What are the key habits that are needed for long term success in sobriety?
I have found that good habits have been essential for my recovery. In fact, I believe that we could define all of addiction recovery in terms of habit change.
Essentially, aren't we just trading in a bad set of habits in our addiction for a healthier set of habits in recovery?
Furthermore, we should look at our habits in terms of how healthy they are.
But not just physically healthy, of course. We need to consider spiritual health, emotional wellness, social health, physical health, and mental health.
All 5 of those areas are important.
Because if your health is seriously compromised in just one of those 5 key areas, it can lead to a relapse.
For example, I have watched peers of mine in recovery who ended up relapsing because they got into a romantic relationship that when badly. We could say that their social health was compromised in this case, and that led to relapse.
The same has happened with physical health, over and over again: A recovering alcoholic gets sick, and over time they are worn down physically and emotionally by their new disease or physical ailment, and it may even prevent them from attending AA meetings. Eventually this can lead to relapse. I have noticed this one a lot in watching my peers. Or a recovering alcoholic will become injured and end up taking pain medication, which then sets them off to the races.
So physical health is important.
I have watched people who have mental disorders or mental health issues who have struggled with such issues to the point that it drove them back out to relapse.
I have watched people become more and more self centered and ungrateful, which eventually led to a spiritual relapse.
All of these areas of your health can lead you back to the bottle.
Therefore, doesn't it make sense that in addiction recovery, you need to take care of yourself in all 5 of these areas? This is the holistic approach to recovery.
And the best way to take care of your health in these various areas is by developing healthy habits in those areas.
Habits are powerful because they are automatic. Once we develop the habit we no longer have to expend any mental energy thinking about the habit, we just do it, and it requires no real effort on our part.
This is important in recovery because new studies have proven that we only have a limited amount of willpower each day, and once it gets used up, it is depleted until we get some rest.
But, you object, I thought recovery wasn't about willpower.
Well, yes and no. What do you think gets the alcoholic to attend 90 AA meetings in 90 days? Do you think that new habit of attending a daily AA meeting just falls into their lap magically?
Of course it requires some willpower. Although you may not be able to use raw willpower to overcome the addiction directly, you still need willpower to develop new healthy habits in recovery.
In other words, you cannot use willpower to avoid something (drug of choice), but you can use willpower to choose new alternatives (AA meetings, exercise, etc.).
So recovery is all about establishing new healthy habits in exchange for the old ones. And I believe the best way to get started at this is to attend inpatient treatment. If you go to a 28 day program that is inpatient, you can get started on developing new healthy habits immediately. You will also completely erase all of your old unhealthy habits, and get a solid 28 days without those.
New habits can vary depending on the person. That is another way of saying that no 2 people in recovery will have the exact same program. Meaning that you need to experiment and explore and figure out what really works for you, because it may not be quite the same as the next person.
That said, there are certain habits that everyone should at least test drive in early recovery if they want to be successful. The first of these and perhaps most important would be the habit of attending daily AA or NA meetings. This is so powerful on so many levels that even if you are adamantly against the idea you should try to find the willingness to at least try. When you go to an AA meeting every day it does so many things to help set you up for success. While it is not a magic bullet by any means, it is one of the most critical habits that you could form. I highly encourage everyone who is early in recovery to do the standard suggestion of 90 in 90.
A close second habit, for me at least, is that of vigorous exercise. I did not discover this immediately when I got clean and sober, but after about a year or two I started getting into physical exercise, and it changed my life completely. With the exception of daily meetings, no other change in my life has made as great an impact. Check with your doctor first, but if you are able to engage in exercise then I would urge you to do so every single day in your early recovery journey. Even better if you can do it outdoors and with another person, making it a social event as well. Even if it is just walking outdoors with a partner this can be life changing in so many ways.
The problem in describing this is that many of the ways are subtle. But that doesn't mean that exercise is not a powerful habit to make in recovery. Even though the changes may be subtle, there are tons of benefits and those benefits go on to create second order benefits. What do I mean by this?
One example would be in nutrition. I used to eat complete garbage and junk food, and I was never able to change this bad habit. But after I got into fitness, I naturallywithout any real effortstarted selecting healthier foods for myself. Again, I wasn't even trying to eat healthier, it was simply happening as a by product of my new fitness level.
Another second order effect would be that of sleep quality. My sleep drastically improved after I got into shape with regular workouts. I could not have predicted or anticipated this kind of change, nor would I have appreciated it, until I got into shape and saw it happen for myself.
If you do not know what positive habits you should be forming, go to an AA meeting and ask the people there. Or talk to your sponsor or therapist about what positive habits they have in their life. Meditation and exercise are two big ones because they affect so many other areas of our lives, so those are good places to start exploring.
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