The One Crucial Thing Newly Sober People Should Do

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With 4 years of sobriety under my belt, I have some solid advice to give to newly sober people. I’m also a former mental health and addictions nurse and know some things about recovery.

My journey with alcohol was a few decades long, and it took years before I was ready to quit. There’s a lot to unpack in our personal addiction journey. For me, I needed to get more clear on why I kept going back to alcohol.

I needed to deal with my own mental health issues, my history of trauma, family addiction patterns, and understanding my personal health issues.

When it came to alcohol, it felt a lot like an abusive relationship that took time to pry myself away from. That part of the journey was quite specific and unique to me. The reasons and circumstances for why others become addicted will be unique for them.

So although the path towards sobriety is different for everyone, I do know one important thing that all newly sober people need to do to ensure success: Build a sanctuary of support.

Without this, people almost certainly go plummeting back into addiction. I know I would have. Now, I want to share what my sanctuary of support looked like, but remember that yours will likely look a bit different. However, the elements of the sanctuary are relatively universal.

My most important relationship is with my wife. When I got sober, I asked her not to drink alcohol for a long time, maybe never.

I knew she could’ve easily said no, and of course, I would never have forced her. But I also knew I could not stay sober if there was drinking involved in my most important relationship.

Thankfully, she never cared much about alcohol. To this day, there’s no alcohol involved in any part of our relationship.

Next, I stayed clear of immediate friends who drank a lot. Again, I couldn’t stay sober if I was around drinking, especially in the beginning. I also stayed clear of my alcoholic family. I went to some gatherings but left early once people started hitting it hard.

Then, I gathered a few friends I had who didn’t drink. These are people I could call on to talk about my sobriety path or do social things with.

Lastly, I armed myself with activities to focus on, as well as safety nets for when I was having a bad day.

For me, I went full-force into making jewelry. I found the activity calming and distracting, and it gave me a purpose that helped keep me level.

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Then, my safety nets were things like reading, TV shows, yoga, walking, or anything that would safely help me cope with a bad moment.

So this was my sanctuary of support. Now, you might look at that and think that none of this applies to you. And you would be right because you’re unique and have different circumstances and preferences.

However, you can create your own sanctuary of support, tailored to your resources and specific needs. All you need to know are the basic elements of the sanctuary, and then you can make it your own.

So let’s go over those elements.

1. Have at least one crucial support person who doesn’t drink or do hard drugs.

I’m fortunate that my significant other is that person. Honestly, I don’t think I could stay in an intimate partnership with someone who drank a lot. It can make the sanctuary of support really difficult if you live and are intimate with someone who also has an addiction.

And also, to be frank, if your partner can’t support you by not drinking, then they likely have an issue with alcohol as well.

At the same time, I’ve heard some neat stories about people who’ve stayed sober while their partners drank. They’ve come up with creative ways to maintain space, and the newly sober person found support elsewhere. So, I’m not saying it can never work, but it will be a big challenge.

Now, let me be clear too, an important support person does not have to be an intimate partner at all. You only need one person who you can always turn to when you need support. This is someone who you can always talk to about anything.

A support person can be an AA sponsor, a good friend, or a close family member.

It could also be a trusted therapist. And in some cases, a therapist might be the better choice, so you have an outside source of support without relying on close family or friends.

2. Have a few casual friends who don’t drink (or do drugs)

Ok, this one can be creative because you may or may not have access to friends who don’t drink. If you go to an AA group, this can be your few casual friends. Or maybe you can find an online support group or even create one yourself.

The point is, have a few people that don’t drink that you can hang with. The relationship doesn’t have to be deep, just so long as it feels fun, casual, and there’s no alcohol or drugs involved.

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Also, let me clear one thing up. Some alcoholics use cannabis or don’t care if others use it. I think there are lots of ways to get sober and be sober. Some people use marijuana and other psychoactive substances to stay sober while others abuse it.

Addiction to substances has a definite energy to it. It’s an apparent overuse that has negative consequences. Many people can use things without it turning abusive, but it can be a fine line. You’ll need to discover and understand this line for yourself.

For me, I don’t care about the casual use of things like cannabis. Still, for someone to be in my support sanctuary, the usage has to be super relaxed and not a part of our gatherings. This was especially important for me as a newly sober person.

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3. Avoid groups, gatherings, or establishments where alcohol and drugs are a priority.

This is more of a “what not to include” in your sanctuary of support. You may need to remove any activities, groups, gatherings, or places where alcohol and drugs are the main attraction.

This may include avoiding some close friends or family, which is painful. But choosing sobriety means you’re choosing yourself, your new life, and your needs.

4. Find and gather activities and safety nets to help support you.

You will need these things, especially in the beginning. Having supportive activities that you can focus on is so healing and helpful. They give you purpose, a distraction from the noise, confidence, and support. But you’ll want to find what works for you.

For some people, they take up a sport or some other physical activity. Others find art or creativity works best for them. And then others may even go back to school or start a course in something they’re interested in.

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Whatever it is, be sure it gives you a sense of purpose and makes you feel supported and focused. Jewelry making was my main thing in the beginning, but I also liked to write and do other creative things.

Now, in terms of safety net activities, these are more like quick activities that you can turn to in a pinch. These activities help you get out of bad moments or help quickly distract the noise and cravings. These can be things like games, TV, books, or an exercise class.

Find whatever works for you and make it immediately available for when the going gets tough. Because the going will get tough, especially when you’re newly sober.

So you see, the basic elements of the sanctuary of support are universal, but the way you set it up will be unique for you.

There are many ways to get sober, but I know that this sanctuary of support is absolutely necessary to ensure success in those early days.

The first year of sobriety is tough and can sometimes feel impossible. I know I felt like that several times, and I even had moments where I wasn’t sure I would make it. But that sanctuary of support helped keep me grounded and committed. Without it, I don’t know if I would’ve succeeded.

If you can consider each element and build your sanctuary of support, I have no doubt you’ll be ready for your new sober life.

Gillian May is a former nurse turned write who writes about mental health, addiction, trauma, and wellness.