The key to staying sober is learning how to live in the moment. Almost every single relapse story I’ve heard began with, “Well, I got bored…”
For us, boredom can be a fatal mistake. When the average guy gets bored and wants to drink, he has 2 or 3 beers and gets on with life.
When we do the same, we wake up the next morning in a psychological torture chamber with no guarantee of escape. There’s no threat to recovery like an idle, unstimulated mind.
But there’s a positive flipside: It’s impossible to relapse if you never make time for it. Relapse might begin with subconscious trickery, but unless someone holds a gun to your head, it always involves a series of conscious thoughts and actions that you have the power to crowd out ahead of time.
If you’re where I once was, you might be thinking, “But what about the cravings?!” If you follow the advice in this article, your cravings will absolutely disappear over time. Trust me, the cravings do in fact go away.
Immersing yourself in your work or life’s purpose is a necessity. Even if your work now isn’t your life’s purpose, it might turn out to be an indispensable means to that end.
Joe Manganiello explains in Evolution that he stayed sober and salvaged his spirit with hard physical labor: “I still thought my dream of an acting career was over, but in the meantime, I was going to become the greatest shoveler, cement mixer, and jackhammer operator of all time.” He eventually got back into acting and made it big, but this period of his life made success possible by keeping him away from the bottle when he was most vulnerable to relapse.
Of course, most people who relapse tend to do so in their off hours. Always have a bucket list of things to do, especially in your leisure time. Write down all the things you haven’t done in life that you want to do, and then dedicate all of your spare moments to doing those things.
Perhaps you’ve always wanted to visit a certain museum or check out a hiking trail. Who cares if you have to drive two hours to get there? A long drive is infinitely more therapeutic than watching TV shows and browsing social media. Have you ever felt fulfilled after spending an afternoon perusing Instagram?
Perhaps there’s an article of clothing you can’t afford that you want to own one day. Don’t feel ashamed of this. Go try it on and then devise a plan to make the money that you’ll need to purchase it. Nothing is too ridiculous or “out there” – the very act of doing can save you from fatal boredom.
As Dale Carnegie puts it in his classic book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living: “The worried person must lose himself in action, lest he wither in despair.”
Taking action is the secret to warding off the worry and despair that pave the way for relapse. I do everything for a reason and I don’t second guess my actions after the fact.
My favorite Dale Carnegie quote is this: “Today is the tomorrow that you worried about yesterday.” Recovery can fill you with worry, but worrying is a choice. Your mind can only focus on one thing at a time. You won’t have time to worry about tomorrow if you’ve given yourself enough possibilities to explore today.
As the title of this site implies, working out is a fantastic way to spend time. But if you lift heavy like I do, you’ll have nothing left after an hour of intense training. You need to imbue all of your actions with the same purpose and positivity that you bring to the gym. Life is as exciting as you make it, so be ballsy and have fun.
When Does Sobriety Get Boring?
Sobriety can become boring fairly early in recovery, but this will vary for everyone. Again, the key here is to not give yourself time to be bored.
Is Boredom a Cause of Relapse?
When you haven’t learned to control your emotions and keep yourself active with things you enjoy, boredom can certainly be a contributing factor to relapse (or falling off the wagon).
12 Ways to Kill Boredom in Recovery
Here are twelve ways I’ve found to keep boredom at bay during my off days:
1) Cook a Huge, Elaborate Meal
Who cares if you can’t eat it all – you’ll have food for days or happy roommates, just make sure they pay for it. Knowing how to cook makes you self-sufficient, saves you money, and keeps you from habitually stuffing down 1500 calories at Chipotle.
Lately my two favorite cooking resources are Michael Symon’s Carnivore and Pat Conroy’s cookbook. You can make a lot of recipes healthier by making common sense substitutions, like using grass fed butter instead of sweet cream butter, brown rice instead of white rice, and plain greek yogurt instead of sour cream.
2) De-Clutter Your Living Area
Even if you’re not as compulsive as I am, you’ll find that reducing clutter clears your mind and enhances your creativity. Keep important documents in a locked box or filing cabinet and get rid of those corny notes from your exes.
Discovering the Chinese principles of feng shui can help you simplify your living space.
3) Hot/Cold Hydrotherapy
If you’re in a funk (or if you smell a funk), jump in the shower and alternate between hot and very cold water. Research shows that “hydrotherapy” may improve circulation and help balance neurotransmitters like serotonin. I always feel reenergized, reinvigorated, and calm after taking a hot/cold shower or using a steam room with a cold shower in it.
If you prefer the steam room method but don’t have your own, there’s a solution…
4) Create Your Own Steam Room or Sauna
To make your own steam room, make sure your bathroom is as cold as possible and then close all doors and windows. Run hot water for a few minutes and use some eucalyptus spray to enhance the experience. Sit in your shower or on your toilet and enjoy.
For a temporary outdoor sauna, you’ll want to heat up rocks over a fire, put up a camping tent, and then carefully transport the rocks into the tent and spray some water on them. This could be an article in itself but there are plenty of online tutorials.
5) Create a Tea Stash
Since I’m no longer an amateur mixologist, I’ve transferred that creative enthusiasm into the realm of both herbal and naturally caffeinated tea. I have a tea blend for every possible mood I’m in, and I highly recommend getting familiar with herbs.
Hibiscus and linden flower are useful in relieving bad moods. If I’m trying to read before bed and need some non-caffeinated energy, I’ll use South African Rooibos. I’ll take being a wise old herbalist over being a batshit drunk mixologist any day of the week.
6) Get into Green Juice
Juicing is an effective way to get phytonutrients and if you can afford fresh produce, it’s definitely worth the effort. Most fruits and vegetables have benefits that go far beyond the vitamins on typical food labels. I don’t know whether it’s a placebo effect or whether juicing is a mood-enhancing panacea, but I always feel better after I drink some green juice.
7) Create a Meditation Space
If you enjoy meditating, collect a few objects to facilitate the mood and to remind yourself that it’s part of your routine. I’ve meditated almost every day for 20 minutes since I kicked booze. In my bedroom, I have a sort of shrine with a Buddha statue, himalayan salt lamp, and a few plants. It’s peaceful and definitely enhances the overall mood of my room.
8) Actively Meditate in Nature
Active meditation is best done outside, since it involves looking at your surroundings and describing them to yourself in your mind. You might closely observe trees, rocks on the ground, flowing water, or the position of the sun or moon. Focusing on your surroundings in this way helps you to appreciate the present moment, and trains your brain to transcend stress and passing concerns.
9) Create a Book List
I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have 20 unread books in my room. When I run out of books to read, I simply buy more – usually used ones on Amazon. And when I run out of things to do on any given day, I pick up a book and make myself comfortable.
For awhile I thought I was a hopeless insomniac, as even prescription sleeping pills stopped working for me. One thing that didn’t stop working was reading books. Just 6 minutes of reading reduces stress by two thirds and brings you into an altered state of consciousness.
10) Do a Round of Push-Ups
Sometimes I know I’m being weak and I just need to do a round of push-ups. It gets the blood flowing and helps me obliterate fuzzy moments.
Yes, I’m still in my twenties. But being over 65 is no excuse not to do push-ups. When my old man watches a football game, he now makes sure to do a push-up for every point scored.
11) Start a Website
This is now officially a circular, self-referential article. I started this site, in large part, to keep track of what’s kept me sober. What’s stopping you from doing the same?
Stigma be damned.
12) Give Yourself a Time Out
Sometimes you don’t need a nap, but you need to check out of the action for a few minutes. On these occasions, I turn on my himalayan salt lamp, plug my headphones into my laptop, and head straight to the video below. It has some bold pseudo-scientific claims, but it’s helped me relax and reset my mind well over a dozen times now:
What tricks have you discovered to kill boredom and stay on track?
These are great tips for killing boredom! I like the video as well! This line makes so much sense: “It’s impossible to relapse if you never make time for it.” We all need to keep ourselves busy so that we don’t fall back into bad habits. You are offering some much needed advice here. Thank you!
Thanks Cathy – It is much easier to relax when you’re staying busy and living consciously.