What to do when sobriety gets hard

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” -Joshua 1:9

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This year has been especially difficult for me and my family. In the past few months, my husband developed some health problems and lost his job, we’ve struggled financially, we unexpectedly lost a dear family member to suicide, we lost our beloved pet of 14 years, and I went back to school to earn a degree in nursing, which is extra strange and stressful during a global pandemic! Despite all of the challenges we’ve faced in the past few months, my husband and I have managed to stay sober. There have been days when I’ve felt such a strong urge to drink and forget my problems for a little while. Even though I know that it wouldn’t really help, the urge can be so strong!

I reached a point nearly 3 years into my sobriety where I couldn’t resist anymore and I relapsed. This time around, I am determined not to make the same mistake. My life is too good now to fall back into the destructive pattern that I was stuck in. So I decided I should put together a list of tools for myself and for anyone else who’s struggling. Here’s some things you can do to help strengthen your commitment to staying sober and overcome obstacles when sobriety gets hard.

Know that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. There is a common misconception that you should always feel good, but that’s simply not true. How would you know that you’re happy if you never feel sad? People experience a range of emotions every day, but alcohol often masks them and you may have gotten into the habit of trying to counter every negative emotion with a drink. I know I did! The reality is that people don’t normally feel good all of the time and bad emotions usually pass on their own. You don’t need to drink them away. Sobriety has shown me that I have ups and downs every day. I face challenges that affect my moods. Sometimes they are small and mildly frustrating, other times they’re big and devastating. Remind yourself of this when you experience a negative emotion and you to want to drink to alter your mood. Know that it’s normal and natural to feel bad sometimes. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling and know that it will pass!

Talk to someone who understands. I find that talking about how I feel with another sober person really helps. My husband is my go-to, but I have a few other friends who I know I can count on to listen and validate my feelings. If you don’t have someone in your life like this yet, look into recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART to find people who you can reach out to when you’re struggling. I also really like the sub-Reddit group r/stopdrinking. There are good people in all of these groups who want to help you. If you can’t talk to someone right away, I find that writing about how I’m feeling also really helps. But make sure that you build those connections with other sober people, too!

Do the most relaxing thing you can think of! You’ve probably heard the advice to do yoga, meditate, or do a deep breathing exercise when you have an alcohol craving. All these things can definitely help, but they don’t work for everyone. When I have a strong urge to drink, prayer, reading, and writing are my best defenses. Exercising, baking something, or taking a bath is always really helpful, too. On the other hand, my husband’s go-to is candy, coffee, and video games! The point is that there’s no right way to relax. Just find what works for you and do it!

Assess your physical and emotional needs using HALT. HALT stands for hungry, angry (or anxious), lonely, and tired. Taking a moment to run through this checklist and see if there’s something your body or brain needs to feel better. For example, do you need to eat something? Deep breathe to calm down? See or talk with a friend? Take a nap or go to bed early? Identify your needs and then take the appropriate action to meet them.

Revisit your reasons for quitting drinking in the first place. I like to make pros and cons lists for lots of things, but my sobriety is the most important one! To do this, take out a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. Then, write “Pros” on the left side and “Cons” on the right side. Under the “Pros,” write all the positive things that you think drinking gives you. On the “Cons” side, list all of the negatives of drinking.  For example, my “Pros” side includes “a temporary sense of relaxation” and “feeling like I’m part of the group when others are drinking.” My “Cons” side includes “hangovers,” “poor sleep,” “costs a lot of money,” “weight gain,” “embarrassing moments,” “blackouts,” and “fights with my husband.” Compare the two sides when you’re done. This always helps me to see how negatively alcohol affects me versus the small amount of pleasure it used to bring. This definitely makes it easier for me to overcome my cravings.

Thanks for reading! I hope this was helpful to you and I’d love to hear from you, too! What are some things that help you to stay sober when it gets hard?

“The reality is that people don’t normally feel good all of the time and bad emotions usually pass on their own. You don’t need to drink them away.”

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