11) Change your routine. Take a different route to and from work, get up earlier or later, go to bed earlier or later, don't go straight home. Times of day and standard routines can be very triggering, because over time you may have imprinted that pattern into your chemically-dependent brain. So, change it. Some people are even helped by re-arranging the furniture in their house, so they don't sit in the same place looking at the same things where they used to drink or use or be high.
12) Exercise and eat well. This can really boost your mental health, as well as your physical health that feeds your mental health. Many times, good nutrition and exercise fall off our radar screens when we are active addicts, and now is a good time to bring them back as priorities. Be careful with food containing alcohol, it can bring on intense cravings if you have been chemically dependent on alcohol - this especially includes dips and sauces made with alcohol, and alcohol chocolates.
13) Watch for HALT. If you are feeling hungry, angry, lonely or tired (HALT), you may find your thoughts sliding towards drinking and using. Simple solutions that often really help are, eat, distract yourself, go somewhere or call someone, and get some sleep.
14) Distract from triggers and cravings. You will be triggered at times, you will get cravings, and there may be times when you're totally fixated on giving up, caving in, and drinking or using. Now is a good time to distract, and anything will do. Stop the thought process to stop the urge, and it will go away. You can listen to music, read a book, go for a walk, go for a drive, think about something else, count sheep, count the whiskers on your pet, anything. As you build up more sober time, the triggers and cravings will fade, and every time you successfully hold your ground, you will make the next time easier on yourself. You are gradually reprogramming your brain.
15) Play the tape all the way through. If you find yourself longing for your favorite drug of choice, and fantasizing about drinking or using, keep going with that thought, and think about the bad as well as the perceived good. What will happen next? How will you feel afterwards, about yourself and your self-confidence? Will you go right back down the hole you just climbed out of? What was that hole like? Can you climb out of it again? Thinking through the whole relapse process can be helpful in beating back the cravings.
16) Avoid drinking and using events. Eventually you will be able to do all the things you do now, if you want to, without drinking or using and without missing drinking or using. But in early recovery it's safer to avoid things like wedding receptions, going out with your co-workers to the local watering hole, holiday parties, and other events that you once would have used as justifications to drink and use. If you must go, consider bookending the event with recovery support group meetings before and after, so you can make yourself accountable for not drinking and using and so you can earn the well-deserved respect afterwards.
17) Post a list of reasons why you quit on your fridge. This helps many people, as a reminder multiple times every day about their reasons for quitting. Some people even post pictures of their wasted selves on the fridge door or the cell phone. Over time, these little reminders can help.
18) Make daily plans. Plan your day by the hour, every day. It's not critical that you stick to your plan, the purpose is to help you think ahead a bit, and anticipate surprises or triggering situations and make plans to avoid or minimize them. What does tomorrow look like, hour by hour? Are there times or events that you think will be triggering? What will you do if they are triggering, do you have backup plans?
19) Find a hobby. Many people are accustomed to spending huge amounts of time every day on their drugs of choice. The anticipation, the acquiring, the use, the paraphernalia, the recovery time between uses, it all adds up to large chunks of our days. When we quit, all this time can feel like an empty hole, and we wonder, "What do I DO?" One thing we can do is find a hobby. It can be anything, as long as it fills some of that empty time and hopefully provides some sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
20) Join a club or take a class. Another way to fill those seemingly-empty blocks of time is to join a club, or enroll in a class. It can be anything you like, but ideally far removed from drugs and alcohol. Churches often have regular activities too, that generally don't involve drugs and alcohol.
21) Practice honesty. We often lie a lot in addiction, and once we're past the defense mechanisms of denial and rationalization we can admit this to ourselves. This can feel very shameful to admit to ourselves, never mind to other people, but addicts do these things and former addicts totally understand it. Consider doing the opposite in recovery, in all things. It can help us rebuild our shredded self-esteem.
22) Look forwards, not backwards. You cannot change the past, you absolutely cannot change it, and it serves no useful purpose to fixate on what has already happened and what brought you to wherever you are now. You may have a pile of wreckage all around you, you may be filled with shame and embarrassment, you may have broken relationships littering the landscape, you may be facing criminal or civil court proceedings. None of that can be changed, all you can do is change you from this point forwards. There may come a time to repair some of the damages and face up to people you've hurt, but that time is not early recovery.
23) Put sobriety at top priority. To stop the madness you must stop the drugs and alcohol, there is no other way out of the hole. In early recovery especially, there is no higher priority, and nothing can be allowed to keep you from staying clean and sober. Other responsibilities have to come below this, including jobs, friends, and family. If you cannot keep this focus, consider your alternatives. Can you move in with a sober friend for a while, preferably far away? Can you take time off work or go on disability? Whatever it takes is what we have to do in early recovery.
If any of these suggestions help you make it through the early days of clean and sober living, the first 1-3 months, great! There are many more great tips out there if you look, and some more lists are linked in Aspects of Recovery. SAMHSA also published a very good guide, Action Planning for Prevention and Recovery, free as a PDF. If you can make it though the withdrawal process and the worst early part of post-acute withdrawal, you're doing great and can work on sustaining it through the remainder of the post-acute withdrawal phase.
Abstinence. Personal Empowerment. Support. Inclusiveness. www.freestylerecovery.org.
How do I stop the madness?
The One Step: STOP.The only critical step, that everything good flows down from, is to stop drinking and using. Freestyle Recovery, like most addiction recovery support groups, emphasizes abstinence, not continued efforts to moderate consumption. Not everyone who realizes he has a drug and alcohol abuse problem needs to quit totally, and especially if you are early in the progression from normal use to abuse to chemical dependency, moderation management may be an option for you. If so, best of luck, and come on back if you discover later that you can't maintain moderation long-term.
Beyond some fuzzy line in the progression, which is in a different place for everyone, moderation is no longer an option. However, even the most deeply addicted abuser often thinks he can still find a way back to moderation, despite all objective evidence to the contrary, and he insists on trying, often many times. If so, best of luck, and come on back if that doesn't work for you this time, either. Abstinence is not only necessary for most addicts, it's a lot easier than continuing to bash our heads on the same wall over and over again, while accumulating an ever-growing pile of negative consequences that makes it harder and harder to stop. Stopping is a lot harder than "Just say no!", or "Just say no, but louder!" for most abusers and nearly all addicts. Instead, it is a process, a process that can take months or years, and it is a journey. But it starts with stopping.
Stopping means dealing with withdrawal early on, negotiating the peaks and valleys of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) in the subsequent weeks and months, and often learning new life coping mechanisms long-term that don't involve drugs and alcohol. We accomplish this by building our personal powers, and drawing on whatever support mechanisms we need in order to help us keep going. It all gets easier and easier over time, and eventually becomes automatic, requiring just periodic maintenance. Countless millions of people have done it, and you can do it too no matter how impossible that might seem right now, and no matter how far down the hole you've gone. It won't seem impossible at all later on, but you may need to build up some solid clean and sober time to begin to see this.
There are as many paths to happy clean and sober living as there are people with drug and alcohol abuse problems. Freestyle Recovery is not a program, and it does not endorse or recommend any specific program except the one that works for you. But nevertheless, there are some commonalities, and there are toolkits you can build up that really do work and make your life easier. Here are some suggestions, in no particular order, for getting through the early days, which is the first 30-90 days of the rest of your clean and sober life. You can pick and choose what works for you and leave the rest for the next person.
1) Consider setting a near-term goal. If you don't want to consider quitting for good, how about quitting for 3 months? Forever can seem very scary, but bite-sized pieces aren't so frightening. Can you make a solemn decision and stick to it, that you will not drink or use even once for 3 months? How about 1 month? You will think differently and much more clearly with some clean and sober time, and getting some clean and sober time is critical.
2) Bring your horizons in. Forever can seem very scary, a month can seem very scary, sometimes the next 10 minutes seem very scary. You don't have to future trip, and many people will tell you, "take it one day at a time". If you go to bed clean and sober tonight, you've accomplished your goal for today, and worry about tomorrow when you get to it. People don't climb mountains by staring longingly at a distant peak that always seems so far away, they climb them by staring at their feet and marching, one step at a time.
3) Consider going to inpatient or outpatient medical treatment. Professionally facilitated "rehab" in medical treatment facilities will teach you a lot about yourself and the challenges you are facing. Outpatient treatment is easier for most people to arrange, inpatient (residential) treatment may be more difficult to arrange but has the big advantage of being 24/7 for as long as you stay. Inpatient treatment also removes you from your day-to-day environment that may be triggering. It will still be there when you come back clean and sober, but you will be in a better position to manage after you've built up some clean and sober time. Good professional counselors know this stuff really well, and a great one can save your life. Consider going on disability if this is an option, in most places medical treatment for addiction recovery is not treated differently than medical treatment for, say, cancer.
4) Consider going to face-to-face or online support group meetings every day. Freestyle Recovery offers both face-to-face and online support, and there are many more options including those listed under Additional Support. Try them out, you have nothing at all to lose and you may find them very rewarding and helpful. Very few people who go deep down the addiction hole will make it back out again without support. Find something that feels comfortable and give it a try. Early on especially, many people benefit greatly from loading up on meetings and/or chat room or forum support, and participating every single day. AA talks about "90 in 90" (90 meetings in 90 days), and it's a great idea but it does not have to be AA meetings, it can be whatever support you want to use.
5) Consider detox medical assistance. Some drugs, particularly alcohol and benzos, can be dangerous to stop cold turkey. Consider working with doctor on a plan to safely stop taking your drugs of choice, particularly when alcohol and benzos are involved. This might involve a medically-supervised taper, or additional drugs to reduce seizure risks.
6) Consider drugs to help. Natrexone helps some alcohol addicts in reducing cravings, and Buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex) is widely used in recovery from opiate addiction. Other drugs can help with different addictions. Talk to your doctor, especially an addiction medicine specialist, to explore your options for making your recovery easier.
7) Consider a mentor or coach. Some recovery support groups, 12-step groups in particular, emphasize working with sponsors. Freestyle Recovery takes no position on this approach, and though it does not embrace formal sponsorship, it recognizes that it does help some people. If you feel you would be helped by a mentor, coach or 12-step sponsor, seek one out and see if it works. But recognize that no two addicts are alike, and what worked for someone else may not work for you. You are in charge of your own recovery, and no one else can take that responsibility away from you.
8) Distance yourself from triggering and enabling people. Not all of your friends and family may be supportive, and others may trigger you to want to drink or use. Early recovery is a good time to put some distance between yourself and those people, to the extent that you can. Do you have some friends you always and only drink or use with? Good time to take a break and see them less often or not at all, until you've built up some clean and sober time and are stronger. Do you have toxic family members who trigger you? Good time to take a break. If these people care about you, they will come to understand why you need a break even if they are unhappy about it now.
9) Distance yourself from triggering places and things. Certain places, like the corner liquor store, or the beer aisle in the supermarket, or the bar, or your dealers neighborhood, or even public buses and trains and stations, can be enormously triggering. Don't go to that corner liquor store where the guy behind the counter always brings out your favorite booze as soon as you walk in. Don't go down the beer aisle, you have nothing to buy there anyways, and consider shopping at a different supermarket. Public transportation can be harder to arrange, but can you drive or get rides instead? Don't go to the bar at all, it's a huge relapse trap in early recovery. And don't go to your dealers neighborhood if you can avoid it at all.
10) Clean your house. Get rid of every drop of alcohol, all of it, the mouthwash too, all the empty bottles, everything. Get rid of all the pills, all the paraphernalia, the bongs, everything. All of it is triggering for you in early recovery, and you'll make your life easier if you clean house. If you absolutely cannot bring yourself to throw it in the trash, give it to a friend, or at least hide it in a box in the closet where you won't see it.