By Megan Krause
My early days in recovery were fueled by three things: cigarettes (a pack a day), sugar (if I can’t have meth, at least give me chocolate) and Diet Coke (fine, I’m still addicted to this one). I barely slept, I didn’t exercise, and I couldn’t sit still, much less meditate. I’ve since amended most of those bad habits — this is still very much a work in progress, mind you — but to say I was a mess in early sobriety is somewhat of an understatement.
Of course, everyone should try to live a healthy life, no matter who you are. But the following healthy living tips are especially good advice for those who are early in recovery, when our bodies are desperately trying to recuperate and our emotions are rubbed raw. Give yourself the best shot at staying sober, conquering your demons and living a life of joy and freedom with the following five tips.
1. Eat healthy
We come into recovery with sick bodies. It’s vital we develop a foundation of healthy eating to get the nutrients we have been lacking due to our drug and alcohol abuse. This means:
Eat three square meals a day. Get a mix of high-quality proteins, carbohydrates, heart-healthy fats, vegetables and fruits. This keeps your blood sugar stable, which is important to keeping your emotions on an even keel. Healthy eating is associated with a decreased risk of depression and greater emotional stability, Harvard Medical School reports, whereas a diet rich in processed foods, refined grains and high-fat dairy products is associated with an increased risk of depression.
Avoid fried, sugary and carb-laden foods. It’s easy to head for these when life gets uncomfortable, no matter how much time sober you have. But remember: You are carving out a new life for yourself, and there is little nutritional value in such foods. The food you eat needs to support the activities of a newly sober life.
Water is good. Caffeine, not so much. Flush out the toxins you’ve been putting in your body with good, old-fashioned water. If you must have caffeine, aim for a cup of coffee in the morning. Caffeine is attractive because it gives us a little boost, much like taking a hit — but the crash that’s coming later could set you up for discomfort (at best) or relapse (at worst).
No doubt you’ve heard that exercise produces endorphins, the feel-good brain chemicals that enhance our sense of well-being. According to Mayo Clinic, regular exercise may help you:
- Gain confidence
- Cope with stress in a healthy way
- Improve sleep
- Reduce anxiety and depression
You don’t have to join a gym or become a CrossFit pro. Go for a walk, do yoga, swim, play a game of pickup ball — anything you enjoy that gets your heart pumping.
3. Get enough sleep
It’s common for people in early recovery to have trouble sleeping. In fact, according to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, addicts and alcoholics ar
e five to 10 times more likely to have sleep disorders. Another study from Penn State found that proper sleep is a key component to recovering from painkiller addiction.
Sleeping habits take a while to straighten out. You’ve been altering your brain chemicals for some time, and they’ll recover, but you will need to be patient. In the meantime, you may find yourself tossing and turning, running through every bad decision you’ve ever made, or with a wicked case of restless legs
syndrome. If this sounds familiar, try these healthy sleep tips from the National Sleep Foundation.
4. Follow suggestions
Most sources attribute this quote to Albert Einstein: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” I prefer the spin my friend Ginger put on it several years ago — “Megan,” she said, exasperated by my unwillingness to follow suggestions, “You can’t keep trying to solve your problems with the same brain that GAVE you the problems in the first place.”
It’s a valid point.
Many have come before you into this beautiful and messy adventure that is early recovery. They’ve made the mistakes, they’ve tried the shortcuts, and they’ve earned the scars. From their experiences, they’ve formed some pretty solid suggestions, and you should take them. Some of the tried-and-true ones include:
- Get a sponsor (and call them)
- Go to 12-step meetings
- Work the steps
- Be of service
- Stay away from old playgrounds and playmates
- Develop new friendships with sober, healthy people
- Don’t get into a new relationship right away
They’re not saying those things to control you; they’re saying them because they increase your chances of staying sober. Following these suggestions might be uncomfortable, but it can also save you a whole lot of pain down the line.
5. Tend to your spirit
Finally, cultivate a connection to something greater than you. You can call it God, Goddess, Higher Power, Buddha, Allah, Krishna, the Universe, Creator, or Frank — it doesn’t matter so much what you call it, as long as you seek it.
Addiction is a physical disease, yes, and a behavioral issue for sure, but it is a spiritual crisis as well. We are consumed with self, isolated from others and generally terrified. We need spiritual help as well as physical and emotional care, and fortunately, there are a number of ways to access a Power greater than yourself. The 12 steps are one highly recommended route, as is practicing mindfulness, reading about different paths, spending time in nature, praying and talking with like-minded people about their brand of spirituality.
We addicts and alcoholics have been running on self-will for so long, spiritual pursuits such as prayer and meditation may feel odd at first. Keep at it, for when we have a peace that comes from our connection to a Higher Power, we are less likely to try to find peace in drugs and alcohol.
Sobriety is a wonderful, crazy ride. Give yourself a break, but also, get busy. We’ve been dying for too long. There is so much joy in life — go get it!
What do you do to stay healthy and sane in recovery? Let us know in the comments below.
Megan Krause is a recovered addict and freelance writer living an amazing, sober life in Phoenix, Arizona. Connect with her on LinkedIn.