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“I know how stupid this sounds, but honestly I’m just BORED.”
It was a muggy summer evening. I was in a little white church with a bunch of other drunks, with no idea what to do with my hands. There was a dangerous lump rising in my throat, threatening to bring tears with it. I took another shaky breath.
“I mean, I’m thankful to be sober. I am. But nothing feels very fun, and I think I miss the anticipation of a ‘good’ night out.”
A few knowing nods surprised me. I think I’d expected one of the ladies to raise an eyebrow and said, “Well young lady, if you’re bored I got some laundry that needs foldin’!” This is Mississippi, after all.
Instead, I was met with smiles and reassurance. I wasn’t alone. This feeling was described perfectly by Anne Lamott that same month on her sober anniversary:
Talking about the boredom didn’t make the boredom go away, but it did make me feel less alone. There were women in that room who were decades sober, nodding right along with the ones who were 2 months sober. I didn’t feel like a total brat after all.
Notice I titled this post, “What To Do When Sobriety Gets Boring”. Not, “What To Do If Sobriety Gets Boring.” It’s inevitable for most of us. We’ve trained ourselves to use a substance to fix something that didn’t really need to be fixed in the first place.
Boredom was a major trigger for my drinking. My mind was constantly racing. There was an overwhelming urge to GO GO GO, and alcohol was the only relief that I had at my disposal. By the time I was in my early twenties, I didn’t know how to relax without it.
Serenity was so elusive, I assumed that I just wasn’t one of “those people” who could ever be calm. Years later, I now see what I was missing. It’s impossible to be serene when you are focused on trying to bend everything in the world to your own will. That’s an exercise in futility, but I was stubborn.
When I quit drinking, not only did I have to learn acceptance, but I had to learn how to be bored sometimes. It turns out, our parents and grandparents were right: boredom won’t kill us. It may feel like it sometimes, but it really won’t. I’ve come to appreciate it and then find something productive to do.
In early sobriety, these are some of the things that I did when boredom struck:
Sobriety Boredom Buster #1 – Learn Something New
I have about 4 washcloths to prove that I now know how to knit. I’m not super passionate about knitting, but it was fun to learn and I’m proud that I stuck through it. The washcloths are still my favorites. I can see myself knitting little projects from time to time, but time-consuming projects aren’t my thing. My attention span isn’t good with trying to knit the same blanket for months. Maybe a coaster or a phone pocket, but that’s about it.
I also learned how to build websites. YouTube tutorials, podcasts, blogs, e-courses, you name it, I devoured it. It paid off financially and emotionally, and my confidence levels skyrocketed.
If you’re not sure what you like or what you even want to learn, start small (and free or very inexpensive). I’ve made the mistake of paying for courses on topics that I ended up losing interest in very quickly, so I’m much more cautious now.
Sobriety Boredom Buster #2 – Go Exploring
Pack up the family, the pets, or just yourself and head out to explore your city (or further out). I drove down new roads, and tried new restaurants. Go big, or don’t, as long as you’re exploring new things. I get the most irritable and tempted to give up when I’ve been sitting in one place too long.
Communities off the beaten path are my favorite. Local, family-owned restaurants and coffee shops are my favorites. Because food and coffee, of course. And bookstores, but it’s been a while since I’ve explored a book store. Far too long, but anyway. I digress.
This is my new little home away from home that I recently bought just for this purpose. Her name is Serenity. More about that in a future post!
Sobriety Boredom Buster #3 – Meetings
I’m not here to debate the merits of 12 step meetings, but I will say that it worked (and still works) for me. I frequently attended meetings in early sobriety, and it saved my sanity more than once. I got pretty sporadic with my meetings this past year though, and oh boy I could feel the difference. I’m back to 2-3 meetings per week now, and regular communication with my sponsor. It fills the time, helps me learn how to open up to other people, inspires newcomers, and introduces me to new sober friends. Win/win!
Sobriety Boredom Buster #4 – Service Work
I often volunteered at local shelters, nursing homes, and churches when I was a teenager. After I had children, I neglected a lot of that service work. Thankfully, this is something that can change. In AA, we can do simple service work like making the coffee or cleaning the room after the meeting. In other areas of our lives, we can serve with small acts of kindness or large chunks of volunteer time.
Regardless of how you choose to do it, volunteering to serve in some way is wonderful. Start small if you don’t want to risk over-committing, and go from there.
Sobriety Boredom Buster #4 – Journaling
Whether you are a writer or not, journaling has incredible benefits. Journaling comes in all forms, from jotting down lists to writing letters to your past self, to poetry and storytelling. I do a mix of everything. It has also helped me tremendously to go back to those journals now and see my earlier struggles.
If you’re not in the habit of journaling, it’s ok to start small.
Write down a few things you’re thankful for when you wake up in the morning (set your alarm with a reminder). Draw a picture of a place you want to visit, or a goal you want to accomplish. I am terrible at drawing, but I still make myself sketch little pictures because it helps my brain focus in on what I’m doing in the moment.
I don’t care as much about the finished product as I do about being completely focused on one thing.
For me, the desire to journal came back with a vengeance in sobriety. I sometimes wrote 2-3 times per day. I carried a notebook in my purse for random thoughts, I made notes on my phone, wherever I could.
Everything in early sobriety felt new. I wrote down the new feelings, the new revelations, and the new routine. I wrote down things I was thankful for, especially those things that I hadn’t noticed when I was drinking. It turns out, there’s a lot of things I didn’t notice when I was drinking.
Later, if I was struggling with sobriety in some way, it helped me to go back and read them. It reminded me of why I quit, what I went through to get and stay sober, and how much better off I am today as a result.
I’m creating a journal (which makes my inner 10-year-old so happy). You can pick up the printable pages for free in the resource library. Sign up for my email list, and they’re all yours! As a bonus, being part of my email list will also get you a hefty discount on the hard copy journal when that’s available.
Sobriety Boredom Buster #5 – Deep Breaths
Bored is just another word for restless (for me), and when I’m restless, I’m in trouble. When I’m restless, I’m looking for a quick fix to avoid an uncomfortable feeling.
As time passed, the boredom lessened. Calm took over. That feeling of excitement and anticipation of a night out may not be present anymore, but I can still look forward to trips, reaching goals, and more. I don’t miss it anymore. It really just doesn’t register like it used to.
I still struggle. Although I’m mostly calm, I am not perfect. I absolutely still struggle, especially with anxiety and resentment.
Although I’ll never arrive at perfection, I choose to breathe and reach for the tools that I’ve learned to use. If I’m bored, sometimes I’ll find something to do. Other times, I’ll just be bored. I don’t have to fill every single minute with something entertaining anymore. Sometimes, I need to rest. None of these solutions carry the risks associated with alcohol or drugs, that’s for sure.
I’m working on a general bucket list that involves learning new skills with photography, writing, marketing, and technology. I want to travel to certain places, volunteer for specific causes, and teach my children everything along the way. Those are the goals and hobbies that I focus on now.
All of these and more are listed out in a great book put out by AA called Living Sober. Whether you are part of the AA program or are doing recovery a different way, this is a great book full of practical real-life tips. I’m just now reading it for the first time, which is sad to admit, but it’s so good. It has many tips on day-to-day life in sobriety, navigating new routines and habits, and more. I have it on my Kindle app on my phone, and I’m reading through it a little bit every night. I could add a huge list of more ideas to the above.
Early Sobriety Thoughts: This Gets Boring Sometimes – I was 5 months sober when I wrote this.
3 Creative Projects to Help Keep You Sober (Sober Up Buttercup) – More great ideas, and she has heaps more than just this post at her site.
Dry July (Australia) – I know I’m in the States, but for my Aussie readers and anybody else who wants to join, this is a great way to start your sober journey.
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Hi! I'm Ashley, and my sobriety date is May 6, 2015. I write to share my experience, strength, and hope in recovery. On any given day, you can find me developing websites, writing, or chauffeuring kids around. Read my story...
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