Staying Sober in Springtime: A How-to Guide
Spring is here. As the air warms up, the trees become green again, the birds start chirping, the snow melts, and also people tend to party more. For a recovering addict, the transition from winter to spring can be daunting. You’ve made it through the holidays, not drinking on Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year’s Eve. Then throughout the winter, you maintained your sobriety with binge-watching Netflix and sleeping. The next hump to get over is springtime, and it’s probably the most difficult hump.
We are going to discuss some ways to maintain sobriety throughout the season of spring. First we are going to discuss how weather can affect our mood and behavior, along with some particular reasons why spring is perhaps the season during which sobriety is hardest to maintain. If you wish only to read about how to maintain your sobriety, begin reading below with the section titled The How-to Guide.
It Depends on the Weather
Obviously not every region of the US has the same weather. Winters in Maine are much colder than winters in Florida, for instance. However, regardless of where you live, the weather affects your mood someway somehow. There is a spectrum as to how much weather affects you and the vast majority of us are affected only slightly. If a warm day occurs during a cold week, we tend to become a little happier, a little more vibrant. If the opposite happens, we tend to become a little sullen, a little bit down.
On the far end of the spectrum are people with something called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. According to Wikipedia, SAD “is a mood disorder subset in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year exhibit depressive symptoms at the same time each year, most commonly in the winter.” The state of Alaska produces the most cases of SAD out of all states – and it’s no wonder why.
That all being said, for a recovering addict, weather can play a role in substance abuse. A suddenly warm day during a cold stretch could very easily create cravings. For recovering addicts with SAD, changes in the weather could spell relapse. Warm weather means being outdoors more, seeing people more, and people partying more. Grills and pools are being uncovered, and here in America that also means that plenty of alcohol is being consumed, and plenty of substances are being abused.
Spring Brings Parties
The key to staying sober as a recovering addict is to either avoid triggers, or respond to them positively. Spring tends to be full of triggers. Maybe you used to have a beer after mowing your lawn. Now the smell of cut grass is a trigger. Maybe you used to snort cocaine by the poolside once it became warm enough. Now pools are triggers. You see the picture.
Other than the amount of parties increasing, spring weather also brings vacations, both for schoolchildren and adults, and increased availability of illicit substances, as transportation is facilitated. There is always stress that comes from either planning a vacation or having your kid(s) home for their vacation from school. Stress is the most prominent trigger of all. Also, the major holidays may have passed by in winter, but spring break and Memorial Day are notorious party times.
Many areas of the US are subject to heat waves around this time of year. Especially in the northeast, heat waves occur most often during the beginning of spring. It’s a period of relatively unusually hot weather. It’s also cause for concern among recovering addicts. According to Psych Central, “Heat waves are related to more violent behavior and aggression. Heat waves may be associated with higher drug and alcohol abuse.”
OK so now you know how spring brings a plethora of temptation to relapse. How do you prevent it? What follows are some of our best pieces of advice when it comes to maintaining sobriety in spring as a recovering addict.
The How-to Guide
After some debate, we have decided to share with you seven ways to stay sober in the spring. We are speaking mainly to recovering addicts, but really anyone wanting to stay sober can follow this guide and achieve it. Please note though that if you are currently abusing drugs and/or alcohol, you should skip reading anything for now and seek help immediately. Even if you think you don’t have a problem – even if you know you don’t – now is the time to act. Addiction forms quicker than you think. Now, for the list.
- Be aware that weather affects you.
Simply bearing in mind that the weather can indeed alter your mood can help you avoid relapse. Sometimes it will truly be the weather that causes a trigger, and in these moments one way to avoid using is reminding yourself that it’s just the sun! So it’s warm out… does that mean you’re going to give up all the work you’ve put in? Because the snow is gone?! You are stronger than that.
Also, here’s a helpful hint. During seasonal changes if you experience a trigger or a craving, you could just blame it on the weather, even if it wasn’t the case. In doing so, you sort of create a scapegoat that can take all the blame off your hands, and it’s just the weather so no harm done.
- Get a Recovery Sponsor.
Every single recovering addict’s story is different. Some have gone through rehabilitation, some have not. Some are on their feet in life, some are not. If you happen to be a recovering addict who went through a professional rehab process, chances are you were given the option of a recovery sponsor. This is a mentor during your recovery after leaving rehab. A recovery sponsor will very likely be a recovering addict as well, and will have gone through rehab and the transition back to normal life.
If you don’t already have a recovery sponsor, get one. He or she will be able to guide you through the inevitable hardships of recovering from an addiction. Thinking about using? Call your sponsor. Having a hard time in general? Call your sponsor. If you are a recovering addict who either did not go to any form of rehabilitation or simply has no sponsor, it’s simple. Think of someone who you trust and who is a recovering/former addict. If you still come up short, see the next step below.
- Get a Support Group.
Whether or not you have a sponsor, acquiring a support group is essential to addiction recovery. A support group is not something given to you upon leaving rehab. It is created by you, a customized group of people who are in your corner and who you can trust. The idea is to select a handful of people in your life whom you can rely on if you need help. Usually it’s family and/or friends, but feel free to think outside the box. Maybe you have a word friend who is an extremely attentive listener. He or she would be a good choice as well.
OK, so maybe you’re reading this and you simply have nobody. There are plenty of recovering addicts who don’t have a family for whatever reason, or who are desolate and alone, and you may be one. That doesn’t mean life has nothing to offer you. Check out the next step below.
- Go to a Meeting.
No, seriously, go to a meeting. There are free meetings all around the world, almost all the time, and they involve recovering addicts helping recovering addicts. It’s literally a no-brainer. Click here to find a local meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, and click here to find a local meeting of Narcotics Anonymous, the exact same program but designed for addicts of all substances.
Frankly, some recovering addicts find AA and NA unappealing. There is an overarching religious theme, and due to its popularity, it has become somewhat commercialized. Still, AA and NA remain as the largest free support groups available in the world. If it’s just not for you, today is your lucky day. We aren’t going to hyperlink these, but a quick search online will yield results. Here are some alternatives to AA and NA:
- SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training)
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety
- Women for Sobriety
- Celebrate Recovery
- LifeRing Secular Recovery
- Just Don’t Go.
Of course we don’t mean to not go to a meeting. We are referring to the inevitable slew of springtime events that will present opportunities to relapse. You have every right to simply skip out.
It’s going to be tempting to go to a friend’s house for the first outdoor barbecue of the year. Maybe you’ve been doing it for years. However, if familiar ground means familiar substance abuse, stay home. Exposing yourself to temptation is literally the biggest no-no during addiction recovery.
‘Just don’t go’ can also apply to a state of mind. If you feel yourself starting to crave using again, do not allow yourself to go there. Do something else. Turn the TV on. Play your favorite song. Draw. Take a nap. Call someone. Do anything legal and responsible, really. Just don’t use. Just don’t go.
- Engage Refreshment Replacement.
This only applies to recovering alcoholics with a relatively unique situation. For recovering alcoholics with the willpower to be around alcohol but also subject to temptation, there’s a little secret when you are somewhere with drinking happening. Drink something else. If it’s a plastic cup situation, get yourself a plastic cup and load it up with some water or iced tea. If it’s a wineglass or beer glass situation, fill a glass with ice and water and put a straw in it. Sure, it’ll look like a gin and tonic, but nobody will offer you a drink or wonder why you’re not.
- Know When to Get Help.
We really saved the best for last. Knowing when to get help is the single most important factor to maintaining sobriety as a recovering addict. Sometimes a temptation is out of your control. Sometimes you’ll find yourself calling your dealer, or handling your old paraphernalia. These are times when you need to contact your sponsor, or someone from your support group, or go to a meeting. Unfortunately, addiction can be stronger than willpower, even for those with the strongest determination.
Wherever you are along your recovery path, springtime presents a set of obstacles unique only to this time of year. This has been a guideline as to how to prevent relapse, but it is not written in stone. The bottom line is that you need to do whatever you need to do, within reason and legality, in order to stay sober. Never forget why you quit in the first place.
If somewhere along the line you feel like your cravings are getting out of hand, call in some help. If you have nobody in your corner, attend a meeting. Now is the time to prepare. Stay sober, friend.