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Tips to Keep You Sane While in Recovery

Posted on August 30, 2009 in Recovery

After going through treatment and now being in recovery, you have been given skills and coping techniques to help you remain clean and sober. But what about those nagging thoughts and cravings that continue to plague you—often when you think you’ve put them behind you? Here are some practical suggestions that can help you stay sane—and steer clear of alcohol and drugs. While each person in recovery is different, some of these tips may work for you.

• Eliminate Refined Sugar—Some experts believe that alcoholism is a type of sugar addiction, as alcohol is the ultimate refined carbohydrate that’s capable of raising blood sugar levels more quickly than white sugar. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a factor in about 95 percent of alcoholics. While you’re in recovery and abstaining from alcohol, don’t allow yourself to pile on the refined sugars in its place. It isn’t a good idea, and can contribute to hypoglycemic spikes. Remember that fats and proteins can help curb cravings for carbohydrates. Instead of ordering that frappuccino loaded with sugar or the dessert that’s high in empty sugars, try these substitutes:

–Bananas and dates—they will satisfy your sweet craving and they’re good nourishment
–Fresh cabbage juice—tastes good and will eliminate cravings for sweets
–Carrot juice—try it diluted with a little water for a liver-cleansing drink that tastes sweet
–Celery—helps to balance out the body’s pH

• Eliminate Cigarette Smoking—While you’re battling your cravings for your former drug of choice, don’t substitute another addiction in its place. This means it’s important to avoid developing a nicotine habit. Cigarettes are loaded with chemicals and tar and are highly addictive. If you’ve never smoked cigarettes, don’t start. If you do smoke cigarettes, wean yourself off them through nicotine replacement therapy. This may include chewing gum, wearing nicotine patches, hypnotherapy, inhalers, or other treatments. Check with your aftercare counselor or therapist if you need help quitting smoking, especially if you contemplate taking any prescription medications to combat the habit. This could prove counter-productive to your overall recovery.

• Exercise—The benefits of exercise go far beyond helping you stay fit. When it comes to your recovery, vigorous exercise for a period of 30 to 60 minutes a day three or more times per week does following:

–Lowers stress and helps you better cope with stress
–Reduces tension and helps combat depression
–Burns calories faster
–Helps you look more youthful
–Helps your mind and body function better without drugs—including your heart, lungs, and digestive tract

What kind of exercise is best? It doesn’t matter if it’s a vigorous walk or hike on a nature trail or just around the neighborhood, or if you go to the gym for a workout or enroll in aerobics classes at a community center. Think of the time that you devote to exercise as providing a dual benefit: it helps lessen cravings for drugs and alcohol, improves your mood, and it also takes up time that you normally would have spent in pursuit of or using alcohol or drugs.

• Avoid Stressors—Naturally, you need to be vigilant in steering clear of obvious stressors, any one of which could cause you to stumble in your recovery.

–Intense emotions—Anger, fear, and self-pity are highly destructive emotions that you can’t allow yourself to wallow in. Seek help to overcome them before they overwhelm you and threaten your recovery.

–Places and situations where alcohol is served—You simply cannot go places where alcohol is all around you. This means changing your routine to consciously avoid those places and situations where you’d be tempted.

–Deluding yourself into thinking you can have just one—There is no “just one” that will work for you. That’s a fallacy and a rationalization that recovering alcoholics and drug users tell themselves. “It’s just one time. It couldn’t hurt.” Yes, it can and it will. Wipe this thought right out of your mind.

–Financial setbacks—If finances become a problem, this could derail your recovery. Seek assistance from whatever means available to you and don’t feel guilty about doing so. If you need time to pay back bills, contact creditors and work out a repayment plan or buy some time. Be proactive in this regard, as creditors want to see that you are earnest in the desire for meeting your obligations. If it’s a job that you lost, actively search for another. Again, if you continue to have difficulty, discuss it with your aftercare therapist, counselor, or your support group.

–Fights with your spouse or partner—These tend to increase your stress level and can escalate to a non-repairable situation. Walk away and cool off until you can resume a conversation with your spouse or significant other without raising your voice—and your blood pressure.

–Spending time with former drug and alcohol users—This is perhaps the most critical. You simply can’t be around those former friends that continue to drink and do drugs. No one in recovery can afford that temptation – nor should they subject themselves to it. Those friends can no longer be part of your life. Stay away from them.

• Seek Therapy—If you find yourself consumed with self-hatred, anxiety, emotional stress, anger, fear, and problems with assertiveness, additional therapy may be beneficial. Look for a therapist that uses cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on current issues instead of what happened in the past. If cost is a problem, search out organizations that offer sliding-scale reimbursement plans based on your ability to pay. United Way organizations, through their Family and Children’s Services divisions, provide such counseling. Check to see if there’s one in your area.

• Make Friends Through Support Groups—Friends who understand your needs and your pain can be of tremendous assistance as you struggle with cravings for alcohol and/or drugs. A good place to start is your support group, which you should be attending as part of your recovery. These groups include Alcoholics Anonymous, Women for Sobriety, Narcotics Anonymous, and others. Each person in the support group has a deep understanding of addiction. They’ve been through the same kinds of gut-wrenching experiences you have. They can be your best allies.

• Find New Sober Friends—In recovery, the worst thing you can do is remain isolated and cut off from society. Join groups who engage in sober activities and develop friendships with the participants. This may include individuals at work, in your neighborhood, classes you may attend, or people you meet during recreational activities.

• Mend Relationships with Parents—It’s important for those in recovery to mend or renew relationships that may have become strained whenever possible. You need to knock down the walls that have built up over the period of your former using. Forgive yourself first, and then ask for forgiveness from them. You need your family, so at least make the effort. The love and support of your family can go a long way toward helping you stay sane in your recovery.

• Set Aside Personal Time—Recovery shouldn’t be all work. Set aside time to develop your intellectual, emotional, or spiritual side as well. This may include time for meditation, listening to or attending inspirational discussions, going on a retreat, and taking the time to give back to others. By helping others, perhaps in charitable work, or going out of your way to lend assistance to those in need, you will get outside your own problems. What you do during your allocated personal time isn’t as important as the fact that you give yourself permission to grow and heal.

• Plan for Your Future—Make plans for what you want your life to be like in strategic intervals: one week, one month, six months, a year, and five years. Having constructive goals that you can work toward and achieve will keep you focused on the short- and long-term objectives you set for yourself. Each achievement is yet another positive step on the road to recovery and your future.

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