A prominent statistic in substance abuse treatment is the significant number of people with substance abuse issues who need treatment, but do not receive it. Although formal substance abuse treatment is highly recommended for people struggling with substance abuse, it is not always realistic for people to participate in recovery programs for as long as they need it. Recovery is a winding journey that lasts a lifetime. No two recovery journeys are the same, but we do know that there are multiple things people do to contribute to their success. No matter how far along you are in your recovery journey, these tips can help you stay motivated to maintain sobriety.
1. Know your “why.” After World War II, Viktor Frankl wrote about his experiences in the most appalling conditions of the concentration camps. He made a significant observation about those who survived and those who did not in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. That observation can be summarized as, if you know your “why,” you can get through anything. Your “why” is the reason you pursue sobriety. It is the thing that moved you from thinking about quitting to taking action to quit. Treatment professionals refer to the “why” as a client’s motivation to change. It is the thing outside of yourself that pushes you toward your goal. It is the thing that will keep you motivated during the struggle and the pain. Everyone’s why is different, but it is the one constant that can keep you motivated during sobriety. Don’t just know your “why,” keep your “why” accessible so when times get rough, it is there to remind you.
2. Work on the recovery plan. A recovery plan is an integral component of your recovery journey that is tailored to what you need. This plan is not only for you, but it helps to share it with those who embark on this journey with you. People who have social support for their recovery plans are more likely to succeed. There are multiple versions of plans, but they include things such as what it looks like when you are succeeding in sobriety, internal and external triggers that can interfere with sobriety, strengths, and resources that keep you motivated during sobriety, who to call in case of a lapse, what you want those people to do in case of a lapse, how to help you get through the lapse, what constitutes a crisis, who to call in a crisis, what you want people to do for you in a crisis, what you want them not to do, and how to know when the crisis or lapse is over. Also within the plan are the steps you are taking to stay motivated during sobriety which may include diet and exercise goals, therapy goals, social support goals, and relationship goals. Then, work the plan, stay connected to the social support that can help keep you on the plan, and celebrate your accomplishments when you accomplish your goals.
3. Do the other work. A majority of people who struggle with substance abuse also struggle with co-occurring mental health issues. Additionally, a significant number of people who struggle with substance abuse have a history of trauma which can negatively impact one’s self-perception, relationships, and place in the world. While everyone’s reasons for starting a substance are different, many do so to manage other mental health issues or the effects of trauma. The person with social anxiety might use alcohol to lighten up to participate in social life, while the person with childhood trauma might use opioids to block out the pain of remembering. Maybe substance abuse didn’t start off that way, maybe it started as a harmless experiment. However, along the way, it began to serve a purpose. Without addressing that purpose and finding something a bit healthier to serve that purpose, maintaining sobriety will be very difficult. Doing the work means therapy. It means squashing the desire to avoid your feelings, learning to tolerate distress, learning to manage strong emotions, learning to establish and maintain boundaries, and learning to cope with extreme stress. Therapeutic interventions can teach you to ride the craving wave and come out the other side without giving into the temptation of using. Once you have these tools to use, you are more in control of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. More control means you can stay motivated during sobriety because you are in charge of your choices and not the other way around.
4. Reduce exposure to triggers. It is much easier to stay motivated during sobriety when you are not reminded of it all the time. Substance abuse becomes a lifestyle. Some of the signs of substance abuse include changes in friends, social activities, behaviors, and environments. Those signs then become strongly associated with substance use. When it comes time to quit, staying motivated during sobriety means disconnecting from the things in your life associated with using. This is the process of reducing exposure to risk factors. A key component of recovery is identifying behaviors, environments, people, thoughts, feelings, and situations that make a person want to use. Once those are identified, making lifestyle changes to avoid those triggers reduces the burden of overcoming strong behavioral cues. It’s like planning a bicycle route to make sure you’re not riding uphill the whole way. Or staying away from the one person who makes you angry every time you see them. Just as these changes indicate a transition to substance abuse, removing those triggers forms the foundation for successful recovery. Therefore, by surrounding yourself with recovery-oriented people, events, and environments, you are more likely to stay motivated during sobriety.
5. Capitalize on strengths and resources. In much the same way, everyone has inner strengths and resources at their disposal to help them through the hard times. Inner strengths can include imagination, creativity, kindness, a strong work ethic, optimism, hope, faith, or any combination of those. Resources may include family, friends, a supportive work environment, a 12-step sponsor, a religious community or other organizations that can provide external support when you need it. Keeping a list of strengths and resources in your recovery plan can serve as a reminder about those things that can help you stay motivated during sobriety.
6. Realistic expectations. Perfection is not a requirement for recovery, nor is it realistic. Absolute sobriety may or may not be possible right away. Not everyone can quit cold turkey. When creating your recovery plan, make sure it includes realistic expectations and goals that you can achieve in a reasonable amount of time. People need to build a platform of positivity to instill hope and a positive attitude toward change. You would not start a rock climbing hobby by climbing a one hundred-foot sheer rock face without training. Instead, you would practice on easier surfaces with a bit of incline until your body and mind are ready for the big goal. The journey to full sobriety should be the same way. Putting too many expectations on yourself too soon will only set you up for missing your goals for which you’ll feel bad about yourself and possibly quit your recovery journey prematurely. Instead, create smaller goals that build you up, that train you for your big goal so you can build on the positive experiences of success. The more successes you have, the easier it is to stay motivated during sobriety.
7. Get back up. Everyone makes mistakes and there may be lapses. You might use it again. While that may feel like a tragedy at the time, it can also be a valuable learning experience. But it cannot be a learning experience unless you get back up. Getting back up also includes a thorough evaluation of what happened, without judgment and without condemnation. Analyzing the situation will help you detect triggers that might have been missed in the initial recovery plan and revise the plan to address them. Furthermore, evaluating the lapse with an open mind also helps you determine what else you need to be successful. Getting back up after lapses illuminates more of what you need to stay motivated during sobriety.
8. Celebrate! Too many people dive into recovery with great expectations and then forget to celebrate their successes along the way. Celebrate the decision and the commitment to recovery. Celebrate with the people you have chosen to support your journey. Celebrate creating your recovery plan. Celebrate each goal you accomplish. Celebrate getting back up. Celebration creates positive feelings about recovery and those positive feelings contribute to the desire to stay motivated during sobriety.
The recovery journey is a lifelong process that requires significant lifestyle changes. It is highly recommended that you start your recovery journey with trained professionals who can help you clarify your “why,” create your recovery plan, do the work for the underlying issues, and help you identify your triggers, strengths, and resources. However, your journey will be unique from everyone else’s, and these eight tips for maintaining a recovery lifestyle can help you stay motivated during sobriety.