Starting life over, sober: Relapse prevention

Got an email from a young man in need of a new plan. He asked a question that can be answered hundreds of ways. He’s brand new to sobriety and asks if he needs rehab. What follows is the Keep It Simple System (K.I.S.S.) version of early sobriety and recovery (a.k.a. – improving your life):

  1. See a medical doctor immediately. Get a checkup. Be honest about your use of alcohol and drugs. Get tested for anything you may be at risk for (especially STDS!).
  2. Meet with a substance abuse counselor and be completely honest about your consumption and your behavior while under the influence. Any experienced counselor can do an assessment and make recommendations based on their findings.
  3. Run don’t walk to the nearest AA or NA meeting. Some of the very best results I have seen are from people who did 90 meetings in their first 90 days. Two or three meetings per day is an even better start.

12 step program folks are the real experts and they can not only point you in the right direction; they can also offer you fellowship and support. Some of the very best people in the world are in AA and NA.

The most important thing those programs offer is accountability for your goals. Early on you will struggle to trust yourself to do what you need to do. It is remarkably difficult to be young and scared and have to admit that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Make a schedule, structure is a form of security. Fill every bit of your spare time. Go to counseling weekly. Go to group counseling. Learn about experiencing, expressing, and coping with emotions in healthy ways. Focus on developing relapse prevention plans…things you have planned to do when stressed or feeling bad or craving to drink.

Lean on your family if they’re even semi healthy. Rely on your program people if they’re not. Do not worry about being a burden on them. Visit as much as you can. Get a Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous and read it (even if it’s only one page a day). Pray…even if you don’t believe in anything. Google the serenity prayer and the 3rd step prayer and say them daily without exception.

Journal. Write everything. Call your contacts. Don’t lie to them to spare their feelings. Let them help you.

Take a look at your friends. Ask yourself, “Are these just people I drank/used with?”

Either way, make new friends – people on similar journeys. This is part of why I am so biased in favor of 12 step people: You can search the world over for people who are trying to change their lives and not drink or drug – or you can head to a meeting and there they are!

You must learn to be patient and tolerant with yourself. People do not achieve lasting change in a hurry. Addiction is a lifelong problem. Make sure you stay in the solutions.

Reach out for help constantly. Whenever you’re not sure – ask. There are no stupid questions but there are countless fears that can kill you if you use to cope with them.

Do not spend time beating yourself up. You cannot change how you feel but you must change how you act – especially how you treat yourself. For now, just call a truce with your worst enemy.

If you get to keep your job thank your employer. Work hard but don’t kill yourself. Your employer has made an investment in the form of a second chance. Show them enough to make them want to give it to the next guy. Trying to prove them right in a hurry will only burn you out and make you resentful.

Stop trying to prove things. Recovery is not redemption and nobody’s keeping a score card. Be of service to others. It’s amazing how much good being the guy who sets up the folding chairs and puts them away afterwards can do. Trust me on that one.

Don’t isolate. Don’t be alone. Not in your first months sober. In the short term, the only things you should do alone are things that take place in a bathroom.

Don’t make any huge changes. Don’t get into a new relationship (you’ll focus on them and not on you). Narrow your focus. Your number one job every day is to not drink and drug and whatever has to happen to achieve that simply has to happen.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.