Early sobriety can feel chaotic. Changing everything can leave a person overwhelmed and chaotic. Routines can provide an enormous amount of comfort and stability. When drinking and using drugs, you may have had a structured, mundane schedule and may have used substances to find relief from this tedious routine. Perhaps you had little to no routine which enabled binge using with very few boundaries. Or maybe you had a safety net of routine when you were in a treatment facility and you find sober living to be paralyzing when it comes to finding a daily rhythm. Whatever may be the case, it’s undeniable that routines (or lack thereof) can have a tremendous effect on how one uses or stays away from substances. Likewise, in recovery your routines and rituals can provide emotional and physical guardrails between you and picking up that first drink or drug. Maybe the idea of incorporating some structure into your days makes you recoil. Try adding some into the day, however temporarily, and decide for yourself as to which practices feel like they will be sustainable and provide the most benefit.
A Flexible Routine
The definition of routine is “a series of actions regularly followed.” Think back on the routines you had around using substances and how they might have been non-negotiables to you. Did you not uphold these routines even in times of treacherous weather (whether literally or in your mind)? For most severe addicts, nothing will stop their normal routine of obtaining and using drugs. We pride ourselves on not being part of the status quo when, in fact, we are more of a slave to our routines than the regular person. In sobriety, upholding helpful and healthy routines can help you not just stay away from triggering substances, but from self-harming behaviors as well. Having a plan or a routine regarding habits can help you from feeling overwhelmed when there’s a lot on your plate.
Take It Easy
A routine doesn’t necessarily mean it has to happen every day. You can have a weekly routine of going to a few recovery meetings or a monthly routine of getting a massage or embarking on a weekend trip out of the city. The trick, however, is to not be militant about routines on days when it might make more sense to hold off due to practical constraints or if you simply need a break. One question to ask yourself is: How good am I at adapting to a disrupted routine? Do you stress and obsess or do you let go and move on? It’s important, especially in early recovery, to let go and not give yourself a hard time for taking a day or week off from a routine. Try listening to what your body needs that day. The more you trust yourself, under strict boundaries, the more you will succeed. The more you succeed, the more you will trust yourself. Maybe it’s craving a day indoors with a book or a movie and tasks around the house. Or maybe you need to be in nature as a break away from your city routine. Having a varied and balanced lifestyle can help sustain long-term recovery by showing you that you don’t need to misuse substances in order to combat boredom.
A Nutrition and Physical Wellness Routine
Having routines around physical wellness, can be a great boost for your recovery. Exercise, making an effort to eat a (mostly) healthy diet, hydrating, and getting enough sleep are all part of successful recovery routines. Slowly begin to plan out your meal routines for the week (even if one day at a time) so that you aren’t caught without food. Incorporate healthy, nutrient-dense foods into your diet. Get into the habit of always having a water bottle on hand so that you are staying hydrated.
Routines around exercise can be very gentle if intense cardio isn’t your thing. Little actions like choosing to take the stairs instead of the escalator on the subway or stretching for five minutes before bed can make a big difference over time, both physically and mentally, and lend to a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes when I feel as though I’m in a funk of rumination or feeling stagnant, a gentle jog can help me feel like there is literal movement in my life as well as feeling like my thoughts are moving around in new ways that make different things feel possible again. Just like in our addiction, the slightest of positive movement can change everything.
Regarding routines related specifically to recovery, try to pick a day out of the week to plan your week ahead (Sundays make the most sense for me). Know which recovery meetings are available should you need more than your usual number of meetings. Plan phone calls and walks with other friends in recovery, and if you’re not feeling particularly social, it’s alright to be open about that and try to connect in small ways anyway. This can look like leaving a short voice note or having a spontaneous-yet-boundaried phone call with a fellow by letting them know ahead of time how long you have to talk if your energy levels are low. It could be helpful to reach out to individuals in your recovery support network and ask them about their own routines and get inspiration from their habits.
If you have a sponsor or therapist, try to set a time of the week to talk to them to establish a sense of regularity with your check-ins. What is your relationship like to doing service or helping others? If you don’t have a service position within the immediate recovery community, it’s important to remember that service can also look like buying groceries for a friend who might have COVID-19 or allowing someone to go ahead of you in line at the grocery store. Helping others is esteemable and esteemable acts build self-esteem and can help you feel a sense of purpose that might have been hard to come by during this pandemic.
Fun and Play in Recovery
As oxymoronic as it may sound, it’s important to have a routine around fun and play as well as downtime for a more holistic recovery. Downtime is crucial to let your nervous system recalibrate so it can rest and digest, which promotes healing and rejuvenation in the body. Whether what you consider to be fun is tuning into a favorite show on Netflix or checking out a new exhibition at a local gallery, both are equally valid and deserve to be scheduled into your routine. I didn’t get sober to get and stay serious, so I have to consciously make an effort to incorporate something light and entertaining every day to eschew rolling around in the muck of feeling too serious or burnt out. You might dedicate evenings for downtime or perhaps even in the middle of the day (as a break from work) to get yourself re-energized before you continue working.
Some habits can feel deeply enriching as they’re happening while others might be a longer investment and may only start to feel nourishing over time. The key is to stick with the tried-and-true habits that work for you as well as being open to incorporating new practices or tweaking ones that may no longer suit you. Established patterns can be a great boon to your recovery by adding structure in an ever-changing world, whether that is your internal landscape or the one around you. Routinely check in on your practices as a benchmark to see what larger goals you could be building towards. You deserve a recovery full of stability and structure as well as spontaneity and play.