Helpful Tips for Staying Sober

The very first time I got drunk I was 9 years old. Yes, you’re reading it right. Nine. I was a very shy, very curious kid. I had been wondering about alcohol for a while, but when I asked my mom for a sip one time, I got a stern lecture. So one night at a family party I stole a bottle while the adults were busy. A couple of sips later I was drunk. I loved how it made me feel less awkward, less shy, and even though a cousin of mine caught me and made me promise not to do it again, I kept drinking every chance I got.

At 14 I started experimenting with marijuana; later, I got hooked on other, stronger more horrible substances. I struggled with alcohol and drug addiction all through my teenage years and a chunk of my adulthood. It cost me a lot of relationships and opportunities. It was only at 23 when I was spending time in prison for drug-related charges that I realized I wanted to change. I wanted to get clean. As soon as I was let out of prison, I checked into a rehab center. That was the beginning of my path towards recovery.

Recovery is a tough, very bumpy road from the beginning. Admitting you have a problem, getting treatment, detox, withdrawal, the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with the process… It’s hard, I know, I have been there. Getting out of rehab doesn’t mean it’s over, in fact, the real challenge is what comes next: staying sober. As difficult as it seems, it’s achievable. I have been sober for 9 years now, and I want to share with you 5 tips that helped me stay sober, especially during the early stages of sobriety

1. Avoid people and places that tempt you to drink or do drugs

The temptation will always be there, but there are certain places and situations in which you might be more tempted to drink or do drugs. It may seem obvious to avoid bars and clubs when you’re trying to stay sober. There are also other not so obvious events in which there might be alcohol involved, such as holiday celebrations and sports parties. You need to be vigilant and stay away from people that may be unhelpful when it comes to keeping you away from alcohol or drugs. Surround yourself with supportive people who want to see you succeed.

It was tough for me at first. I’ve always been a party guy, so I felt a little left out when my friends went out and I had to stay in. Luckily I had friends and family who made sure I didn’t feel lonely and made plans with me that didn’t involve alcohol.

2. Find a mentor or a friend to encourage you

As I mentioned in the last tip, surrounding yourself with people who want to see you succeed is essential if you want to stay sober. While sobriety can be a difficult path, you don’t have to walk it alone. Having someone -or several someones-, whether it’s a family member or a friend, who you can turn to in moments of doubt, who you can lean on, can increase your chances of staying clean. Don’t be scared to share your journey with friends and tell them that you’re trying to stay sober. Chances are, they will understand and even help you achieve this goal.

3. Reward yourself for your progress

Positive reinforcement is the best motivation for change. Find something that will motivate you to stay sober, it can be your favorite food or watch a new movie. Make it a reward for your little -actually huge- successes: a week sober, two weeks, a month and so on. If your reward gets stale, you can always change it for something else. My first reward was fried chicken. I love fried chicken, it has always been my favorite food. So, for the first three months, every Friday, I would go with my parents, my brother or some friends to get fried chicken. I later changed it for sushi, my second favorite food, then it was playing mini-golf once a month. They are simple things that can really make you look forward to staying clean so you can enjoy them.

4. Connect with a community

Never underestimate the influence meetings -such as those provided by AA or NA- can have a recovering addict. I didn’t believe in them at first, in fact, I only joined them when I was in prison so I would have an excuse to get out of my cell. They changed my life. It was because of something I heard during one of those meetings where I made the decision to get clean and it was in those meetings where I found the strength to keep fighting. Being able to share your feelings with people who understand exactly what you’ve been through because they’ve been there as well, is one of the most valuable experiences in this process. It’s a safe place, you don’t feel judged because whatever you’ve done they have too. They can learn from your experiences and you can learn from theirs.

5. Exercise

Staying active during your early stages of recovery is also fundamental for maintaining sobriety. Exercise not only improves your overall physical health, it also releases chemicals in your brains such as dopamine which can give you a feeling of pleasure similar to the high you got with drugs and alcohol. It gives you something to do with your time and it makes you feel better physically and mentally.

You can start with small workouts and build up from there. Choose any type of exercise you like. I chose hiking since I liked the idea of being surrounded by nature while exercising. I still do it every weekend and I can honestly say it made my recovery process easier.

So there you have it. Staying away from alcohol-related people and situations, finding someone to lean on, rewarding yourself, connecting with a community and exercising are the 5 methods that kept me on track. Sobriety takes a lot of strength and willpower, but if you follow these 5 tips it can be a lot easier.

Do you know any other methods to help you stay sober? If you have any suggestions or want to share your own experience, please leave a comment below.