October 2nd will mark four years since the morning I woke up in my San Francisco apartment, fell on the floor, and screamed to a God I didn't believe in that I needed help. While it took me about six months from that moment to finally quit drinking and another fifteen months to quit doing the drugs, it was at that exact moment that my recovery began.
The funny thing about the title of this article - and what it suggests - is that I don't really identify as a person in recovery from addiction, and I don't believe that I am just "maintaining" my sobriety. Those things feel like small tight words that imply a life ruled by addiction and a state of just hanging on. My life is so much bigger than that. There is no hanging on because that is where I came from and where I will never return, and there is nothing to maintain because nothing is static or in need of preservation - it's always changing all the time, and trying to maintain something was what took me down in the first place.
This piece here is not to tell you how I hang on, how I keep sober, how I don't end up on the floor drunk or high or any of those things we fear will happen to those who once were addicted to a chemical substance. This is simply what I do in my real life today, four years into this journey, not so that I don't slip up, but so that I don't fall asleep and forget how grand and delicious life really is, and don't go back to needing to escape it.
I wanted to do this because while this blog is dedicated to providing tools for all stages of recovery, most the "how-to" content goes into depth about how I got through some of the earlier challenges, but never really addresses what it all looks like now. My hope is that this helps you no matter where you are. Keep in mind it has evolved over time, and like all things will continue to do just that.
Allll my love to you, wherever you are on this beautiful journey. xoHol
The 15 Things I Do Now To Stay On My Path.
1. Daily meditation practice.
So here's a confession: I'm probably the worst meditator in the world. I don't follow the rules, I rarely do the same practice day-over-day, I sometimes switch between meditations right in the middle of one I've started, and often times I'll sit down to do a 20-minute sit and at 11 minutes peace out. Sometimes, I use my meditation times to fantasize about coffee, and most of the time I do it in my bed and not on my fancy $40 pillow. It is so the meditation practice of a woman with ADD. But guess what? Who cares what it looks like or how good I am at it? I meditate. And I do it almost every day, and I have for nearly four years, and because I've been doing it for four years, it's so baked into the fabric of who I am that skipping it is harder than doing it.
I credit my meditation practice for about 1,000 things, but primarily for my ability to remain calm and unreactive, increased tolerance for pain and discomfort, increased focus, a more positive mind, healthy relationships with friends and family, increased ability to hold boundaries and shake things off, lowered anxiety and fewer incidences of depression, agility in life, and the strength to stand in my own space and brave whatever it is that is thrown at me. It is, in fact, the best thing that has ever happened to me (and those around me).
>>Actual practice: On average 15 minutes of meditation a day, can range from 5 to 30 minutes. My current practice is a mix of Kundalini (try Sat Kar Tar chant (11 minutes), Brain Boosting Meditation (30 minutes)), and guided meditations (currently obsessed with Elena Brower's Spiritual Intelligence series (20 minutes each), and the Heart Chakra Tibetan Singing Bowls meditation on the Insight Timer app (19 minutes)).
2. Regular yoga practice.
I've written quite a bit on how much yoga has changed my life, and I won't go into it too much here (you can read here about the 9 Ways Yoga Helped Me Recover From Addiction). My yoga practice has remained pretty consistent throughout my recovery, and I've used both Vinyasa Flow and Kundalini Yoga (I'm certified to teach both). Currently, I practice yoga about four times a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. I go to a heated Vinyasa studio in my neighborhood, and I have a home practice that primarily consists of Kundalini.
Yoga is how I get my aerobic exercise and take care of my physical body, which is essential to my well-being. If I skip more than four days in a row, things start to go bad pretty quickly.
>>Actual practice: I do yoga on average four times a week, 30-minute to 1-hour classes. Home practice is done through YogaGlo and currently my favorite classes are: Heart and Soul (Kundalini, 45 minutes), Shine From The Inside Out (Kundalini, 45 minutes), Access A Deep Meditative State (Kundalini, 45 minutes), Quick Hip Flow (Vinyasa, 20 minutes), Invigorating Glow Flow (Vinyasa, 30 minutes), and If You Can't Stand The Heat Flow For Recovery (Vinyasa for Addiction Recovery, 30 minutes)).
One of the easiest, cheapest and most effective ways I keep myself feeling good is to hydrate. I drink on average 4 liters of water a day, usually more. Drinking filtered water is one of the best things we can do for ourselves, it has myriad health benefits such as aiding in liver detox and keeping us feeling satiated, aids elimination, and helps to maintain emotional balance.
>>Actual practice: I drink around 4 to 6 liters of water a day. I carry around a 1-liter glass bottle that I refill, and I sleep with a bottle by my bed. I use a Brita filter to remove fluoride and other toxins. I also just recently re-incorporated hot lemon water, cayenne, and turmeric into my morning routine (first thing, before coffee).
I used to believe that highly successful people needed only 5.5 hours of sleep, because I read that's how much Oprah sleeps. For years I managed this and even bragged about how sleep deprived I was and how I could function on no sleep at all (ha). But then in 2015 when my health took a dive, and I started smelling like five-day-old Indian leftovers, and my back broke out with a few hundred zits, and I stopped being able to get out of bed in the morning, I decided perhaps I might not be Oprah.
I spent a month not using my alarm, just letting my body sleep until the time it wanted to, and then moved to a more reasonable 7 or 8 hours of sleep a night. I'm still a workaholic, and I still tend to push myself to sleep deprive when I'm in "Get Shit Done" mode, but I'm careful to catch myself when I start abusing my body and pushing myself too far. I've also found I'm more productive and fruitful with more sleep and fewer working hours in the day than I am the other way around.
>>Actual practice: On average I get about 7 hours of sleep a night. I go to bed at 9 or 10pm, and wake up at 4 or 5am. If I go to bed late, I sleep in to accommodate to make sure I get enough. In times that I have to deprive myself of sleep, I make up for it by giving myself a day in bed and I try and increase my meditation practice and drink more water (I don't know if this helps but I feel like it does). My favorite resources on sleep come from my friend Mary Vance: How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?, Good Sleep Hygiene, 10 Secrets For Sound Sleep.
5. Extreme self-care.
I engage in Extreme Self-Care, which means: I get regular massages, I prioritize yoga and meditation, I dress as comfortably as possible and I own a LOT of American Apparel jersey cotton knits, I take a bath about once a day, I diffuse essential oils, I buy the fancy tea and the special face cream and the best best best coffee, I read yummy books, I visit beautiful places and I see beautiful things, I chase my wonder, I dance when I want to dance, I sing when I want to sing, I don't go to parties that I don't want to go to, I talk to myself like I would my 3-year-old niece inside my head, I listen to good music and watch good movies, I laugh a lot, I spend money on acupuncturists and psychics and fancy juice and yoga classes, and I do a lot of other magical shit to take care of this sweet little body, mind and spirit.
>>Actual practice: ALL OF THIS SERIOUSLY.
To be clear I do not "diet", and I have not "dieted" for years. I'm an extremist, and I tend to take things WAY too far, so eating to lose weight freaks me out. I am, however, interested in eating to optimize my health and vitality. Since quitting drugs and alcohol and cigarettes I've become a lot more sensitive to how I feel, and there is an almost Chris Traeger-like desire to feel my best. To achieve this end without going overboard, I have a "Type B" approach. I prefer to be mindful and informed over clinical, precise, and regimented, and I keep in mind five intentions: 1. support my gut health, 2. be kind to my liver, 3. keep my brain chemistry in check, 4. balance my blood sugar, and 5. balance my endocrine system (hormones).
These five things are important to pay attention to for those of us who struggle with chemical addiction for a variety of reasons. Mostly because our body gets completely screwed-up by what we put it through and these areas are hit the hardest, and we have to recover them along with the rest of ourselves. Also, a majority of us struggle with depression and anxiety, and how we eat to support these five systems makes a difference in our mood and coping ability.
>>Actual practice: First and foremost, I'm careful not to go crazy with any food or diet change. If I feel like I'm trying to control my outer circumstances through eating it's a problem; if I'm just trying to feel better, it's not. I've read a ton about the five areas mentioned above - gut, brain, hormone, blood sugar, and liver. My favorite resources are The Kalish Method, The Diet Cure, A Mind Of Your Own, and Mary Vance's blog.
Here is what I'm currently doing for the following (note that not much of this happens in Italy, I have an "Italy doesn't count" rule).
For gut health, added in probiotic and sauerkraut and reduced sugar intake, and have had stints of sugar-free (about to do it again). I rarely if ever eat gluten, soy products, or processed foods (pastries are my weakness and exception).
For liver detox, I mostly no longer use chemical products in my home or on my skin (there are some exceptions like I still use Cetaphil to remove makeup and bleach in my tub and toilet), I drink plenty of water and eat a lot of crucifers and raw vegetables.
For brain chemistry balance, I try and eat quality proteins. I've recently stopped eating meat again (after a hiatus from vegetarianism that started with recovery), so I eat a lot of eggs and hemp protein, and I eat a lot of healthy fats like avocado and coconut and nut butters.
For blood sugar balance, I eat first thing in the morning, eat at regular intervals, and try and avoid high glycemic foods. I also am careful to follow up a meal that will leave me shaky (like coffee and pastry) with something more substantial like a spoonful of tahini. Also, I include lots of healthy fats.
For hormone balance, I get enough sleep, use Kundalini meditation, don't consume soy products, and my dairy consumption is in general very low. I also manage my stress (I have a huge toolbox for this one), don't drink alcohol, and care for my liver.
All this being said, I also live, and I'm never restrictive because restriction always backfires (meaning, I might cut something out, but I do it to gain something like feeling healthy, not to control something). I try to eat right and work to be healthy 70% of the time. I am also really really kind to myself about this stuff and don't beat myself up for being human. I try my best, and I am more about slow change over time rather than immediate dramatic hits.
Breath is by far one of the most important tools that I use in my daily life. I use it to manage my energy, calm my mind, come back into my body, and as a tool in stressful moments. Using breath is probably my number one tool, over meditation, because it has a dramatic and immediate effect, and because it is more accessible than meditation (you can do it anywhere). I've written about the importance of breath and how I use it in my life, and you can read more about it in this post I wrote, My #1 Tool For Maintaining Sobriety.
>>Actual practice: Sometimes instead of meditation I'll do a Kundalini breathing practice (currently loving Breathe, Breathe, Breathe (Kundalini, 20 minutes)). I use Long Deep Breaths ("Yogic Breaths" or "Ujjayi Breath") throughout the day when I remember (here's a tutorial), and use myriad other Kundalini techniques (BEST BOOK to read to learn breath techniques is Praana Praanee Praanayam).
8. Healthy friendships.
While I know a lot of people and love knowing a lot of people (like you and my recovery community and basically all the humans because I love humans), I keep my circle small and tight, and the friendships I invest in are reciprocal, supportive and loving. End of story. No more frenemy crap, no more backstabbing bullshit, no more drama, no more asking myself "why am I friends with that person again?," no more hanging out or spending time with people that make me feel bad about myself, no more surface friendships where we pretend that everything is cool when it's not, no more any of that stuff. My friendships are one of the easiest parts of my life.
>>Actual practice: See above. Also, note it took me a decent period to build these kinds of friendships in sobriety and let go of the ones that weren't serving me or that I'd outgrown. For more info on how to make friends, check out my post 11 Ways To Make Friends In Sobriety, and I also recommend May Cause Miracles, A Return To Love, and Dark Side Of The Light Chasers for help dealing with difficult relationships.
9. Continued spiritual growth.
This whole sobriety thing is as much a path to living my best life here on earth as it is a path to transcending that life and the human condition. From the moment my knees hit the floor that day in October 2012, I've been on a mission to not only break free of my living hell, but to also tap into that part of me that is connected, knowing, and eternal - the part I had forgotten. Though I don't talk a lot about it on this blog, my spirituality is the part that sustains me and keeps me in the game and in my wonder and that ultimately gets me through the hardest of the times and the darkest of the days. It's also the part that I'll never be done exploring and pursuing…I want to know all the answers, I want to keep pulling the thread, I want to see how far I can go and how much I can burn through in this life I've been given.
>>Actual practice: I read A Course In Miracles almost every day (about 3 pages), keep up my meditation practice, attend live Kundalini yoga classes once or twice a month, and I generally have my nose in a book. Recent reads include The Alchemist, The Surrender Experiment, Untethered Soul, Eastern Body/ Western Mind, and re-reading When Things Fall Apart. I love listening to Pema Chodron on tape, and my favorite is the Bodhisattva Mind which I just finished for the fourth time last month. I also am going to register for a level 2 Kundalini training in the coming year, which is also a part of my own development, and I will definitely be doing another 10-day silent meditation retreat in 2017 or 2018. Also, I pray. A crap-ton.
10. Major boundaries and frequent use of the word "no."
About 18 months ago on the phone with my coach, depleted and sobbing and a total shell of a person from giving everything to everyone all the time, I found myself telling her that I wanted to quit my job because I just couldn't do what was being asked of me. She asked me how much I said no, and I said something to the effect that I wasn't allowed to say no at this point in my business, and then she asked me if there was anyone in my life that I looked up to that seemed to have good boundaries. I'd recently been to lunch with an advisor, and he'd run in on time and told me he had exactly 30 minutes and then he'd left exactly 30 minutes later in a hurry with most of my questions for him unanswered. I told her about him, and mentioned this was his typical MO, and she asked me how it made me feel. As I heard myself say "I totally respect him, value his time, and know if my feelings ever get hurt by his actions it's on me, not him, because he's clear with his boundaries" a lightbulb went off. When she asked me what the difference was between us, I told her something like "he teaches people how to treat him, whereas I hope people will telepathically understand what I want and that I never have to hurt anyone's feelings."
Sobriety had forced me to start drawing boundaries. It's part of the deal - if we want to get better, we have to learn to say no. But starting Hip Sobriety and working with clients and trying to get the word out and gain experience and build something like this threw me back into the boundary fire. I felt I wasn't allowed to let people down, and I had an idea that other people's feelings were more important than my general health and wellbeing. It wasn't until I was on the floor and sick and facing not being able to do this work at all that I was able to start creating realistic and healthy boundaries. Now saying no doesn't feel awful. It feels empowering.
>>Actual practice: A lot of text messages and emails go unanswered, I don't do direct messaging on social media, and I say no to about 90% of what is asked of me - be it a professional collaboration, a chat I don't have energetic capacity to have, or a wedding invitation - and I rarely if ever do things I don't want to do. I do whatever it takes to keep me from quitting my job or quitting my life (thanks Glennon for that one), which means working on keeping my heart open, but erecting a tall fence to make sure I can manage/don't need to escape from my life.
11. Life as the ultimate classroom.
As I was writing this piece I encountered something that rarely happens anymore (at least in comparison to the frequency it happened pre-sobriety) - I got a text message that made me go apeshit. Without thinking, without breathing, without much else but blind fury, I responded and made the situation worse and then spent the next few hours in defense mode, building my case in my head for how right I was and for how wrong she was. Right before going to bed and at a total loss for how to shake my indignation, I scrolled through Facebook, and the first thing I saw was a quote of mine from a recent podcast I'd done. It said, "I look forward to the rising." So. There I was with my five-year-old self driving the bus, and there in black and white were my own words reflected back to me, reminding me that each difficult thing we encounter in this life is only an opportunity to rise. And so I put my big-girl pants back on, checked my ego, and went back to the rising.
The thing I have learned the most in the last four years is this: life doesn't happen to us, it happens for us. It doesn't matter what cards we are dealt; it matters only what we do with them. So we can either use the things we encounter to keep us stuck in our hell. Or we can use each and every difficult opportunity we face to free us from that hell. We have no better tool at growing than what we experience every single second of every single day.
>>Actual practice: Willingness and humility and openness to work with what's in front of me, no matter what it is. Which, in other words, is really just surrendering. I surrender to life as it is, I trust that what is in front of me IS what is supposed to be happening, I work with what's in front of me and I do it in a way that is kind of like a WWJD approach (with the understanding that I'm not, nor ever will be, Jesus). The serenity prayer is the best thing I can think of to capture this: Serenity to accept what I can't change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. This is supported by all the tools and practices mentioned above, specifically A Course In Miracles, Meditation, Spiritual Practice. Also, just getting on my knees and praying something like "I don't know what to do here, please show me the way, help me do the best with this, help me love, help me serve, help me get out of the way, help me do Your work, I promise I'll do my best if you just show me" does more for me than most things I've tried. Two great resources are the books Loving What Is by Byron Katie (I prefer the audio version because there are good conversations and she narrates) and The Surrender Experiment.
I use a TON of mantras and self-affirmations. I use the Reminder application on my iPhone, and every hour throughout the day a different mantra pops up to remind me of some greater truth. "I'm not my lack mentality," or "If you knew who walked beside you at all times, on the path that you have chosen, you could never experience fear or doubt again," or "I believe in infinite possibilities." You get the picture. This is a form of CBT and gives me the opportunity to rewire my brain on the daily, and because of these constant reminders, I work from a place of optimism and possibility, and negative thinking is no longer my default (though for sure it tries to be).
>>Actual practice: Reminders on my iPhone, and use of various apps with positive affirmations like the Spirit Junkie App. Also, I used to put stickie notes around my home but since I've moved I haven't. Will again soon.
13. Purpose and creativity.
There is probably nothing more important than both going after what I believe to be my purpose in life (this work), and channeling my energy into creative outlets. For my work, I've hit the jackpot because I can both go after my purpose and channel my creative side. Writing on this blog, producing my podcast, learning as much as I can about addiction, speaking my voice on what I feel needs to change and doing it regardless of how much it scares me, putting together this website and new tools and products - all of these things and more both give me purpose, and allow me to create.
I believe ALL of us have a purpose for being on this earth, that our hearts are constantly calling us to that purpose, and when we deny that within ourselves and stuff it down, it's more destructive than almost anything else. This doesn't mean we all need to go out and start companies or blogs or whatever, it just means that we must listen to the thing within us that wants to come out, and then take the action to bring it forth. Whether it's volunteering, country line dancing, knitting scarves, starting a business, switching careers to follow our passion, learning to play a musical instrument, or making mixed tapes, it's all counts.
>>Actual practice: My job fills my purpose and creative needs, and I'm motivated by a deep sense of belief that this work is why I'm here. In terms of pure creativity for the sake of creating, I take a lot of pictures, and do other simple things like putting together outfits that "express me." I have a post planned on purpose and creativity and I'll provide suggested resources in that, but two faves you can start with are The Great Work of Your Life and The War of Art. Big Magic is good, too.
14. I allow myself to be a messy human.
I used to subscribe to Real Simple magazine with the belief that if I had guest towels, knew how to can my own pickles, and could wrap perfect Christmas presents then somehow I would have "made it" as a respectable woman. And when I started this path, I began to subscribe to an idea that if I no longer got angry, said mean things, overreacted, felt jealous, got depressed, or any other of the thousand things us humans are subject to being and feeling, then I would have made it as the model sober lady. I don't believe in this crap anymore. As of this moment I'm not wearing underwear or deodorant, I haven't washed my hair in four days, and I have no idea what my checking account balance is. I missed three weddings this month and still owe gifts, this blog is a week late, and I only put mascara on one eye this morning. My dish set consists of four salad plates, my towel set is from 2001, and until two weeks ago I kept my underwear in a stained canvas bag. I still call my mommy to vent about how unfair life is, I get jealous and feel small, I say mean things when I don't mean to, I don't like some people for no reason at all, and I still can get sucked into gossip (but only if it's good). All this is to say, I'm a human, and being a human is hard enough without believing that we have to be perfect or achieve some sense of "there." I will never be "there," EVER, unless somehow I get spontaneous enlightenment. I try my best. That's it. And I love love love that I'm more of a LIz Lemon than I am a Gwyneth Paltrow.
>>Actual practice: Being cool with the fact that I'm a human, and remembering that all humans are big, broken messes in their own unique way and NO ONE has it figured out. Favorite resources are The Dark Side Of The Light Chasers, Carry On, Warrior, and I've written about it in this post Poop, Ice Cream, and Spirit Holly.
15. Persistence over discipline.
I often talk about how that day in October 2012 wasn't the day that my recovery began, but the day I stopped walking away from myself. In my mind, that day on my knees in my apartment on my floor, broken and snotty and filthy and tired, I didn't enter into some quest just to stop drinking, because if that was all this was about, I can promise you I'd still be drinking. That day was the day that I finally began my Hero's Journey, the day I answered my call to adventure and was ripped from the ordinary world never to return again.
From the beginning, the only thing I knew to do was the next thing. I never had a plan, never had a regimen or a discipline or a step-by-step way out. It was more of a thronging burning desire to be free from my hell, which over time turned into a relentless pursuit of my heaven. Which is all to say for me, this has never been about perfection or doing something exactly. This has only been about one thing and one thing only: finding the place in me that will not fucking give up no matter what, and then, of course, not giving up.
>>Actual practice: I keep showing up, even when it's all falling apart.