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The Only 5 Things You Can Control in Recovery

infographic on various ways to stay focused on recovery goals

During residential treatment, all you have to worry about is staying sober. Everything in your life is focused on helping you do that, from the meals that are served to you to the program scheduling to the language and lingo that people use to maintain a focus on health and wellness. Even in outpatient treatment, the constant reconnection with recovery principles and substance abuse treatment professionals helps you to manage any issues that arise due to other people’s choices.

As you transition into independent living in recovery

However, you lose that sense of safety and recovery focus that was built into daily treatment and learn quickly that other people’s choices are beyond your control. Some of these choices may feel like a direct assault on your ability to stay sober, but the truth is that only you have the power to control yourself, and that is a great deal of power indeed.

In any situation, no matter how stressful, you will always be able to control the following:

1. Your response: Though you cannot control how you initially feel when something stressful happens or someone makes a choice that makes you uncomfortable, you can control how you choose to respond to that situation. You do not have make choices that make the situation worse. For example, if someone is getting high and offers to share with you, you do not have to accept the offer, get angry, or panic, even if you initially feel like doing any or all of those things.

Instead, you can choose to say “no,” take a break and remove yourself from the situation, or call someone who is sober and ready to talk you through what you are experiencing.

2. Your internal dialogue: In recovery, many people have an ongoing negative internal dialogue. “I’m never going to be able to stay sober.” “I don’t deserve to be happy after what I did to all those people when I was in active addiction.” “I hate how I look.”

You can choose instead to notice when you are being negative with yourself and intentionally insert positive self-talk. For example: “I am working hard to stay sober, and I can do this as long as I don’t give up.” “I forgive myself for my past choices, and I am working to make amends where I can and use my life for a greater purpose in recovery.” “I am healthy and strong, and I am creating my own standard of health, wellness, and beauty.”

3. Your physical wellness: How you feel physically deeply impacts how you function in recovery. Though you cannot control whether or not you have a chronic illness, you can control how you choose to take care of your body. For example, focusing on restorative sleep, healthy food, and regular workouts at your ability level can help you to feel better mentally as well as physically and make you feel more empowered in handling the unexpected choices of others.

4. Your overall stress level: You may not be able to control acute stressors that arise – a sudden illness, changes at home, divorce, losing your job, or a fight with a good friend – but you can control what level of stress you are working with at the time that these acute stressors occur. In addition to caring for your physical wellness, you can also attend regularly to your mental health through lifestyle choices, including yoga and meditation, letting go of toxic people in your life, surrounding yourself with positive and supportive people, and creating a safe and comfortable home. These can all make it easier for you to manage your response to whatever comes your way.

5. Your breathing: Focusing on the breath is one thing you can control at any time, and during stressful moments, this can and should be your first step to handling the situation. Three-part breathing is a solid place to start, as learning how to take a full, deep, and slow breaths can help you to calm down. If you are having a hard time falling asleep, many experts suggest a 4-7-8 breathing, where you breathe in for four counts, hold for seven, then exhale for eight counts, and repeat until you fall asleep.

How do you stay sober through upsetting incidents or events that you cannot control? How do you avoid relapse and keep moving forward in recovery?

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Sunrise House is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands of pa...