Sober Breakups: Maintaining Sobriety Through Heartbreak
Breakups suck, but they don’t have to result in a relapse
Let’s face it- every person in recovery has wished that getting sober was a magic bullet for all of life’s problems. Unfortunately even in sobriety, life still happens. Just like everyone else, sober people lose loved ones, get fired, suffer health problems, and of course, sober people can have relationships that end in heartbreak. The pain of a breakup is gut-wrenching. Old familiar feelings of self-doubt, low self-esteem, and depression come crashing back into our lives, leaving us feeling hopeless, angry, lonely, and sad- a perfect recipe for relapse.
The good news is that the principles of recovery can be applied to any situation, not just our addiction. Recovery programs teach us to feel our feelings and deal with them in healthy ways, rather than resorting to drink or drug. By staying mindful and focusing on the lessons of recovery, you can get through a breakup or any of life’s ups and downs. Here’s some things you can do if you find yourself going through a breakup to help maintain and even improve your recovery.
Talk to someone It could be your recovery coach, a sponsor, friend, family member, or therapist. Talking about your problems can be therapeutic, especially if the conversation leads to an action plan for future happiness. At the very least, it helps you stay connected to your network and check in with people who truly care. For me, talking about my problems helps me see different perspectives and get a better handle on situations- giving me new insight into myself and the patterns in my life.
Don’t act out It goes without saying that people in recovery shouldn’t drink or drug following a breakup. But there are plenty of other ways to do lasting emotional damage to ourselves and loved ones, even without alcohol and drugs. Avoid lashing out at your ex, or begging them to take you back. Don’t yell at friends, family members or co-workers who are just trying to help. Don’t go out and try to sleep with everything that moves. Don’t shoplift. Don’t participate in online arguments. Don’t make any major decisions or geographic changes. Don’t stop bathing and practicing self-care. Don’t miss appointments or call in sick to work. Acting out in these ways might seem unavoidable in the moment, but they can cause lasting damage to the life you’ve worked so hard to rebuild in your recovery.
When the urge to act out presents itself, take a deep breath, count to 10, and practice mindfulness exercises or meditative practices. Trust me, in the long run, deep breathing feels a lot better than causing more damage in the life you’re trying to rebuild.
Exercise. A lot. The low self-esteem caused by most breakups can be devastating to a program of recovery. One of the best ways to combat low self-esteem and negative thinking is to develop an exercise routine. Not only does exercise burn calories and improve overall health, exercise also causes your brain to produce endorphins, dopamine, and seratonin, which are the chemicals in your body that are responsible for feelings like joy and love. There is no downside to exercising after a bad breakup. Either you feel better mentally, look better physically, or both! It’s win/win.
Do you Relationships are all about compromise. Couples either compromise or fight about where to eat, what to watch on TV, how to decorate, where to go on vacation, and more. One of the best things about being suddenly single is that you can do whatever you want. Whether it’s eating breakfast for dinner or watching a scary movie before bed that would’ve given your partner nightmares, small acts of independence are healthy and necessary to longterm health.
One of the best ways to declare your independence is to find a social hobby or pastime that interests you where you can meet new people and make new friends. Take a cooking class. Join a book club. Start a band. Learn to draw or paint or crochet. Go rock climbing. Join a gym. Join a local theater group. Healthy social activities are great way to decrease depression, make new friends, and increase self-esteem.
Treat yourself Everyone deserves to indulge a little bit. Don’t go over-the-top and spend your life savings on a new Ferrari, but small indulgences can serve to remind you that life is pretty damn good these days. If your bills are paid and it’s responsible to do so, go buy yourself a new outfit or treat yourself to a day at the spa. Go get a massage or a pedicure. Eat a couple pieces of fine chocolate. Remember, don’t go crazy. The idea here is to do something nice for yourself, not bankrupt yourself by filling a void with frivolous purchases.
There are dozens of ways to make yourself feel better during a breakup. But the best way to fully recover is to simply feel your feelings, accept them, and give the wounds time to heal. Remember, relapsing will only make things worse. But by practicing self-care, being kind to yourself and others, and avoiding old patterns, you’ll be over your ex before you know it.
-- Bryan Swift for Life Assurance Recovery 2017