Important: if you or a loved one in active addiction is experiencing a medical emergency, are in the aftermath of an overdose or experiencing suicidal intentions or ideations, please either call 911, the Suicide Hotline at 988, or the Trevor Project (ages 8-25, primarily LGBTQ+ populations) at 1-866-488-7386.
Important: you may need to go into detox/treatment at the earliest possible opportunity if you are looking to get sober and have been using opioids (heroin, fentanyl, oxycontin, etc), benzodiazepines (e.g. xanax), or are an alcoholic who drinks enough daily to have felt any of the following symptoms when you've tried to stop abruptly in the past: visual or auditory hallucinations, Shakiness, Nausea, Sweating, Vomiting, Headache, Racing heart rate, Insomnia, Restlessness, Fatigue, Clammy skin, Irritability, Agitation, Anxiety, Depression, Mood swings). If this is the case, please call (323) 383-3561 for help in locating the right help. Please be prepared to state your location and your insurance as these will be essential in placing you in the right care.
Congratulations! The biggest step in sobriety is the realization that you have had enough. Whether it's a chemical dependency (recreational/prescription drugs or alcohol) or a process/behavioral addiction (sex, love, gambling, internet), it's essential to really know that at this point your life has become unmanageable and that you're powerless over it.
If you have to really try hard to not partake in your addiction - if your strategy to quit has become super elaborate, then it's likely you need to stop. Non-addicts don't struggle to have just one and stop there.
"I'll only drink on Thursdays if it's sunny outside and I'm with at least one friend; I'll take just ONE bump of cocaine before work but not while at work unless I go out for lunch, etc. I'll only date 3 people and jerk off on Tuesdays."
If you're some version of the quotation above, welcome to Addictville: population 23+ million Americans.
While the Twelve Steps aren't for everyone, they're one of the only real ways the majority of hopeless addicts have found to get and stay sober. Notice I say "get and stay". Stopping, while hard, is one thing. Staying stopped is something else entirely.
As addicts - typically over-thinking, smart individuals with a serious appetite for hustle - we will literally do ANYTHING to convince ourselves that our way is better. We will poke holes in everyone else's theories. But I tell you something - if there was another way, a short cut, an end-run, an easier way, don't you think us junkies would have found it?
While some people are nervous about this whole "higher power" or god-thing, don't let it be an obstacle. We're not talking organized religion here. Everybody knows the institutions, the churches, the denominations have their human flaws. We're just talking about admitting that you don't got this on your own...and something bigger than you, even if it's just the community of recovering addicts, might.
"I'm Scared and I Need Help"
Let's start here. It's ok to be afraid. Most of us are most of the time. Most of us think EVERYONE ELSE has it together and we're fucked. "It's only a matter of time before they find out I'm a fraud..." blablabla.
The bravest thing anyone can do is admit they're in need of help. Admit that and you're well on your way.
Find A Meeting
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and its various counterparts (Narcotics Anon, Overeaters Anon, Marijuana Anon, Gamblers Anon, Debtors Anon, etc) are everywhere. All it takes is for two or more addicts to decide to put together a meeting and there you have it!
Head over to the AA website to find out how you can download the Meeting Guide. You can also download the app Pink Cloud which will also allow you start your sobriety counter at day one and track every 24 hours you stay sober!
Since COVID, meetings are in-person, online and hybrid (in-person with a Zoom option). Find one you like and make it your "home group" (which just means your favorite which you go to regularly). If you don't like one meeting, try another.
The shift to virtual meetings means you can take your addiction on holiday. Check out virtual meetings across the world and find out how no matter your gender, sexual orientation, color, creed or age, we have more that connects us than separates us. Los Angeles' meetings are great so check them out here.
Get A Commitment
Service is one of the most important parts of sobriety. Giving back to others and getting out of our own heads is key to staying stopped and finding peace of mind. As they say, "you can't think your way into right action, but you can act your way into right thinking."
The easiest way to quiet those intrusive, self-loathing thoughts is to do estimable acts and one of those is getting a meeting commitment.
Whether you make the coffee, clean up after the meeting, or make one of the recurring announcements at the end of the meeting, a commitment keeps you coming back, makes you accountable, and helps make you a recognizable part of the meeting which can also help you make friends.
Find A Sponsor
You don't have to go it alone. Listen to the people sharing at the meeting. Take a look around. Find someone who sounds or looks like they've found purpose, meaning and serenity. Then ask them to be your sponsor.
Sponsoring is part of the get down. One of the things I hear all the time is, "I can't believe anyone would want to help me...answer my calls and listen to my problems." The truth is, sponsoring helps both the sponsee and the sponsor.
A sponsor will help guide you through the 12 steps. They will have your back. They will be a safe place to share your private thoughts, the secrets that have you stuck in the darkness. There is literally nothing you can say that they haven't heard.
Secrets weigh us down. They force us to create elaborate lies to keep them hidden. They cause us to wear a mask. Secrets will keep us in our addiction. It's time to let them go. And it's going to be okay.
Buy or Get the Literature
It's important to get the books. Reading these will feel like reading your own biography. Even a book written almost 80 years ago will seem like someone is telling your story. It's kind of magical.
Most of these books are available at meetings at cost or no cost if you're financially hard up.
AA (and frankly any addiction will benefit from this)
The Five A Day
A wise member of our group repeats this often. If you do these five things every day you will stay sober.
Call your sponsor
Read the Big Book, Twelve & Twelve (or some spiritual literature)
Call another addict
Pray & meditate (we will create another resource on prayer and meditation soon. For now, try reading pp. 86-88 of the Big Book every morning, listen to this great guided meditation, or download an app like Calm, Insight Timer, Waking Up or Headspace). For prayer you can simply close your eyes, get on your knees and ask something as simple as "Please help me stay sober today"
Go to a meeting
Most addicts who make a commitment to going to at least 90 meetings in 90 days stand a chance of staying sober.
Start Working the Steps
Now you've gotten a sponsor, start working the 12 steps as soon as possible. Everybody moves at their own pace, but it's helpful to approach this work as if your life depends on it...
...because it does.
HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely & Tired. Make sure you're eating healthily or at least regularly. Nobody's going to blame you for slobbing out on candy (in fact, the Big Book recommends it!). As long as you're not filling your body with booze or drugs, a packet of M&Ms is a step up!
Avoiding hunger will help you avoid those physical and mental states where cravings come in. Hungry people get angry and tired. Anger turns into a dangerous slippery slope of fuck you mentality and sometimes newly sober addicts will find a way to turn anger at someone into picking up a drink or a drug again. It's crazy isn't it? "You annoyed me so I'm going to hurt myself AT you."
Try to develop a good sleep routine. Sleep hygiene is key and it can take some time for us to get back into proper sleep after years of blacking out. Make your bed in the morning so you have a nice bed to return to, try to stick to a regular bedtime, exercise regularly so you can retire at night with a natural tiredness, and maybe avoid caffeine after 2pm?
The Big Book is perfect in every way but one. They left out exercise. Exercise is key to regaining your health, reintroducing important chemical balance, overcoming mood swings, and resetting the damage done by years of abuse.
See if you can create a daily routine that involves exercise, even if you start small. Run for 10mins today and work up to 20mins next week.
Creating structure is super important. Not everyone wakes up with Disney bluebirds ready to dress them for the day, so it's good to have a few things you do without fail to overcome those A.M. blues.
You can build a routine around any of the following:
Gratitude lists - spoken out loud from under the bedsheets or written down, list 5 things you're grateful for. Food in the fridge, waking up sober. It doesn't have to be poetic. At attitude of gratitude is a big help.
Affirmations - I AM PERFECT AS I AM; I AM SOBER FOR ANOTHER 24 HOURS. Affirm not just the things you want to believe but also the things you want to achieve. Don't say "I can achieve...I am capable of...", put it out there as if it's already true: "I AM the owner of a successful restaurant, I have a big group of sober friends"
Exercise - jumping jacks, a trip to the gym, a run or a bike ride. Get that body moving in the first 90 minutes of your day and see how much better you feel.
Laugh or Dance - make a playlist of your favorite tunes or comedy. Shake it off, dance it out, laugh and smile!
Write - just write uncensored nonsense and get the thought-junk out of your mind and onto the page.
Meditate & Pray - part of your Five A Day from earlier in this article. Let's get quiet and Zen!
Fellowship & Higher Vibrations
Who you surround yourself is key in sobriety. Especially early sobriety. You may need to cut certain people out of your lives (we will write another article on this soon!) and replace them with other people in recovery. Choosing you over your past can be tough. Nobody said this was going to be easy! While not easy, it will be the most important and beneficial thing you have ever done.
You will lose everything and everyone you put ahead of your sobriety. Sobriety has to be the number one thing. Even more important than your partner or your children because, if you're not sober, you'll lose them too.
Stay The Course. You Got This!!
Like I said, sobriety isn't easy. However, from here on out, the rest of your life will be bathed in light and the advantage of every decision you make being informed by a healthy, forward-looking mentality.
Keep coming back for more insights from Shell that we hope will make your sobriety enjoyable and meaningful.