Staying Clean and Sober: You can learn how to do it.
You may have heard people talk about how they got sober from alcohol or clean from drugs. If you are still struggling to get sober yourself, it can sound overwhelming. How did they do it? What did they do at the beginning to quit? Did they struggle each day, fighting the urge to drink or get high? How did they finally figure out how to get sober?
Let’s start thinking outside of the box.
Some of what I am going to talk about here may seem unorthodox when it comes to getting sober and staying sober. What do creativity and musical composition have to do with sobriety? What does art and starting a business have to do with staying clean? I believe that to make addiction recovery work for more of us; we need to start thinking outside of the box. A new patient once told me that she made an appointment with me because she believed that I was able to think outside the box and not recite the same old recovery formula that she was hearing from other doctors. It makes sense that many doctors in the field of addiction treatment would espouse the traditional AA-based 12-step program as a foundation for recovery. While it may help many people and be the best solution for some, it is not for everyone. The 12-step fellowships may even be harmful to some people. Yet, one of the most respected organizations, that credentials doctors as being board certified in addiction, is closely aligned with the 12-step philosophy and even describes 12-step facilitation an evidence-based therapy for addiction. No wonder my father sometimes used to say we should spell it, “bored certified.”
As the underlying principle of the first step goes, we need to learn to be more open-minded and willing to look at other ideas that might work best for different people who are looking for help to get sober and stay sober. Two of the things that caught the eye of that one patient were Koi Therapy and Binaural Beat Therapy. The first is the idea that beautiful Koi fish could be a valuable part of meditation and mindfulness to promote ongoing sobriety. Binaural beats are a powerful method of entraining brain waves with sound to help with focus, meditation, relaxation, and sleep. One of the foremost American neurosurgeons, and former Harvard neurosurgery professors, has spoken highly of the power of binaural beats to help with addiction recovery. Why don’t more doctors recommend sound therapy? Maybe because it doesn’t come from a pharmaceutical company. If you are ready to think outside the box about how to get sober and stay sober, please read on.
Is it the last house on the block?
There is a saying in AA and NA that the 12-step group was the last house on the block. What does this mean? It means that the person who is sharing tried everything else available to them to get sober. They may have tried medicine, psychiatry, psychology, church, and a variety of different tricks and methods to help them stop. If you are sitting in a meeting in a state of desperation and hopelessness, you may relate to this statement. You feel as if you have tried everything, and nothing worked. You tried drinking or using drugs on the weekends only. Maybe, you kept a written diary of your drinking. Or, you may have decided only to drink a certain kind of alcohol.
Is it the last chair in the last room?
There is another saying in 12-step meetings that takes the last-house-on-the-block saying a step further. Some people will share that they are sitting in the last chair in the last room in the last house on the block. This statement emphasizes that they believe that they have tried everything possible. It may also imply that groups and institutions have shunned them—their resistance to change and giving up drinking led to the burning of many bridges.
Have you tried everything to get clean and sober?
While the dramatic sayings and slogans that you will hear in meetings can give you chills when you listen to them, are they valid for you? Have you tried everything? Did you see a psychologist? If that psychologist didn’t help, did you look for another one? Did you seek a second opinion? When your doctor gave you a look of not understanding your situation, what did you do? Did you search for another doctor that might be more specialized in the field of alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder? Even doctors in the area of addiction treatment can get things wrong. It doesn’t mean that you have tried everything.
Peer support groups can help.
While I may seem to be steering you away from these support groups, such as 12-step and non-12-step meetings, I am not. I would give the same advice when it comes to such groups. If you have a terrible experience, you do not have to think that the whole organization is wrong or cannot help you. Maybe you just went to a group that is not right for you. Or, perhaps they were not having their best night.
Beware of meeting hijackers.
When you go to a meeting in a free fellowship that is open to the public without professional moderation, there is some risk of hijacked meetings. What does this mean? There are people who, for whatever reason, will take over the meeting. They may talk for too long. Or, they may share a graphic story of their alcohol or drug use that makes you feel uncomfortable. Even worse, they may say hurtful and inappropriate things that make you wish you never left your house that evening. These are meeting hijackers. They could be angry people that want to hurt others with their words. Or, they may have a mental health condition that causes them to behave this way in open forums. Another possibility is that they like the sound of their voice and can fill any amount of time with endless talk. People like this thrive in meetings.
Imagine being in a meeting where you feel that you must get something off your chest. Then, in the last fifteen minutes of the meeting, an old-timer member decides to fill up all of the remaining time. They go on, repeating the same old ramblings that they share at every single meeting. You realize that you are the victim of a meeting hijacker. You walk out of that meeting with a sick, sinking feeling. What do you do? Some people would use this as an excuse to never go back to meetings. They may even use it as an excuse to drink again.
Fortunately, many meetings continue after the session is over. Some members may call it the “meeting after the meeting” or the “meeting in the parking lot.” After the meeting, you should be able to find one or more people you can share with one on one. You do not have to go home angry or frustrated. In having these after-meeting conversations, you may make new connections, new friends, and you may find where and when the right meetings are for you.
I would like to know how to get sober.
While 12-step programs and meetings alone work for some people, you will likely benefit from a combination of approaches. Going to an AA meeting does not have to be the only thing you do or the first thing you do. If you find that you are starting to drink too much and your drinking may be getting out of hand, it is time to make some changes. There is more than one way to get sober.
There is more than one way to do it.
Have you ever heard of the acronym, TMTOWTDI? It comes from the community surrounding the PERL computer programming language, invented by the brilliant Larry Wall. Interestingly, Larry started his career as a linguist and evangelist who planned to travel to Africa with his wife and create writing systems for unwritten languages so he could translate texts into those languages, including the Bible. Instead, Larry went to work for Nasa’s JPL and eventually became famous in the world of programming for creating the PERL language. When the internet first became known to the general population through the World Wide Web, the PERL language was the glue that held much of it together. One of the fundamental principals of PERL is that there should always be more than one way to do something. Supporting different approaches to problem-solving makes sense. Collections of problems are different for various people. The wiring of our brains is unique, and we all see the world from different perspectives. If we force everyone to follow the same path of recovery, it is not going to work as well or at all for some people. We may think of computer programming as a dull science and technology topic, but, as you can see, we can learn from the brilliance and creativity of the members of that community.
How do I make changes to get sober?
First, ask yourself why you drink in the first place. Is it for social reasons? Some people are in circles of friends where it is customary to have a few drinks when they get together. Others are in a lifestyle pattern of going to parties or nightclubs. In a noisy party situation, you may feel peer pressure to drink. You may also think that drinking treats the social anxiety that you feel in such a setting. In planning to get sober, you may even consider the possibility of controlling your drinking with the goal of complete sobriety over some time. The Sinclair Method (TSM) is a medication-assisted treatment option for treating alcohol use disorder that involves a non-addicting medication taken before drinking. If you are following TSM, you will have your tablet one hour before your first drink. Then, you will limit yourself to that one drink. It is called “pharmacological extinction.” It is a way of reprogramming the brain to no longer get rewarded for the feeling associated with drinking alcohol. It may work for other drug addictions and even for binge eating. Why is TSM not recommended by more doctors? That is a good question. When we are fighting in a war against epidemic drug and alcohol use, we need to be open-minded and look at a variety of possibilities. TSM is more widely used in other countries, where scientists have studied it for decades, yet is still rarely used by US doctors.
Change your perspective to change your drinking.
At this point, you may take a step back and look at the drinking patterns in your life. No one needs to drink alcohol for any reason. Alcohol is nothing more than a legalized drug. If there was legal heroin or cocaine, would that make it a good idea to use them? Not only is alcohol a drug, but it also happens to be one of the most destructive drugs that people use. You decide to drink or not drink. If you feel pressure from certain people in your life to drink, it is time to learn to be assertive. If you say no and they continue to pressure you, then these may be toxic people. You do not need toxic people in your life. What about clubs and parties? If these social situations make you uncomfortable, you may choose to avoid them altogether. For most people, these are unnecessary. You don’t have to go out to a noisy bar where you can’t hear yourself talk, surrounded by people who make you uncomfortable. If your work requires meetings in bar settings, consider working towards a new career, where you have more control over your social activities outside of work.
What if my friends keep pressuring me to drink?
Are these people indeed your friends? What are their motivations to pressure you to drink? Are they trying to hold you back from success? Some people enjoy watching their friends fail in life. You don’t need friends like that. You may even find that your family pressures you to drink. The same advice goes for family members. If you have asserted yourself to your family that you do not choose to drink, that should be the end of it. Family is a flexible term that does not have to be your blood relatives.
You can build a new family and healthy relationships.
As you change your focus to staying sober and not drinking or drinking less, you will start to meet people who are focused on sobriety. People who are better suited to be part of your family and support network may have always been there. It is merely a matter of changing your perspective and focus. Just by changing the people who you surround yourself with can make all of the difference. There is a saying that you are the average of the five people who are closest to you. Your success in life depends on your secure network of success-minded people who support you in your success.
Now is the time to get physically active to help you stay clean and sober.
What does it mean to be physically active? Do you have to join a gym? While joining a gym and going at least a few days a week is not a bad idea, you can be physically active in many other ways. The most basic and possibly, the best form of exercise and physical activity is walking. While walking may sound mundane, it is not. Taking long walks is the foundation of success for many of the most successful people in history. Whether you walk alone or with a good friend, you can breathe in the outside fresh air. You can observe nature and many fascinating sites. Walking and being aware of your surroundings can be a form of meditation. As you walk, try focusing on a particular sound in your environment. It could be a singing or chirping bird. Or, it may even be construction machinery or the sound of the wind blowing through the trees. Let your mind clear as you listen to that sound and feel the fresh breeze as you walk forward. If it is cold, you can focus on the feeling of cold against your skin. If it is sunny, feel the warmth of the sun as you walk. Of course, be careful to protect yourself against the elements! So, walking is not only the best and safest form of exercise for most people, but it is also a great way to reset and recharge your batteries, preparing for getting back to the daily activities of your life. You can also have great conversations if you walk with a friend. Walking can even be a forum for business. Some of the biggest business deals in history started with a walk and a conversation between two business leaders. The best way to get sober is to follow a program that includes daily walking for exercise.
Physical activity can be a musical activity.
Do you play a musical instrument? Did you ever play an instrument? Even if it has been many years since you picked up your musical instrument, now is a great time to practice again. It is like riding a bicycle. You can practice and get good enough to enjoy playing in a short time. For example, I played trumpet in the 7th grade. After decades of not touching a horn, I am confident that I could play a scale and a few simple songs if I were to pick one up.
What about musical composition?
Are you a composer? While you may know how to read and write music, you can still enjoy musical composition if you do not. To create music, all you need is an instrument and a recording device. Your recording studio could be as simple as your voice and your phone with a recording app. Alternatively, you may have a computer setup with music software and an attached musical keyboard or beat pads. There is something about the creation of new music that is deeply satisfying. You are expressing yourself emotionally through music, and you are also creating an audible work of art to share with people close to you. Social media is a great place to share your musical creations with your friends.
Video production is a fun way to create.
Video production goes hand-in-hand with musical composition. Imagine that you want to share your music with your friends and the world. Online social media platforms are more aligned with sharing a video than an audio recording. One way to share music through video is to use a video creation program that allows you to combine stock video with your music. You can create short one-minute compositions and add appropriate video with fancy transition effects. Then, you can post the video on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Tik Tok, among others. Maybe your audio/video creations will lead to a new career!
You can express yourself through graphic arts.
Do you like to draw or paint? What about creating art on a tablet or computer? Whatever medium you prefer, you can express your feelings through your creativity and also have the fulfillment of producing new works of art. Again, like music and video, graphic artwork can be shared with your friends and the public through social media. When it comes to Instagram, visual artwork is ideal for building a social media following. There is something spiritual about the act of creating something new in the world. Creating art and music can support your efforts if you are trying to get sober and stay sober. The best way to get sober is to follow a program that includes filling your days with creative activities.
Get a job to stay sober.
If you are unemployed and spending a lot of time sitting on the couch watching TV, you may not be doing your best to stay sober. Keeping busy is essential when it comes to staying sober. When looking for a job, be sure to find one that supports your sobriety and does not undermine it. For example, working as a bartender or server in a bar is not a great idea if you are trying to stay sober. Ideally, working with sober people who support your goals will be best. Going into work for a full eight-hour day, five days a week, will at keep you busy. You will have less time to obsess over having a drink.
Create a brand and a company.
While starting with a job is a great idea, you may want to build a new brand and business in the long term. If you are enjoying creating music or art or making things such as websites or other creative activities, you can create a business out of it. If this is of interest to you, don’t forget to learn about marketing and building a brand identity. Remember, you do not have to find this overwhelming or do it all at once. Take it a step at a time. You may find it helpful to take some online classes or even work with a coach. It may seem like a long and slow process, but if you keep working on it, one day, you will look back at what you have created with satisfaction. Creating a business can give you peace of mind, security, and freedom. And, it keeps you busy enough not to have time to drink. You must also always remember that it is your sobriety that makes creating great things in life possible. When you go back to drinking, you risk destroying everything that you have worked hard to build.
How can I stay cool and calm in stressful situations?
No matter what you do, life will present you with stressful situations that will test your resolve. When the stress is significant enough to make you feel trapped and powerless, you may get the overwhelming urge to have a drink again. While you must do your best to maintain sobriety, relapses do happen and are part of the condition of alcohol use disorder and substance use disorder. If you do relapse, remember that all is not lost. Get back on track as soon as possible to minimize physical damage and setbacks in your life. Of course, it will be best to avoid relapse in the first place. Getting to know yourself and know what your triggers are and when they present themselves. Then, you can prepare ahead of time to stop the progression of relapse before it even begins. Making critical changes in your life will help you to stay calm and centered. Learn to say no when people ask you to do things that lead you in a direction that will add stress to your life. You can learn to deal with triggers and live better and safer. If you want to know how to become sober, learn more about yourself, and what triggers you to use alcohol or drugs again.
What do I do about my past mistakes?
Part of the 12-step process is dealing with the wreckage of the past. However, you do not have to work the 12 steps to fix your past mistakes. In many cases, there is nothing to do other than let time pass while you work to build a better life for yourself. Alcohol and drug addiction is a health condition and not a moral failing. You may feel that you need to make amends to people for past actions to help rid your conscience of guilt. In some situations, people in your life should be making amends to you. How did your family and loved-ones treat you while you suffered from a health condition? However, forgiveness is an essential spiritual principle of healing. Forgiving others and learning to be grateful for the good things in your life will make a big difference in helping you to feel calm, centered, happy, and fulfilled in your life. Forgiveness and gratitude are part of learning how to become sober.
How can I find balance in my life?
If you have worked on the things I have already discussed here, you are well on your way to finding balance. Another recommendation is to start practicing meditation. How do you learn how to meditate? You can go into formal training for a particular discipline of meditation. Or, you can simply dedicate quiet time at specific times throughout the day to sit quietly without interruption and allow your thoughts to pass by without entertaining them or obsessing over them. If there is a quiet and peaceful place outside where you can sit, on a bench in a garden, for example, that can help. Or, just find a quiet place to close your eyes and relax. An essential part of learning how to get clean is learning to meditate.
Most importantly, you must not be interruptable during meditation sessions. Make this clear to people around you that meditation is an integral part of your life. You may discover that some people in your life are toxic to your sobriety if you are not allowed even a few minutes to yourself to meditate each day.
How can I avoid having a relapse with alcohol or drugs?
Avoiding relapse is as easy as not putting a drink or drug in your hand. In recovery, people call using drugs or drinking, “picking up.” You can think of this literally as picking up a drink or drug with your hand. Once it is in your hand, you may be beyond hope of stopping yourself. Yet, if you never pick up a drink or drug, you will not use it. You may think that this is an oversimplification, but it can be helpful to think of relapse in this simple, concrete manner. Going further, you can design your life in such a way that access to drugs and alcohol is difficult and even nearly impossible. You can create barriers in your life, in the form of new habits. For example, you may have developed the habit of reaching for a drink whenever you are in a stressful situation. Over time, you can develop a new and healthier habit of calling a supportive friend first. Once you are past the impulse of wanting a drink, you will have a chance to think about the consequences. With time and practice, you can build up your defenses against relapse. Avoiding relapse is a critical part of how to get sober and stay sober.
How do I manage urges to drink or get high?
One of the best ways to get past cravings and urges for drugs and alcohol is to allow time to pass in your recovery. While it may be harmful to obsess too much over clean time, clean time is essential. For physiological reasons, staying clean gives your brain and body time to heal and recover. Urges and cravings will diminish naturally over time. You can also make an effort to eat healthy foods. Proper nutrition and supplements can speed up the recovery of your brain and body. If you want to know how to get clean, start by putting down alcohol and drugs and then by eating healthy foods.
Additionally, going to therapy can help you to learn more about yourself and develop tools to address urges. Therapy is an essential component of recovery from addiction. I recommend looking for a doctor of psychology who has credentials in addiction treatment. In treatment, you may also address issues from your childhood. Your therapist will guide you through this journey of self-discovery. You will learn how to heal from emotional injuries of the past.
How to get sober and stay sober is an individual process that will be different for each human being.
We are all different. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Some people will do their best to stop drinking altogether. Other people will find that medical treatment, such as TSM, can help them to control their drinking. There are a variety of support programs as well. From the Christian non-12-step program, “Celebrate Recovery,” to the science-based “Smart Recovery,” there are many options for support meetings. There is also LifeRing, as well as many varieties of AA-based 12-step programs. There are detox facilities and rehabs as well as The Sinclair Method that involves medication-assisted treatment to reduce drinking. Now, we even have FDA-authorized phone apps to provide cognitive behavioral therapy. This new technology is known as Prescription Digital Therapeutics. Beyond these peer support programs and medical treatments, there is a whole world of healthy activities that will help to support your recovery. As you progress, you will discover what works best for you. Going forward, you can create a life of happiness and long-term sobriety.