Prepping for Dry January- Everything You Need To Get Started

Chances are you’ve caught wind of Dry January in recent years. But for those who haven’t, the idea is simple: start off the new year with an alcohol-free month.

Maybe you want to try and get a handle on your drinking, or maybe you simply want to better your health. Whatever the reason, foregoing alcohol for 31 days can be an eye-opening experience and can teach you quite a bit about the drinking culture.

If Dry January sounds like something you want to give a shot, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of everything you need to consider before getting started.

 1. Consider the “why” behind your desire to take part. 

Before January hits, it’s important to take some time to reflect on why you want to be alcohol-free. For some people, Dry January is a way of admitting that their drinking is a concern and it’s a resolution of sorts, to start the New Year on a different note. For others, it has more to do with health. Some people view it as a detox time in the aftermath of the holidays. Whatever your reason, take some time to consider what you hope to gain from Dry January and how you hope it may change your habits going forward.

2. Know that it requires commitment. 

This may sound obvious, but if you’re a fairly regular drinking, it can be difficult to go 31 days without alcohol. For this reason, you really need to be committed to Dry January and realize that it means NO alcohol, not even a single beer or glass of wine.

3. Determine how it could impact your health. 

While it may sound like a healthy decision to stop drinking as soon as January hits, it can actually be dangerous for heavy drinkers. If you feel you fall into this category, you may want to have a conversation with a medical professional about the best way to stop drinking. Simply going cold turkey can lead to withdrawal symptoms, some severe and even fatal at times. If you’re not a heavy drinker but still drink regularly, you’ll likely see some benefits to Dry January, such as feeling healthier overall and maybe even dropping some extra pounds. If it’s something you decide to stick with for even longer, you could see improved blood pressure and cholesterol.

4. Have a plan in place. 

For some people, a beer or a glass of wine is simply part of a nightly routine, and this is what may cause them not to be successful with Dry January. Changing routine can be tough, especially when it’s not considered in advance. So if you’re set on letting go of alcohol for a month, consider some alternatives for your nightcap. Take the time to come up with some fun mocktails, so you still feel like you’re in your routine. You can even throw them in a fancy glass if you want. Being prepared sets you up for success.

5. Come up with some activities to fill potential free time. 

For those who are used to spending time at bars and out with friends, it may be too tough to be around alcohol without taking part. Instead of tagging along and struggling to stay sober, come up with some alternative activities. Your friends will hopefully understand why you’re saying no, and support you in that decision. Try to replace that time with healthy activities, such as going to the gym or taking a walk.

6. Find a buddy. 

It’s no secret that it’s easier to do tough things when you have someone by your side. Having a friend tackle Dry January with you gives you someone to talk to about the process and you can hold one another accountable. You can arrange daily, or even weekly check-ins and discuss any challenges or temptations you may be facing. This way you also have a person you can spend time with and know that alcohol won’t be around to tempt you.

7. Make a physical list of the reasons you want to participate in Dry January.

Put this list somewhere you can refer to easily and often. It’s helpful to have a visual reminder of why you chose to take a month off from alcohol and it can help reinforce those reasons on the tough days. You can hang the list on your mirror and review it each morning, keep it in your wallet for when you need a reminder, or simply write it on your phone and access it at any point.

8. Crunch some numbers. 

If you need a little extra motivation, sit down and track all the money you spend on alcohol in a given month. Changes are it’s more than you think and it may surprise you. Consider taking that amount during January and putting it into savings or doing something nice for yourself.

9. Clue in the people in your life. 

If you feel comfortable doing so, let the people in your life know that you’re planning on taking part in Dry January and that you may be turning down social invitations for that reason. You’ll likely find that most people understand and are supportive and even inspired by your choice to drop the alcohol. And if there are people who don’t support you, that relationship may be worth reevaluating. By letting the people in your life know about your choice, you’re allowing them not only to support you, but also to learn something from you.

Dry January isn’t necessarily easy for everyone. But by taking the time to really think through the month and the potential challenges, you are more likely to succeed and gain something from the process. In some cases, people even go on to stay sober after the month of January because they find they feel healthier overall, or because it really forced them to admit they had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Whatever the case, you’ll likely find some benefit in taking part.

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Beth Leipholtz is the founder of Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into addiction and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a graphic designer in Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @EL9292

How to Support Loved Ones in Recovery Over the Holidays

It’s that time of year again: the holiday season is upon us. Though most people enjoy these few months and the involved festivities, all the togetherness and family time can be anxiety-inducing and stressful for some — especially those in recovery from a substance use disorder.

For many in recovery, the holidays can be a trigger of sorts. Perhaps it has to do with the festive spirit and wanting a drink to celebrate, or maybe the thought of being around family makes them crave alcohol as an escape.

Whatever the case, it’s important to be aware of the people in recovery in your life this time of year. While you by no means have to eliminate alcohol from the holidays, there are a few ways you can offer support to those leading a sober lifestyle.

1. Communicate expectations to one another. 

If you are hosting a gathering and know someone in attendance is in recovery, reach out and start a conversation. This shows you are being considerate of their feelings, but also that you are taking initiative to help them prepare to be around alcohol. Simply having a heads up can be helpful for those in recovery because it allows them to get a plan in place. It also demonstrates that someone went out of their way to check in and make sure they are prepared, which can make the situation feel more welcoming as a whole.

2. Have nonalcoholic drink options. 

Having various drink options to offer someone in recovery is huge. It shows that you took the time to think about their presence and makes them feel welcome. Sure, water is fine. But going above and beyond that means a lot to those in recovery. If you really want to have something festive to offer, take the time to look up some recipes for punch or mocktails. Those who are sober still enjoy indulging in fancy, nonalcoholic drinks to celebrate special occasions. But remember, everyone is different. So just be sure to check with them first to make sure mocktails aren’t a trigger that would make them crave an actual drink.

3. Avoid unnecessary conflict. 

When someone gets sober, there are often unresolved issues that need to be spoken about, especially in the early months of recovery. If this is the case in your situation, hold off on those conversations until after the holidays pass, or at least until the party is over. Conflict and shame can be triggering for many in recovery, and could lead to a relapse for some people. Remind yourself that this time of year is about togetherness and kindness, and try your best to put differences aside, at least for the time being.

4. Talk to your loved one about having a backup plan. 

Planning in advance is vital in order to avoid relapse. Take the time to talk to your loved one about what their course of action will be if they start to feel uncomfortable. Maybe this means having a ride lined up, or having phone numbers on hand to call for support if needed. Or maybe it just means having a quiet room available where they can go to take a break if need be. Whatever the case, have the conversation prior to the gathering so that you both know what the plan is. And make sure you communicate so you know if that plan has to be put into action.

5. Ask specifically what you can do to make them feel comfortable. 

Sure, there are certain things that may seem obvious, like offering nonalcoholic drink options. But maybe there is something you aren’t thinking of when it comes to making your loved one feel welcome and accepted — and the only way to know for sure is to ask. Take the time to talk about what you, as the host or family member, can do to make this time of year easier for your loved one. Even if they can’t come up with anything, taking the time to ask shows that you care about their presence and about them feeling welcome, and that speaks volumes.

6. Check in throughout the day. 

Once the festivities and gatherings are underway, make sure you don’t forget about the effort you’ve put in to make your loved one in recovery feel welcome. While you by no means have to babysit, take the time to check in throughout the day. This can be as simple as just asking, “You doing OK?” and opening the door for them to mention if they are struggling and need to put that backup plan into action. Sometimes it takes someone reaching out to really ask for the help that is needed, and checking in can open this door.

7. Remind yourself you can only do so much.

While it’s kind and thoughtful to do everything possible to make a loved one feel welcome, the end result is not your responsibility. If someone does not feel ready to attend a gathering, or has to leave early, that is their choice and does not speak to the effort you put forth. Sometimes, people just aren’t ready to be in certain situations. And that is OK. It doesn’t mean you failed them or didn’t do enough. And likewise, if your loved one happens to relapse, remind yourself that this is not your fault and you did what was possible to help them. In the end, you are only responsible for you and your own actions, as hard as that may be to accept at points.

As always, remember that different people handle situations in different ways. The only way to know for sure how your loved one feels about the holiday season and gatherings is to ask them. Take the time to open the door to those conversations, even though it may feel like an awkward topic to broach sometimes. In the end, both you and your loved one will likely be glad you did so.

Beth Leipholtz is the founder of Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into addiction and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a graphic designer in Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @EL9292

How To Regain The Trust Of Your Loved Ones In Recovery

More often than not, those battling a substance use disorder lose things along the way. One of the most common losses and one of the most difficult to regain is the loss of trust of loved ones.

The reality is that often the people closest to us are hurt as a result of our drinking or using. We may have said or done things to make them lose faith in us time and time again until our promises just became empty words with no action taken. After this happens, and we make the choice to get sober and better our lives, it still takes time to build up trust and repair any wrongdoings.

As you start this process, you’ll likely find that some relationships may be easier to repair than others. The important thing to remember is that regaining trust is possible, as long as you are realistic with yourself and recognize that it takes time, honesty and patience. Here are a few tips for the process.

1. Focus on your actions. Actions are the most important thing when it comes to rebuilding trust. You can say something 1,000 times, but without the action that aligns with it, it means nothing. The truth is that the people in your life have probably heard you make certain promises over and over, only to have them broken. They aren’t used to seeing the actions put into play, so they may be doubtful at first. At the beginning, don’t worry about vocalizing those promises to them. Just focus on your behavior and pay attention to how that speaks to your loved ones instead. When they see you actually living out what you’ve said time and time again, they will likely start to realize you are serious about this life change. The important promises and conversations will follow.

2. Make yourself available for communication and discussion. Over time while drinking, you’ve probably hurt some of the people closest to you. You may not remember doing so, or may not think it was anything significant, but to them it may have been. So rather than brush it off, make it known that you are willing to talk about what has happened in the past. Having an open line for communication and being willing to admit you were in the wrong is vital when trying to rebuild a relationship. More often than not, you may have to make the first move and be the one to reach out with an apology. This means being willing to put pride aside and admit to mistakes. In some cases, being willing to communicate may even mean attending therapy with family members and letting someone else mediate the conversation. Though this may sound like an uncomfortable experience, it’s important to be open to the possibility that it could be just what everyone needs.

3. Work on forgiving yourself. Before you can expect others to forgive you for your past actions, you need to forgive yourself. When you cling to shame and want to hide from a past version of yourself, you are less likely to confront the things that were an issue in your life. Rather than brush those things aside, make a list of them and acknowledge that you were a different person at that point. Then let them go and focus on this new version of yourself. You have to have compassion for yourself in order to expect others to do the same. If you are still living in the past and dwelling on that version of yourself, that is the version the people in your life will see, too. Work on being confident in the new you and try to radiate that to the people in your life so that is the person they also see.

4. Be patient and trust the process. Every person is different and will respond differently when you’re trying to repair a relationship. One person may forgive you immediately and trust you again, while another may be more hesitant. And truthfully, you can’t blame them for that. Instead of getting frustrated or feeling like they should be moving at a different pace, remind yourself that you put them through something that both hurt them and made them stop trusting you. That’s not a switch that can be flipped in two seconds. Some people need time to see you living out the actions that align with your words, then they may start to come around. And even still, some people may never come fully around. It’s important to prepare yourself for that possibility as well and realize that there is nothing you can do besides continue to prove yourself.

5. Let down your guard. Regaining the trust of the people you love requires you to be open and vulnerable. If you have walls up or are often defensive, it may be more difficult for them to see that you are trying to change. Despite how uncomfortable it may be to admit your wrongdoings and talk about them at length, it’s likely healing for both you and the others involved in the situation. It allows them to feel seen and heard when you are willing to view a situation from their perspective and respond accordingly. When people don’t feel as if their thoughts and words are being taken in, they become less likely to open up and share those feelings, which makes it difficult to maintain a relationship. Especially one with trust. You have to be open to the uncomfortable discussions in order to grow and move forward.

Regaining trust is a process. It’s vital to know this going in, so that your expectations are realistic and you aren’t disappointed if someone doesn’t respond exactly as you’d hoped. The people in your life will take different amounts of time and different methods to come around to trusting you again, and the more prepared you are for that, the more smoothly the process will go.

Beth Leipholtz is the founder of Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into addiction and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a graphic designer in Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @EL9292

Taking Care Of Your Mental Health As A New Parent

As a first-time mom, everything about motherhood is brand new to me.

Of course, I expected that to be the case when I found out I was pregnant in January 2019. But expecting it and actually being thrown into it are two different things. In that way, it’s much like my recovery. I knew it was coming, and yet being thrown into it headfirst was the only way I could really understand what it meant to be sober. And now that’s also how I’m learning to be a mom.

In my short month of motherhood, one main thing I’ve really come to realize how difficult it is to balance different aspects of life when a baby is involved. Since everything runs on their schedule, it can be difficult to prioritize and focus on other parts of day-to-day life. But I can tell you this much — doing so is vital in order to maintain your sanity as a parent and as a person. 

For me, one of the main areas of life that requires focus is my recovery and mental health. Those two things have always been at the forefront as my main responsibilities. Now that a child is at the forefront, I’ve had to readjust how I prioritize my recovery and mental wellbeing. The important thing to note is that it is still possible, it just may look different. Here are a few tips.

1. Carve out a few minutes each day to focus on something recovery-related. For me, this can be as simple as reading a blog post someone has written about recovery, or taking time to read posts on Facebook from sober peers. It doesn’t even mean I need to interact, although doing so doesn’t hurt. Simply taking the time to read the thoughts of others walking the same path can be enough to remind me of my own journey and why I am where I am today. Although this is how I choose to tap into my recovery, there are other ways, too. For some people, that may be meditation or daily reflections and readings. It doesn’t matter what form it takes, it just matters that you make time for something.

2. Be honest about what you need, physically and mentally. Being a new mom is exhausting. Like more exhausting than anything else in life, both physically and mentally. And when you’re exhausted, it can be difficult to be in a positive headspace, which can quickly turn into a downward spiral. It’s no secret that a person’s recovery can suffer when their mental state suffers, which makes it vital to check in with yourself daily. I’ve found myself near a dark place a few times in the past weeks, and I’ve had to ask for help so I could get the rest I needed. There’s no shame in asking someone else to step up so you can take time for yourself. It’s beyond necessary to get your sleep and alone time in order to function — and it does not make you a bad mom.

3. Find 20 minutes of alone time every single day. This is something I told my husband I needed from the start. I know myself well enough to know that without alone time during a day, I end up in a terrible mood and spiral from there. More often than not, my alone time is in the form of a hot bath. But sometimes it’s literally just sitting in a bedroom ALONE in the quiet and resetting myself. I’m lucky to have the support system I do, and my husband can recognize when I need this time. It’s amazing what just 20 minutes can do when it comes to a fresh attitude and your feelings about a day. If you don’t have someone to relieve you of parenting duties, find that quiet time when your child goes down for a nap. Ignore the dishes and the laundry and just be for a few minutes. It will pay off.

4. Find time to connect with others. It can be isolating being home with a baby all day, especially when on maternity leave. And for many people, isolation can often lead to negative feelings and cravings. This is why it’s important to take time each day to connect with people. My mom and I made a rule that I had to leave the house at least once each day over the course of maternity leave, and that honestly has saved me mentally. Whether it’s just a few errands, or coffee with a friend, heading to the gym, or going to our early childhood education class, it feels good to get out and remember that there is more to me than being a mom. As much as I love my son, I need to remember who I am as a person too, and connecting with other adults is the best way for me to do that.

5. Let your child be a reminder of why you choose recovery each day. On the particularity hard days, when you may be craving something to unwind, just look at your child and think about what you are giving them as a sober parent. As someone in recovery, you get to be fully present for their life. They get to grow up watching you be an example of strength and perseverance and overcoming. Acknowledging these things from your child’s point of view is powerful when it comes to resetting your own mind and emotions. There is no greater gift for your child than that of fully being there as their life unfolds.

Of course it’s important to acknowledge that everyone’s experience as a new parent will differ — but the common thread is that there are sure to be moments of frustration and confusion over how to balance it all. When these moments occur, just take a deep breath and ask yourself what you need in order to be the best parent you can be, then seek that out.

Beth Leipholtz is the founder of Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into addiction and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a graphic designer in Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @EL9292

5 Ways to Make Sure Halloween in Recovery Isn’t Scary

Not sure how to celebrate Halloween sober? We’ve got tips on how to make sure your recovery comes first on October 31st.

If you’ve been sober, whether for a long period of time or a short while, you’ve likely had to deal with facing a holiday while in recovery. Doing so can feel like an intimidating, daunting task, especially when drinking-heavy holidays like Halloween make their way around.

Despite what your mind may be telling you, facing such days doesn’t have to be scary. When armed with the right tools and the right attitude, holidays like Halloween can still be a blast. You don’t have to drink in order to dress up, eat candy or spend time with friends.

Here are a few pieces of advice to make the most of this Halloween while still putting your recovery first.

1. Plan ahead.

As with most things in life, planning ahead can take some of the stress out of a sober holiday. Rather than impulsively making plans with people the week of, try to feel out what is going on a few weeks in advance. If someone is planning a get together, this gives you some time to think about who may be in attendance and what types of activities may be taking place. If you find yourself feeling nervous and unsure about being around a certain group of people or being in a certain place, you may want to rethink your plans and change them accordingly. Who you surround yourself with plays a big role in the ability to maintain your recovery, and that’s as important on Halloween as it is every other day of the year.

2. Have a plan for turning down alcohol.

You may have to spend some time thinking about what you want to say in this situation. My favorite route is telling the truth, that I just don’t drink. But not everyone is comfortable with opening up that conversation, which is understandable. If someone asks why you’re not drinking or offers you a drink, and you’re hesitant to say you’re sober, there are a number of other ways to say no to alcohol. Say you’re driving. Say you’re on a medication that doesn’t mix well with alcohol. Say you can’t be hungover the next day. Say you’re not in the mood. Most people won’t question your explanation or reasoning. And if they do, they probably aren’t people you want to be spending time with.

3. Come up with an alternative to alcoholic beverages.

Honestly, it’s not that much fun to be drinking water all night when at a special event. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are other fun, non-alcohol options for beverages. A quick Google or Pinterest search turns up a variety of fun, festive, alcohol-free drink ideas for Halloween. (Or check out Workit Health’s own mocktail recipes!) Before heading to a party, whip something up and bring it along. I’ve found this makes me feel less tempted to be drinking what others are drinking.

4. Enlist the support of a non-drinking buddy.

You know that saying, there’s power in numbers? That’s true in recovery, too. For some reason, it just feels better when you’re not the only one not drinking. If you’ve been in recovery for some time, you likely know some peers in the same boat. Don’t be afraid to message or call one of them and ask if they are interested in taking on sober Halloween together. This is a good idea for two reasons: you can keep one another accountable and you can find comfort in the fact that someone else understands.

5. Remember you aren’t obligated to do anything.

Despite potentially feeling like you have to have plans in place for a holiday, just remember you don’t. If you feel like making such plans could threaten your recovery or set you down a negative path, just stay home. Make your night all about self-care. Do the things you love to do that are good for you. Sure, you may have a little bit of self-pity or FOMO going on, but when the morning rolls around and you’ve maintained your sobriety, you’ll be grateful you made the choice you did.

While I’ve found these strategies to be helpful, they may not work for everyone. What’s important as the holidays approach is that you take the time to consider what your triggers may be and how you can best handle them and have a plan in place. You’ll likely find that when you take the time to do so, sober holidays like Halloween can be quite enjoyable.

Beth Leipholtz is the founder of  Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into addiction and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a graphic designer in Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @EL9292

5 Ways Exercise Boosts Your Chances of Long-Term Sobriety

When I think back to getting sober more than six years ago, there are many reasons I know I was successful: I had a supportive family. I had the tools and resources to go to treatment. I had the necessary mindset. I knew I was better off without alcohol in my life.

 But when it comes to maintaining my recovery for the past six years, there is another aspect that I know without a doubt has played an enormous role in keeping me sober: staying active and making exercise a priority.

 It’s no secret that exercise is known to improve mood and increase certain brain chemicals. But for me personally, it’s been more than that. Being active has given me an outlet and something to work toward, and I know for many in recovery, it’s served that same purpose.

 Here are a few of the main reasons that if you haven’t already, you should highly consider staying active after getting sober.

 1. Exercise provides a perfect outlet, mentally and physically.

 This is probably my number one reason for making working out such a priority in my life. Whenever I feel anxious, depressed, or wish I could drink, I turn to working out instead. It gives me something positive to direct any negative energy at. I can put everything into it without facing negative consequences. It’s not always the perfect cure, but more often than not, I come away from a workout feeling refreshed and in a better mental state. There is something about pushing your body and mind to its limits and coming out the other side better for it that keeps me coming back over and over, and I think that’s true of many people in recovery. It provides a sense of accomplishment and purpose.

 2. Exercise literally boosts the levels of serotonin in your brain.

 If you aren’t sure what that means, serotonin is a brain chemical that plays a role in mood regulation. Those who struggle with disorders like depression (as many people in recovery do) often have low levels of serotonin. This can play a role in turning to drinking as a coping mechanism. But through various studies over the years, it’s been proven that exercising can lead to an increase in serotonin levels in the brain. And the most important thing to remember is that it’s not necessary to engage in some crazy, intense workout to see these benefits. Something as simple as getting outside and walking can do the trick, especially on particularly tough days. The days that it feels hardest to be active are often the days you need it most, so be aware of your feelings and don’t be above forcing yourself to move. You’ll likely find you feel somewhat better afterwards.

 3. Exercise helps you avoid isolation.

If you’re in recovery, you’ve likely heard how dangerous isolating yourself can be. Isolating can lead to negative emotions and even relapse in some cases. But when you have a consistent workout routine, chances are you’re often around other people. It doesn’t matter whether it’s at the gym or when you’re out running — there’s something to be said for the energy and presence of other people. And while you don’t necessarily have to interact with others, establishing a consistent exercise routine does give you the chance to build connections and friendships with the people surrounding you — people who are likely on the same path to mental and physical wellness. Being connected with such people is a positive because it gives you a larger support network and more people to turn to should you find yourself in need of help and encouragement.

 4. Exercise offers self-esteem boost.

 I can’t speak for everyone, but when I first got sober, I needed something to give me purpose and make me feel good about the decisions I was making. The aftermath of my drinking had left me with a lot of shame and guilt to work through, as well as some body-image struggles. But I found that when I worked out consistently, I was able to view myself in a more positive light and overcome the shame and guilt about the previous decisions I had made. Knowing I was doing what I could in the present to better my life had a way of overshadowing the past decisions and mistakes I had made. I also started to notice changes in my physical appearance. I looked more like my pre-drinking, healthier self, and this has remained a constant motivator for me.

 5. Exercise keeps you busy.

 You’ve probably heard that it’s important to find hobbies and stay busy in recovery. This is because downtime can be risky and boredom can sometimes lead to relapse, especially in the early days. Early on, I found that working out was a perfect solution for avoiding that void in my life. And here’s the best part: no matter what type of exercise you choose to invest in — whether it’s biking, running, CrossFit, at-home programs, or something else entirely — it fills time in your life. And, if you get bored or restless with one type of program, you can always try other forms of exercise. There’s no rule that you have to pick and stick to one, which makes it easier to stay invested and interested. The important thing is that you’re moving and remaining active at some point each day.

 When it comes down to it, everyone is different. One specific form of exercise or program may work great for one person, but do nothing for the next. For this reason, it’s important to try a variety of ways to stay active rather than giving up immediately if you don’t like something or don’t feel it benefited you. Much like recovery, it takes time to find what works the best for you individually and what will keep you on the right track. But once you find it, you’ll likely realize it’s a vital tool in your recovery.

Beth Leipholtz is the founder of Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into addiction and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a graphic designer in Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @EL9292

5 Ways Sobriety Helped Prepare Me for My Pregnancy

Nine months ago, when I found out I was pregnant, I was terrified.

Sure, I had a loving fiancé, a stable home and job, and I knew I wanted kids someday. However, this soon in life was not the plan, and I am a person who likes plans. I was anxious and worried about nearly everything involved in pregnancy, from the physical changes in my body to going through labor.

However, there was one thing that wasn’t even on my radar: alcohol. 

For many women who are newly pregnant, abstaining from alcohol for 9 or more months can sound daunting, and can even be a disappointing realization. And for those who struggle with substance use disorder, it can seem nearly impossible. But having been sober for 6 years, the fact that I couldn’t drink didn’t even cross my mind right away.

It was only after a few weeks that I realized it was a silver lining to have already been sober when I got pregnant. Being in recovery while navigating this unplanned stage of life has been eye-opening in various ways.

Here are just a few benefits when you’re a woman who is pregnant and in recovery. 

1. We already know unplanned parts of life can turn out incredibly. 

Recovery has proven that to me time and time again, and I kept reminding myself of that throughout pregnancy. Every time I started to panic about being pregnant, or not being ready, I just reminded myself to think back to the early stages of getting sober. I didn’t plan to get sober, and I certainly didn’t want to. In many ways, I got pushed into it without a choice, like many of us do.

But today, I consider sobriety the greatest blessing in my life. Recovery has given me back the life I was missing and has brought so much good into my life. I knew that if I could get through that darkest period of my life and come out the other side, that I could accomplish anything, including pregnancy and parenting.

2. We don’t have to battle our minds each day. 

I have no doubt that if I’d still been drinking when I got pregnant, I would have had a hard time giving alcohol up. I know I probably could have stopped drinking, but it would have been a mental battle each and every day. And to be honest, I can’t imagine going through that on top of the normal, draining parts of pregnancy.

During this pregnancy, instead of wishing I could drink and counting down the days until I could again, I was able to focus on other aspects of my pregnancy like staying healthy and active and doing what I could to keep my baby that way as well. Navigating pregnancy is difficult enough without constantly having to battle urges and cravings, and being in a good place when I got pregnant is something I will always be grateful for for that reason.

3. We get to be mentally and physically present through pregnancy.

Being present is perhaps the greatest gift of all as a result of recovery, in every aspect of life. But I’ve found that it’s been particularly rewarding throughout pregnancy. Even though there were hard parts of being pregnant, like first trimester sickness and body image struggles, I never once wished I could check out and not experience those parts. Pregnancy is different for everyone, sure. But for me it’s been amazing to experience both the positives and negatives and be fully aware of my body throughout the past nine months.

4.  We don’t have to give ourselves away early on. 

This was something I didn’t even think of right away, but the fact that early on in my pregnancy I had been turning down drinks in social settings wasn’t something that made anyone think twice since most everyone in my life knows I am sober. Had I still been a drinker and gotten pregnant, people would have been suspicious right away when I stopped accepting alcohol or made excuses to avoid it.

When you’re a woman of a certain age and go abruptly from drinking to choosing not to, it’s common for people to assume pregnancy is the reason. This may seem like a small benefit in comparison to others, but because turning alcohol down wasn’t an issue for me, I got to hang onto my little secret for as long as I wanted without giving myself away through something silly like a drink refusal.

5. We get to set a positive example for our children right from the start.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with drinking in moderation, or with children observing that. But for me personally, I find comfort in knowing that I am setting an example of responsibility and strength from the minute my child is born and onward.

Because I am not a person who can drink in moderation, I find it a benefit to have already been sober when I got pregnant. The idea of trying to get sober for my child’s sake and after they are born is an overwhelming one. The start of recovery is difficult enough without adding a small child to the mix. Being able to be stable and confident in your recovery from the get-go is something you’ll likely be more than grateful for, especially during the long, sleepless early weeks with an infant.

Of course, like with everything pregnancy and recovery-related, there is no one right way to navigate pregnancy during recovery. Most women will likely find benefits to being in such a situation, but for some, like those facing an unplanned pregnancy or an unstable home situation, it could be considered a trigger to want to drink.

As with recovery in general, the important thing during pregnancy is to be constantly aware of your feelings and resulting actions. If you know you are likely to struggle, don’t be above reaching out for help from a woman who has been there. With the right steps, you can navigate this path, too.

Beth Leipholtz is the founder of Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into addiction and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a graphic designer in Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @EL9292

How To Deal With Relapse In Recovery

Though it’s not something that those of us in recovery enjoy thinking about, relapse is very real and happens for a fair amount of people.

This doesn’t mean that those people are recovering in a right or wrong way — it just means their path is different. What many people fail to realize is that relapse is not equivalent to failure. For some, it’s necessary in order to learn and to set them on the right path in recovery.

If you find yourself in the position of having relapsed, there are a few things you should consider and remind yourself of.

1. Remember that relapse isn’t reason to throw it all away.

Just because you slipped up doesn’t mean your previous recovery time was for nothing. This mindset, that any time in recovery was pointless, can be so dangerous. It’s what allows you to sink back into using rather than turning back to recovery. Instead of giving up on recovery, try to identify what relapsing taught you. How can you use that knowledge going forward to avoid making the same missteps? What positivity can come from the experience? Framing relapse this way, rather than in a negative light, can help you get your mind back on track and help you start fresh in your recovery.

2. Reach out for support.

It may be tempting to isolate yourself after a relapse. You’re likely feeling guilty, maybe even feeling like you failed the people around you. But the reality that you slipped up, like everyone does. Rather than assume that the people in your life will be disappointed in you, give them the chance to be supportive. Reach out to others in the recovery community who have been in your shoes. Ask them what it was that got them back on track after their own relapse. Determine how they’ve managed to stay on track. More likely than not, these people will welcome you with open arms and help you get back into recovery. Make sure to reach out to your support system that isn’t in active recovery as well. These people also care about you and your wellbeing and may have some valuable insight for you.

3. Determine whether treatment is necessary.

Some people are able to get themselves back on track after a relapse by using tools they’ve learned previously. But for others, it’s more of a struggle. Just remember, there’s no shame in that. Everyone learns and reacts to situations differently. If you feel like you would be safer and more successful by returning to treatment after a relapse, then do so. Just because you may have been in treatment before and have relapsed doesn’t mean that treatment didn’t work for you. It may just mean you need a little more time there to redirect yourself again. The people in your life will likely understand this and support the decision you’ve made. And if they don’t, they probably don’t have your best interests in mind.

4. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally.

When we feel like we’ve failed ourselves and others, it can be easy to start neglecting our own needs. Maybe this is due to guilt or fear. But either way, make sure that you are putting your needs first after a relapse. Physically, this may mean making sure to get out of bed each day, to exercise, to show up to work. Mentally, it could mean talking to a therapist, to your support system, journaling about what happened, or something else entirely. Every person’s needs are different and you are the one who knows yourself the best. Take the time to determine what you need to do to take the best care of yourself.

5. Practice self-compassion.

This is perhaps the hardest thing of all, relapse or not. For some reason, being compassionate toward others can come easily, while doing so toward ourselves is a struggle. This may be especially true following a relapse, when you are likely struggling with feelings of guilt and shame. Guilt and shame are strong motivators to beat up on yourself, to think negatively, to feel worthless. But these feelings are a trap, and they will likely just lead you in a downward spiral. When you find yourself struggling with these emotions, try to reframe your thinking. Rather than thinking of yourself as a failure, think of yourself as someone who can look at your mistakes and learn from them. Being able to change your thinking in this manner can go a long way when it comes to recovery.

Remember, relapsing does not mean you have failed at living a life of recovery. What matters most are the choices you make post-relapse. You have the option of continuing down a negative path, or pulling yourself back up and returning to a sober lifestyle. Which path you take is ultimately your decision.

 

Beth Leipholtz is the founder of Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into addiction and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a graphic designer in Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @EL9292

5 Ways To Stay Sober Through A Breakup

There’s nothing quite like the raw hurt of a breakup. And unfortunately, most of us know this firsthand. While this type of pain is always hard to work through, it can be especially difficult when in recovery.

So often in the media, breakups are portrayed as an excuse to go out, get drunk and let loose. But in sobriety, that’s just not an option. Instead, we have to sit with our emotions and work through them without the aid of a substance. And while this may straight up suck sometimes, it’s doable.

Though happily married now, I went through a few breakups early on in my recovery. And even though they are years in the past at this point, I still remember the emotions involved vividly. These breakups were different than others in the surrounding years because I had no choice but to reflect and feel. I couldn’t just go out and get drunk and pretend they hadn’t happened.

Through doing so, I learned a few things about the best way to handle and get through breakups while in recovery. Here are a few of the things that helped me the most.

1. Remind yourself that everything — yes, everything — is temporary. While this didn’t necessarily take any pain away at the time, it was a comforting reminder for me. In the midst of feeling hurt and heartbroken, I tended to think I would feel that way forever. What I often forgot was that I had felt that way before and, in retrospect, those pains had faded into the background of my life. Yes, that fade takes time and patience. But there is something about remembering back to some of the most hurtful and difficult experiences of your life and thinking about the impact they have on your present life. More often than not, this impact is minimal. I always found some comfort in knowing that would likely be the case with my current pain someday in the future.

“There is always a silver lining if you look hard enough.”

2. Look for the lessons. As with everything in life, there is something to be learned from the majority of heartbreaks. More often than not, when in the midst of some serious hurt, we tend to glamorize the root of that hurt. But the thing is, your relationship probably ended for a reason. No relationship is perfect. If you spend some time really reflecting on the relationship, you will likely realize that you are walking away having learned some valuable lessons that can help you avoid similar heartache in the future. To this day, I can look at every relationship I have had and can pinpoint something valuable with which I walked away, even if it felt like my life was ending at the time. There is always a silver lining if you look hard enough.

3. Acknowledge what you are feeling and why you are feeling it. This part sucks, I won’t sugarcoat it. There is nothing as frustrating and gut wrenching as just sitting and feeling. But I encourage you to do it anyway. Sit on that bed and cry and scream and yell. Let out what you are feeling. And once you do, take the time to think about the reasoning behind those feelings. Do you miss the person you were with? Are you afraid of being alone? Do you feel unworthy? Knowing why we feel what we feel is the first step in managing to gain control of those feelings and manage them.

4. Remember that relying on a substance won’t make a breakup any less real. This is perhaps the most powerful advice of all. No matter how drunk you get, no matter how high you get, no matter for how long…when you come out of it, the pain will still be there. It won’t have magically disappeared just because you chose to drown it in something else. Rather than deal with it head on, using would simply prolong the pain and make it even more difficult to manage when the time comes. Instead of taking this route, remind yourself that you got sober for a reason. Tell yourself that you’ve been through hard things in recovery before and made it out the other side, and that this time will be no different.

5. Immerse yourself in something that makes you grateful to be alive. This may sound obvious, but staying busy after heartbreak is important. Even though the last thing you may feel like doing is being in public, there is something about it that is healing in a way. Seeing the rest of the world keep turning reminds you that there is always more out there. So even though you may want to stay in bed and drown out the world, force yourself to go out and do something active at least once each day. Do what you love, whether that’s exercise, being with friends, exploring a new place, or something else altogether. Eventually, as time passes, you’ll begin to realize that your world is still turning and you feel whole once again.

Beth Leipholtz is the founder of Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into addiction and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a graphic designer in Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @EL9292

How To Deal With Stigma Against Mental Health And Substance Use

It’s no secret that talking about mental health and substance use can be difficult. While the topics have become more normalized in recent years, it can still be an internal battle to work up the courage to be vulnerable when speaking about them.

As someone who has long struggled with depression and anxiety, as well as substance use disorder in the past, I’ve chosen to be open about my recovery from all three. However, it hasn’t always been easy. Putting yourself out there, especially on the internet in the form of writing, comes with a certain level of fear. People are not always kind or understanding. There is still a certain stigma that exists when it comes to being open about such struggles.

Here are a few of the ways I’ve tried to be conscious of such stigma and pushed fear aside in order to share my own experiences.

1. Remember your journey is your own.

No one can tell you you are right or wrong for having handled it or worked through it the way you have. When you are open about your recovery from mental health and substance use struggles, people feel that gives them the right to comment on what has worked for you and tell you whether that is wrong/right in their eyes. What these types of people don’t realize is that different things work for different people and there is no absolute way to recovery or share about your journey. It can be tough to shake it off when people tell you you have handled your own life in the wrong way, but you have to do your best to ignore those comments and move forward with the same confidence that allowed you to open up in the first place.

2. Be willing to educate people about the topics.

Not all people who are negative or perpetuate stigma are doing so on purpose. Some simply haven’t been educated about mental health and substance use — and the reality is that you don’t know what you don’t know. If someone makes a comment that seems uninformed, do your best to approach it in a calm manner, while also taking the opportunity to teach them something new. However, keep in mind not to come across in a patronizing manner, or what you are saying will likely not be well-received. Instead of laying into someone with facts, ask them if they are interested in learning more or if they’ve ever really taken the time to learn about what is often underlying mental health and substance use. Most people will at least be open to a conversation and you will know you’ve done what you can in sharing.

3. Be aware of the language you use when speaking and sharing.

Language goes a long way, and some of the language that has been used for ages in reference to mental health and substance use has negative connotations. For example, avoid using the terms “addiction” and “addict” whenever possible. Instead of saying addict, humanize the person you are speaking about by saying something like “a person with a substance use disorder.” The same goes for mental health diagnoses. Rather than saying “so-and-so is depressed,” or “he is ODC,” try to humanize the person and express that they struggle with that particular diagnosis. In order to break down the stigma around mental health and substance use, we have to be conscious of the way we talk about it and teach others to talk about it. Also keep in mind that language that is used today isn’t necessarily going to be the language used in a few years. It’s important to stay up-to-date on the best language to use in order to educate most effectively.

4. Confront your own shame and any stigma you harbor.

It’s difficult to destigmatize and educate others if you are still struggling to forgive yourself for things related to mental health and substance use, or you still have your own false notions of each. Take some time to reflect on whether this is the case for you personally. If it is, think hard about why. More often than not, you’ll realize it’s past time to forgive yourself and move forward in your life. Only then can you really start to open up the dialogue around such sensitive topics without your own feelings completely dictating the conversation. When you have forgiven yourself for your struggles and taken the time to move forward and understand your past, you can begin to teach others to do the same.

As with anything in the field of wellness, the conversation around mental health and substance use disorder is constantly ebbing and flowing. If sharing and destigmatizing is important to you personally, take the time to stay up-to-date on the changing conversation and current events so you can best educate and speak about your own experiences in order to help others.

Beth Leipholtz is the founder of  Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into addiction and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a graphic designer in Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @EL9292