This post was originally published on June 1, 2015.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 90 percent of alcoholics will experience one or more relapses during the four years after treatment. This high number is not really all that surprising, as the study goes on to outline all sorts of reasons why relapse occurs. I can sum up these reasons with one statement: recovery is freaking hard.
And it goes on, like, forever (and that’s the best possible scenario).
Lots of things can trigger relapse. Pain. Stress. Even happy events and celebration. But one of the main culprits I have found myself tangling with lately is plain old boredom.
Boredom terrifies me. I think I could face sickness, drought, floods or any other plague that my Higher Power wants to throw at me. But boredom? I shudder. It’s just so… boring. Dullness is not critical enough to force me to focus. It isn’t an event that has a definite end point on a calendar. It just paints everything in a cloud of fuzzy blah. And in all its grey edges, boredom can take us right back to relapse.
Boredom is sneaky. It gnaws away at you, convincing you that a Michelob poured over the boredom would immediately turn your life into one of those beer commercials, the ones with those handsome people, all tan and spontaneous, who are able to hike mountains. For me, that one beer fills me with adrenaline on par with when the proverbial mother saves her baby trapped under a car. Nobody can survive long on that much adrenaline, especially when I decide to add eight more drinks to see how many more babies I can save. And so on.
Guess what? This all gets really boring. We end up sick or dead and that is the most boring place ever.
As an alcoholic, I was once in a really intimate love affair with booze. Now I am in a relationship with recovery. And, as with any relationship, it is fraught with challenges: expectations, strife, silly arguments. Boredom.
I was recently at dinner with my husband and found myself thinking, “I really, really hate watching this man eat hot wings. And I’m locked in. I have to watch him gnaw like that for at least 20 more years or so. I’d kinda like to stab him with my fork.” I poked at the veggies on my plate and subtly pushed another napkin his way. He was massacring those poor wings. It was like a scene from Dexter. The foreverness of it all was giving me heartburn.
Newsflash: marriage, at times, is so boring.
But I can’t leave my husband, who is essentially a good and patient man, simply because watching him eat hot wings is icky. This mentality also holds true for recovery. And we alcoholics know this. We do. But in the throes of boredom, a rather dreadful mind-suck occurs. It’s like that piña colada song, where the lovers have drifted apart due to apathy. If we’re not careful, we could drift and lose all interest in reconnecting with what is right and true, and land instead in a vat of highly caloric piña coladas.
So, how do we battle boredom in recovery? Here are a few tips:
1) Get into a new groove.
If you’re in 12-step, try a new meeting. Otherwise, find a new coffee shop to hang out in, person to hang out with or new daily meditation. If change makes you nervous, view it as shifting gears and start slow. Sit in a different seat at your group. See what the new view offers.
2) Get into service.
Ask your Higher Power if it’s time for you to sponsor someone. Or, if this terrifies you, look to help someone—anyone—at least once a day. You’ll be surprised how switching places with the little old lady who still writes checks in the supermarket aisle can shake up your recovery.
3) Get physical.
Try yoga. Try walking with someone just to talk or hash out a resentment or seven. Try physical exercise every day for 10 days. See how it makes you feel. Some of my best recovery happens on a morning run.
4) Get onto the podcast and app-osphere.
5) Get creative.
Why not try dabbling in all those arts and crafts you were exposed to (if you went to rehab) and considered a bit ridiculous but secretly loved? Paint, write or sing Pink’s “Sober” at karaoke. Design a mural on your garden fence that illustrates what you used to be like, what happened and what you are like now.
6) Get inside.
Consider prayer, if you haven’t. Consider a book or a retreat or just a good bit of soul searching for a day. Pick up that journal. Dig deeper.
7) Get outside.
Go sit by a lake and feed some ducks. There’s other stuff to do, too.
8) Get upside down.
Turn all this boredom on its head by just accepting it. The only way, really, to do battle with anything is to acknowledge that it happens. So forgive. Like any good relationship, you must simply forgive boredom for being such a pain in the ass. And while you’re at it, forgive yourself for losing your way a little when boredom shows up. Don’t freak out. Just say, “Well, hell. Here I am in recovery. And right now, it is boring the crap out of me. But I can probably do this for another few hours or so, until bedtime, I guess.” Then, do one weird thing, like serve Ben and Jerry’s for dinner. Or call a friend that you haven’t talked to in months. Or blast Queen’s “Somebody to Love” and sing along. There is no way that boredom can survive the chorus of that song.
Really, your recovery deserves all this and more; it’s fighting, after all, to keep you alive. And there’s nothing boring about that.