10 things recovering alcoholics do that you should do, too

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We turn to booze and drugs to forget the stresses of life. And they do a great job… until they don’t. Until the consequences get worse than the problems you’re trying to blot out.

For those who have quit all together, like me, 12-step recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous initially seem terrifyingly Bible-based (there’s a ‘Big Book’ for chrissakes!) and the conversation in meetings is loaded with slogans and acronyms. It’s totally perplexing at first, until you notice the influences of pop Buddhism, CBT, NPL and mindfulness practices which have infiltrated recovery in recent years – all designed to make your life E.A.S.I.E.R..

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You don’t have to go sober to take advantage of the one-liner epiphanies these programs have to offer – take ten from me for nothing.

1. Progress Not Perfection

Basically, chill TFO. If you’ve got sky-high expectations of yourself then life is gonna be one big fail. You’re a human being. You’re not going to be perfect – you’re not meant to be perfect.

See also: Let It Go – although this can also refer to your frustration with someone else’s behaviour. Is anyone benefitting by you flipping your wig? Thought not.

2. The Only Thing I Can Control Is My Actions

You’ve NO control over other people’s selfish/rude/cruel behaviour, so don’t waste your time trying – focus on how you choose to react.

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See also: Quit Playing God – we’re like an actor trying to run the whole show, from the lights to the scenery to the rest of the players. But life doesn’t play along.

3. Stinking Thinking

You might think sobriety is all about not picking up a drink but so much of it is about managing our thoughts. Every time people relapse they make that decision while sober, so clearly our thoughts are the problem – not the booze.

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Unhelpful thoughts pop into our heads all the time. You can choose whether you ignore them, replace them or entertain them. And next time you have a drastic life-changing idea, check in with another human being before you take action. If their face says WTF then maybe rethink.

4. F.E.A.R.: False Evidence Appearing Real

Some fears are utterly reasonable (poisonous things, hot stoves – real dangers). But mostly fear just holds us back from doing what we want. Ask yourself, is your fear justified? Or is your mind just making up stories?

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5. Practise An Attitude of Gratitude

Yes, some people have more of everything. But which of these sounds like the pathway to a happier life: cataloguing what you don’t have or being grateful for what you do? Recovering alcoholics tend to make daily gratitude lists to remind themselves… and eventually they really don’t have to wonder about it.


6. Do You Want to Be Right or to Be Happy?

Sometimes being right is totally worth it. But is this one of those times? If you’re not sure, ask yourself honestly whether you’re going to remember this grievance in three months’ time. If you swear you will, try a bloody year.

See also: How Important is it Really?

7. What Other People Think of You is None of Your Business

I know this sounds ridiculous, but if you’re calling BS in your head, take a deep breath and try sitting with it. You may be the subject of other people’s thoughts, but you have no control or ownership of them. And don’t forget their thoughts say more about them than you.

8. K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Stupid

The thought of doing anything – like quitting drinking – for a whole lifetime is terrifying. Break it down. Think about things in 24-hour blocks, 12-hour blocks, five-minutes blocks. Whatever – just keep it simple and don’t try and orchestrate your entire future.

9. Act As If...

None of us gets a manual on how to be a grown-up. Ask yourself how you’d act if you were brave / loving / confident – then do that.

10. Be Part of the Solution, Not the Problem

Do you hate something about your life or the world in general? Be brave and ask yourself honestly… are you really part of the solution or adding to the problem? Not sure? Check in with someone who won’t co-sign any bull.

Esther Coleman Hawkins is the producer of Last Chance Saloon – an SBS doco about drunks getting sober. She quit the booze herself, six years ago.