8 Critical Mistakes in Early Sobriety
Mistakes in early sobriety are inevitable. Choosing to quit drinking sets off a domino effect of change that affects every area of your life. You’re bound to stumble and fall somewhere. Some mistakes amount to minor annoyance, while others can have more devastating consequences, such as relapse.
Luckily, with a little preparation, planning, and awareness, it’s possible to protect yourself from such unpleasant experiences.
Today I’d like to share 8 common mistakes in early sobriety and tips for maneuvering them – or avoiding them altogether.
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1. A perspective of permanence
One of the less obvious mistakes in early sobriety is adopting a perspective of permanence. Early sobriety is a wild, wild ride. During the earliest days, weeks and months, some people experience a time of euphoria known as the pink cloud. Everything seems perfect and rosy. You’re energetic, enthusiastic about this fresh new start, and you feel unstoppable. This doesn’t last forever, though, and if you’re not careful, once that pink bubble bursts you could find yourself susceptible to relapse.
Conversely, difficult times are also impermanent. If you never experience the pink cloud, or after the pink cloud ends you may experience times of boredom, sadness, loneliness or other negative emotions. Holding a perspective that these are permanent is also a recipe for disaster.
To beat this, no matter what you’re feeling at any given time, try to remind yourself that it is fleeting. No emotion lasts forever. You’re changing, growing, taking in new information and adjusting all the time. Especially in early sobriety. Don’t get attached to any one thought pattern or feeling and ride each wave as it comes. Take it day by day or even hour by hour if you need to.
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2. Stubbornness & Unwillingness to Change
One of the more common mistakes in early sobriety is stubbornness or being unwilling to change.
During my first 100 days without alcohol, I made some sweeping changes that I believe directly led to my success. One of which was to change my surroundings. I temporarily quit going to drinking events and parties while I got my sober legs beneath me, and now, at 6 months sober I’m fine in the presence of alcohol.
Other attempts to quit drinking were unsuccessful for me because I never gave myself that break.
This is only one example, however. Maybe in your first weeks or months of sobriety, you can still hang out at bars with your drinking buddies and not give in to temptation. Maybe the change you need to make is different. But you do need to be willing to alter some aspect of your behavior if you expect to be successful.
For some people, the change they need to make is to add meetings or counseling to their schedule. Others, maybe they need to change the route they take home after work – don’t drive by the liquor store or the bar or restaurant they usually frequent.
The point is you can’t be stubborn. You need to be willing to change some aspects of your lifestyle if you expect to be successful.
3. Changing too much, too soon
On the flip side, another mistake in early sobriety is changing too much, too soon. During that equally as awesome as dreadful pink cloud phase, everything seems so delightful. You feel like you’re capable of anything. You have all this extra time, energy, sometimes money, and extra confidence, too. Why not make a few changes?
Not so fast. You can do real damage if you change too much, too soon.
In my personal experience, I went overboard with an insane fitness plan. I joined a new gym and committed to doing 20 fitness classes during the month of February, on top of going vegetarian, practicing yoga (outside of the fitness classes) AND starting a new fitness education program. For the first week or two this was excellent, but by week 3 I was burned out, and by the end of the month I was completely miserable, totally exhausted and hated my new gym.
I still have an aversion to the gym 4 months later. Ouch.
My experience isn’t completely devastating. It could be worse. People end and begin new relationships, quit jobs, relocate, and make all sorts of big decisions when newly sober and that’s probably not the best idea.
Sobriety is a MAJOR life change all by itself. So many highs and lows and things to sort out. Don’t complicate it by adding OTHER life changes to the mix. Take it easy. Be gentle.
4. Not reaching out for support
If you look hard enough, this is probably the most universal mistake in early sobriety everyone warns about – not reaching out for support.
Even in our sobriety inspiration interviews on the blog, most of the women give advice of reaching out to or having a support system. It is critical.
You don’t have to join AA or go to counseling, but you absolutely can’t and should not tackle sobriety by yourself. Even if you’re shy. Even if you’re introverted.
At the very least, reach out to someone online. Instagram, Facebook, and even Reddit are great places to find support. So many people struggle with alcohol abuse and addiction. Knowing you aren’t alone can help.
Conversely, going it alone can actually hurt.
I remember many times I would vow silently without even telling my husband that I was going to quit drinking for as little as a week. I figured it’d be okay to keep it to myself. Of course, that same night or the night after, he’d come home with a bottle and off to the races I went!
Today my husband is my greatest support, but I also have several online friends and a few in-person too. It really helps to have someone on your team. Even just one will do.
5. Replacing addictions
I was hesitant to add this to the list of early sobriety mistakes because it’s controversial. Some say, “anything but alcohol” (within reason) is okay. Others think any addiction is harmful. You’ll have to make up your own mind what you’re comfortable with here and do what makes you feel best. But you should at least be aware that swapping addictions is totally a thing.
Many of us in early sobriety go hard with sugar. We stop drinking alcohol and replace it with all the sweets. For me, in the beginning, I was content with this, but it’s not good long-term. I was able to kick a long-standing sugar habit by trying intermittent fasting, luckily, though I didn’t know before starting that this would work.
I also became obsessed with blogging, and probably drank way too much coffee too. I don’t know if these are at addiction-swapping levels, but I don’t feel like they negatively impacted my life.
If you’re trading your alcohol addiction for something that might damage your life, however, like gambling, sex (in some cases) or another drug, you may need to be careful.
6. Having too high expectations
Another common mistake in early sobriety is having too high expectations. When these expectations aren’t met, you can fall flat. That disappointment is no fun – trust me.
In another post, I’ll go deeper into this, but it’s so easy to think alcohol is the root of all our problems. We see alcohol wreaks so much havoc on our lives. We imagine removing alcohol means everything will magically correct itself without work. This is not the case.
For me, I thought once I stopped drinking I’d lose a metric ton of weight and I’d stop losing things. I’m still overweight six months in, and I just lost one of the beautiful diamond earrings my husband gifted me for Christmas a few years back. Alcohol changes a lot, but not everything. You still must do the work.
In fact, removing alcohol forces you to do more work to make your life better. In some ways, it makes life harder before it makes it any easier. Expecting the removal of alcohol to be a magic pill to turn your life around with minimal effort on your part is a recipe for failure.
7. Not getting adequate help
Please take this into serious consideration. Depending on the severity of your alcohol abuse and any other underlying physical or mental health issues you have, it is a huge mistake to avoid getting the help you need.
Some people experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) when quitting alcohol cold-turkey, and this can be life-threatening. These people should not quit alcohol without the help of medical professionals.
Others have underlying mental health issues such as depression and would do best with the help of a counselor or a psychiatrist.
There is no shame in admitting you need help. There is only strength.
8. Comparing yourself to others
Finally, comparing yourself to others in early sobriety is a mistake.
Some people online make sobriety look so fun and glamorous, and easy. That’s good! It is, and it can be – but if that’s not your experience that is OKAY.
The internet is a great place to find support, but remember you often only see a small part of the picture online.
Nobody is exactly like you, and no two journeys will be the same.
Comparing yourself to others for whatever reason is completely useless. You need to find your own path and look to others for support and inspiration, not comparison.
Sobriety Is Hard — But You Can Do It
While quitting drinking alcohol is one of the best life changes you can make, especially if you have a checkered past with the drug, it can be really, really hard.
Early sobriety is a time of wild swings, ups, and downs. Everything is changing, you’re figuring yourself out and coming to terms with your new life.
Take it easy but be aware of the pitfalls and traps that lay ahead, making your road to recovery bumpier than it needs to be.
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