Whether you’re very recently sober or well into your recovery journey, facing summer can be a challenge. Most of us look forward to summer as a time to party, drink, and enjoy social events where alcohol is often not only available but considered a necessity. If you’ve built your social and personal life around alcohol, stepping away from it and learning to have fun without alcohol can seem like building a new life, and often because it is.
Alcohol forces you to relax, decreasing your inhibitions, and increases dopamine and serotonin production in the brain. This will naturally make you feel as though you’re having more fun than without. However, the catch is that while you feel as though you’re having a good time, you’re often preventing yourself from doing things you enjoy, making friends, and socializing in a real way.
While staying sober over the summer may seem challenging, you’ll quickly find that there’s a lot you can do without alcohol, and you may even find that you have more fun without. And, while you might feel awkward not knowing what to do or how to have fun without alcohol, it’s as natural and normal as not knowing what to do in a new social situation, because it is likely new or at least the first time in a long time that you’ve attempted it.
Plan Your Time
You’ve probably heard of HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired), which includes four states of mind where most people are more vulnerable to relapse. While you likely wouldn’t consider your emotions as leading to addiction, they are very important factors that contribute to your total emotional health and ability to make good decisions. If you’re lonely and bored, you’re more likely to romanticize and seek out substances to make yourself feel better. Planning your time gives you a way to decide what you can do to avoid instances where your mental health could be at risk and to avoid crashes. It also allows you to make choices that consciously benefit your health, dopamine and serotonin production, and overall happiness, which will help you to resist cravings and stay sober.
For example, you can plan outings outside, with daily walks or hikes. Going outside actually works to decrease stress, which will help you to be in the right state of mind to resist cravings. You can also work to develop a hobby based on things you want or used to do. Dedicating yourself to a hobby will take up some of your time to reduce boredom, while helping you to develop mental discipline, self-esteem, and patience – all of which will help you stay sober. What can you do as a hobby? It’s actually up to you, but many people find that doing things with their hands helps with resisting cravings, and can be a tactile way to distract yourself when alcohol is present, you feel bad or ‘down’, or are otherwise in a place where you might easily relapse.
And, of course, you should work to spend time with friends and family, who can help you to have fun and stay happy. If your friends and family still drink, you will need a new friends group, but you can likely easily find sober events and activities if the people you know are not accommodating.
Most people don’t think of exercise as a fun thing to do with their time but developing a good habit of daily exercise will help you a great deal. For example, spending 30+ minutes of exercise a day helps to balance out serotonin and dopamine production in the brain to naturally reduce stress. Most importantly, you don’t have to spend those 30 minutes lifting weights at the gym, you could get the same benefits from participating in sports, dancing, doing yoga, or even walking.
Participating in team sports such as football or competitive swimming can also be considerably better for you than working out alone, because you can socialize and enjoy yourself in other ways at the same time. What’s the bottom line? Find an exercise you enjoy if you can, and if not, go for a brisk walk every morning. It will pay off.
Food is an important part of recovery and health and you should pay attention to it. Long periods of substance abuse, especially alcoholism, damage the gastrointestinal tract, cause you to make poor food choices, and may cause you to avoid eating in favor of alcohol. Your body needs micro and macro nutrients to stay physically and mentally healthy. If you’ve been to a recovery clinic, you’ve likely been given some form of nutrition therapy or training to improve your food intake but if you haven’t, you’ll likely have to make considerable changes to your diet.
With 30-40% of all recovering addicts suffering from some kind of eating disorder, and many of the symptoms of nutrient deficiency mimicking mental disorders such as depression and anxiety as well as the symptoms of cravings, it’s extremely important that you eat well. What qualifies as well? You can get specific dietary advice from your doctor or a nutrition, or use the general guidelines offered by government resources such as Choose My Plate.
Stick to Your Recovery Group
Chances are that you moved into a recovery group such as AA or SMART after leaving rehab. If you haven’t, it’s always a good place to start. While many people find recovery or group uncomfortable due to the nature of sharing and being open with a group of people, group recovery programs offer an important form of social motivation which can help you to stay sober. While there are many types of recovery groups, including religious and non-religious, they all offer the same form of accountability, guidance, and support from peers who have similar experiences and motivations. And, if you have a sponsor or a sober buddy to call when you start to experience cravings, you have an outlet to help you stay sober.
Many recovery groups also regularly host sober events and outings, which will give you a fun place to go and things to do when your normal friends and family are drinking.
Pay Attention to Your Mental Health
If you’ve attended rehab and been to cognitive behavioral therapy, you know how your mental state and your behavior will dramatically affect your ability to stay clean or sober. You also know when you’re in a good mental place and when you are not. For example, many counselors say that people generally exhibit signs such as withdrawing from self-help groups, avoiding friends and family, and increasingly isolating themselves before relapsing. Relapse isn’t typically an impulse decision, it usually builds up over weeks while you make choices and decisions that justify your relapse to yourself. If you catch yourself taking steps so that you don’t or won’t feel guilty about drinking, you should likely go back to your counselor, seek out additional therapy, or talk to someone at group. You likely want to stay sober, and keeping that in mind when you’re tempted will help you to remain that way – even when you think you’re bored and don’t have anything else to do.
Staying sober over the summer can be a challenge if you’re accustomed to spending the period drinking or partying, but there is a lot you can do and a lot of steps you can take to keep your mental and physical health where it should be. If you think you need further help, you can always seek out a rehab center to stay for the duration, especially if you haven’t already been to addiction treatment.
If you or a loved one is looking for modern and effective treatment programs, please contact Lighthouse Treatment Center today for more information. We are to help and happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors.