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One Alcoholic’s Management of Stress in Sobriety

Managing stress is one of the most challenging, if not the most challenging, aspects of living a “whole” life in sobriety.  Does anyone do this perfectly? No. Do I have answers or suggestions that others do not have? Probably not.  Some of these I have learned “in the rooms”, some I have learned in therapy, and others I have learned in the examination of what is important to me as a human being. Some have been handed to me time and again and have been stored as tools that would not be needed… until they were.  The magical thing about sobriety is that as you learn to make better decisions professionally and personally, you begin giving yourself permission to choose yourself, and begin to view your priorities differently. This allows you to find the tranquility and fulfillment you once believed alcohol brought to you.  

Learning to say no.  In a personality type that can look at a full plate of responsibilities and yet manage to ask for more, there is an innate self-imposed obligation to be responsible for most things around us, professionally and personally.  The statement “just let me do it” seems to surface constantly.  However, when we learn the unthinkable act of saying “no,” that does not make us less valuable as an individual or professional.  We can lessen the number of “plates” in front of us.  We CAN allow others to be responsible for tasks and hold them accountable for the quality and timeliness of those.  The true challenge arises when responsibilities are completed in a way that may not suit us.  It is critical to be able to ask ourselves: ”Is my way the only way?  Did the task get accomplished in its entirety and/or to the quality NEEDED?”  Remember, there may be multiple acceptable paths to the finish line on a task. The route is out of our hands when we delegate responsibilities. Though it maybe cliché, it is also critical to remember that continuing to do for others what they are capable of themselves does no one any favors.  Many times, people around us want to share the load…let them. Holding others accountable for reliability is what we try to avoid, so be brave and have the critical conversations necessary to let others know what your needs are, what expectations you have and hone the finesse to have those conversations with respect and hopefully without controversy.  

Self-care.  In the theme of meeting the needs of everyone around you (patients, staff, families), we often forget about ourselves and exhaust the energy needed to fill our own cup.  Being self-aware of our faculties, namely the spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental ones also requires energy. But an ongoing assessment of these allows us to know what’s wrong and how to give back to ourselves.  Some of the obvious ways of giving to ourselves are eating healthy, exercising, getting enough rest, building a routine, praying, finding time for fun and attending meetings (if you’re in sobriety).  I also want to give meditation a special credit.  I am not great at it, but I continue to get better.  It is difficult to detach from all that seems to engulf us. However, I challenge you to view this exercise as one that allows you to take back your power instead of giving power to outside demands that then dictate the quality of our wellbeing.  It also allows us to be with ourselves, and to be with nothing at all.  After becoming more centered, we can be more cognizant of our surroundings and be more present.  Being centered also reminds us of the enormous world spinning with us on it and the humanity that exists and continues outside of the lives that we have built for ourselves.  The power you have taken away from your energy-sucking demands lessens their magnitude and makes them less overwhelming or daunting.

Fulfillment. Entering sobriety, I was truly unaware if I would ever have fun again.  This statement is ubiquitous among those of us in sobriety. The thought of “breaking up” with the one relationship that seemed to be my true source of comfort and relaxation, regardless of how toxic it may have been (literally and physically), left me feeling vulnerable and handicapped.  With time, I realized that some of the activities that brought me joy before sobriety now felt unfulfilling or even unpleasant. I now have an ongoing search for the things that bring me fulfillment.  There are activities that can bring contentment and joy in a way that we believed those alcohol used to. And I’ve found that joy to be even greater.  It takes the willingness to give yourself the time to try and find them.  

Stress management in sobriety takes practice and finesse.  Sometimes we must choose ourselves before choosing those around us. Sometimes you take a step or two back before moving forward again.  Being gentle with yourself in the practice of setting boundaries, saying no, taking care of yourself, and searching for fulfillment outside of your professional realm is important because your efforts are not going to be perfect.  While the ways I have mentioned of managing stress seem like painting with broad strokes, the broad strokes are what build the foundation of a great piece of art.  Most importantly, all help put my over-inflated stressors into perspective.  The long game is what I am interested in – a “whole” sober life. And I believe this long game is dependent on my ability to continually assess and reassess myself, my priorities, my needs, and the variables that allow it to flourish.