How to relax without alcohol

relax without alcohol

relax without alcohol

You worked a full day.  You picked up the kids, made dinner, fed them, bathed them, put them to bed, cleaned up the wreckage of your living room and kitchen, and you are fried.  You have a thousand thoughts running through your head.  Responsibilities, worries, and to-dos whiz past your mind in non-sensical order.  You are wound tightly like a spring and you just want to unwind dammit.  Have a little “me” time.  How are you supposed to do this without a glass (or four) of wine?  How do people relax without alcohol?

The Recipe for Relaxation

cake recipe
Don’t question the cake

This is a dilemma that has faced every person who has ever gotten sober.  We all find a way and I promise you will too.  Now as you trawl the internet for ideas, you are likely to see a lot of the same things come up again and again.  Why?  Because they work.  If you look on the internet to find out how to bake a cake, you are going to keep seeing instructions that tell you to mix up some butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla with some flour, baking soda, and salt and bake it.  Why?  Because people have found again and again that if you do that, you will end up with a cake.  So yes, I am going to include things like exercise, meditation, and hot baths, because as much as I didn’t want them to, they do work.  But I am also going to give you a key to find out which relaxing activities might appeal to you most.  Ready?

Your most prominent sense

It all comes down to how you process the world.  You need to figure out your primary sense.  I am excluding smell and taste here because those are not necessarily constant, and well, we don’t want relaxation getting entwined with food because that’s a whole other issue. But generally, you fit into one of four categories

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinesthetic (Sensory)
  • Intellectual

We all experience these to varying degrees, but generally, we are more affected by one or two of them.  So do your best to determine your primary (and possibly secondary) sense, and check out some of the relaxation activities in that category.  You may enjoy something from every category, but because your primary sense is how you process the world, doing something that appeals to it is more likely to help you relax without alcohol much faster than one that doesn’t line up with who you are.

If you’re not sure – a sales trick

For most people, their primary sense is obvious and jumps right out at them from the list above.  But if you aren’t sure, there is a hack that I learned in a book about sales that says to pay attention to a person’s language.  Here is an example of a response from each primary sense:

Visual – “I see what you mean”

Auditory – “I hear you.”

Sensory – “I know how you feel”

Intellectual – “I understand/I think so”

Pay attention to which of these you say most often.  You may say more than one, but just keep a gentle note of it when you notice yourself (or hear yourself, or feel yourself, or think about) using language in this way.

Okay on to the list!

***

Visual

visual type

If you are primarily visual, you will probably relax more easily somewhere quiet.  Noise can be overstimulating for visual people. Things like art and design tend to appeal to you and you tend to process things very quickly.  Some relaxing activities that can appeal to a visual person are:

Coloring

adult coloring book
Must. Not. Go. Outside. The. Lines.

Adult coloring books have become all the rage over the past few years and with good reason.  It’s a great way to turn your brain off and make something beautiful.  You can grab some colored pencils at any drug store (or steal your child’s crayons, I won’t tell) and watch as a page transforms in front of your eyes. You can google it and print out free images or you can indulge in something like Johanna Basford’s The Secret Garden

Drawing

If you haven’t learned to draw, now is a great time to take up a hobby.  Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is the gold standard for teaching even someone like me who could barely draw a stickman to draw semi-recognizable figures.  It is both relaxing and interesting, and you never run out of material.

Zentangle

zentangle
Easier than it looks

Another option if you don’t have the time or interest in learning to draw for real, is to try your hand at Zentangles.  This takes doodling and turns it into something repetitive, meditative, and really enjoyable.

Do a puzzle

I believe dining room tables are only good for two things: holidays and puzzles.  Otherwise, they just collect junk.  So find a puzzle you find beautiful and dump it out on the table and get to work.  Depending on the age of your children, this may or may not be possible.  I love an old-fashioned puzzle, but don’t particularly want to spend the next month fishing puzzle pieces out of the various orifices of my toddler, I tend to go the app route.  Brainsbreaker is my absolute favorite for desktop, and I am currently digging “Jigsaw Puzzles Real Free” on my iPhone.

Nature Walks

forest bathing
Keep your clothes on please.

For visual people in particular, nature walks can be very restorative.  The quiet and the beauty of a forest or park can be just what’s needed after all the noise and distractions of the day.  It doesn’t need to be a hike.  Forest bathing has recently become trendy in the United States but has been a part of preventative healthcare in Japan for over 30 years.  Basically, just being in a forest and practicing mindfulness there can decrease stress and increase immunity.

***

Auditory

listening

Auditory people tend to absorb things better when they hear them rather than see them.  They tend to have an appreciation for music and like to have long discussions.

Audiobooks

While an engaging book is always a good way to relax, sometimes as a parent I am so fried that I can’t really concentrate.  And as an auditory person, listening to an audiobook just takes the experience up a notch, and allows me to do something else at the same time (should I want to).  Audible.com is my go-to, but both Google and Apple have plenty of audiobooks to download on their app stores as well.  I particularly like a good thriller, as they are easy to get wrapped up in and before I know it, the rest of the world has faded away.

Audiobooks are also great if you’ve been over-thinking.  It’s hard to think too hard when you are paying attention to the story.  Look up a book you know you like and see what else is recommended for people who liked that book.

Music

While most people have an appreciation for music, auditory types have a special connection to it.  Make different playlists to go with different moods.  Have a “cheer up” playlist of upbeat songs, a “chill out” mix for stressful days, and a “karaoke” list of things to sing along to.  Which brings me to…

Singing

choral group
Find out about performance uniforms before signing up.

Singing just makes you feel good.  Science says so.  The vibrations both calm us and elevate our mood by producing endorphins (happy hormones) and oxycontin (a hormone associated with relaxation and love/comfort).  It reduces cortisol, a stress hormone and can even help with depression.  Joining a chorus or choir is great if you have the time as these benefits are magnified by singing in a group.  However if like me, your voice sounds like an animal that has been run over by a car, you can still reap the benefits.  Just sing in the shower or when no one else is around.

Phone a Friend

Texting seems to have taken the place of phone calls over the past decade, and while it’s definitely more efficient, it’s not as much of a bonding experience as a long gab session with a friend.  Auditory people, in particular, connect very well this way, and hearing a friendly voice at the end of the day can be a big help.  These tend to work best when you set up a “phone date”.  Otherwise, no one answers these days.  Text a friend and say you want to catch up – do they have time for a call tonight?  Like 20 minutes?  Putting a time limit on it makes it seem less daunting, and if you are enjoying yourselves you can always blow right past it.

***

Kinesthetic/Sensory

kinsethetic type

As a kinesthetic or sensory type, you experience things in a very physical way and tend to feel things very deeply emotionally as well.  So slip into something really comfy and let your body help you relax.

Yoga

yoga tree pose

In the recovery community, yoga is very popular.  It produces a sense of calm and euphoria that can be very helpful when you miss the feeling of a buzz.  As a kinesthetic person, it’s particularly helpful that this practice is slow and steady, and allows you to focus on the sensations and your breathing.

Cuddle

Whether it’s your spouse, your child, or a fur baby, find something you can cuddle.  Cuddling releases oxytocin and particularly for kinesthetic types, helps you feel more connected and bonded with those you care about.

Bath

towels and candlesYou can’t be in early recovery without someone telling you to take a bath.  No, it’s not because you smell (probably?), but because it really is one of the most relaxing things you can do for yourself.  Do your best to make it as full a sensory experience as you can.  Use some lavender bubble bath (lavender is calming), light a couple candles and soak for fifteen minutes.  This is best to do before bed because your body temperature drops when you get out of the tub, which leads to much deeper sleep if you go to bed right after drying off.  That said, don’t wait until too late to take a bath because you don’t want to fall asleep in there!

 

Gardening/Crafting

Get productive with your hands.  Whether it’s weeding a garden, knitting, sewing, soapmaking, painting, or working with clay, find something your hands love to do.  A lot of women who are attached to drinking think of it as something “just for me” after doing so much for others. Hobbies are a great way to have something that is just for you.  Find something you love to create with your hands.  It’s satisfying on a very basic human level.

Cook/Bake

child kneading dough
Kids love helping too if you don’t mind the mess…

Cooking can be very relaxing if done for fun.  Figure out a recipe you’d love to try and take your time with it, focusing on the feelings of preparing the ingredients.  Experience the sounds of chopping and sautéing, the smells of the food, watch it all come together…  It really involves all the senses and can be a lot of fun.

 

 

***

Intellectual

intellectual type

If you are an intellectual type you tend to be in your head a lot.  You think things out logically and like having lists and rules.  It can be hard to get out of your head and you might have used drinking to get your head to give you peace for five minutes.

Journaling/Listmaking

hand with writing on it
I prefer paper but whatever you have on hand…

Sometimes it helps to get your thoughts out of your head and onto the page, whether that is in a journal or just a random word document.  For some reason, problems tend to stop rattling around and repeating themselves if you put it down on paper.  To that end, I also recommend list-making.  Do a brain dump of all your to-dos, ideas, projects, next steps, concerns, things to follow up on etc.  Then organize it into action items and reference files.  This is the basis behind the “Getting Things Done” system and it can be very helpful for anxiety.  Knowing where everything stands can allow you to give your brain a break.  Which makes you more likely to be able to…

Meditate

This can be hard if you are an intellectual, but it’s also the most beneficial for you.  If you drank to turn your brain off, this is learning to do that without alcohol.  It’s not hard at all.  Apps like Calm and Headspace walk you through it, so you don’t have to figure it out on your own.  Meditation has cumulative benefits so that over time, things that used to get you all worked up just don’t seem to bother you anymore.

Running (or another hard exercise)

This is another thought killer and a great way to deal with anxiety.  Make your body work so hard you can’t have a thought in your head.  And get a rush to boot.  (Get a doctor’s okay to do this first.)

Bad TV

Real Housewives, silly competitions on the Food Network, Property Brothers, The Bachelor…  Find something absolutely mindless yet somehow entertaining and enjoy the hell out of it.  No one has to know!

These are just a sampling of all the ways you can unwind.  It won’t be automatic at first, because you have conditioned yourself to associate alcohol with relaxation, so you will have to learn what it feels like to relax without alcohol.  It might feel a little different (but still awesome) and if you are in very early recovery your body may still be in a bit of shock, so it may take some time to relax properly.  But you will find what does it for you.  Pick one or two of these that sound appealing and give them a try.  If you feel like you don’t have time, think of all the time you spent glued to the couch or barstool.  The time is there if you work to find it.  You don’t have to spend hours on these things.  Just start creating new relaxation habits that fit your new life.

How do YOU relax without alcohol?

relax without alcohol
Nice if you can afford it

I’d love to hear other ways you’ve found to relax without alcohol.  Drop me a note in the comments or on social media!

My Invisible Sober Friends

sober friends

sober friends

 

I don’t know any of these people, but they keep me sober.  This is a great time in history to be sober — we have all these wonderful resources. Sometimes when you aren’t face-to-face, you can say things that you otherwise couldn’t.  That’s why I love my invisible sober friends.  They strengthen my sobriety every day.

Podcasts:

podcast resource

Name: The Bubble Hour 

The details: This is my personal favorite of the sobriety podcasts, because it’s geared towards women, and it doesn’t push any one particular practice of recovery.  While I have had good luck with 12 steps, I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.   These ladies focus on themes for the episodes, which are generally about an hour.  I listen to them when I am doing errands, walking around, doing dishes etc.

resource podcast

Name: Recover Girl with Anna David

The details: This one is fun. It used to be called “The Afterparty” and it fit well.  She talks with people mainly in the entertainment industry about their thoughts on addiction.  Sometimes the intros can take awhile, but it’s worth it once it gets going.  Her episode with Moby is unmissable

Books

Drinking – A love story – Caroline Knapp  

If you didn’t read this in secret while you were considering getting sober, grab it now.  It’s amazing.

Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol – Ann Dowsett Johnston

An amazing analysis on how alcohol affects women differently.  Really interesting take on how alcohol is marketed to women and the effect that has had.  That said, a couple of the stories can be a little hard to read as a mom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop Drinking Now – Alan Carr’s Easyway

Though he pays homage to AA, Carr rejects the disease model. He instead follows the line of reasoning that alcohol is an addictive substance, and like any other, it’s job is to get you addicted.  Much in the same way that he did for cigarettes, he examines everything that we *think* we find enjoyable about drinking, and makes you realize – it’s not really that enjoyable.  While his book Alan Carr’s Easy Way to Quit Smoking did get me to quit a pack a day habit with ease, this book did not get me sober on its own, though it does for some.  It does inform a lot of how I look at alcoholism, and it made quitting alcohol a hell of a lot easier with that mindset.

 

This Naked Mind – Annie Grace

This is basically the same thought process as the Alan Carr book, but I found this to be much more readable and relatable as a woman. Reading both will not kill you.

Social Media

Twitter

Go ahead and make up an anonymous handle just for recovery stuff.  Search out hashtags like #xa #recovery #sobriety etc.  You can find a good community on there pretty quickly.  I always said I’d NEVER be on there and I am eating my words.

Facebook

This one can be iffy.  Personally, I belong to a private group for sober moms which is set up as a secret board, so it won’t notify all your friends that you joined it etc.  If you can’t find any, start your own!  Be careful about liking/posting to public boards if you care about your anonymity.  But I put this on here because this particular group has been a lifeline to me.

Recovery Websites and Apps

Sober Grid

This is an app that contains a sober social network.  Just like you can on Twitter, you can get a quick response here when you need one.  While seemingly more for people newer to sobriety, sometimes that can be a good thing.  Especially if you are too busy to sponsor, just show up on there for five minutes.  Provide some experience, strength, and hope to someone who is just trying to get through their first few days.  It feels good.

Hip Sobriety

I have such a blog crush on Hip Sobriety.  It’s brainy and brilliant.  It’s a modern take on women’s sobriety, feminism, culture… I only wish it had comments enabled so I could fawn over every post.

Unpickled Blog

The personal musings of the host of the bubble hour.  Always good writing on sobriety and life.

Mrs D is Going Without

There’s a reason this site consistently ranks as one of the best recovery blogs out there.  She is funny and wise. I wish she didn’t live on the other side of the world so we could be real-life friends and hang out at each others’ houses.  You can read her first year of sobriety month by month, as it’s conveniently sectioned out at the top.  She also has a new book out which I can’t wait to read.

This post will become its own page on the blog, and I will continue to update it with new and wonderful things that I find.

Got a favorite sobriety blog? Podcast? Book?  Tell me in the comments!

5 Recovery Tools you can do in 5 minutes

5 recovery tools you can do in five minutes a day
Yeah it’s been awhile since I cleaned…

 

I have a confession — I only get to a recovery meeting every couple of weeks.  When I admitted this to the women on the message board that has kept me sane since becoming a mother, I was terrified.  I figured they would call me a bad alcoholic and not allow me to be a part of the 12 step recovery community anymore because everybody knows, “Meeting Makers Make It!”

Then a funny thing happened – when I admitted how infrequently I went and how embarrassed I was about it, dozens of women acknowledged in the comments that they were in the same position, but were afraid to say anything.   When you are a mom to small children, whether you are working as I do, or you are at home with them full time, prioritizing yourself and your mental health is often last on the list.

“Well, I haven’t been craving a drink,” you think.  “I’m okay for now.  And I really need a shower…” And you don’t drink and it’s fine.  Except that then it’s every day and it’s less and less fine.  The truth is, at this point in our lives, it’s not necessarily realistic to expect to get to an in-person meeting with any frequency.

There’s no question, meetings are definitely the gold standard.  I walk out of a meeting feeling like the freaking Dalai Lama.  But this isn’t a zero-sum game.  Here are five recovery tools that will fit into your crazy mom life.

Recovery Tool #1

book with glasses

Read Program Literature* Every Day

Whether it’s a few pages from the Big Book (and/or the stories in the back), a Daily Reflections, the 12 and 12, or even something like Grapevine or Drop the Rock, this is an old standby. It’s a good way to stay connected to the program. We alcoholics have terrible memories, so the excuse that you’ve read it before doesn’t wash here. Meetings are repetitive as hell and for good reason. We will forget.

If you are not an AA person, check out the resources page for plenty of alternatives.  I tend to use them supplementally, but whatever works for you is awesome.

Recovery Tool #2

buddha
Oh look, it’s me postpartum.

Meditate

Meditation for me is a lot like writing or exercise. I love having DONE it, but I hate sitting down and actually DOING it. I have zero motivation even though I know it helps me in ways I probably don’t even realize. Meditation literally changes your brain and since I was all about the mind-altering substances, it should theoretically be right up my alley! But it’s difficult to get excited about sitting and doing nothing. The only way it happens for me is if it’s built into my routine. If I can hack out ten minutes to listen to a Headspace track during my lunch break consistently, it makes a huge difference in my life.

If you struggle to find five minutes, go for one minute! Some days are a blur. When you get a quiet(ish) moment just take a second to check in with your senses. Feel your feet on the floor.  What else are you touching?  What does the air smell like? What can you hear, both nearby and far away? Can you taste anything? (Is it time for a mint?) What are you looking at that could be seen as beautiful? These tiny check-ins take you out of the constant whir and bustle in your mind. I try to do one of these whenever my son or my husband leans in to cuddle me.

Recovery Tool #3

praying-mantis
Make like a Mantis

Pray/Ask for help

It’s staggering how often I forget to do this. It’s such a simple thing, and so important in recovery, but with having to wrangle small people and big business, I am so used to being in charge, that I have trouble remembering that I can ask for help. My main solution to this is that I have created a habit for it – I pray in the shower. That’s the only way I do it consistently. Mainly I just ask for direction and do a modified 3rd step prayer that my sponsor helped me come up with. (I wasn’t relating to it as it is written in the Big Book.)  Whatever else I am struggling with at the time, I just ask for help in accepting it and for guidance on how to get through it with grace.

Recovery Tool #4

woman on phone
Even if she is slightly cray cray.

Call/text (or help) another sober* woman.

Admittedly, I am a full-on hypocrite and I absolutely suck at this one. I hate calling people with a passion. I get stage fright calling for delivery or asking a store if they are open on a holiday. Texting is marginally better, but if it’s someone I just met? Not likely to happen. My answer to this has been Facebook Groups/Message Boards. I can simply go on there and comment on someone’s thread with something supportive, and it’s an instant boost for me. Yes, I sometimes post my own stuff if I’m struggling, but it’s the service aspect of this that really is the meat of recovery for me. And because it’s not a call or a text, I don’t have to worry about whether someone is going to keep me in a conversation that I don’t have time for.

* Don’t limit yourself to helping only sober women. It’s definitely important and you should do this as part of your program. In general though, if you can be on the lookout to help out a stranger once a week (offer directions, pay a compliment, etc.) It will make you feel good. I know it can feel like all we do all day long is help other people, but it feels different when you do it not because you are expected to, but because you just want to spread a little goodness in the world today.

Recovery Tool #5

journal
I spy at least two choking hazards here.

Gratitude journal

I know, I know. You’ve heard it before.  Maybe you’ve even done it before! But humor me. It doesn’t have to be frilly or Pinterest-worthy.  Just a running email/Evernote file to yourself with your favorite thing that happened today is a game changer.  Gratitude trains your eye to look out for the good throughout your day where you might otherwise gloss over it. Think of it as something to check off on your list as you are going through the day.   And always say why you are grateful for it. “I am grateful that there was no traffic today because it let me get to work in a decent mood.”  “That was a damn good ice cream cone!  Those make me feel like a kid again.”  It doesn’t have to be huge.  Writing it down right before bed puts a nice button on your day.

If you struggle to find five minutes, go for one minute! Some days are a blur.

Sometimes you will not do any of this. Some days you will spend the ten minutes you could have used meditating locked in the bathroom playing Candy Crush. Go easy on yourself. Sometimes the to-do list can’t take one more thing without making your head explode. We are aiming for progress, not perfection. If you aren’t doing any of these right now, shoot for one. If you like it, try another one. Easy does it.