You’ve broken up with alcohol and drugs, but have you grieved their absence (and the lifestyle those substances encouraged) in your life? They served a purpose but maybe you started to experience a kind of betrayal trauma when they started to turn on you, and you became willing to let them go. Whether you’re completely breaking up with substances, a person, a situation, or just in need of a little break from them, I highly advocate for giving yourself permission to take space. In the everyday sense of the phrase, “taking a break” is crucial in order to avoid burnout while bulldozing through daily activities. With its many connotations, the act of stepping away is ultimately a productive and important action to take that will enrich and brighten your recovery to a state where busyness and spending time in harmful environments with toxic people and substances will lose their appeal.
Breaks Within Relationships
With the clarity of sobriety, painful or toxic relationships that once seemed healthy, electric, and passable may no longer be bearable. Whether these are romantic or platonic in nature (or somewhere in between), it’s important to get honest about how the people you choose to surround yourself with make you feel. Are your emotional boundaries being crossed? Or do you feel safe, seen, heard, and validated around this person?
Perhaps you’re satisfied in a friendship but the friend does something that triggers you and causes painful emotions like betrayal or jealousy to emerge. Or perhaps feelings of envy or compare-and-despair come up whenever you’re around this person, even though the person hasn’t done anything in particular to trigger you. In either scenario, it’s always ok to ask for some space from someone to sort out what is coming up for you. You can explain as much as you want or need to. A break affords space and time to reground, recalibrate, and process painful emotions that may have surfaced, like negative core beliefs you may have about yourself that can no longer be avoided.
Oftentimes it’s these subconscious negative beliefs–whether they were instilled by your primary caretakers, society, or both–that fueled using substances in the first place. Examples of these beliefs could be: I’m not lovable/desirable/smart/funny/witty enough, I’m incapable of forming healthy bonds, I always choose toxic people, etc. I like to think of triggering situations as little gifts or signposts towards what I need to work on in myself, or where I may need to set boundaries.
Perhaps a smaller break can turn into a much-needed longer one but you might not know until you start with a small one. Give yourself permission to reschedule or cancel plans, ask for extensions on deadlines, and retreat for a little bit if that is what you need to do to create large swathes of unstructured free time for your feelings to put down their roots and move through you, which is what they’re meant to do.
Seek Additional Connection and Support
While you’re in the throes of a break from someone and unsure about next steps but also need to air some thoughts out, try to enlist feedback and advice from other trusted individuals and mentors. One question to ask yourself is How good am I at not knowing? Am I open to an outcome that I may not have predicted but may ultimately be the right way to go? In AA meetings, sometimes they say that one’s Higher Power, or the Universe, can speak through other people, which I’ve found to be comforting, especially when it seems like I can’t quite trust my own perspective (I might be too close to the situation and it may feel too raw and touchy). Asking for help–whether in the form of direct feedback or simply asking someone to listen–is sign of strength, not weakness, and a beautiful reminder that recovery cannot be done alone.
Breaks From Social Media and Your Phone
While it’s easier said than done, I’m a big fan of taking breaks from my phone. Constant pings and vibrations from our electronic devices can wreak havoc on our ability to be present as well as our attention span in the long-term. That endless rush of dopamine can be downright toxic if you need it to feel seen, heard, or validated. My phone habits have gotten healthier from talking with friends about their habits. One friend keeps his phone on silent at all times. While at first the thought of doing this gave me some anxiety, I tried it out and realized I experienced way less anxiety overall. When I’m at the beck and call of my phone, I feel imprisoned. So much of active addiction is feeling shackled to substances, and my reliance on my phone can edge on feeling that way sometimes.
Another friend suggested I delete social media apps from my phone, only to check them on my laptop, and that really helped manage the plethora of apps I feel like I am constantly checking in a moment of boredom on the train or awkwardness in a social situation. Another friend has a no-phone policy on Sundays. If you don’t have the patience or willingness to go one day without your phone, how about leaving it for a 15-minute walk outside?
I was recently reminded that I also need to take a break from recovery-oriented activities, too, and lighten my emotional load with comedy, trashy television shows, and lighthearted music. I didn’t get sober to get and stay serious.
Importance of Rest in Recovery
Rest and relaxation are essential tenets of self-care, though admittedly two of the hardest ones for me to allow myself. I have to remind myself I’m a human being, not a human doing. If you find yourself tired in the middle of the work day and wish you could plop down and snooze a bit, take advantage of nap pods or nooks, like The Dreamery by Casper in SoHo or Midtown’s Nap York, which allow you to drop by for a rejuvenating nap as a walk-in or by signing up ahead of time. These come with luxurious amenities such as comfy beds, pajamas, and complimentary beverages. Don’t undermine the power of mini-breaks, especially if you have a heavily-scheduled day ahead of you. A break can look like a minute in the restroom gathering your thoughts, sitting quietly on a public bench, or cultivating inner stillness with your eyes closed while riding the train. Noticing the sounds around you or following the bass line in a song during your commute (rather than ruminating on your everyday thoughts, fears, and anxieties) can help set you up to arrive calm and focused.
Taking a break is a powerful direct action, not a passive one. But if you’re not pausing enough to take them, cut yourself a break! I know I’m sometimes wired to focus on what’s not going right or what I haven’t accomplished, but I miss the point of being present and content with whatever it is I have and am now (which, I am slowly learning, is always enough). Every moment begins anew and is a chance to take a break. When I got sober, I thought I was stepping away from the regular programming that was getting stoned and wasted, when really, I was tuning into the programming of recovery that more authentically represented me. In the writing of this article, many breaks were taken, and perhaps in your reading of it, some were taken as well. Cheers to giving ourselves these little gifts on the path of recovery.