“A good friend will help you to discover the potentials you haven’t uncovered. A bad friend will help to cover up the potentials you have already recovered. Make your choice!” ~ Israelmore Aylvor, inspirational writer and author of The Great Hand Book of Quotes Early on during my journey of recovery from alcohol abuse to sobriety, I learned that if I wanted to protect everything I had worked so hard to regain, I would have to separate myself from the People, Places, and Things that were part of my former drinking life. It would be too hard – virtually impossible – for me to make the necessary personal (internal) and behavioral (external) changes in my life that would support my newly-found but hard-won sobriety if I continued associating with the same individuals, going to the same places, and doing the same things as “drunk me”.
I Went to Alcohol Rehab – Now There’s MORE?
When I was first presented with this idea, I naturally balked. These were my friends and this was my life. Wasn’t it enough that I was going to stop drinking? When they saw my resistance, my counselors, my sponsor, and all of the “old-timers” and the meetings I attended all told me the same thing in their own way – I was free to go anywhere and do anything I wanted with whomever I pleased, if I was willing to pay with my sobriety. That woke me up a little bit.
Recovery from Substance Abuse Requires Lifestyle Changes
They explained that my alcoholism was a disease, and as anyone with an incurable – and possibly fatal – condition, there were certain steps I had to take and lifestyle changes I had to make if I did not want to suffer from the worst of the disease had to offer:
- Diabetics have to monitor their blood sugar, lose weight, exercise more, and change their diet if they want to stay healthy and avoid complications such as blindness or loss of limb.
- People with high blood pressure have to avoid stress, reduce their sodium intake, and lose weight if they don’t want to be at increased risk of stroke.
- Individuals with heart disease have to exercise, carefully monitor their diet, give up smoking, and take their prescribed medication if they want to reduce their risk of a heart attack.
- Recovering alcoholics and drug addicts have to abstain from using any intoxicating substances, have to find new and positive ways to deal with negative emotions and have to avoid “triggers” that can lead to relapse.
My New Sober Life After Alcohol Rehab
I was in a 90-day residential alcohol rehabilitation program, so I had plenty of time to reflect on everything I was told. Luckily, some of the message sunk in, despite my stubbornness. Returning to “the world” after so long a time in a safe, controlled environment, was an eye-opening experience. To support my recovery from alcoholism, I avoided old:
- PEOPLE – but not at first. I said I was stubborn, and I am. One of the first things I did after returning home was to visit some of my old drinking buddies. In my mind, I had spent so much time with these people that it would be downright rude to just completely cut them off.
Everyone was glad to see me, and for a few minutes, it was great catching up. Then somebody handed me a beer to congratulate me on “getting out”. For just a moment, all of my enthusiasm for my new sober life threatened to go right out of the window. Despite all of my progress, there was a sneaky voice in the back of my mind telling me that it was okay – that I had earned the right to party a little bit. I have never been so scared in all my life as I was at that moment. I got out of there as fast as I could and called my sponsor. Lesson learned. I was going to have to make new friends. More on that in a moment.
- PLACES – Have you ever noticed how bars aren’t really that much fun when you’re not there to drink? Or that the food at the typical so-called “bar and grill” isn’t very tasty?
From my new, sober perspective, it’s easy to see that hanging out at establishments where alcohol is the focus doesn’t make sense, from either a recovery aspect or a financial one. It boggles my mind how much-overpriced liquor I’ve consumed at various bars in my life. Even bearing that in mind, I don’t tempt my disease. Because a bar doesn’t have anything to offer me anymore, I make it easy on myself – I stay away.
- THINGS – When you are making the conscious decision not to drink, it often becomes necessary to pick out those activities that don’t revolve around alcohol. This is actually harder than it sounds because so many Americans’ social events involve alcohol in some way.
It’s extremely common to go on a date where you “meet for drinks” or celebrate a co-worker’s promotion by buying around. Even hanging out with some friends on the weekend to watch the big game can mean breaking out a cooler of beer. Any of these “innocent” American pastimes were extremely dangerous for someone like me – someone in recovery for alcoholism. At first, I just begged off and declined any invitations, but that got real lonely real fast. As time went on, I learned to be a lot more creative. Now I have fun, but in a way that doesn’t jeopardize everything that I’ve accomplished:
- Instead of “meeting for drinks”, I take my dates out for coffee.
- I am extremely choosy about the get-togethers I attend – barbecues, dinners, or office parties – and I never go without an escape plan.
- Because it is harder to abuse alcohol in public than it is in secret, I do a lot of outdoor activities – picnics at the park, bike rides, and visits to the zoo.
- I’ve always loved to bowl and play pool, but now I do so in “family fun centers” where alcohol isn’t even offered.
- I’ve cultivated an interest in local museums.
- My friends and I have a regular movie night get-together.
- I host my own dinner parties and gatherings, and my guests already know not to bring booze.
So where am I meeting all of these people – these dates, friends, and guests? It’s easier than you might think. When I was actively drinking, I wasn’t aware of how off-putting my behavior could be. I never knew about all the places that I didn’t get invited to because people weren’t sure how I would act. Now, everyone in my circle – my friends, family members, and coworkers – can see that there is a change in me and that I am working hard at staying sober. There are a lot less apprehensive about inviting me. Obviously, that makes it easier to be sociable. I’ve also made friends in recovery meetings. I even regularly go to special events that my local group puts on. Not all of my friends are in recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction, but it is nice to have one subset who know exactly what I have gone through. The main point that I want to get across is this – safeguarding my sobriety early on meant that I had to make real changes in my life. Now, I just have to use a little creativity to maintain. To my pleasant surprise, I found that I could have just as much fun – even more, fun – than I ever had when I was an active alcoholic. Do you want to know the best part? I ran into one of my old drinking buddies a while back. He said that I looked so much better than I used to and that I seemed really happy. Of course, he wanted to know how I did it. So I told him. Now, my friend is participating in his own alcohol rehabilitation program. Look at me… I just performed the Twelfth Step.