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Staying Sober Through A Bad Day

Staying Sober Through A Bad Day

Last week, I had – what I considered in those moments – a “bad day.” It was one of those days that I woke up with the best of intentions to have a great day. In order to spare you all of the details – I’ll summarize by saying that by 7 a.m., I was already irritable, stressed and frustrated. The longer the day went on, the more I unraveled. I just couldn’t pull it together. The day felt unsalvageable. Now, looking at it in retrospect, things could have been a lot worse. I have a lot to be thankful for: My friends, family, job, health, marriage, home – the list goes on and on. But, when I’m in the midst of a “bad day” it’s not easy to find gratitude. Bad days produce bad moods, and I felt like all of those things that I should have been grateful for, were actually pushing back against me. The more frustrated I got, the more angry I got with myself for being so grumpy. It wasn’t who I wanted to be. Anyone reading this may feel that their bad days far outweigh mine – and they probably would be right. But, in that moment, I was really struggling. The fact is, bad days are always going to be a part of life. And that being said, bad days can stretch into bad weeks – even months or years. But when you struggle with addiction or alcoholism, bad days can be especially difficult. Unless you are completely grounded in your recovery, it may feel like you’re only a bad day or two away from a slip up – or even a relapse. It can be tempting to use drugs or alcohol to escape from those negative emotions that can hit us over the head on a bad day.

Addiction and Emotions.

When you’re in active addiction, it doesn’t really matter what kind of day it is. On good days, you might get high or get drunk so you can feel even better. On bad days, you may use or drink so you don’t feel so down. On those bad days, getting high seems almost necessary in order to escape and “fix” everything. The fix, however, is always temporary. Getting high usually makes the bad day worse. When you sober up, you’re usually overwhelmed by the guilt and shame from whatever you did to get your drug, whatever you did while drunk or high, or whatever you neglected to do while drunk or high. So then, in order to wash away those shameful feelings – you get drunk or high, again. No matter the consequences, no matter the risk of losing family or children, no matter how emotionally painful it may be to go to the dealer, no matter how much worse using again makes you feel – in active addiction, you always go back. Addition isn’t just about the drug or the drink. Substance addiction also entails an addiction to shutting down negative emotions.

Bad Days In Recovery.

In addiction recovery, especially early recovery, there may still be those bad days that make you think about drinking again or getting high: “It would feel good to have a beer right now.” Or “I could really use a pill.” The feeling may be fleeting, or it may be a long-lived, white-knuckled craving. These thoughts and feelings are manifestations of the disease of addiction. In recovery, however, there are more options – better options – than the bottle, or the needle, or the pill. While there’s no instant “reset” button to restart the day, there are healthy ways to deal with the negativity.

    1. Phone a Friend. Communication is an invaluable tool in recovery. Calling a good friend in recovery or a sponsor is an important first response to a bad day. Instead of avoiding what is going on in your life or what is bothering you, talking to a friend about what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it, can help you get to the bottom of things. A friend in recovery or a sponsor isn’t going to judge you for thinking about drinking or getting high – they only want to help prevent that from happening. 
    2. Make a Plan. Your day or week may not have started the way you wanted it to, but it doesn’t mean that the rest of it should suffer. No matter how much of a free spirit you may consider yourself, having some sort of organization can help free you from stress, anxiety and depression.  When I’m feeling especially overwhelmed, making a list helps me to visualize what I have to do, rather than keeping it all cluttered in my head. In order to give myself some extra confidence, I always include some smaller tasks on my list – like “Check the Mail” or “Get Gas”. No matter how small the task, it feels good to make a checkmark on the list and see that I’m accomplishing one thing at a time.
    3. Change Your Perspective. I’ll admit, I place high expectations on everything: Vacations, holidays, anniversaries, weekends, relationships – and especially myself. By doing so, I often victimize myself with my own expectations. I sink into disappointment as soon as my day or accomplishments fall short. I get down on myself if I don’t cook the perfect meal, or don’t spend as much time with a loved one as I wanted, or don’t make it to the gym. These thoughts are a short leap away from, “Well, I might as well just have a drink.”  Dangerous thinking starts when we don’t change our perspective. Snap out of this mindset by focusing on the positive – and looking to help someone else. It may sound strange to try to help someone else when it’s you who is having a bad day, but looking for an opportunity to serve and seeing the impact that it makes on someone else is completely refreshing.

As much suffering as you may have endured in active addiction, you’re still not immune to problems and bad days. Whether your day is a series of annoying events – or objectively painful – keep in mind that whatever you are going through, you only have to go through it today. The day isn’t longer than 24 hours. By getting sober and into recovery, you’ve already proven to yourself that you can withstand some of the worst that life can throw at you. Nothing that happens today can knock you off course unless you let it. As a smart friend in recovery once told me, “It will all be worth it tomorrow.