The early time of sobriety can seem to be, among other things, incredibly boring. Add the early dark of winter and the isolation of COVID and it’s a recipe for thumb twiddling, particularly if all the standard recommendations – try some yoga! meditate! make a cup of tea! – make you want to scream into your pillow.
Weekends can be particularly tough, when two consecutive days with extra time can seem like an incoming wave too big for your newly abstinent body to surf. But keep in mind it’s not usually the whole weekend that’s overwhelming; for many of us, it’s that two or three hours of down time in the evening when the romantic voice of alcohol calls and the ritual of a drink or two (or ten) seems to fit so naturally.
If you need help figuring out what to do instead of drinking, and simply cannot fathom the idea of one more bath, try something instead from this list I’ve crowdsourced with the help of sober friends in The Luckiest Club. Here you’ll find suggestions for when you’re alone and when you’re not; some that engage your body and some your brain; and quite a few that don’t cost even a nickel.
And before you dismiss the oldies but goodies, know they top lists like these for good reason.
- Create a physical toolbox/pouch filled with remedies you can reach for when you’re triggered: phone numbers, tea bags, essential oils, anniversary coin, favorite affirmations, inspirational quotes, A.A. Meeting in a Pocket, a “Before I Drink” list, even a copy of this list.
- Save that trip to the grocery store for the witching hour.
- Do a load of laundry.
- Clean the bathroom.
- Clean the kitty litter box (or any other unsavory activity you’ve been putting off).
- Organize your closet and get rid of anything that no longer fits your body or lifestyle.
- Clean out the junk drawer.
- Purge old mail, files, bank statements, etc.
- Organize the mismatched Tupperware. (Or, in some circumstances, give yourself permission to throw away all the fucking Tupperware and start fresh.)
Care & Comfort
- Take a hot bath or shower – as many in a day as you like.
- Wrap yourself in the softest clothes or blankets.
- Make a cup of tea or hot chocolate.
- Dim the lights and burn a candle. Watch the shadows dance.
- Add scents to the room by diffusing essential oils and soaking up their smell.
- Hydrate. Just when you think you’ve had enough water for the day, pour yourself another glass.
- Take a social media break anytime you need to.
- Take a nap. Bonus points for doing so under a weighted blanket.
- Mindfully play mindless games on your phone. (Yes, you can do that.) I love Two Dots and Design Home. Just set a timer so you stop after a while.
- Put on a yoga nidra practice. If you don’t know what that is, look it up; you’ll be so thankful you did.
- Simply go to bed. When your most important job is to get your head to the pillow without taking a drink, there is absolutely no shame in calling it a day early.
Use Your Hands
- Chop up vegetables and fruit to eat throughout the week.
- Make a new recipe.
- Make a birdhouse.
- Make a photo album.
- Make a piece of furniture.
- Rearrange your furniture.
- Paint the walls a fun new color.
- Try paint-by-number art.
- Color a picture with crayons or pencils.
- Pot some houseplants AND, for bonus points, keep them alive.
Use Your Brain
- Think of something you want to do tomorrow that you don’t want to do hungover.
- Study a map. Draw one.
- Revisit historical events through the lens of who you are today. Trust me, they’ll make a lot more sense now than when you were in high school.
- Let yourself go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole on a topic you’re curious about.
- Do a crossword puzzle.
- Do a regular puzzle.
- Even try that $@%! Sodoku thing.
- Make a budget.
Use Your Voice
- Read aloud, even if it’s to no one else but the aforementioned houseplants. (This will actually help keep them alive, no joke.)
- Sing or hum or chant. (I’m typically not much for chanting, but when I am, Krishna Das is my guy.)
Move Your Body
- Give yoga a try. It doesn’t have to be sweaty or complicated. Just move in a way that opens up the big joints and muscle groups, in coordination with your breath and attention on the present moment. (Curious beginner? I’m hosting a four-week “intro” series just for you.)
- Throw on some tunes and dance like nobody’s watching. (They’re not. And, if they are, great! Give ‘em a show they’ll remember.)
- Do some old-fashioned pushups.
- Go for a walk in the woods.
- Go for a walk in the dark.
- Walk a dog. (Note: Doesn’t have to be your dog.)
- Give that dog a bath.
- Shovel the snow or blow the leaves or pull the weeds on your walkway. And your neighbor’s. Go all the way down the street if you want to.
Expand your horizons
- Tour a foreign city online. Read its local newspaper.
- Learn a new language.
- Visit a virtual museum.
- Take a painting class.
- Learn to play the guitar. Or the oboe. Or the harmonica. So many choices when it comes to musical instruments.
- Take an online course, whether through a community college or international university. There are innumerable options, especially now.
- Learn about the enneagram or the meaning of dreams or a branch of philosophy or the roots of addiction.
Make a list
- Grocery list.
- Gratitude list.
- Tomorrow’s to-do list.
- List of your non-negotiables.
- List of places you’d like to visit.
- List of lists that would be helpful to make.
Connect with nature
- Get up early to watch the sun rise. Put sunset on your calendar as a reminder, and then just show up for it.
- Grab some binoculars and go bird watching. (Or, at night, tune into the National Geographic channel.)
- Pick some flowers or make yourself an arrangement.
- Take off your shoes and walk barefoot in grass or mud or sand. (But keep your shoes on for snow.)
- Hike up a hill or a mountain. Pause at the top to soak up your surroundings.
- Sit by the banks of a river for 30 minutes and watch it flow.
- Ask yourself: Where can I make a difference with the currency of my time, my energy, my money, my skills?
- Volunteer at your local food bank.
- Donate gently used clothes or household items.
- Become a big brother or big sister.
- Pick a charitable cause and raise money from family, friends, colleagues, etc.
- Prepare a meal for someone who needs care. Bake cookies for your neighbor.
- Adopt a family for the holidays.
Lean on Your Community
- Pick up the phone when you need help. Be honest about what’s troubling you. Stay on the phone even when your instinct is to hang up and run.
- Go to a recovery meeting, whether that’s TLC, A.A., Recovery Dharma, etc. As many as you need in a day, as many different modalities as makes you feel good. But don’t just go and sit in the proverbial background. Have you shared recently and openly? If not, commit to doing so.
- Use the TLC member forum where you can give and get at the same time (encouragement, camaraderie, perspective, belonging).
Watch, Listen & Read
- Podcasts are probably my No. 1. way to spend an hour. I particularly love Armchair Expert/Dax Shepard, The Robcast/Rob Bell, and Smartless/Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Sean Hayes.
- Listen to TED talks, whether about sobriety or anything else that interests you. Some of my favorites: The Power of Vulnerability/Brené Brown; Your Elusive Creative Genius/Elizabeth Gilbert; or, just for fun, 10 Things You Don’t Know About Orgasm/Mary Roach.
- Listen to music. Match your mood or shift it, with old favorites or new discoveries. Take in a full album, start to finish with songs in order, and reflect on it.
- Make a Spotify playlist to swap with a friend.
- Binge a TV show that will scratch a particular itch (whether it’s to learn, take an adventure, laugh like a fool, or get swept up in somebody else’s drama. (If you like the idea of Kevin Costner in blue jeans and cowboy boots, I highly recommend the series Yellowstone.)
- Watch a classic movie from another era, or one spoken in another language.
- Read a book – fiction, non-fiction, quit lit, mystery, cookbook, religious texts, whatever lights you up.
Use Words and Pictures
- Take all the feelings in your heart and words in your head and dump them out onto a piece of paper. (If seeing what you write makes you pause and edit, take to the computer instead. Change the font color to white; that way what you see won’t stop you. Just transfer it all onto the page and release it.)
- Write a letter to someone, living or dead. The sending part is optional.
- Carry on a text conversations only in GIFs and emojis.
- Use magazine clippings and art supplies to make a vision board for the coming year.
- Create boards on Pinterest for food, fashion, exercise, crafts, home improvement projects, etc.
- Catch some light. Make photographs that represent gratitude, joy, hope, peace.
- Once an hour, take a photo, and make a diary of your weekend through pictures.
- Comb through photos on your phone or computer but never printed. Print one out and share it with someone who would love to have it. Include a thoughtful note.
- Breathe. This – simply breathing – is its own thing. In fact, it’s probably the most important thing to get you through tough times.
- Bring mindfulness to the moment. Whatever you’re doing, do it with attention. Eating raisins? How do they feel in your mouth? Peeling carrots? Make each stroke mindful. Taking a walk? Same for each step. Doing nothing? Pay attention to the ins and outs of your breath.
- Learn and practice meditation. This one is much more challenging than it sounds. It’s a practice of stillness, patience and repetition. Some days five minutes feels like an eternity that has you wanting to scratch your own eyes out; some days 30 minutes flies by and you’re flooded with a peace that lasts long after. Both are normal and both are good. You just come back, again and again, with the desire to get quiet enough to hear the deepest frequency within.
- Pray, if you’re so called.
Ritual & Routine
- Routine, routine, routine. Program yourself to go to sleep and wake up around the same time each day, and be consistent in your actions.
- At the same time, don’t be afraid to mix it up as proof that we can break habits as easily as we make them. Eat something different than your traditional breakfast; take a different route to work or to get the kids from school; try a new sobriety meeting.
- Create a new ritual to replace the drink. Just as the act of opening a bottle, pouring it into a glass and savoring that first sip was a ritual, so can we find ritual in steeping a cup of tea or garnishing a glass of water with a lemon wedge. It’s less about what the action is and more about the sense of reverence brought to it.
And the most important thing you can do for your sobriety today:
JUST DON’T DRINK.