As unlikely as it may seem, even to those involved, it’s usually some stupid, little everyday triviality that causes a recovering addict to start using or drinking again – and not, as you might think, a major relationship break-up or a dramatic family crisis or another life-changing event.
The little things in life?
The straw that broke the camel’s back?
The tipping point?
Call it what you will, but whatever it may be, and as insignificant as it may seem to others, the stress that this “whatever” causes you is usually what will push you over the edge – into an addiction relapse.
In reality, of course, it’s not the triviality that breaks your sobriety – it’s the stress.
According to addiction specialists and medical experts, stress is by far the “Number One” root cause of most relapses for those with a substance use disorder (or SUD, the medical term, an abbreviation for drug or alcohol addiction).
So why does this happen?
Simply because whenever this triviality reared its ugly (and insignificant) head before, you were either high or drunk, and you dealt with it or ignored it, as best you could – high or drunk.
However, you are clean and sober now – 100% substance-free – slap-bang in the middle of the real world, with no drugs to make life easier or more bearable.
Before you know it, the stress becomes unmanageable and gets out of control, and the wrong way of dealing with it – either using drugs to get high or drinking alcohol to get drunk – suddenly becomes the only way…
Unfortunately, I have personally learned this fact of life the hard way… The “addicted” way, if you like. But that’s a whole other story. Suffice to say, I’m over 7 years sober, with grateful thanks to an addiction rehab in Phoenix, Arizona, and during that time, I’ve learned to control my stress – over the big things, and those dangerous little things, too.
It was writing a daily journal that kept me focused and as in control of my recovery as I possibly could be. That’s one of the “6 Expert Ways to Manage Stress & Sustain Your Recovery Sobriety” I’ll share with you now – learned from experts and practiced relentlessly by myself.
They’ve all kept me good company in my search and then my maintenance of long-term, sustainable recovery – I hope they can keep you good company on yours:
#1. Fitness & Nutrition
Any decent and successful drug and alcohol rehab program adopts a holistic approach to its treatment – concentrating on improving your physical, mental, and spiritual health and wellbeing equally. That’s exactly the approach you should take to your recovery, especially in the early months.
Improving your physical health is attained by regular exercise and good nutrition. That doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym every 5 minutes – it means about 30 minutes a day spent doing a physical activity you enjoy.
Activities such as cycling, hiking, swimming, jogging, and walking are all good, and even better if you can find sober friends to share the activity with you, or you join a local club. And if you’re desperate to get in the gym, of course, you can do that, too.
Healthy meals – packed with vitamins and nutrients – are vital, and will complement your new regime of regular exercise perfectly.
Furthermore, exercise boosts the “feel-good” hormones that relax both the mind and body and help to improve your mood. It’s a powerful stress-buster, for sure, and will improve the quality of your sleep, too.
#2. Mindfulness & Meditation
Practicing basic meditation or learning mindfulness is an excellent way to “ground” yourself when life is getting stressful. It pushes all those feelings and emotions aside and allows you to be present in the moment.
Shutting out the world and all the background sounds that go with it can seem pretty impossible initially, but honestly, the whole process becomes more effective the more you practice. These are the most common and popular forms of meditation:
- Metta meditation (loving-kindness meditation)
- Zen meditation
- Kundalini yoga
- Mindfulness meditation
- Progressive relaxation (body scan)
- Breath awareness meditation
- Transcendental meditation
Additionally, common sources of stress for people in addiction recovery come about through our own self-judgment and self-criticism. By practicing mindfulness, you will be far more aware of your thoughts, cravings, and feelings – all without judging yourself.
Just the simple act of taking a deep breath and counting to 10 when things get on top of you really does work, too, if you’re somewhere where meditation or simply shutting out the outside world is not possible.
If you want to work through all of those feelings, emotions, and ways of thinking that the recovery process brings, keeping a journal (and writing in it every day, if possible) is by far the best way to do that.
Recording everything about the way you feel regularly during your recovery can be an excellent resource and learning tool for you, especially when you want to check on your personal progress.
You can also use the journal to keep track of your own personal stressors and potential triggers to relapse, too.
A huge amount of medical research and data analysis continues to find that one of the best ways to manage stress is probably the easiest to adopt – step out of your front door, travel to a national park or another scenic and picturesque area, and just immerse yourself in the splendor of nature.
Fresh air (oxygen) naturally increases serotonin levels in the body, and you benefit endlessly from enjoying what’s around you – the sounds, the smells, what you see, and (hopefully) warming sunshine.
Enjoying the wondrous beauty of nature allows people to step aside from their problems, and put everything happening in their lives into a unique perspective.
Lastly, combining exercise with spending time in nature is as near-perfect a holistic experience as you can get.
The meaning of “self-care” is often confused by many people. Yes, it’s about personal hygiene and looking presentable, but it’s also about a whole load of other things, too. Basically, anything that keeps you grounded, focused, and in recovery is an example of self-care.
Doing things such as:
- Taking the prescription medications you have been directed to take
- Eating healthily
- Exercising regularly
- Taking time out of your day to simply relax and unwind
- Making time for your meditation
- Reading a good book
- Attending group support meetings
- Being with your pets…
Honestly, the list is infinite, and it’s unique to you too. When you practice self-care, you are keeping yourself as mentally and physically healthy as you can, and that is putting you in the perfect position to deal with anything stressful that happens along.
#6. Support Network
Your support network is your safety net – it is there to catch you if you fall. Improving and increasing your support network as you work through the early stages of addiction recovery is vital. The stronger your support network, the stronger the safety net – it really is that straightforward.
Attending peer group support meetings (such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, SMART Recovery meetings, and so on) should be an integral part of your recovery process, as these meetings offer you the chance to feel less alone and to learn healthy coping mechanisms from other people’s real-life experiences.
If stress is triggering intense substance cravings for you, and you are starting to feel overwhelmed, reach out to your support network, and ask for help. They will catch you!
Being Proactive in Your Addiction Recovery…
Your recovery from addiction is yours to own. Don’t be an innocent bystander to your own success or failure – be as proactive as possible.
The more you follow the advice given above, and the harder you work at your recovery greatly increases the likelihood of you finding a long-term, sustainable recovery – totally free from the destructive substances of your past.
Good luck, be safe, be well.