Overcoming Boredom in Sobriety

Overcoming Boredom in Sobriety

So, the pink cloud has lifted. The novelty of waking up bright eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning has worn off. You’ve done a 90 in 90 (90 AA or NA meetings in 90 days), left a rehab program, or changed living situations. And suddenly, you’re not sure how to fill your time. It turns out, drinking and/or using was taking up more of your days than you realized. 

Many of us who have put down our drink or drug of choice for good were prepared for it to be difficult. We were prepared for the cravings, the questions from friends and family members, and the prospect of having to sit out some of the social activities that could be triggers for us. What we weren’t prepared for was the boredom

Yes, sobriety can come with a big side of boredom at times, but if you keep these strategies in your back pocket, you will be more equipped to handle the feelings that come your way. 

Plan 

Having a plan in place is arguably the most important thing you can do to combat boredom in sobriety, and it is the backbone of each of the suggestions that follow. When you have a plan, you can be certain that all of your time is accounted for before you find yourself in a situation where you’re tempted to drink or use. This is particularly important in early sobriety when you’re still working to establish new routines. 

But let me be clear about what I mean by “plan”. The plan does not have to be elaborate, but it does need to be precise. The agenda items in your plan do not have to include the aspirational routines of the sober Instagram influencers who seem to be there just to make us feel as though we aren’t doing enough. They also must add up to fill all the time in your day—especially those times (it’s 5:00 somewhere…) that tend to be triggers for cravings.  

Here’s an example:

Monday

7:30am - 9:00am: Wake up, shower, commute

9:00am - 5:00pm: Office

5:00pm - 7:00pm: Commute, dinner

7:00pm - 11:00pm: Binge watch Squid Game 

11:00pm - 11:30pm: Get ready for bed

If your early sobriety Monday also includes a morning meditation, yoga on your lunch break, or an AA meeting in the evening, more power to you! The point I’m trying to make here is that if your pre-sobriety Monday evening routine was to open a bottle of wine as soon as you walked in the door, you need to make sure you have a plan to replace that activity with something else, every Monday. If that’s a HIIT class at your local gym, wonderful. But if it’s binge watching the latest Netflix sensation for four hours, that’s okay too. 

Weekends (or any days you’re not working) might be harder, especially if your social or solo activities previously revolved around drinking or drugs. Your plan for the weekend might include making social plans with sober friends or scheduling time to do something you enjoy like going for a bike ride or seeing a movie. 

Your plan is not a list of tasks. It’s a reminder to make sure all of your time is accounted for. Whatever your plan is, its purpose should be to make sure you don’t find yourself with idle time when boredom, sadness, or frustration could be the impetus for picking up a drink or using. 

Connect 

No matter what method you’ve chosen to pursue sobriety, it is likely you’ve learned that connecting with others is one of the best things you can do to stay drink and drug free. This is true for many reasons, but when it comes to boredom in sobriety, one of the best remedies is connection. Not only does connecting with others occupy time, but it is also an important part of how we stay accountable to ourselves in sobriety. 

That said, there may be obstacles when it comes to connecting with others. First, if the friends you spent time with prior to getting sober were also engaging in heavy drug or alcohol use, it might be necessary to cut ties with them in sobriety. Secondly, if you were someone who isolated when they were drinking and using drugs, you may have found that your social circle is a bit sparse in sobriety. 

In either case, it will be important to build new connections with folks who understand your need to remain sober. AA and NA meetings are one way to meet others, but they’re not the only way. You can also try engaging in activities that simply do not revolve around drinking or drug use. 

Here are a few ideas: 

  • Join an intramural sports league like softball, kickball, or even dodgeball. Team sports are a great way to meet new people. Skip the post-game happy hour unless you have an accountability partner to lean on if it becomes difficult. 
  • Volunteer with your local mutual aid network. The idea of mutual aid is that, well, the aid is mutual. Volunteering for a mutual aid network is not just an act of charity. You can request help in staying sober as part of your involvement. 
  • Attend networking or Meetup events that are unlikely to involve alcohol. Events that take on the form of a group walk, or meet at a coffee shop, house of worship, or library are unlikely to have alcohol present. 

If you are in very early sobriety, dating is usually not recommended right away. But when you’re ready, dating apps are a great way to meet others. And better yet, many apps, like OkCupid and Bumble allow you to filter for matches who don’t drink or do drugs. Speed dating and singles events are also fun and interesting ways to meet new people and have the experience of connecting with others in real time. While most of these events do take place in bars, you will find that many speed dating events and singles mixers have moved online as a result of the pandemic, and you can join from the comfort of your own home. 

The possibilities for connecting with others are endless, and it is among the best ways to combat boredom in sobriety. 

Do 

Think back to those first few days or weeks of sobriety. While not the case for everyone, some of us are surprised and delighted by the abundance of energy, time, and ambition that come from being drink and drug free. It is not always a feeling that lasts, though. After all, the feelings that helped motivate our drinking and drug use did not just disappear overnight. 

But I ask you to tap into that energy—to take a moment to remember what you’re capable of in sobriety. If you are experiencing boredom in sobriety, perhaps the remedy is in harnessing that newfound energy and directing it toward a new activity or learning experience. 

Not sure what to do? Here are some ideas: 

  • Take a class. Learn a new language, cooking, baking, rock climbing, welding, or jewlelry making. Anything that strikes a chord.
  • Read. It can be difficult to focus when we’re under the influence of drugs and alcohol, but in sobriety you have a new opportunity to re-read the classics, your favorite car magazine, or all the paperback romances your local library has to offer.
  • Get a job or a side hustle. Whether you’re working full-time or not, consider finding a new job. Even a temporary job like becoming a seasonal retail associate during the holidays can combat boredom and give you a sense of purpose. 
  • Get a degree or certification. You can combat boredom and advance your career at the same time by getting a new degree or certification. LinkedIn, Hubspot, and Free Code Camp offer free certifications. 

When you start looking into all the options you have to do something new, you will be sure to find something that suits your needs. 

The Caveat(s)

Each of the suggestions above can help you overcome boredom in sobriety, but it is important to note that sometimes boredom is a sign of something more serious. If your boredom is accompanied by a profound lack of motivation, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, changes in appetite, or feelings of deep sadness or worthlessness, you could be experiencing depression. If you think your boredom is a sign of depression, seeking the help of a qualified mental health professional is the first step in overcoming boredom. 

The other important thing to note is that in using the suggestions above, you will still run into feelings of frustration, sadness, and yes, boredom. In those moments when you try to connect, but are met with rejection, can’t remember how to conjugate verbs in your French class, or your carefully crafted plan falls apart, it will be frustrating. But part of living in sobriety is remembering that things will get better, but not all at once.