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Why Staying Busy Won’t Help You Stay Sober

By Cheryl Steinberg

Idle hands are the Devil’s Workshop. Having too much time on your hands can lead to trouble. We’ve probably heard these ideas before.

Since getting clean and sober over two years ago, I’ve heard one thing echoed quite often, “I just need to stay busy.” This seems to be an approach by many people – usually in early sobriety – as a way of staying sober. And every time I hear it, I cringe a little.

As a sponsor, I often hear my sponsees saying much the same thing. That they plan to stay as busy as possible, believing that this is the answer to their drinking or drug-using problem. And, whenever I hear this, I tell them that that’s not necessarily enough and, in fact, it might more harmful to their sobriety than they think.

I lay several tools at each of my sponsee’s feet: 1. Go to a meeting; 2. Call your sponsor; 3. Pray; 4. Make a daily gratitude list; 5. Help another alcoholic/addict. And if these things keep them busy, then, OK. But, simply trying to fill your day up with the “doing-ness” of lots of activities isn’t going to keep you clean or sober.

Here’s why staying busy won’t help you stay sober:

#1. Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired (H.A.L.T.)

You might have been warned about HALT in your rehab or IOP. If you haven’t heard about this, or if you need a refresher course, here it is. Allowing yourself to become too hungry, too angry, too lonely, or too tired – or a combination of these – is like wearing down your defenses towards that drink or drug.

So, by staying busy, you might forget to eat (therefore becoming hungry), spend too much energy, therefore becoming tired; you might also end up isolating yourself for others if you get caught up in working or doing other activities that involve just you, therefore becoming lonely. And then, feeling any one or all of these can lead you to become angry. That’s when you can find yourself on shaky ground.

#2. Multitasking

Doing 5 things at once doesn’t mean that you’re doing 5 things well; in fact, it usually means that you’re f*cking up 5 things at the same time because you’re dividing your attention among several different things rather than focusing on just one or two. And, if your sobriety is one of those five things, guess what? You’re not giving it the much-needed attention it deserves. And that’s a problem.

#3. Doing it Your Own Way

By staying busy, you’re simply trying to distract yourself from your thoughts. That’s no way to deal with the alcoholic mind or addict mind. If you want to drink or use, you will. And, no matter how busy you might be, you’ll definitely find time to get your hands on that drink or drug.

The whole point to having a program of recovery – and that can be any number of things – is that you actually heal and – get this – recover. What that means is this: you won’t have to run away or hide from your thoughts because recovering means that your old thought patterns and therefore behaviors will change – for the better – over time and with work.

#4. Being Busy Equals No Fun

Lastly, being busy seems to me like you’re not leaving yourself any time to relax and have fun. You might not realize this but, there’s fun to be had in sobriety and, if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.

Being sober means living a full life and living it to the fullest. There’s a whole lot out there to discover and experience. When we were trapped in our active addiction, we were merely struggling to survive; recovering means actually thriving.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, there is a better way. Recovery is possible and life in recovery can be wonderful. Please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135 to speak directly with an Addiction Specialist. We are available around the clock to answer your questions.  

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