Let’s Talk Relapse For a Second
So, this post has been sitting in my drafts folder for a few months now. Since late June, to be specific. The original title was 30 Things I Learned in 30 Days of Sobriety. I didn’t publish it for two reasons: (1) I never got around to finishing the post and (2) I broke my sobriety in early August, shortly after hitting the 60 day mark.
To be honest, it’s sucked a lot going through my drafts the past few months, seeing this post there, from back when I thought/hoped that I had quit for the last time. And here we are (again). Not as bad as before, but not where I had wanted to be after all this time and work and getting my hopes up, over and over again.
So, I finally worked up the nerve to read my own writing this morning. I think I wanted clues from the version of myself that managed 30 days (and then 60) sober. Meanwhile, I’m barely getting in 1 or 2 days at a time right now. I don’t know. I wish I had hard-and-fast answers, I really do.
Anyway, you probably already know this stuff, but maybe you could use a reminder. I know that I woke up sleep-deprived, starving, and a little drunk this morning – and I still chose to prioritize work over what my body needed (rest and snacks). So, I can definitely work on taking my own advice. If that’s you too, don’t forget that you can always, always, always try again. Start where you are and see how much further you can go than you thought you could.
And don’t forget I’m right there with you. (We got this.)
What I Learned Getting Sober (Before I Relapsed)
1 | Your Mental Health Comes First
It’s hardly a groundbreaking revelation, but it took me a long time to come to terms with this.
If you don’t feel good mentally and emotionally, nothing else that’s “working” in your life really matters. If the cost of a 4.0 is your mental health, the grades aren’t worth it. You can land a killer promotion at work, but if you’re crying in your car every morning, it’s not worth it.
Mental health is a prerequisite to fully experiencing and enjoying the other things in your life, like school, work, hobbies, and your relationships with other people. It’s important.
So, no, working on your mental health can’t wait until after you do X, Y, or Z. Hint: There will always be something standing in your way if you think like that. But once you start to feel better mentally and emotionally – whatever that means for you – you’ll be better prepared to take the next steps toward creating the life you want.
2 | Your Sphere of Control is Limited (And That’s Okay)
You can’t control what anyone else thinks, says, or does. You can’t control the weather, traffic, or how you grew up.
Historically, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to predict and control stuff that isn’t my stuff. It’s only human. We try to control things to reduce stress and the possibility of things going wrong. We try to prevent ourselves from getting hurt or prepare ourselves to get hurt so that, when it happens, we make it out okay. We’re trying our best.
But accepting our limited sphere of control allows us to focus on what we can and do control: Our actions, our words, and (to an extent) our lives.
I can’t control what anyone else does, but I can choose how to respond. I can choose to keep trying to get better and do better, and, when I mess up, I can choose to breathe through my mistakes and keep trying.
3 | Breaks Are a Necessity, Not a Luxury
For the past 6 months, I’ve been working a full-time job and writing during the cracks of spare time in my life: before and after work, on my days off, and anytime I get a free minute at work. Maybe your schedule looks similar.
That’s what we’re told to do to make something that matters. That’s what we’re told is valued: hard work, productivity, 60-hour work weeks with something to show someone else at the end of them.
It can work for a while. But it’s not sustainable. Even if you love what you do, your body and mind need rest. I love writing. But I’ve learned I write better when my life is more balanced. When I’m sleeping and eating regularly. When I take time out of “being productive” to nourish my social life. When I remember that reading and talking to people and having new experiences is key to writing well. And that – even if it weren’t – these experiences are key to living a balanced life.
Doing work you love does require, you know, work. But give yourself the space and freedom to live a life that is enriched by your work, not defined by it.
If you’re caught up in the cycle of constant busy-ness, read this post to learn how to ditch fake-productivity and start doing more stuff that matters to you.
4 | Physical Regulation Will Change Your Life
I can’t tell you how long I put all my faith in a DBT workbook and daily yoga practice to help me regulate my emotions when I was sleep-deprived, malnourished from disordered eating, and throwing back half a bottle of vodka a night.
Therapy, medication, meditation, or anything else you do to manage your mental health can absolutely play an important role in your recovery. But physical dysregulation will almost always lead to emotional dysregulation at some point.
Getting sober hasn’t fixed all my problems or magically given me coping tools I didn’t have before. But sobriety has helped me regulate my emotions better by removing alcohol from the neurochemical equation in my brain. It has also helped me sleep better (and more). That alone has had such a positive effect on my daily mood and level of motivation.
Overall, I feel more capable of taking care of my body better sober. I’m not perfect, but small steps matter.
Physical regulation probably won’t solve all of your mental health problems, but your mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum, either. Start by taking small steps toward healing your body, and see how your mind responds.
TLDR: Take care of yourself. Your body is the only one you’ve got. And when you mess up, try again.