10 Tips for Living Drug, Alcohol, Smoke-Free: What Works for Me
You Don't Have to Be a Slave to Your Addictions
Are drugs, alcohol or cigarettes ruling your life? Have you tried quitting only to pick back up again—even though you really, really want to stop? Stop beating yourself up. You are not a failure. You're an addict.
A healthier, craving-free life awaits you. Here are 10 ideas to get you on and keep you on the road to recovery.
If I can do it, you can do it—I promise!
Tip #1: Accept Help
It doesn't matter if you're a meth addict or a pill-popper, a binge drinker or bottle hider, smoke three packs a day or six joints a day. The chances of kicking your habit on your own—and sticking with it—are slim at best. It is extremely difficult to fight true addiction with sheer willpower. It's a physiological and psychological craving—it's not always practical to "just say no."
But you've probably already figured that out. So now what?
If you have an honest, trusting relationship with your healthcare provider, mention to them that you're trying to quit. Many health plans offer smoking cessation and chemical dependency programs.
You'll also want to check out how other people—who have been through the struggle just like you—live drug or alcohol-free. Go to an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting. They're free and have no obligation. The members will welcome you with open arms and share everything you need to know. Peer-to-peer support is incredibly powerful and effective.
Tip #2: Do Whatever It Takes
You likely didn't develop your habit overnight, so don't expect to break it overnight either. It takes time, patience, and work. Yes, work. You need to be committed to changing yourself.
If at first, you don't succeed, try something different. For some people, attending 12-Step (AA or NA) meetings is enough. However, many sufferers require more help. You can try an outpatient program where you take classes to learn about yourself and addiction. These programs will test you to make sure you're not using between sessions. For some people, this level of accountability is sufficient.
For others, an inpatient rehabilitation (aka rehab) is needed. These 30, 60 or 90-day programs immerse you in the recovery process. One to three months in a drug/alcohol-free environment can be a great way to jumpstart your clean and sober life.
If you're trying to put down the cancer sticks, there are different schools of thought. Some people advocate going cold turkey for best results. But, then again, not everyone is the same. That's why they make nicotine patches and gum! There's even a smoker's anonymous group. If one method doesn't work for you, try a different one.
Tip #3: Change Your Attitude
Those irresistible cravings will go away in time. To keep them at bay and keep yourself safe from relapsing into old behaviors, you'll need to change your mindset from "addict" to "in recovery." As you learn about the reasons behind your addiction, you will discover some very interesting things about, not just yourself, but other addicts as well. This is why accepting help from others who have walked the path before you really works.
Changing your attitude serves two purposes. First, your relationship to your drug(s) of choice will shift. They will stop being the center of your universe. You'll stop romancing and depending on it to get you through the day. You'll start viewing it as poison—lethal and disgusting.
At the same time, your attitude about yourself and your place in the world—including what the world owes you or has or hasn't done to/for you—will evolve. The process of giving up an addiction is actually a process of "getting." You get a positive outlook—an outlook you likely haven't felt since you started using, if ever.
Tip #4: Change Your Playground
So much of recovery is about breaking routines as well as actual habits. I bet you've worn a groove in the route to your local liquor store or favorite bar. You know exactly where your connection lives or hangs around. If you continue to go to your old haunts, you're putting a lot of undue pressure on yourself. Why tempt fate? Take a different route home from work so you don't pass your usual supplier.
So what about your home? Obviously, you'll want to cleanse your home of anything and everything that might trigger a relapse. It's not uncommon for newly sober people to move from rehab into a transitional sober living situation to give themselves a stronger foundation before going "back there." It's usually not necessary to relocate, but it's an option if your home environment is just too toxic.
A note about smoking. Over time, as your eyes, nose, and throat become sensitized, you'll realize what others around you have been complaining about. It's a good idea to ban smoking in your home and car and seek out smoke-free environments to support your recovery.
Tip #5: Change Your Playmates
The decision to live without alcohol, drugs, or smoking is a selfish one—but selfish in the best possible way. It means you are serious about taking care of yourself and your health.
It also means you are going to have some weeding out to do. Some old "friends" will naturally fall by the wayside. When the main thing you have in common with someone is getting loaded, and one of you stops getting loaded, what's left? Nothing. If you're used to hanging with a hard-drinking crowd, you will suddenly notice they're not nearly as entertaining when they're slipping into silliness while you're sober.
Believe it or not, some people may not support your new lifestyle. They may not like the "new you" and seek to sabotage your efforts. Many people don't quite understand addiction and recovery and may (even naively) offer you your old favorite. "Just one drink won't hurt you!" Actually, it can. These people may or may not mean well. Regardless, you can't let their ignorance or ulterior motives get under your skin.
Can you realistically "fire" every person from your old life? Obviously, that's impractical. But successful people in recovery end any toxic relationships and replace them with a support system of clean and sober friends.
Tip #6: Feel Your Feelings
So you've cleaned out your body and are feeling pretty good. You've cut ties with the old gang and made new friends to support you in your new life. That part's all good.
But, after numbing your feelings for years with drugs/alcohol, you've forgotten what they feel like. Re-experiencing true happiness, joy, sadness, grief, frustration—whatever it is—can be unnerving at first. Accept them and experience them fully. Don't worry. You'll get used to it!
Tip #7: Revel in Your Relationships
Tip #5 advised you to get rid of unhealthy relationships, but there will be other relationships—family, friends, bosses, coworkers, teammates, neighbors, even strangers—with whom the opposite is true.
As a clean/sober person, you get to "reinvent" yourself in the eyes of people you care about (and have probably hurt). Focus on being the best "you" you can be every day by being kind, helpful, and generous. As you find yourself more engaged with other people, you'll discover you're much better able to deal with conflicts and problems. This is an example of an area where the "selfishness" of recovery leads to becoming more selfless.
Tip #8: Do Things—Even Amazing Things
Think about all the energy you used to devote to your addiction. Planning, thinking about, buying, hiding, lying, using, recovering from using. That's a lot of wasted time and effort.
Take away the alcohol, drugs, and smokes and you find yourself with a lot of extra time, energy, and money on your hands! I bet you once had interests that you gave up (to some degree, if not totally) because of your addiction. I bet there's at least one dream you'd love to pursue.
With a clear mind and cleansed body, you can rise to a new level of personal excellence. It's not uncommon to take up new hobbies, change careers, or go back to school. On a daily basis, you'll find opportunities for accomplishment where you once found frustration and failure.
Tip #9: H.A.L.T. and Be Gentle With Yourself
It's all too easy to get trapped in guilt, shame, and remorse. With all these feelings flooding back, you may be tempted to feel like a failure or a bad person. You are NOT a bad person, and you are anything but a failure! You are a miracle!
People overcoming addiction have escaped the clutches of a progressive, fatal illness. If you had survived cancer or a heart attack, would you beat yourself up for getting sick in the first place? Of course not.
It is important to stay in touch with your body and your feelings. If you start to feel restless, unsettled, or angry with no obvious provocation, H.A.L.T.—Never let yourself get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired.
Trust me, it's much better to tend to these simple physical and emotional needs than to risk relapsing.
Tip #10: Celebrate Each Day, but Don't Get Cocky
Recovery is a combination of carrots and sticks. There will be days when you feel great and love life. There will be days when everything seems to challenge your sanity. That's perfectly normal. You're human!
The key to living without your former crutches is to recognize that both good and bad days are good for your growth in recovery. However, both days are potentially dangerous if you don't stay vigilant.
Remember, you're dealing with a foe that's cunning, baffling, powerful, persuasive, and extraordinarily patient. You may feel like you've got the tiger by the tail, but if you let down your guard even momentarily, that tiger will pounce.
Happy occasions are just as likely to invite relapse as stressful situations. But as long as you keep your guard up and don't allow yourself to be seduced into thinking you're "cured"—you're not, yet—you'll be fine.
If at First You Don't Succeed
You're definitely not alone. Very few people recover—or quit smoking—on their first try. Don't despair. Go back to Tip #1 and ask for help. Recommit yourself to trying again. As they say in AA meetings: "Keep coming back, it works!"