As the saying goes, feelings are like children: you don’t want to put them in the trunk, but you don’t want them driving the car either.
For me, this means that I can’t wait until I feel like doing the things that support my recovery; those tedious things, those things that sometimes feel like a waste of time — I have to make them a habit. So when I heard a woman speaking at a recovery meeting a few years back, and she said, “good recovery equals good habits,” I went right home (with my blown mind) and created a list of what I call my “non-negotiables” on the road to continued recovery.
But as someone who has trouble keeping with a consistent routine, I had to make sure these fit into my life without overwhelming me. So, here is how I created a recovery maintenance routine that I can actually live with.
1. Morning Meditation
For years, my favorite way to start the day was to have coffee in bed while watching the news and reading emails on my phone. The challenge here is that that cup of coffee, the news, the emails… They all start my mind racing, making it impossible to quiet it on my own. Vedic mediation teacher Jeff Kober, who writes a daily meditation that I’ve read for years, has this to say about busy minds:
“The mind is not broken. It’s not out to get me. I’m simply using it in a way that it’s not designed to be used. Each time we meditate, we transcend the mind, moving into that experience of Self that is pure being. And eventually, it begins to quiet down on its own. And I can begin to find here with my eyes open the same peace that I find in meditation.”
Now, before I pick up the phone and turn on the TV, I meditate. Sometimes it’s five minutes, sometimes it’s twenty, but it always gets me right. And bonus: it makes me a much better person with whom to quarantine.
2. Start & End Your Day in “Awe”
“Awe,” he says, “reminds us of the miracle of life — that we are all connected to something greater. It puts things into perspective; minor, everyday concerns never seem all that serious once you realize that it’s all part of the Great Mystery.”
When I got home from rehab, I could not wait to hug my kids, get a Starbucks or sleep in my own bed, in that order. Now, over twelve years later, I wake up every morning and I don’t move a muscle until I’ve located that same sense of awe I felt when I arrived home. When I stood in line for that first time at my local Starbucks, I was so grateful to be there that I actually hugged the woman in front of me! So now I whisper a gratitude list to the universe as soon as I wake up and before I fall asleep:
“I’m so grateful for my sheets; I’m so grateful for the sun (or the rain), I’m so grateful for warm showers, for my kids, for hot tea, for my phone, for my car…”
Keep it simple.
3. Work it Out
When I was on a mission to get high, I was unstoppable. So why does it take so little for me to get the “I just don’t wanna’s” when I’m on a mission to get well? Eight years ago, I decided I wasn’t going to let my feelings dictate my actions. Mainly because, among other things, my feelings are what got me drunk, incomprehensibly demoralized, and made me do some really stupid shit. But working out isn’t just good for my body; it’s good for my mental health, which in turn, is essential for my recovery. Even though I NEVER feel like working out, I never miss a class unless I’m sick.
Other daily non-negotiables include:
Get outside: Sometimes I take the dogs for a walk, sometimes I sit on my balcony, but I try to get some sun on my face every day.
Get to a meeting: Whether it’s 12-step meetings or another recovery community, go be with your people. If I miss one of my weekly meetings, I try to pick up another one. I always hear something I need to hear.
Return every call within 24 hours: If I absolutely can’t call someone back the same day, I’ll send them a text. This might not be on everyone’s “negotiable list,” but for me, being accountable is important, especially after all those years of flakiness while drinking.
Tell the truth: I don’t tell people that I’m five-minutes away when I haven’t left the house anymore. Lying is a slippery slope for me. Also, better to be honest than to spend time trying to remember which lies I told and to whom.
Clean as I go: I hate admitting when I’m wrong, and the longer I wait to take responsibility for something, the harder it gets. So I make amends quickly whenever necessary, and I don’t have to go to bed with red in my ledger.
I don’t check off each of these items every single day, but I always make the effort. After all, “it’s progress not perfection.” My advice is to start small, maybe a one-minute meditation three times per week, a three-item gratitude list, a walk around the block, and work upwards from there. I thought a recovery routine would tie me down and eat up my time. But I’ve found that the exact opposite has happened instead. These routines and habits have provided me with a freedom that I never even imagined were possible. And that, I’d say, is well worth the price of admission.