The Fixes We Chase in Sobriety
So what fixes are good for you? Good question. Here are a few I’ve found to be helpful. Although the hits tend to be much milder, they're harder to abuse to the point of self-destruction.
Sleep: Naps aren’t just for babies. When I feel totally overwhelmed, upset or just plain tired, I take a nap. I put my phone on vibrate, slip on my Nick and Nora’s, crawl into the fetal position and just turn off my mind. Most times I wake up feeling energized and re-centered. I’m talking about a power nap (20 minutes), or even a longer nap of 30-60 minutes—but not sleeping all day, with the duvet over your head, avoiding your life (although I’ve done that too). Studies show that napping can give you an energy boost, enhance creativity, reduce stress and even decrease your risk of heart disease. So put on your sleep mask and hit the sack!
Exercise: One of the better healthier fixes that I tend to avoid. Thankfully for lazy fucks like me, it’s been found that even a small amount of mild exercise improves mental health. Different types of exercise release different chemicals, so if you’re anxious, try yoga. If you’re an insomniac, do Pilates. If you need energy, ride a bike. Need clarity? Hit the weights. Stressed out? Do Tai Chi. I find that I feel better when I take a long walk on the beach and throw seaweed at people, or hike the obstacle course of dogshit in Runyon Canyon with my bestie. For some, of course, exercise can become unhealthily compulsive. I’d like to meet those people and have it rub off on me.
Meditation: It’s the 11th of the 12 Steps. I’m not much for prayer unless I’m in a bind, but I recently learned Transcendental Meditation and found it to be invaluable for a chronically depressive, reactive person like myself. I try really hard to do it 20 minutes, twice a day, every day. Although it hasn’t been long, I can honestly say I am calmer, happier, less emotional and more creative. Studies show that it actually makes you more compassionate! These days meditation is becoming mainstream and many successful people are publicly attesting its benefits. It’s not hippie bullshit. It really works.
Community: I am, by nature, a loner and isolator—which is hard to be when you share a room with a bubbly blonde Brentwood mom in a Sober Living house. Even so, I manage to bow out of a lot of social invitations and watch Shameless or House of Cards by myself for hours instead. I feel better when I’m connected to people, even if I don’t want to be—when I call my sponsor, when I answer my phone calls, when I go to meetings, when I’m nice to my parents. Enough said.
Meaningful Work: Nothing makes me feel more fulfilled, boosts my self-esteem or gives me focus like significant, purposeful work—work that I pour my heart into, work that helps or brings joy to other people, and plugs me into a bigger picture and a sense of having value. I’m not talking about making big money. I’m talking about your art, your volunteer work, your sponsees—whatever it is that makes you remember why you are here on the planet, and that you’re bigger than your looks or bank account or relationship or addiction.
Massage: We all like being hugged and stroked. It feels good and there are biological reasons for that. Besides alleviating headaches, muscle pain, digestive disorders and insomnia, massage can also help with anxiety and depression. Massage reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can lift mood and lower blood pressure. It can also boost the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine (which any good druggie knows are involved in depression and getting "high"). For $30, you can find a foot spa at your local mini mall and get a thorough hour-long foot and body rub-down. You can listen to the soothing sounds of bamboo pipes, stare at a bad wall mural of the Huangshan Mountains and bliss out. All for the price of a trendy lunch.
Laughter: We've all heard the saying, "laughter is the best medicine." It's been scientifically proven that laughter can boost immune response, increase blood flow, lower blood sugar, and promote relaxation and sleep. You wanna decrease your stress hormones of cortisol and epinephrine? Hunker down with your favorite episodes of South Park or Louis, or watch your large, sweaty, Welsh boyfriend dance around in his superman underwear. Having a hearty laugh is akin to a small bout of vigorous exercise, and God knows I'd rather goof on people then get on the treadmill.
And let us not forget the joys of providing laughter. As a recovering comic, I can attest to the very real "high" that making an audience of strangers (or even a bunch of drunks in a meeting) completely hysterical can provide. So be funny and laugh. It's good for you. And other people.
Amy Dresner is a regular contributor to The Fix. She last wrote about what to pack for rehab.