Your First 90 Days of Sobriety…you can do this!
If you’re anything like the rest of us who courageously entered the oceans of sobriety, then it’s safe to assume these waters you’re approaching feel hopelessly uncharted.
It can be overwhelming.
Especially for the first 90 days.
In my first few months, I probably could have qualified for disability. I was outrageously out of my mind! Obsessions, anxiety, panic, deep depression, you name it. I was the Persians and my emotions were the 300 Spartans – I couldn’t get the upper hand!
Fortunately, you are not alone in this phase of the voyage. This may sound cheesy, but this post aims to serve as an illuminating lighthouse, guiding you past the rocky shores of early recovery into smoother seas.
So, without further ado, let’s delve into our comprehensive guide on how to survive—and thrive—in your first ninety days of sobriety.
Acknowledge The Mood
Gaining clarity is the first step on the path to achieving sobriety.
It’s essential to recognize and acknowledge the challenge lying ahead.
It might not be easy—a blend of emotional and physical discomfort may bubble up. However, steering through these challenges is where the medal of victory is earned.
After you acknowledge the challenge, the next step is to understand it.
The first component in this regard is to wrestle with and grasp its impermanence!
I know your brain is pulling overtime to convince you it’s “going to be like this forever!”
But that’s patently false.
Don’t buy it.
Nothing lasts forever.
Be it good or bad, the only thing we can say for sure is that our mental state will change.
The Transient Nature of Moods
Just reflect on your own experience. It testifies to this truth.
Imagine you’re angry because you’re running late to work. Subsequently, you almost caused a massive car accident due to your reckless speeding. Does your rage continue?
How about this, envision that you’re upset due to people gossiping about you at work. Yet, somehow a mysterious amusement park fairy dumps you onto a rollercoaster. Do you still experience that specific discomfort after a few loops and drops?
Have you ever gone on a treadmill in one mood and came off in another? Or better yet, ever go into a conversation in one mood and exit in another? Or even better, can your mood simply sustain a damn meal?
Ironically, each time your mood changes so does your world.
Don’t miss this insight, it’s crucial for landing safely on the other side.
If you’re in a bad mood and someone is late to your appointment you label them as selfish and inconsiderate. On the contrary, if you’re in a good mood you identify their tardiness as a symptom of their free-spirited and spontaneous nature.
If you’re in a bad mood and someone wants love from you, they’re needy. If your mood is good, they’re nurturing.
If your mood is low and you want love from someone but they resist, they are distant and cold. If your mood is high, you admire their courage to be vulnerable and transparent about how they feel.
In a high mood, the antique car is a classic; when you’re low it’s a clunker.
In a high mood, you’re the hero. In a low mood, you’re the victim.
I’m confident you’re picking up what I’m putting down.
The whole world is built upon one giant context and that context is the mood!
A mood is just a feeling state.
And nothing is more finicky than a human being’s feeling state.
Now, this is important, you can’t force change a feeling state.
Apart from the amusement park fairy, or serious rushes of adrenaline, it’s not something you can control very easily.
Truthfully, any attempt to intentionally escape it makes it worse.
The Hot Pepper Incident
It reminds me of the time I ate an extremely hot pepper. Granted, mild salsa is hot to me, so it doesn’t take much, but the metaphor holds some weight.
So, my wife is Dominican and loves spice. She once jokingly gave me a pepper to try and I, not understanding she was playing, moronically bit into it.
Within moments my entire body went up in flames. I was panicking and just wanted to escape the heat. Naturally, I grabbed water to extinguish the fire.
Alas, that made it a million times worse.
I just had to breathe and wait it out.
Any attempt to counteract the flames with water, even ice water, just turned up the heat!
However, once I settled into it and took some deep diaphragmatic breaths, it vanished in no time.
Moods are just like this. When we try to fix, manage, or control the world around us in order to change it, it just turns up the volume on the mood we are trying to rid ourselves of.
Another beautiful illustration is the day my mother took my children to catch butterflies.
She had a four-step objective for the kiddos.
Step one: go to the sand dunes near my childhood home that happens to be the home to a million butterflies.
Step two: give the kids jars.
Step three: instruct them to catch as many as possible.
Step four: revel in the glory of enslaved butterflies.
Only, some unexpected hiccups arose.
My two oldest children feverishly swung and scooped with their jars but right at the cusp of the containers, the butterflies would escape to freedom.
Close, but no cigar.
So, they tried harder and harder. They put their minds together in an effort to strategize and capture these winged escapologists, as Confucius said, “many hands make for light work.”
Unfortunately, fate had other plans in mind. The effort they exerted was met with equal effort by the butterflies.
As I watched this unfold I found my attention falling upon my youngest daughter, a one-year-old at the time, just standing there with literally zero effort and clue yet a jar full of butterflies.
That’s when Insight ultimately crashed the party.
It hit me like a bag of bricks.
Trying to force a change in mood is like trying to catch butterflies.
The harder and harder you try to fix, manage, and control your environment to “feel” a specific way only results in an increase in the feeling you’re trying to escape.
It’s like the saying, “What you resist, persists.”
When a low mood strikes, don’t resist it, flow with it, surf it out, and let the butterflies come to you.
In any event, next time your neurons start firing off the idea that your current state is permanent. Just give it a minute.
Your body is no more capable of remaining in one consistent mood than a bottomless cup is capable of retaining fluid.
Further Reading on Cravings, Emotions, Moods, and Resistance.
Observe The Thought
Moods don’t emerge in a vacuum. They may seem frequently random, but the truth is they are intimately connected to thoughts.
In fact, all feelings are born of thought.
Along these lines, the mood is the best barometer for the quality of your thoughts.
The reason your mood changes after the near-fatal accident is because your thoughts change. It’s the same with the rollercoaster, the treadmill, the conversation, and the meal.
The mood will direct you to the content of your thoughts. Subsequently, this will lead you to what you’re paying attention to.
You Are What You Pay Attention To
The fact of the matter is that your brain can only observe one thing at a time.
Yes, it’s an unparalleled supercomputer, but your attention is singular, and cannot see two separate things simultaneously.
If you don’t believe me, look at the optical illusion below.
Do you see a young woman or an older woman?
They both coexist in the picture, but they cannot coexist in your attention.
You can only see the young woman when you stop seeing the old woman and vice versa.
This is absolutely critical for surviving your first 90 days sober (and remaining sober).
The maxim here is that where your attention goes your energy flows.
What you’re seeing in the world isn’t the only thing existing, but it’s all you’re paying attention to at that moment.
Moreover, your feelings about whatever you paying attention to are directly proportional to your thoughts about it.
If you look at the young woman and notice she reminds you of your high school sweetheart who cheated on and demoralized you, your feelings will likely be sad, angry, lonely, and/or apathetic.
However, if she reminds you of your spouse, your thoughts might turn to the beautiful family and life you’ve built. Correspondingly, that will produce feelings of joy, contentment, and perhaps hopeful anticipation.
The moral of the story is the color of your current world is shaded by the story you’re telling yourself about it.
In this sense, it’s not even real!
Yes, it feels real, but you’ve created 100% of it.
In other words, not only is your experience impermanent, but it’s informed by a story you’ve created.
Further Reading on Thoughts, The Story You Tell Yourself, And How To Change Moods
Establish Your Support Network
Unfortunately, learning to surf out the low moods is tough.
Paying attention to what you’re paying attention to feels like a contradiction at best and psychosis at worst.
Identifying the twists and turns in your story, that you create exclusively with your thoughts, is even harder.
This is why you need support, or what many refer to as recovery capital.
Recovery capital is the total resources, or capital, that a person has available to find and maintain their recovery.
Matthew Stanford wrote something I think is worth re-reading again and again and again, “Without the family’s support, it is likely that the individual would not continue with their treatment and deteriorate back into distress.”
What Is Recovery Capital?
In the recovery world, this concept is referred to as “recovery capital.”
Recovery capital is the total resources, or capital, that a person has available to find and maintain their recovery. Ergo, not just biological family as Stanford’s quote implies.
William White identified 6 different types of recovery capital, so the concept is a bit more nuanced and complex than Stanford’s.
- Personal recovery capital. This includes an individual’s physical and human capital.
- Physical capital is the available resources to fulfill a person’s basic needs, like their health, healthcare, financial resources, clothing, food, safe and habitable shelter, and transportation.
- Human capital relates to a person’s abilities, skills, and knowledge, like problem-solving, education and credentials, self-esteem, the ability to navigate challenging situations and achieve goals, interpersonal skills, and a sense of meaning and purpose in life
- Family/social recovery capital. These resources relate to intimate relationships with friends and family, relationships with people in recovery, and supportive partners. It also includes the availability of recovery-related social events
- Community recovery capital. This includes attitudes, policies, and resources specifically related to helping individuals resolve substance use disorders. Community resources are vast. According to White, they can include:
- Recovery activism and advocacy aimed at reducing stigma
- A full range of addiction treatment resources
- Peer-led support, such as mutual-aid meetings, that seek to meet the diverse needs of the community
- Recovery Community Organizations
- Recovery support institutions, educational-based recovery support such as recovery high schools and colleges, recovery housing, and recovery ministries and churches.
- Visible and diverse local recovery role models
- Resources to sustain recovery and early intervention programs, like employee assistance programs, and drug courts.
- Cultural capital. These resources resonate with individual’s cultural and faith-based beliefs, such as resources for Native Americans, and people of the following faiths: Christian, Islamic, and Jewish.
Admittedly, support networks act as reliable oars in the ship of sobriety.
From professional therapists, recovery coaches, AA meetings, outpatient support groups, trusted friends, or family members, your support network is there to lend an empathetic ear, share advice, or sometimes just remind you of your strength.
So, don’t shy away from reaching out to those who care about your well-being.
I capture the concept in what I refer to as the 3 C’s of Recovery Capital. They are vital to your sustained and happy recovery, so don’t ever stray far from them.
Remember, you need people and people need you. Review the Core Concept this article launched with. The following are necessary for a happy and contented recovery: Community, Connection, Contribution.
Further Reading on Connection, Community, and Contribution.
Align with Structure
Crafting a structured routine paves the way to stable recovery.
Fill your day with regular meals, scheduled exercise and relaxation periods, and plenty of sleep.
Having equilibrium in your daily life can help you combat cravings and maintain your mental and physical health.
This concept is simple. If you throw a sunflower seed on your kitchen table you’re not getting a sunflower out of that. You can leave it there for months. You can take a picture of it and post it on social media. You can gain a following of 300 thousand all cheering for its growth, but it won’t happen.
Why? Because it’s not the right conditions!
In a similar manner, you need to place yourself in the right conditions if you expect to flourish.
It’s important to be around people who share your values and goals. It’s vital to have accountability and support.
Just as sunlight and water are to a plant, sleep, healthy meals, exercise, and a structured day are to a human being.
Further Reading on Routine & Structure
This is the ship’s compass; mindfulness could be your reliable navigator in choppy waters.
Mindfulness introduces you to the moment-to-moment consciousness of your surroundings, thoughts, and feelings.
By practicing mindfulness, you allow yourself a moment to breathe, allowing a proactive, not reactive approach towards cravings.
The Tripod of Mindfulness
Mindsight, a therapeutic paradigm developed by Dr. Dan Siegel, leverages the tripod of mindfulness which is useful here in succinctly capturing mindfulness.
- Openness: release preconceptions of what should be and don’t try to make things how you want them to be.
- Observation: perceive ourselves experiencing an event.
- Objectivity: resist being swept away by thought or feeling; all just mental activity, not reality – awareness of awareness.
Mindfulness will allow you to disconnect and depersonalize the world around you. This, in turn, will allow you to shift and see all the available perspectives of any given situation.
You’ll find that when you can decrease the emotional intensity attached to whatever immediately has your attention, you’ll be able to pivot your attention to something else.
Remember, the quality of your world is contingent upon what you’re paying attention to!
Further Reading on Mindfulness
Proper nutrition forms the sturdy hull of your ship, protecting you from harsh waves of cravings.
Consuming balanced and nutritious meals keeps your energy levels steady, boosts your mood, and assists in healing your body from the inside out.
Nutrition plays a crucial role in supporting sobriety and overall health for individuals recovering from addiction
Proper Diet Allows Your Body To Heal Itself
A well-balanced diet aids in repairing physical and psychological damage caused by substance abuse
The recovery journey from substance use disorders is not only about abstaining from drugs or alcohol but also about fostering a sober lifestyle that prioritizes one’s health and well-being.
Emphasizing good nutrition throughout the recovery process enables individuals to nourish their bodies, regain a sense of control, and set the foundation for successful, long-lasting sobriety.
Again, these are the right conditions for growth.
Stay Physically Active
Think of physical activity as the sail attached to your boat, allowing progress even against headwinds.
Regular exercise releases endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, all of which boost your mood, alleviate anxiety, help regulate sleep patterns, and serve as a natural distraction from cravings or negative thoughts.
John Dupuy, author of Integral Recovery, in his chapter on physical health, jokes that early recovery is the time to “drop the bar bill and pick up the barbell!”
He’s right on the money.
The truth is that recovery requires a total overhaul of one’s lifestyle. Everything needs to dramatically shift.
As the old recovery slogan states, “The only thing you need to change is everything.”
Proper Exercise Allows Your Body To Heal Itself!
Part of this change is learning to treat our bodies better, particularly in the form of proper diet and exercise.
Experts in addiction recovery and mental health treatment recommend that both exercise and this momentous shift in lifestyle are equally important.
Exercise will help boost the speed and probability of recovery and provide a variety of benefits that I will expand upon in this article.
The basic idea is that a workout routine, no matter how intense, is immensely profitable.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), getting active for at least 150 minutes per week can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some types of cancers, and other chronic diseases. Another collection of studies suggests that regular exercise can increase the abstinence rate for substance use by 95 percent.
Let’s not minimize that 95%! It’s worth peeking behind the curtains and taking a gander
Read more about the benefits of exercise in recovery here
Engage in Therapeutic Activities
If the sea around you seems turbulent, therapeutic activities might be just the anchor you need.
Journaling, art and music therapy, or engaging in regular therapy or counseling sessions are great tools to navigate your thought currents and provide constructive outlets.
At this point, I would stop and try to identify at least ten therapeutic activities that you can pepper into your schedule. Then, create a weekly itinerary and fit them into your calendar.
Be intentional about this. If you leave it for chance you’ll never do it. Do it on purpose. Live life on purpose!
Examples Of How To Live Life On Purpose
Here are a few examples to get you started:
1. Art Therapy: This involves encouraging individuals to express themselves through art. This could be painting, sculpting, drawing, or any other form of artistic expression. It helps stimulate creativity, reduces stress and anxiety, provides a safe outlet for emotions and can improve self-esteem.
2. Music Therapy: Listening to or creating music has therapeutic benefits. It can trigger various emotions and memories, reduce stress, ease pain, and encourage relaxation. Singing, playing an instrument, or simply listening to a favorite playlist can have significant emotional and psychological benefits.
3. Animal-Assisted Therapy: Engaging with animals has been proven to lower stress levels, improve mood, and increase overall happiness. Therapy could involve horse riding, training dogs, or simply petting and spending time with an animal.
4. Gardening: The act of gardening can be very therapeutic. It helps distract the mind from stress or anxiety, allows for physical activity, promotes relaxation, provides a sense of achievement when what you’ve planted grows and flowers, and develops nurturing skills.
5. Exercise Therapy: This might consist of regular walking, yoga, swimming, or any other physical activity that the individual enjoys. Physical activity increases the production of endorphins, known as ‘feel good’ hormones, in the brain, which are key to mood management.
6. Mindfulness and Meditation: These activities involve focusing on the present moment, often through breathing exercises or guided imagery. This can reduce stress, increase self-awareness, sharpen concentration, and improve mental well-being.
7. Cognitive Therapy: This usually involves talking through thoughts and feelings with a trained professional. They can offer strategies to deal with negative thought patterns and behaviors, improve coping mechanisms, and reduce anxiety.
8. Aromatherapy: This therapy uses scented oils to promote health and well-being. The different scents are believed to stimulate brain function and promote relaxation.
9. Hydrotherapy: This uses water to treat different conditions, like arthritis and related rheumatic complaints. Aquatic therapy can soothe muscles, boost psychological well-being, and improve physical health.
10. Writing and Journaling: Expressing thoughts and feelings on paper can promote mental clarity, help solve problems more effectively, reduce stress, and even improve physical health by removing emotional blocks.
Remember, the most effective therapeutic activity is one that the person will enjoy and engage with regularly. The goal is to turn a task into a habit so that its health benefits can be enjoyed long-term.
Celebrate Small Victories
You must honor every day you stay sober—as each of those days is a tribute to your resilience.
Celebrating these achievements, no matter how small they may seem, encourages positivity and pushes you forward.
If you want to be intentional about this, create a game plan to commemorate and celebrate! Here are 9 ideas to get your synapses firing.
How To Reward Yourself
1. Acknowledge Progress: Recognizing and acknowledging even little steps forward in recovery can play a crucial role in maintaining motivation, and reinforcing the benefits of staying sober. This can be done through simple personal affirmations or journaling about progress.
2. Celebratory Self-Care: A great way to celebrate a small victory in addiction recovery could be by treating oneself to a self-care activity. This could be a relaxing bath, a soothing massage, a calming yoga session or just spending time reading a book or listening to favorite music.
3. Quality Time: Spending quality time with loved ones could also serve as a reward. Plan a movie night, a dinner, or a game night. It can remind the person recovering that they have a strong support system cheering them on.
4. Craft a Victory Board: Create a “victory board” where every victory, no matter how small, is noted and celebrated. This could be a physical board or even a digital one. Seeing those victories accumulate can be inspiring and motivating.
5. Personal Rewards: Another way to celebrate might be gifting oneself something long desired – a book, a new outfit, or a wellness gadget.
6. Healthy Adventures: Plan a day out in nature, visit a museum, or try out a new fitness class. Doing something new can help strengthen the sense of achievement and create a positive memory associated with sobriety.
7. Share with Others: Sharing milestones with trusted individuals or support groups that understand the importance of these victories can also celebrate recovery. It not only provides a sense of pride but helps inspire others.
8. Express Gratitude: Reflect on and express gratitude for the progress made, either personally or with others. It reminds individuals of the strides they’ve made in their recovery journey.
9. Make a Donation: Depending on their means, donating to a cause that matters to them can be a meaningful way to commemorate milestone victories.
Remember, addiction recovery is a marathon, not a sprint, and every small victory – no matter how minor it may seem – is a step forward towards lasting recovery, and that’s worth celebrating!
You Can Do This!
The first 90 days of sobriety may be like crossing an ocean with varying currents and gusts.
However, remember that ships are built to sail—it’s exactly what they’re designed for.
Just like you’re built to persevere and live a fulfilling, sober life. Believe in your inner strength and let it guide you through this transformational journey.
Stay strong, stay vibrant, and embark with courage. After all, brave mariners are made in choppy seas.