There may be many things that recovering addicts have never done while sober in their adult lives, from celebrating the holidays to starting new relationships to dancing. Avoiding boredom is essential for recovering addicts, as it is one of the main causes of relapse, so it’s a good idea to try new things and pursue hobbies in your new life.
But many addicts may fear trying out new experiences without being intoxicated. Luckily, there are many techniques to help ease you into new sober activities.
Expanding Your Comfort Zone
Every time you do something new, you expand your comfort zone a bit more. You don’t have to take massive strides out of your comfort zone to make progress. Every little step you take out of your old comfort zone makes new things easier to do in future.
For example, the first time you rode a bike, you probably had training wheels to help you. After you became confident riding with training wheels, you might have removed them and had a friend or parent beside you as you wobbled around trying to ride straight. Now you can probably ride a bike with complete ease, meaning your comfort zone around riding a bike is strong. But you would not have gotten there if you had never tried the first uncomfortable step.
Take small steps, ask for help if you need it, and start making your comfort zone wider until you’re completely confident doing things sober. Having a wider comfort zone gives you a much richer, more rewarding life.
Moreover, if you had never become confident riding a bike, you may not have considered driving a car. Expanding your comfort zone in just one area means your confidence rises in other spheres of your life. Your willingness to try new things becomes greater and you can do them with less fear too.
Replace Negative Thoughts
You don’t always have to ask for help when expanding your comfort zone – there are many things you can do on your own to feel less fearful when doing things newly sober. Often our fears come from negative thoughts, like worrying that we’ll fail or what others will think about us. Every time you have a fearful thought, replace it with a more open-minded and realistic one.
Every time you have a fearful thought, replace it with a more open-minded and realistic one.
For example, if you’ve never asked anyone out on a date before while sober, you may worry that they will laugh at you or humiliate you. In reality, most people aren’t like that. They may agree or decline, but they are much more likely to be nice about it than to be cruel. Even if they say ‘no’, it’s not the end of the world – it just means they don’t think you’re compatible. Remind yourself how many other people there are in the world who might be suitable for you and move on.
Learn to Control Anxiety
Anxiety is a form of protection, a way of your brain warning you away from danger – but sometimes it goes into overdrive when it’s completely unnecessary. There are many ways to control unwarranted anxious feelings. One powerful strategy is to acknowledge the anxiety and then give yourself some positive self-talk.
Notice where you feel the anxiety in your body, then silently acknowledge it and let it know you’re in a safe situation. Your self-talk might go something like this: “I know you’re there anxiety and thank you for trying to protect me. But we’re OK. It’s safe and we’ll be fine.” When the jitters calm down you can even add a few positive affirmations, such as: “I am a calm, confident, capable person” or “I can do this.” Focus on your strengths that will help you with this new experience.
You can even add to your confidence by thinking about things that make you feel either relaxed or fired-up. For example, before boxers enter the ring, they play a special theme tune to pump themselves up. Think of a song that makes you feel either energized or relaxed, depending on what resource you need the most, and play it through your head. You can even imagine the singer or band standing behind you playing it just for you.
Use Mindfulness to Remove Worries
A lot of our fears and worries about doing something new emerge days, weeks or months before an upcoming event. You can use mindfulness and visualization techniques to help distance those fears. For example, imagine you are lying in a peaceful field and watching the sky high above, where there is a slight breeze pushing the clouds gently over the horizon until they disappear. When each fearful thought comes up, attach it to a cloud, rather than engaging with it, and watch it disappear on the breeze.
If a worry comes up that is realistic and not just psychological, write it down, so that you can plan how to deal with it later. For example, if you’ve arranged to do an activity where there may be alcohol present, note it down so you can plan ways of ensuring you stay clean and sober. Then return to the clouds and wait until each and every one has gently blown away.
Focus on the Reward
Even if you do have some residual anxiety about doing things sober for the first time, a powerful way of being able to go through with an activity is to focus on what it will give you in the end. Every bungee jumper must have had the jitters before their first jump, but they yearned to experience the thrill, so they jumped anyway.
Remind yourself what you want to achieve by doing something you might be a bit anxious about. Your end goal may be very specific, like getting a date, or it might be to expand your comfort zone so that your life will continue becoming more full and more joyful.
Written by Beth Burgess