10 Helpful Hints to Make It Through Those First Few Days Clean and Sober
*Disclaimer: This is meant for those who have completed a supervised detoxification process or who have seen their doctor and have been cleared to be “on their own” and safe from dangerous withdrawal symptoms. It is essential that you confer with a doctor prior to beginning any detox regimen.
I am not a doctor, and these suggestions are meant to make the first few days of recovery more comfortable and assist you in getting off to a good start. Any medical concerns should be directed to your personal physician immediately.
1. Let yourself BE. Some people find they cannot sleep enough while others are plagued with insomnia. If possible, get the next few days off from work, school, child care duties, etc., so you can allow yourself to focus completely on this process.
Most importantly, hydrate! Water is probably the best, though anything without caffeine will do. Chamomile tea can ease the anxiety a bit. Eat what suits you, but try to take a good multi-vitamin and perhaps a B1 supplement. Hopefully you have a few people who know what you are embarking on. If not, find one or two people and let them in on what is going on in your life. These people can provide you with support while also keeping you accountable during this sometimes difficult early phase.
2. Treat yourself like you would a friend who was going through a difficult time. If you have energy, use it! Walks are great because you can set your own pace. If you are so inclined, look into some supports—Alcoholics Anonymous, Rational Recovery, Women for Sobriety, SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, LifeRing Secular Recovery, etc. They each have online meetings as well, so if you are not feeling up to it, you can log on from your computer.
Call a friend you trust who knows what you are going through. You don’t need to do this alone if you don’t want to.
For those who have issues with alcohol, finding a substitute drink can help. Experiment! Grapefruit juice with mineral water and mint can feel like a treat without the alcohol. Any flavored juices with seltzer water can not only be a thirst quencher, but also soothe the sweet cravings that often emerge early in sobriety.
3. Do something nice for yourself today. Take a bath (add some Epsom salts and baking soda, then soak for as long as is comfortable). Watch a movie (Netflix has some good stuff and you are saving money on drugs/alcohol). Read. It can be hard to concentrate, but read a little here and there if you are up to it. There are some great books about other people’s journeys that can be inspiring like Tracey Helton’s The Big Fix, Note Found in a Bottle: My Life as a Drinker by Susan Cheever and Dry by Augusten Burroughs. There is so much out there. Explore.
4. Make a list of the reasons you decided to get clean and/or sober. Put everything you can think of on it—regain health, maintain (or regain) employment, repair relationships—the list is personal and important. When urges return (and they will), this list can be an important tool to remind you why you made the decision to become and stay sober, and help you through the rough patches without relapsing.
5. Sleep may be elusive. Things like slight headache, some anxiety, restlessness, lack of appetite and sugar cravings are all part of the package. Your brain and body are healing from being beaten up for so long. If you have any concerning symptoms, contact your doctor. This is a major change both physically and mentally. Be sure to be safe.
6. Call someone close to you if you can. Isolation can be a killer. It doesn’t have to be a person “in recovery,” just someone who knows you, cares, and understands. If you are feeling vulnerable, let them know. This is a good time to begin communicating without a substance in you. If they offer, let them help you. If you are lonely, ask to get together or attend a support group meeting. You can pay it back later.
7. Make sure you are eating. It would be great if your diet was all whole grains, fruit, vegetables, lean protein, etc. but comfort food may be what you need right now. Prioritize. Eating at regular intervals during the day helps your blood sugar remain consistent. Staying away from the booze and drugs are the main goal right now. The rest can come. Sleep when you need to. Let go of regret. Stay in the now. Hydrate.
8. Hopefully as the days pass, you are starting to feel a bit better. Urges and cravings may come. There is pharmaceutical help out there. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor and use it if recommended. Naltrexone, Gabapentin, Suboxone, and evenAntabuse can be a support. When you are starting to feel better is often the most dangerous time. Don’t undermine the progress you have made. Talk to your doctor and accept whatever help you think you need.
Remember to continue to stay hydrated, take your vitamins, nap when you are tired, and get some exercise. Being outdoors can be very healing so walk, bike, or just sit outside for a bit every day.
9. Find what works and keep doing it. All dependencies, like all people, are different, and what works for one person may not work for another. Similarly, what might work in the early days of alcohol detox might not work in the early days of heroin detox. Reach out to people, perhaps venture out to a face-to-face meeting of whatever support group you connect with. See a supportive friend. Find some music that relaxes you and transports you to a place you want to be. If you are up for it, start a journal. Begin to think of some things you want to do going forward as a person relieved of their addictions. Set some attainable goals.
It will take awhile for the lingering effects of addiction to wane. Don’t expect an overnight miracle. There will be good days and bad days, but eventually the good days will outweigh the bad. Start thinking about the future, one free of the bondage and destruction of addiction. Where do you want to be in a month, 90 days, a year, 2 years from now?
If you are struggling with cravings, consider this exercise. Lie down with your eyes closed and your arms at your side. Breathe in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth. Imagine yourself a year from now if you continue to use drugs and alcohol. Really visualize yourself. What do you look like? How is your health? Where do you live? How do you feel? Are you alone? If you are with other people, who are they?
Do the same exercise but this time, see yourself five years from now if you continue to drink and/or use.
Next, imagine yourself 90 days from now if you stay clean and sober. Imagine all the same things. What do you look like? How is your health? How are you emotionally?
Do the same visualization at one year sober, two years sober, and five years sober.
Write your thoughts about the exercise in your journal.
Another useful exercise is called “Urge Surfing.” It is a mindfulness technique attributed to the late psychologist G. Alan Marlatt, PhD. Sometimes avoiding or distracting yourself from an urge to use does not work. Urge Surfing is a simple technique to deal with the urge directly.
First, when you feel a craving coming on, find a place to sit where you will be undisturbed and place your feet flat on the floor. Take a few deep breaths to relax yourself. Breathe slowly in through the nose and out through the mouth. Feel your body fill up with air on the inhalation and become deflated, like a balloon, on the exhale. Close your eyes and look inward into your body. Try to feel where in your body you experience sensations of cravings and describe to yourself what these cravings feel like in different parts of your body. (For example "I feel a tightness in my chest and my stomach feels jumpy…")
Next, pick one area in your body that seems most affected by sensations of craving, and focus deeply on this area and these sensations as they pass by. To keep your mind from wandering, describe the sensations you experience in your chosen part of the body as they arise. (For example “My lower back feels tight and achy. Now it is feeling warm…")
Finally, move to another affected part of the body and repeat the focused attention there, and then repeat with another part of the body. After a while, you will notice that the craving will have passed by.
Every urge will reach a peak. Often we feel we can’t get past that intensity without using. This technique can allow you to see that you can mindfully ride the urge until it passes without giving in to the strong emotional and mental desire to use.
10. This is far from comprehensive. According to some experts, post-acute withdrawal syndrome can take months to resolve and it can take that long for some newly sober people to feel “normal.” The brain and body take a while to heal. This is a time of discovery and healing. What do you like to do? What have you wanted to do that your addiction has prevented you from achieving? If you used to love playing music, try it again! Paint, draw, sing, dance, write, run, ride a bike, read, volunteer—the possibilities are endless.
Finally, sobriety offers the most important gift—freedom. As a sober/clean person, you can decide your future and evolve into the person you want to be. No one (I know!) woke up on their first day clean and sober and decided to run a marathon, but as the process progressed, many have. Set goals for yourself—quit smoking, exercise regularly, establish a meditation practice, transition to a healthier diet, engage with a positive social network, take a yoga class, start a blog, change careers, go back to school, meet new people, travel—the possibilities are endless.
Welcome to a brand new life.
By: Regina Walker
Regina Walker is a regular contributor to The Fix. She recently wrote about how Women And Binge Drinking: When Too Much Is Not Enough.