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Staying Sober During Difficult Times

by Ashley Smith

Experiencing the highs and lows of life in recovery can pose some difficulties, especially during the first several months. Negative experiences and emotions can be powerful relapse triggers that even the most experienced and successfully sober person may have trouble dealing with. Stress, pain, anxiousness, hopelessness, and other negative reactions to things that can happen in life may send you into a tailspin, but it’s crucial to remember these useful tools that can help you stay in recovery, even in the worst of times.


The classic HALT acronym stands for: hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. Any time you are feeling negative or having a bad day, check in with yourself and see whether you’re experiencing any of these feelings. HALTing won’t instantly chase away your problems, but it will remind you to practice self-care.. When you are dealing with issues that are outside of your immediate control, doing something for yourself can help you feel better prepared to deal with coming up with a solution.

Learn to Let Go

You will not always be able to regulate everything going on in your life, and sometimes when things go wrong, they are completely out of your control. In recovery, you work a lot on owning your actions and taking accountability for yourself, but sometimes, that can lead to hyper-focus on having your hands in too many places at once. Learning to embrace the fact that you will not always be able to change things that aren’t going your way will make it easier for you to handle stressful situations. Most of all, moving on from bad incidents and continuing forward in your recovery will be the greatest reward. You can’t always control what happens, but you can control the way you react to it.

Get Away from Social Media

The internet is an amazing thing that has connected people all over the world and exposed people to information, art, ideas, and other societal trends. However, social media can also have some drawbacks. If you are going through a particularly rough time, you may not want to be reminded of how well everyone else is doing, and it could cause you to begin to compare your life to others. Many people are not sharing their real “truth” on social media, and often, we are only exposed to their “highlight reel.” Taking a step away from your social network can help you refrain and focus on yourself.

Get Out of Your Head

Overthinking is a classic symptom of stress, especially if you have anxiety. Of course, it’s always a good idea to think carefully about various scenarios when you are dealing with a difficult time in life, but constantly revolving negative thoughts can be a slippery slope. Take some time out of your day to do something that requires your full concentration to give yourself a break from thinking about your problems for a little while. You may even experience some clarity or resolution as a result of giving your mind a break.

Make Some Lists

If you’re faced with a difficult decision and are not sure what to do, make some lists. These lists can be pros and cons or an account of steps that you need to take to resolve an issue. Seeing these words on paper will help you feel proactive in a stressful situation. Writing these things down can greatly help with anxiety and worry. Instead of overanalyzing things in your head, put them in writing so you can visualize your situation and come up with potential scenarios that will bring you relief.

Move Your Body

If you feel like your urges to use are particularly strong or intrusive, get your body moving any way you can. You don’t have to do vigorous exercise that will leave you limping and sore for days, but do something that will cause your body to release some endorphins. Go for a walk, dance to your favorite music, or bike to yoga class. Sometimes just a brisk 30-minute jog can really change the way you feel. You rarely ever regret getting some exercise; usually, you mostly regret not doing it.

Be Happy For Others

Entering recovery can give you a fresh perspective on life, but sometimes it can feel like nothing ever goes your way while other people around you seem to have all the luck. Jealously can be a very disruptive feeling that can cause you to self-sabotage, which you want to avoid at all costs. When interacting with others in the recovery community, you may feel like you are continually comparing your progress with that of others, which can also be detrimental to your personal growth. Instead of being jealous of someone else’s success, go out of your way to feel happy for them. Radiating positive vibes will help you and others continue to strive for success.

Play the Tape Forward

Take a moment to think about what could happen if you act on bad ideas, potentially leading you to use again and relapsing after so much hard work. Fast forward to the immense regret and disappointment you will feel if you decide to go down that dark path again and push all your progress aside. Instead of turning to your previous substance misuse to cope with the negative feelings you’re experiencing, consider the fact that your addiction never solved any of your problems, and it won’t now. Your substance use will not take care of you; only you can take care of yourself now.

Being in recovery won’t always be a walk in the park, and you are allowed to have bad days like all people do. The key to getting through these rough times is having a toolbox of ways to deal with negative emotions that you will have to handle with from time to time. Staying sober is your priority, whether you are faced with the good or bad things life may throw your way. No matter how bad the worst days get to be, they will never be as bad as the days you spend being robbed of your healthy life by addiction.



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Medically Reviewed By:

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

The Clinical Team at Health Care Resource Centers is our team of physicians and medical directors within the organization. HCRC is a CARF accredited organization and has been providing addiction treatment services for over 32 years in the New England area.

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