Living without alcohol requires learning – it takes new coping skills and a different perspective to build a life without alcohol. When alcohol has played such an important role in your life for years, you’ll definitely find yourself outside of your comfort zone.
If you’re recovering from alcoholism and you need a little guidance, here are 5 crucial lessons you need to learn.
5 Crucial Lessons For Recovery
1. Learning That 100% Abstinence Is Your #1 Priority
In the first few months of recovery, abstaining from alcohol or drugs will have to be your #1 priority. If it’s not, there’s a good chance you’ll relapse. If its more important for you to party within weeks of detoxing than it is to avoid temptation, you’re laying a foundation for failure.
To get through early recovery, maintaining sobriety and 100% abstinence needs to be the most important priority in your life. For awhile, it needs to be more important than family, relationships, religion, friends, fun, or anything else in your life. Each day, tell yourself that you’re not going to drink or use drugs that day no matter what happens. Take it one day at a time.
Part of you will still want to drink in moderation, but don’t fall for this trap. See Can An Alcoholic Drink In Moderation Successfully? for reasons why this is a bad idea.
2. Learning To Have Fun While Sober
An alcoholic needs booze to enjoy themself – true or false?
There isn’t much fun in early recovery. In fact, it can be downright miserable. For a person who’s used to turning to alcohol for fun (and happiness), choosing not to self medicate with alcohol feels close to impossible. It’s just so easy to tell yourself “screw it, I’m going to have a drink, I deserve to have fun.
Of course, the alcoholic might actually find some enjoyment from relapsing – at first. But not too long after, the alcoholic is right back where they were – stuck in a cycle of misery and self-destruction fueled by their addiction.
When you’re trying to build a life without alcohol, learning to have fun without booze is critical. Believe me, it’s very possible, but it’ll take some time. And if you can’t learn to have fun without drinking, long-term recovery simply won’t be possible.
3. Learn To Develop An Internal Locus Of Control
What is an internal locus of control?
An internal locus of control is the belief that the events and path of your life is driven primarily by your own actions. For example, if a person with an internal locus of control does poorly on a test, they’ll blame their own lack of effort, preparedness, or carelessness for the result. On the next test, they’ll take steps to adjust their preparation to ensure that the result doesn’t repeat itself.
A person with an external locus of control on the other hand, would likely blame the results of their poor test score on the questions being too difficult, the professor having a personal bias against them, or some outside distraction that affected their preparation.
Most alcoholics tend to have an external locus of control; they often play the role of the victim. They see their failures as a result of a cruel, cruel world that’s out to get them. This negative mindset creates bitterness, resentment, and anger. As their life spirals downwards, they might even start to believe that their friends and family are out to get them.
Recovering alcoholics have to learn that we can only play the hand we’re dealt. Bad things do happen, but short of a catastrophic accident or terminal illness, we are in control of our lives. When someone treats us poorly, we can harbor resentment, lash out, or even plot revenge – or we can ignore them and move on with our lives. When we lose a job, we can clean ourselves up and get another one. If we get dumped or cheated on, we can accept the loss and make peace with it, or we can harbor bitterness and resentment for years and years.
The problem with holding an external locus of control is that you aren’t actively adjusting your behavior. If you feel that whatever you do won’t affect the outcome of your life, then why would you take the massive action necessary to improve it? Holding an external locus of control and playing the victim will result in a self-fulfilling prophecy – if you believe your life is doomed to a never-ending cycle of addiction and misery, than it probably will be.
On the other hand, if you learn that you’re in control of your life and that your actions have a very real impact – you can work towards daily personal growth, instead of self-medicating with alcohol.
4. Learning To Be A Nice Guy (or Gal)
When you spiral into the negative, self-destructive cycle of alcohol addiction, you become isolated. You lash out at people who are trying to help, and you push friends and family away due to your emotional instability. In many cases, you become a plain ol’ jerk.
When you’re rebuilding your life without alcohol, you need to learn how to be a nice person again. Alcoholism can wreak havok on your communication skills, and it’ll take practice to build healthy relationships again. You need to learn to communicate your emotions instead of lashing out, and you need to learn to deal with frustration and fear in a way that doesn’t involve anger.
You can start by cooling down the next time you feel frustration or annoyance building up. Instead of turning to immediate confrontation, give yourself time to step back from the situation and gather your emotions. You’ll find yourself much more able to communicate like a normal, (dare I say, nice?) person when you don’t feel the urge to hurl anger.
5. Learning To Overcome Complacency Through Massive Action
Complacency often sets in after the recovering alcoholic has been sober for awhile. After focusing on maintaining baseline sobriety for months on end, the alcoholic starts to take their sobriety for granted. This is inevitable, and its part of moving on and rebuilding your life.
The problem arises when you don’t make active efforts to improve your life. In order to avoid complacency, you need to strive for daily personal growth in multiple aspects of your life. This may involve exercise, eating healthy, connecting with a higher power, making a contribution to society, advancing your career, going back to school, meeting new friends, trying new things, and otherwise pushing your comfort zone.
The way to avoid complacency is to recognize it for what it is, and choose instead to take massive action in your life. Take an honest assessment of the problems in your life. What are you unhappy with? What would you like to accomplish? Then, instead of simply dreaming about the end result like you would normally do, actually get off the couch and just do it. Don’t make excuses or justifications, don’t put it off.
If you know what you want to accomplish, stop reading this right now, and go take the first step. If you want to get in shape, go to the gym right now. If you want to reconnect with an old friend, give them a call. If you want to go back to school, go find out what pre-requisites you’ll need, what your financial options are, which programs are available in your area etc. Then register. Nothing worth having in life comes without massive action.