It’s tough enough trying to stay clean and sober if you have a loving family to support you, but not all of us in recovery are so fortunate. If you’re flying solo in recovery, how to stay on the right path is something that you’re probably eager to know. Here, we talk about some of the ways that can make the transition a bit easier. You’re Never Totally Alone First of all, you need to know one thing: You’re never totally alone, whether you have someone at home waiting for you or not. Think this is a stretch? It isn’t, actually, since you can always take advantage of the ready-made “family” of your peers at 12-step group meetings. Okay, so maybe you feel like this is a bunch of strangers, people you’ve never before met or even wanted to meet, given that they’re associated with something you’d much rather forget about – addiction recovery. But think about it. Who would you rather be around when you’re experiencing doubts and anxiety about what to do in this newfound life of sobriety than people who know exactly what it feels like because they’ve been there themselves? The truth is that you need support and encouragement – and your therapist or counselor, even if you still have access to one – isn’t around 24/7. You need help sometimes in the middle of the night – and who better to listen to your troubles and help steer you on the right path rather than your 12-step sponsor? Of course, you have to go to the 12-step meetings and you have to get someone to serve as your sponsor, but that isn’t so difficult. For now, just keep in mind that there are other individuals who, just like you, have struggled through the early days of recovery. They are committed to helping you achieve your goal of abstinence and to be there to support and encourage your own journey of recovery. To-do list: Find where there are 12-step group meetings in your area. Look up the support group pertinent to your type of addiction recovery online. Learn where and when the groups meet. Then, get busy and start going to meetings. It’s a simple and easy as that. Don’t worry that you’re the “new person” in the rooms. Everyone there was once in the same position. It only takes a time or two in the rooms to start to feel at home. And, believe it or not, when you’re flying solo in recovery, learning how to stay on the right path is a whole lot easier with understanding friends surrounding you. Keep Yourself Busy You’ve heard the old saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” right? Well, you don’t have to be religious or even believe in the devil to find the wisdom beneath these words. Let’s stretch the concept a bit to include the idle hours that give our minds time to wander back to thoughts of using, to engage our attention and focus it on those rose-colored memories of how great it felt to get high. In just a few minutes of such musings, you can find yourself in a heap of trouble. Pretty soon it will go beyond just reminiscing about the past to wanting to do something to relive it. Next thing you know, you’re out the door and on your way to scoring your drug of choice, to spend your last dime on gambling, or compulsive shopping, or to engage in whatever other process addiction you’ve worked so hard to overcome. One solution that has worked for so many is to keep yourself busy. When you’re actively involved in taking care of yourself, tending to your recovery-oriented tasks, learning something new, even meeting with friends and associates in a non-threatening environment, you’re less likely to veer off into the areas of temptation. After all, you’ve come a long way just to arrive at this point where you are clean and sober, perhaps for the first time in many months or years. Why throw it all away now because you’ve allowed yourself to have too much time on your hands with nothing to do? There’s always something you can be doing, so no excuses here about not knowing what to do. Pick up a book on getting over cravings and urges. Go see a movie that’s uplifting and gives you something to think about. Invite a friend out to dinner. Get involved in a sport or recreational activity where you can meet new people with whom you may become friends. If you’re still stumped as to what to do to keep yourself busy, sit down with a pen and paper (or make a list on the computer) of things that you like to do, or once enjoyed, and figure out when and where you can get involved in those types of activities again. The sooner you do this, the better it will be for you. Why is that? You want to have something to look forward to each day, and having a schedule that includes not only your 12-step meetings and other recovery-oriented tasks on it but also something fun and entertaining, maybe even instructive, will add another dimension to your day and keep you busy as well. What About Those Endless Nights? Granted, you can’t keep busy day and night. At some point, you have to go to sleep, or at least, try to. What about those nights that seem to stretch on forever and you can’t force yourself to sleep? What if you find yourself plagued night after night with horrific nightmares, or toss and turn because of anxiety, doubts and fears about your ability to stay the course in recovery? Remember the earlier mention about your 12-step sponsor? It’s not out of line for you to get in touch with your sponsor, even if it is in the wee hours, but especially if you’re so bad off that you’re afraid that you’ll use again. That’s what your sponsor is there for, to help keep you on the right track. Of course, you’ll try not to overdo it, calling at all hours every night. If you’ve got this much trouble falling and staying asleep, you should probably visit your doctor. If anxiety is keeping you tied up in knots, you may need to go for some additional counseling or therapy. Try discussing how to handle sleepless nights in the 12-step rooms or talk about it in private with some of the group members with whom you’ve found something in common. Again, most people in recovery have had their own experiences with this unpleasant aspect of early recovery. They may have some suggestions that you can try, or at least experiment with, to come up with something healthy that works for you. Time is Your Friend As long as we’re on the subject of time, there’s another point that’s worth mentioning. You need to recognize that time is your best ally. By this we mean that you will get stronger and more confident in your abilities to do what you need to for your recovery the longer you are involved in such actions. It takes time to reach this level of self-confidence, however. You can’t expect to achieve it overnight. The key is to have goals that you are motivated to achieve and then craft plans that you then actively work toward completing. Each step of the way brings you closer to your goals, and every goal achieved helps boost your self-confidence, adds to your self-esteem, and gets you past that awkward and sometimes frightening first few months of recovery. When you are flying solo in recovery, having a blueprint that you can follow, and allowing yourself the adequate amount of time to get where you want to go can make all the difference in the world. Figuring Out the Path Whenever you hear someone talk about the paths of recovery, do you wonder what particular paths they’re referring to? The truth is that there are many paths of recovery. There isn’t one that’s better than another, so there are no value judgments that apply. Whatever path that works for you is the right path for you to follow. It may very well be that you’ll try a number of different paths to get where you want to be in recovery, but that doesn’t mean that any of your effort is wasted. Just because you start along one direction and find that it isn’t conducive to your long-term sobriety or that it doesn’t give you the results you’re looking for doesn’t mean that there’s any harm in switching directions and doing something else. This is called trial and error, and it’s the key to the successful solution to any problem. Likely as not when you are just entering recovery, but especially if you are doing so on your own, you’re really not sure where to turn. You may have a lot of conflicting thoughts, ambiguous goals, and maybe even no goals to speak of. This is okay, too. Many newcomers to the rooms go through this kind of doubt-ridden period to begin with. Suffice to say, it does get easier to manage over time. What you need to do in the meantime is remind yourself that this is your choice, and that you’ve committed to sobriety and will do what it takes to maintain it. Get help to stay on track with your goals and your commitment. When Will You Know You’re Okay? A lot of newcomers to sobriety wonder when they’ll know that they’re okay, that they’ve made it and won’t have to worry about relapse. Well, that is the million-dollar-question, isn’t it? If any of us had the answer to that, we’d be set for life. Think of the book deals, the TV appearances and public acclaim, not to mention being recognized in the history books as the first person to come up with this “end to addiction.” Here’s the sobering reality: You live recovery day by day. You will always be in recovery, but that doesn’t mean that you need to deprive yourself of happiness or success or whatever else you have as your goals. Just because you choose to live a life of sobriety doesn’t make you any less of a person. You are whom you choose to be. You’re just a sober version of that, a better person for making the life-affirming decision to embrace recovery. Getting to the heart of the matter, however, what you really want to know is when will it get a little easier? When will the cravings and urges cease? When will you be able to look close friends or those whom you’ve harmed by your addiction in the face and not feel guilty or ashamed? When will you be able to craft action plans toward achieving your goals and be able to devote your energies to fulfilling them? More to the point, when will you be able to look at yourself in the mirror and like what you see? This is the true test, isn’t it? This is how you’ll know that you’re at least on the right path, the personal path for you alone that means you’re doing what’s best for you. All that we can say for sure is that if you keep working your recovery, continue to participate in the 12-step groups, get a sponsor and start working the Twelve Steps, and give yourself a sufficient amount of time to become grounded in the Principles of Recovery, you will start seeing a friendly face looking back at you from the mirror. It won’t be a stranger peering out at you like it was when you first got clean and sober. But it will take time. You have to be ready to accept that. You also need to do one other thing: Forgive yourself. This is huge, and not every individual who comes into recovery is quite able to grasp the reason why it is so necessary. Not only that, but so many of us carry along with us a great burden of guilt and shame over what we’ve done that has brought harm to others. In the course of making our amends to those whom we’ve hurt, wherever and whenever possible, we may find that they forgive us, but we’re still incapable of forgiving ourselves. Unless and until we do forgive ourselves, however, we’ll remain somewhat hampered, held back a bit in our forward progress. This doesn’t mean that we’ll come to a standstill or that our efforts to make improvement won’t bear fruit. It just means that we have to work on forgiving ourselves a little longer. We’ll get there, but in our own time. Live in the Present While we’re on the subject of time, keep in mind that it does you absolutely no good to worry about the past or the future. What’s past is dead and gone and, while you do need to own up to your responsibility for what you’ve done in the past, the fact is that you don’t live in the past. What you do today, here and now, is what counts. Similarly, you shouldn’t waste your time fretting over what you may or may not be able to accomplish in the future. All you can do to insure that the future is what you want is to take action today. It can’t be stressed enough that you only live in the present. It is impossible to live in either the past or the future. Once you recognize that the present is what life is, it becomes a lot easier to begin managing your path to recovery. Acknowledge Your Successes Here’s a final tip that will prove immensely beneficial when you are trying to navigate recovery on your own. Take note of the successes that you rack up along your unique path of recovery. These are the signposts that let you know you’re doing what’s right for you to help you maintain your sobriety. The successes don’t have to be major to be worthwhile. In fact, if it means that you’ve completed what you set out to do, then it counts as a success. Whether that is getting through one day – today – without resorting to picking up a drink or going out to score drugs or it is you six-month anniversary of being clean and sober, it’s all a success. And you need to give yourself the appropriate credit for achieving the successes, one day at a time. Bottom line: When you are flying solo in recovery, learning how to stay on the right path is something that you can, indeed do. Hopefully, these tips will make it a little easier to get started in your new life of sobriety.