Sobriety in Hard Times: A User’s Guide
Hard times can shake the very foundation of our recovery. Tips on how to survive.
It can feel like tough times come at us hard and fast. Just when you’re getting the hang of this recovery thing, a situation comes up that shakes you to your very core. Something that makes you stare into the night sky and wonder, “Am I being tested?” But the answer is no, my friend. You’re not. You’re just living life, and handling what comes at you.
Whether your personal trauma is everyone else’s or not, whether it’s a political drama or a fight with a loved one, recovery will ask you to greet it head on with grace and presence. In sobriety we learn how to handle the stuff that made us run back to addictive behaviors, diving into the cover they offered from emotions and experiences that weren’t exactly to our liking.
But here’s a rude reminder for those of you that have a little time away from drugs or drinking or whatever your obsession was, those of you that may not remember how much hurt you got in before you got to reading this sort of article: getting wasted never felt as good as it sounded. Being blasted never brought with it the sort of brilliant relief it promised. You always went to look for more, and then more, and then more.
So you know what you don’t want to do. But how can you stay sober in the face of uncertainty? More importantly, how can you stay sober in the face of adversity? Let’s focus on what we know. Which is very little, but let’s embrace it:
1. It’s a beautiful time to embrace your lack of control.
Regardless of how you feel about 12 step programs (love ‘em or hate ‘em, that’s your business), the Serenity Prayer offers wisdom for times of suffering. If you aren’t big into prayer, think of it as a mantra. If you aren’t big into mantras, think of it as a wise tip passed along from a friend: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
What can’t you change? Work on accepting those things as they are. What can you change? Focus on a simple plan of action, a single step, for that stuff. Each time you find yourself circling your attention back to a “can’t change” thing, take that energy and place it into the “can change” thing. You’ll find this often takes the focus off of external stressors, and zeros in on positive internal changes you can make for yourself.
2. Tune out social media.
In times of crisis, social media isn’t always the answer. Social media can begin to feel like an exhausting new addiction all of its own, a bottomless black hole of gloom and doom that you’re unable to pull away from. If you don’t have live TV, scrolling through feeds might be your only source of live news about tragedies as they happen, information coming to you sandwiched between noxious comments from anonymous trolls or bickering relatives with differing ideologies.
If your internet interactions are largely negative, or you are spending several hours online reading disparaging comments, it’s time to unplug. Step away, get some sunshine, or cook yourself a meal. Choose a physical task to complete. Make a conscious choice to include positive sources on your streams, and if your job involves computer work, remember that you don’t have to keep your social media feeds open. You will gain productivity and peace of mind.
3. Tune in to your breathing.
Try Tonglen Meditation for relaxation in tough times. Wherever you go, you have to breath, right? Tuning in to your breath is a stress buster at any time of day: in the grocery line, in your cubicle at work, or while cooking dinner. This is a bit of self-care that only takes turning your attention and focus inward. Tonglen Meditation is an especially helpful form of practice for tough times, as it encourages compassion. Here’s a quick guide. Follow this as much (or as little) as works for you:
Find a comfortable position to rest in.
Imagine breathing in dark, heavy, and hot and exhaling white light and cool.
Inhale your suffering, or someone else’s and exhale kindness, compassion, or whatever else is needed.
Extend to the larger world: Inhale all suffering and pain and exhale love and generosity.
This can be done as meditation practice or you can do whenever you see or feel suffering.
American Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron explains, “Tonglen means ‘taking in and sending out.’ This meditation practice is designed to help ordinary people like ourselves connect with the openness and softness of our hearts. Instead of shielding and protecting our soft spot, with tonglen we could let ourselves feel what it is to be human.”
When tempted to drink, use, or pick up any other addictive behaviors in tough times, it’s important to remind yourself that although addictions promise an escape from the world’s troubles, they eventually only lead to more and more issues. Play your tape all the way through, from the craving to the come down. They may offer a brief respite from any stressor you are facing, but this momentary relief will lead to poor judgement, and more using, and lost money, and health consequences, and endless other issues. However good using sounds in the face of any adversity you are presented with, remind yourself of the state you were in before you kicked your addictive behavior. Addictions don’t take care of you, no matter how much they promise to. In times of crisis, only you can take care of yourself. This is how you get through now, with a clear head and a ready heart. This is how you get through, and you can. And you will.
Hard times will come and go. You’ll duck and dodge them, but you’ll also step head on into them, fully prepared with the tools of recovery to feel emotions you once numbed out with drugs or alcohol. Because life isn’t about avoiding the bad times and loving the good times. Life is about being here for all of it. The nitty gritty ugly stuff and sure, the good stuff too. You’re here now for the whole enchilada. You got this.