Recovery is a lot more than just not using drugs or alcohol. This week’s guest blogger offers a professional’s perspective on the key physical and psychological aspects that help people find success in recovery. MWM
My name is Jesse Sandler, and I am an addiction therapist. In working with people in recovery, I have seen that the ones who do better are those that actively tend to both their physical and mental (psychological) wellbeing.
Taking care of your body is so important to maintaining your recovery. When you do, you feel better not only physically but emotionally as well. I advise my clients to pay particular attention to four aspects of their physical wellbeing: intake, action, upkeep, and rest.
Your intake includes everything you do and don’t put into your body: food, drink, and medicine. If you fuel yourself regularly and nutritiously, you will feel more energized. Staying hydrated makes you feel better too. Further, taking your medications as prescribed can help keep you stabilized and keep you on track.
Similarly, regular exercise not only helps you establish healthy routines, but also relieves stress and releases endorphins to keep you feeling your best. If you’re not used to working out, it can be tough to get into the swing of it, but it’s worth it. Try out a variety of workouts until you find something that doesn’t feel so much like work—maybe you’re not a gym person but hiking outside puts a smile on your face. Whatever you do, make sure you move everyday. Both your body and your mind will thank you.
In addition to fueling and moving your body well, you also need to rest your body well. Getting on a regular sleep schedule and making sure you get 6-8 hours of sleep per night will give you more energy. Good sleep hygiene also makes it easier to deal with tough times, since getting enough sleep can help you focus more on the positive and fixate less on the negative. Since you’re more likely to relapse when you’re feeling negative, this is especially important for people in recovery. So try to go to bed around the same time every night and wake up around the same time every morning, only use your bed for sleep and sex, and get off that computer or phone screen at least an hour before bedtime.
The final aspect of physical wellbeing that I think is particularly important is upkeep. By this, I mean showering regularly, brushing your teeth, and wearing clean clothes each day. This may sound obvious or silly, but I have seen time and time again that my clients tend to feel better when they are clean and wearing fresh clothes. Developing this good habit, like the others discussed above, can make you feel better physically and mentally, and give you the right mindset to face the day.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to pay attention not only to what you can see, but also what you can’t. As you probably know, emotional and mental wellbeing are huge components of the recovery process. They work in tandem with the physical to keep you on your path. While there are many components to psychological wellbeing, I advise my clients to focus on a few in particular: staying social and avoiding isolation. While these may sound like the same thing, they are in fact distinct, and each is important in its own right.
Human beings are social creatures. We thrive when we feel accepted by and connected to other people. But not just any people. Make sure you surround yourself with people who lift you up, understand you, and support your recovery. Build a strong support network of people committed to a clean lifestyle. Avoid your old toxic “friends,” and your old toxic hangouts. Go to meetings. Find fun activities that don’t involve alcohol, drugs, or whatever your triggers are. Whatever feels good, positive, and helpful for you.
You may be thinking, “Wait a minute, I literally just read about this point above.” But you’d be wrong. Avoiding isolation does not necessarily mean being social. While having a strong, supportive social network is important, you don’t always need to surround yourself with other people. Alone time can be important for thought and restoration. Just make sure you know the difference between being alone and isolating, and only do the former. Being alone is restorative, calming, and recharging. It doesn’t make you feel lonely. Isolating, on the other hand, is draining and depleting. You likely do it to avoid dealing with upsetting feelings or situations, and when you isolate, you may find yourself ruminating on negative thoughts and feeling lonely. This creates the perfect conditions for relapse: you, your negative thoughts, and no one around to pull you out of them or give you perspective. So make sure that if you are opting to spend time alone, you are doing for the right reasons, and that if you find yourself alone for the wrong ones, you reach out to someone in your support network who can remind you of all the reasons you got clean and want to stay clean.
Recovery isn’t easy. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Staying mindful of taking care of yourself, both physically and psychologically, can make the journey a little bit easier.
Jesse Sandler is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy for people in addiction recovery. He works at a dual-diagnosis intensive outpatient program and has a small private practice in Los Angeles. Most recently, Jesse is working to address another aspect of recovery: people’s living environments. After watching his clients and loved ones struggle and grow frustrated trying to find sober roommates, Jesse and co-founder Emily Churg created www.MySoberRoommate.com, an online community for people committed to living a clean lifestyle to search, match, and message with potential roommates. Jesse believes that through hard work, commitment, and hope, people can and do get better, and he hopes that MySoberRoommate will provide people in recovery with another tool to help them to do just that.
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