Getting sober is one of the most challenging and rewarding things you’ll ever do in your life. However, once you initially go through treatment and stop using drugs and alcohol, the challenges don’t end. Your ultimate goal is maintaining long-term sobriety, no matter what life might throw at you. The risk of relapse does lessen over time in your recovery from addiction.
This doesn’t mean short-term sobriety is any less of an accomplishment, but there are different things to consider with each of the stages of recovery.
During the early phases of sober life, you may not be using substances anymore, but you might not yet have the skills you need to cope with distressing emotions or problems in your life. Removing substances is a critical first step, but they work really begins then.
Your long-term sobriety and recovery journey will evolve as you grow personally.
You’re less likely to relapse as you focus on maintaining sobriety at the one-year mark and beyond. You’re also more likely to have stable housing and a fulfilling career. As time goes on, your everyday life will revolve less around avoiding relapse because it will become more normal for you.
Recovery is a period of remission in addiction. Your recovery process starts when you voluntarily integrate what you learn during a treatment program into your daily life.
How Do You Achieve Long-Term Sobriety?
The first and most critical step to long-term recovery is a treatment program—the more holistic and the longer the program, the better the outcomes.
During treatment, you don’t just stop using drugs or alcohol. You begin to uncover the underlying factors contributing to your substance use disorder. Treatment is an opportunity to reflect and develop coping mechanisms and skills you can use going forward in your life.
Once you finish a treatment program, your objective is to apply those skills to your daily life.
Some of the things to remember in maintaining sobriety over the long-term include:
Be Aware of Your Relapse Warning Signs
Relapse is what you’re ultimately trying to avoid when it comes to maintaining long-term sobriety. There tends to be the misconception that relapse comes from nowhere. In reality, it’s a process. There are warning signs that lead to a relapse. If you aren’t aware of these, you may overlook them.
The phases include emotional relapse, mental relapse, and physical relapse.
Warning signs can include returning to addictive thinking, behaving more compulsively, and spending time where alcohol or drugs are available or other high-risk situations. Not going to therapy or 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or glamorizing substance use can also be warning signs of a problem in your long-term recovery.
Learn Your Triggers
While the warning signs of relapse can be fairly similar for many people, your triggers are more personal to you. When you’re in treatment, you should start identifying what triggers you.
Triggers can be feelings, emotions, and thoughts, which are internal. There are also external triggers, including people, places, and things.
You want to make a list of your triggers and write down specific steps you’ll take to avoid them. When they’re unavoidable, you should also have coping strategies to prepare for a difficult time. There are certain stressful situations that you can’t avoid in life, so you have to be ready.
Something important to remember during the holidays is the balance between being your authentic self, living your authentic life and understanding your own needs. Suppressing or ignoring our own needs is a major factor in unhappiness, depression, hopelessness and anxiety. When we understand what we need and honor it every day, we will be happier, more balanced and sobriety is much easier to manage. When we don’t take good care of ourselves then we are a greater risk of relapsing or using drugs or alcohol.
Change Your Habits and Daily Routine
When you’re in active addiction, your habits and routines center around your drug and alcohol use. The places you go, the people you spend time with, and your behaviors all revolve around getting more of the substance you’re addicted to, using it, and then recovering from it.
To maintain long-term sobriety, you’ll have to change these habits and replace them with new, healthy ones. These new habits and routines are key for your personal growth and creating a strong foundation for yourself.
Recovery from an addictive substance is about being the best version of yourself, mentally, physically, and emotionally. To achieve these objectives, you need an overall healthy lifestyle. You should prioritize self-care and things like exercise and eating nutritious meals.
Create a structured routine for yourself that emphasizes time for self-care.
Part of your routine and healthy lifestyle might also include time for meditation, yoga, or mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a powerful part of recovery for many people and is generally beneficial for mental health.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an ability to be present, fully, and in the moment. There are numerous benefits of mindfulness, backed by science and research. For example, mindfulness reduces stress, increases happiness, and can help with focus.
When you’re mindful, you’re fully engaged with whatever you’re doing at the moment, without judgment or distraction. You are aware of your feelings and thoughts but not caught up in them.
The best way to train yourself to be mindful is through meditation. Mindfulness is a skill that requires practice to cultivate. As you learn the skill, you can apply it throughout your life.
Even outside of helping people in recovery, mindfulness is an important way to deal with challenges or difficult times in your life.
There is a difference between being mindful and meditation. Mindfulness isn’t a temporary state of mind that occurs just when you’re meditating. Rather, being mindful is considered a way of life. You apply it throughout your life to step back and be present, no matter the situation.
Practicing a mindful lifestyle doesn’t mean that your problems magically disappear or you have no unpleasant or distressing thoughts or feelings. Instead, you realize you have a choice in how you’re going to handle them. You can rely on productive, healthy coping mechanisms and stay calm when you’re facing something stressful or challenging.
For most people, meditation is the best training to learn mindfulness. However, mindfulness can be as simple as being thoughtful in responding to whatever is happening around you.
How Does Mindfulness Help with Long-Term Sobriety?
Many people who have long-term recovery in their lives say that mindfulness is a key part of how they got there over a period of time.
Current research shows that being more self-aware through the development of mindfulness practice can help with many of the mental and behavioral processes occurring with addiction and relapse.
- Addictive thoughts and behaviors tend to take hold when things in your environment trigger processes in your brain that might compel you to use drugs or alcohol.
- When you learn how to be mindful, you have the opportunity to interrupt the processes.
- You’re breaking the connection between drug and alcohol use and whatever the triggers are.
- With regular mindfulness practice, you can learn to accept negative emotions and cope with them rather than escape through substances.
- You can become more in control over your cravings and not at the mercy of environmental cues.
- Mindfulness also helps your brain’s reward pathways normalize and start to function as they should. That will help you feel rewards from healthy activities like spending time with friends or exercising.
- If you can stop negative thought patterns by bringing yourself into the present, you can prevent a cycle of projecting anxiety into the future.
- Mindfulness can also help you let go of the past and shame you may feel because of what you did in active addiction.
Some ways to decrease loneliness while you are in recovery include:
- Active and regular participation in 12-step meetings
- Meeting new people who are sober and want to do healthy social activities
- Try new activities you haven’t done before that don’t involve any drugs or alcohol
- Make amends to anyone you have hurt in your life who was sober and you used to be close to and try to reconnect with them
- Participate in volunteering and giving back
Self-care is a popular topic and can mean so many things. In many ways it has become a cliche topic! However, I would like to discuss a practical, impactful approach to self-care. One which looks at self-care as a regular, on-going practice for happiness and health. A powerful approach to self-care is one where you take care of your mind and mental health on a moment to moment basis so that everyday you feel good! When we focus on the past, or the future we are missing our enjoyment of the moment, and we are missing our lives!
Volunteering Provides a Wide Range of Benefits
volunteering can be an excellent way for a person in the process of becoming sober to help focus their minds and see the world outside their small bubble.
Volunteering in the community provides a social outlet for someone who might otherwise have been isolated. Often, being more social helps foster a feeling of being part of something and understanding that everyone has something valuable to contribute to the world. People often make close friendships and other connections via volunteering, which can broaden a person’s pool for support. You may even discover other activities you may enjoy by widening your social horizons.
If you’d like to explore what your path to recovery could look like, contact Silver Lining Recovery’s Huntington Beach team by calling 833-847-6984. Our substance abuse treatment programs are conveniently offered on an outpatient basis. Our recovery programs will help you stop using drugs and alcohol and begin to build a life in sobriety that you feel excited about and proud of.