Transitioning to a sober life is difficult, no one can dispute that. It’s inevitable that you’ll have a bumpy ride from time to time while you adjust to sobriety.
This is hard, yes, but any positive change a person goes through will be met with challenges. These painful experiences are expected and are a part of the growing process.
You can liken the recovery experience to getting a promotion at work. It will be difficult at first to adjust to the increased responsibility. You’ll be under added pressure as the spotlight will be on you more. You will experience stress, self-doubt, and may at times wonder if you made the right move.
But, eventually, you master the job and eventually, it becomes second nature. It’s a similar case with recovery. At first, the withdrawals, the social adjustments, and the sacrifices feel a little too much to bear, which is what contributes to a relapse.
When you persevere with these changes in the beginning, you will experience the benefits of your sobriety. You’ll feel healthier and happier. Your skin will brighten and you’ll have money in your pocket. You’ll also be able to see life as a bigger picture and plan for your future.
It takes time, patience, and perseverance to reap the rewards of sobriety. Once you do however, your body, mind, and life will reward you.
The key is to remain positive. But, what do we mean by staying positive? And, what if you have a mental health disorder that makes positive thinking difficult?
Mental Health and Positive Thinking
Many of us with a substance or alcohol use disorder have an underlying mental health condition that either contributes to or triggers our addiction. Certain mental health disorders can make us want to use drugs or drink to take the uncomfortable emotions away. These mental illnesses can include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
Scientific studies have shown that positive thinking can drastically reduce symptoms of mental illness. It is possible for a person who is struggling with negative emotions and distress can reverse these feelings by replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts.
Smile, Even if You Don’t Feel Like It
Researchers at the University of Kentucky discovered that smiling can have a positive effect on stress, even if a person is faking it.
In a study, some subjects were asked to pretend to smile while being asked a number of questions. The results of the study indicated that fake smiling can slow a person’s heartbeat and reduce the effects of stress.
This can be a useful technique to try out when you’re going through a rough patch. You may not realize it at the time, but when you’re experiencing negative trains of thought, you tend to furrow your brows. Interestingly, frowning can impact your mood negatively.
So when you’re having a craving, stop for a minute and see what your facial expressions are doing. If you find yourself frowning, you may want to fake a smile or watch something funny or uplifting.
Keep Away From Negative Situations
It’s vital that you prioritize your mental wellbeing over everything else. Staying in a positive frame of mind also means you need to surround yourself with positive people, places, and situations.
If your previous addicted life was marred by continuous dramas focused on acquiring drugs, then you will need to keep away from those people and places associated with those times.
Staying strong in recovery means staying strong in forging a new life. This takes a long time and a lot of patience. It’s crucial to remind yourself of this to prevent a relapse.
Temptation to use or drink again can build if you’re bored or depressed. Sometimes cravings can feel like they will last forever. When cravings get back that’s when your addicted mind can start tricking you into thinking you need to use or drink.
By keeping away from certain people and places you will be less likely to relapse and stay on track.
Develop A Strong Support Network
Many people who are strong in their recovery believe they have achieved long-term sobriety due to the support from others.
Peer support groups such as twelve-step programs and SMART recovery programs bring people together every day around the world. These groups are invaluable to a person in recovery.
Meetings with others in the same boat can be a lifeline for people who are struggling with cravings to use or drink. During twelve-step meetings, people can share their thoughts, feelings, and worries in a judgment-free setting. The process of talking problems through is often enough to de-escalate the negative thought processes that can lead to a relapse.
A wide range of recovered people attends these groups. Some of them have been attending for years, and have come from backgrounds that were far more challenging. It can inspire hope and determination in a person who is a bit shaky in their recovery. Hearing a person overcome worse obstacles can inspire a person to stay resolute.
The pandemic has shifted these meetings online. This is a shame for many who crave the need to sit shoulder to shoulder with others. But, it is still possible to achieve connectedness with others through technology.
If you do not have access to a mobile phone or get data to access a meeting, try to set up a network of other sober people with who you can connect outside of a group. Maybe there is a relative or a friend who you can turn to or another person in recovery whose phone you can borrow?
It’s important during your recovery to plan and develop a support network for all eventualities, especially when a lockdown is imposed which prevents you from connecting with others.
Understand Your Cravings
Being able to take a step back and understanding your brain chemistry from an objective viewpoint can help you to manage your cravings.
Addiction is a complex matter. We humans are also complex creatures. Our addictions will overlap but essentially we are all different. Addictions are rooted in emotional trauma during childhood. But, addiction also changes brain circuitry caused by prolonged habitual use of a drug, drink, or behavior.
When we experience a craving, we are experiencing a change in brain chemistry. Cravings can be caused by internal thoughts or they can be triggered by environmental factors.
During treatment for your addiction, you will identify the negative core beliefs and environmental triggers that keep you perpetuated in the addiction cycle.
Internal triggers could be depression, anxiety disorders, mental health problems. Many of these can be alleviated when we are in a positive frame of mind and we can talk to ourselves in a healthy way.
External triggers could be a stressful environment such as a violent relationship or a violent home. Homelessness can be a major trigger as the struggle to survive can be so tough a person uses drugs or drinks to escape the reality of their situation.
Cravings are inevitable during recovery, they are also temporary even though they don’t feel like it at the time.
Cravings are a result of a drop in dopamine production. When we light up, drink or take drugs, our brains release dopamine and floods our central nervous system making us feel better.
The problem is dopamine levels then drop to lower than before. White knuckling through cravings is tough, but it teaches us to overcome the addiction. When the craving passes you feel stronger and have a sense of accomplishment.
If you give in to temptation, you’re back to square one again.
A large aspect of withstanding cravings is accepting. Acceptance is also vital to positive thinking. We have to accept that cravings will come when we stop using drugs or drinking. We also accept that these cravings won’t last forever and we will come through to the other side.
Acceptance of your mistakes is also a powerful way to see yourself in a more positive light. Everyone makes mistakes and many people from all walks of life have made the same mistakes as you. By accepting your shortcomings as a part of you rather than feeling ashamed you remove a big part of life’s emotional struggle.
With acceptance comes peace of mind. Having the ability to sit back peacefully without being plagued with angst or self-loathing will embolden your desire to stay positive.
As you experience feelings of self-doubt or self-loathing, remember to accept that these feelings are natural but that they are a route to self-acceptance.
Mastering self-acceptance can foster a huge sense of inner peace.
Mindfulness doesn’t have to be woowoo or spiritual, although mindfulness meditation is scientifically proven to relieve stress and build emotional resilience.
Mindfulness can refer to anything that you enjoy and takes your mind off things. This could be running, cooking, playing tennis or singing.
It can be challenging when you’re at a low point in life to feel grateful, but the simple act of taking a moment to reflect on the good things in life can transform your outlook.
No matter what our life circumstances are, there can always be something to be grateful for. For example, a beautiful sunrise, the kindness of a stranger, our health, our loved ones, or the last hot meal we ate.
Feeling gratitude for simple things can create a snowball effect. One positive and grateful thought can lead to another, and another. Even if it is a struggle, forcing yourself to see the positive aspects of a situation will create a humbler and more positive attitude.
Look After Your Physical Health
We can start to feel stressed and grumpy when we are hungry or thirsty, even if we don’t realize it. Staying in a positive frame of mind depends on your physical maintenance to a degree.
Protein is believed to be effective in relieving symptoms of depression and can stabilize your mood. Getting a good dose of nutrients can help the body to achieve homeostasis and keep your mood on an even keel.
Exercise is a natural antidepressant. When we exercise our bodies produce endorphins which can leave us feeling energized and more positive.
Regular exercise with a balanced diet will help you to keep your emotions balanced and deal with stress more effectively. A healthy lifestyle also boosts your self-esteem, which will positively impact all areas of your life.
Read Motivational Stories
Hearing stories from others who have overcome more difficult life circumstances can be a great source of inspiration when you need it most.
When in times of crisis and cravings you could try reading through the inspiring success stories on the website “Heroes in Recovery.” This website has 1,581 recovery success stories to browse through. By reading the stories on the site you realize that you’re not alone.
Reading the many stories of recovery success provides hope and reassurance that it is possible to sustain a long term recovery.
Many people gain strength from helping others. Even if you have been substance or alcohol free for a day, you still have the potential to help a person who has been clean for a few hours.
Volunteering to help others boosts your self-esteem and brings a fresh perspective to your own situation. Helping others who are worse off than you can make you see life differently and foster gratitude for what you have already.
When you help others you have to display a positive mindset, even if you don’t feel like it. For example, if you help out at a soup kitchen or with homeless people, you need to show a smiling face and a jovial attitude. Often faking it to make it can help to lift you out of a bad mood.
Keeping the right attitude is key to staying strong in recovery. It takes, guts, patience, willpower, and a few tricks to stay on the straight and narrow.
If you do slip up, don’t give yourself a hard time. We’re all human and beating ourselves up about it won’t help. Do your best, and keep your chin up.
For immediate help with addiction, call the friendly team here at District Recovery at 844.287.8506 and we’ll help you get back on track.