Why You Should Take Keep it Simple Your First Year Sober
Addiction recovery is a huge achievement, and it can give you a whole new lease on life. Staying sober means working on your recovery, especially during the first year. There are things you can do to build scaffolding around your new life. By providing extra support in the short term, you’re able to build higher and stronger than you otherwise would.
How to Stay Sober for a Year
The first year of addiction recovery means lots of changes. It’s a time when you’ll deal with all the challenging “firsts,” including navigating holidays and seasonal changes without drugs. That’s why the traditional advice in 12-Step groups is to not make major life changes during early sobriety. Major life changes are understood to include:
- Moving to a new town or city
- Enrolling in or dropping out of school
- Starting a new romantic relationship
Over the years, some people have misinterpreted this advice in interesting ways. They’ve pointed out that you have to make huge decisions in order to progress in the program. Others have noted that adolescents would be unwise to not graduate from high school or participate in other normal developmental events. But that’s not exactly what this time-honored piece of advice means. Every addict, recovered or not, knows only too well that even when you’re not active, the disease is doing push-ups. It’s right there waiting for you. That’s why it’s crucial to be vigilant and not fall into a distracted or denying state.
Most addicts know someone who has “pulled a geographic”, which is when someone moves to escape their problems. If you haven’t done it yourself, you’ve probably seen it happen. There are times when a big move isn’t a great idea, and the first year of sobriety is one of them. In fact, plenty of people have used moving as a way of avoiding their problems. Sometimes, they’re unwilling to face them. It can be easier to decide that you’re not the cause of trouble, a given state or city is. This is such a common and unhelpful coping mechanism that it’s important to warn people against it. New relationships, too, can be a great way to avoid doing the work of early recovery. It’s easy to get lost in the “high” of falling in love. Remember, for long-term progress, it’s a good idea to give yourself that supportive scaffolding period. That can mean being at something of a remove from the world for a year. But it also means emerging stronger when the work is done.
Taking on too much too soon can be a huge stress to anyone’s system. Think about common goals like New Year’s Resolutions. You might tackle something like losing weight or training for a marathon with a huge initial burst of energy. That’s not always the best way to make long-term progress, though. Sometimes making small changes and allowing them to grow into habits can actually be more effective. In the marathon example, it can be wise to start with a jog around the block before expanding to several miles. If you try to run ten miles on the first day out, it might not go very well. You might get shin splints, cramps and become shaky. Building slowly is what most trainers advise.
Recovery, especially early on, can feel amazing. There’s a reason it’s often compared to a pink cloud. Being free of the burdens you’ve been carrying is liberating. But the truth is, it doesn’t last for long. Every recovering addict will find that adapting to the rhythms of life takes patience, hard work, and persistence. It’s a good idea to keep it simple because the adjustment to true sober living takes time. It’s like a marathon; you have to endure. Luckily, there’s plenty of stories of people who have successfully navigated that time. Being a part of a regular 12-step group can make a big difference during the first year of recovery. Seeing the same group of people can provide a sense of stability. Maintaining a good relationship with a sponsor during the first year is also fundamental.
Use Your Tools
Moving, or accepting a job with very different hours, or any other big life change can be jarring to begin with. It’s a particular challenge you’re learning how to stay sober for a year. During that first year of recovery, you don’t want to separate yourself from a healthy community. Remember, community is key to recovery. Having a stable support system is essential for any newly sober person. Using concrete tools like journals or planners can also be helpful. They’ll help you track and measure progress. If there’s ever a time when it’s useful to structure your time and reflect on yourself, that first year of recovery is it. Remember, you have plenty of new tools and coping skills at your disposal. You’re never alone. Don’t forget about supports like:
- The Big Book
- Phone lists
- Speaker tapes
These things can help you during recovery, period, but they can be vital especially during early sobriety. Speaker tapes and meeting attendance can be particularly valuable. Hearing from people who’ve been there already can help you to better envision a map for your own sober life. Relapses do happen. It’s not unheard of and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it. But at the same time, it’s crucial to understand that for some people, there’s no coming back from a relapse. A relapse can result in death, so it’s best to avoid one if possible.
You can always reach out for help. We want to help you learn how to stay sober for a year. At Ethos Recovery, we know that connection is the key to recovery. Isolating is a poor coping mechanism. Community and trust are the foundations for health. They’re the cornerstones of our program. Don’t ever be afraid to contact us if you need assistance, especially in the challenging first year of your new sober life.
Author – Chris Howard
Chris Howard is the Founder and Director of Ethos Recovery. He has a B.A. in Psychology from UCLA and has served as a community advocate/mentor for men and women in recovery since 2010.