Therapist Carder Stout, PhD, works with clients to help overcome addiction, anxiety, depression, and trauma. He has been sober himself for fifteen years – you can read about his path to sobriety here in an excerpt from his first book. Below, he answers one of the most common questions we’ve been asked about addiction and sobriety over the past year. (Do you have a question for a therapist? Write to us [email protected].)
Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve developed some new substance abuse problems that I didn’t have before. It started out as a way to deal with it. But it went too far. I’m working on sobering up and I’m fine. How do I make sure it lasts? – Isabel M.
First, let me applaud you for coping well with your sobriety. That is a remarkable achievement. I hope you feel good about it.
The pandemic was a perfect storm for addictive behaviors. Substance abuse often arises as an escape from boredom, repetition, claustrophobia, isolation, fear, or being overwhelmed. But substance abuse is not a healthy cure for these problems.
At its root, substance abuse thrives where there are harmful and limiting beliefs about ourselves and our circumstances. The voices in our head tell us that we are not good enough or that we are unsuccessful. Let’s replace this news with a new narrative. Every time you set yourself a small goal and achieve it, your more precise perception of yourself will help you stay sober. So make an agreement with yourself that you will not drink or ingest substances for the day, and when you reach that milestone, bask in success. Yes, you can be successful, and yes, you are good enough.
If you stumble, forgive yourself and move on. You’re not perfect and getting sober is messy. Relapse is part of the process, so don’t be too strict with yourself. Shame and guilt often fuel our drinking, pill, and smoking; Forgiveness will be an integral part of maintaining sobriety.
Here are a few tips to help you stay sober. Creating a daily routine that includes food, exercise, and connecting with others will be essential to your success.
Remove the temptation. For the time being, get all that alcohol, narcotics, and weed – or any other substance that you struggle with – out of your home. Give them to a friend or just throw them in the trash. By removing them from your surroundings, you can eliminate the imminent risk of relapse.
Set small goals for yourself. When you wake up in the morning you set yourself a goal for the day, “I’ll be sober.” If you can do it, amazing. If not, forgive yourself. Say something like, “For all the things I did yesterday that I’m not proud of, I forgive myself.”
Be responsible. Let your friends and family know that you are trying to stay sober and be honest with them about your progress. Don’t feel shy, ashamed, or guilty when you relapse. Connect with someone on a personal level every day. Substance abuse loves deception and isolation – so make sure you reach out and stay honest.
Feed yourself. Make sure you are consuming healthy, nutritious foods. When you sober up, see what you put into your body as a reflection of your own feelings. Good food is a way to practice self-love.
Go outside. Put your feet on the floor. Literally: Sit on a piece of grass in your garden, park, or beach with the soles of your feet on the ground. Imagine all of your limiting beliefs dissolving into the dirt.
Be optimistic and positive. Your sobriety is a search for a deeper, happier, and more authentic part of yourself. This is a noble pursuit. Remember your motives. Be clear to them. You deserve that.
Carder Stout, PhD, is a Los Angeles-based therapist with a private practice in Brentwood treating clients for anxiety, depression, addiction, and trauma. As a relationship specialist, he is adept at helping customers become more honest with themselves and their partners. He received his PhD in Psychology from the Pacifica Graduate Institute in August 2015.
This article is for informational purposes only, even if and regardless of whether it contains the advice of doctors and naturopaths. This article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied on for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the expert’s views and do not necessarily reflect those of goop.