the routine that works. Interventions for Addiction explains, “Poor adherence to exercise regimens is associated with worse outcomes” when it comes to addiction recovery. Recovery should be fun and engaging, and if a form of exercise isn’t working or isn’t fun, there are so many alternative choices that can be scheduled into the routine instead. Having a schedule and healthy habits is important, and an enjoyable, engaging routine is likely to be followed.
One of the first ways to create sober routines is to routinely get good, regular sleep. This may seem simple, passive or unimportant, yet the relationship between irregular sleep routines and addiction is clear. The New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services reports, “Studies have shown that 28 percent of those who complain of insomnia reported using alcohol to help them sleep. Individuals who reported having two or more weeks of insomnia were more likely to have met diagnostic criteria for alcoholism at one-year follow-up…Sleep disturbances may be associated with relapse during withdrawal and long-term abstinence.” A lack of routine sleep contributes to early, continued and relapsed alcohol and other drug use. Simply blocking out time for enough sleep can do as much for recovery as routine actions that seem much more active.
Stress has an impact on all aspects of health, and it is often a powerful motivator for relapse. A sober routine that creates time and space for relaxation is important to physical health, mental health and recovery. Just as finding the right form of exercise is personal and may take experimentation, relaxation takes exploration as well. Combining a daily walk with deep breathing may bring relaxation, or doing yoga in the morning may establish a calm, positive outlook for the day. Sitting quietly and listening to calming music, or to silence, may be the right channel for relaxation. Setting aside time for meditation, reflection or deep breathing is essential to awareness, recovery and routine.
A sober routine does not have to include many exotic or new elements to support recovery. You can connect aspects of your everyday, automatic routine, such as putting on your shoes, commuting to work or doing the dishes, to your recovery. In the book Seeds of Sobriety, Liz Purcell suggests you, “Purposely connect your sobriety priority to a routine activity like brushing your teeth. Verbally or mentally affirm your sobriety priority each time you do this activity for a time of one week. The next week, connect your sobriety priority to a different routine activity, and so on…The sobriety priority itself never becomes fully automatic. Yet for those of us who’ve been affirming it the same way on a daily basis for months or perhaps years, the affirmation may have grown as routine, and thus as unconscious, as brushing our teeth.” Sobriety and life are not two separate entities and will always be influenced by and have an effect on one another. Connecting recovery to daily life tasks or activities means recovery becomes as regular as these actions.
A daily schedule is a powerful tool in early recovery. It is also a great tool to return to during challenging or stressful times. A daily schedule takes all your small, healthy routines and builds them into one overarching plan for the day. In early recovery this may be as detailed as writing out what you will be doing every hour — or half hour — while those with more recovery time and firmly established healthy habits and routines may use a weekly plan instead. NIDA explains that when it comes to ending drug use and related habits, a planned schedule can, “counteract this lifestyle, as well as restructure the content of the addict’s daily activity, by trying to help organize the patient’s daily routine.” This is especially important early in recovery when individuals are just learning how to create sober routines and what theirs should consist of or look like.
Ask for help starting a healthy, recovery routine, or make reaching out when stresses or struggles arise part of your routine. Call our toll-free helpline for immediate conversation with one of our many caring, understanding and knowledgeable admissions coordinators. We are here 24 hours a day to help you get started or get back on track and create sober routines.