By Matthew Rupert, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS
Addiction, Recovery, Change: The Battle against Boredom
A lot of people report being bored once they become sober. This is ironic, because boredom is one of the reasons people list when they start using drugs.
The boredom reported has been described as lasting a “painfully long amount of time” and “minutes seem like years.” A lot of people can’t stand their lives to one degree or another, so they start abusing substances. Boredom serves only to amplify that.
What can you do when boredom strikes? How can you view it in a positive way and use it to your advantage? Thankfully, there are ways to cope!
Continue reading this article to examine boredom in addiction recovery. Then, we invite you to post any additional questions in the comments section at the end. We value your feedback and try to respond personally and promptly to all legitimate inquiries.
Boredom and addiction recovery: How does it start?
Now, here you are, out of treatment, ready to face the world. You’re working on yourself, you’re working to build sober supports, you’re working to distance yourself from toxic relationships…and you’re finding you can’t handle the boredom. You have a lot of time on your hands and nothing to do. Much worse, you have almost nobody with whom to pass the time.
Boredom usually starts with some sort of restlessness. You might find it difficult to:
- sit still
- watch television
- do anything that requires less from you than running at full speed
This restlessness can be so intense that there’s a strong desire to go full throttle at something just to alleviate the overwhelming sense of nothingness happening in your life.
Q: What do most people do at this point?
A: They become busy.
They engage in all sorts of activities and do as much as possible, all so the boredom won’t take hold. Unfortunately, this has a major drawback.
TIP 1: Be prepared to grieve over your lost lifestyle.
When you quit using drugs or alcohol, you need to take some time to let it go, to lose this way of coping with the world. Like the loss of a close friend, you need a period of grieving.
Think about when someone is grieving, especially when there’s a death involved. One of the most common pieces of advice is, “Just get busy and stay busy.” Although this might sound helpful, it really tells the person to distract himself instead of dealing with his grief.
As long as you stay busy, we reason, you have no time to feel sad. You’ll be doing far too much to think about your loss. This is a deadly trap for people who believe staying busy equals being healthy.
Consider someone who goes on vacation because she needs a break from her busy life. She spends a tremendous amount of time planning the trip. She has to:
- make reservations for her flight
- book a rental car
- get a hotel room lined up
- plan an itinerary
- rush to the airport
- get her rental car and then drive to her hotel
- rush around to see all the sights
- flop down on her bed exhausted from the vacation she took to unwind!
You cannot relax if you are rushing! Similarly, you cannot diminish your grief if you never spend time grieving.
Sobriety means giving up many of the things that used to occupy your time in sobriety. This usually involves severing ties with some people, places, and things. Therefore, as with the death of a loved one, you are in mourning. You grieve the loss of those people, places, and things. You have a void in your life and you want to fill that void.
Grieving is a natural process and – this might surprise you – it is healthy. Processing your thoughts and feelings, even if you are alone, helps you learn to cope with those feelings of emptiness and sadness. We know grief won’t be fixed by ignoring it; you can’t substitute a series of behaviors in order to remove a behavioral response.
TIP 2: Give it time. You need time to process what “sober” means…
Think about your sustained sobriety. Regardless of your strong desire to remain sober, you need time to process what it’s like to be sober.
Boredom, on some level, is a natural part of transitioning into a sober lifestyle and finding new ways to fill your time with activities that amuse, challenge, or entertain you. You should spend your time feeding your soul, not your habit. You might even choose to spend your time doing something adventurous or taking healthy risks.
But some people who have given up drugs become adrenaline junkies, hooked on risky and unsafe activities that “make them feel alive.” For many in recovery, that need to “feel alive” is what drew them to using drugs in the first place. Now sober, they replace one unhealthy behavior with another, putting themselves in potential danger just to get a thrill.
TIP 3: Be mindful of extreme behaviour, including full-throttle “recovery”.
Is “busy” good for addiction recovery?
This is when you usually hear someone say, “Ninety meetings in ninety days.” The problem is, even if you attend sober support meetings frequently – and you absolutely should have sober social support – you are substituting one addictive behavior for another.
Attending massive amounts of meetings turns into something that occupies all of your time. Some might argue this is not a bad thing, because you’re doing something that helps you stay sober. But the price you pay is that you are wrapped up in attending meetings so much that you don’t have time to live your life. Too much of a good thing, after all, is still too much. Overdoing something, even when it has perceived benefits, is still overdoing it and actually can be counterproductive if not downright harmful.
If doing something full-throttle were truly beneficial, most people would be in treatment for a year or two. Counselors know that such a thing as overtreatment exists, and it’s harmful and detrimental to the sustained sobriety of their clients. Therefore, there comes a time when it is necessary to make a healthy severance of the clinical relationship and have the client begin her new life.
TIP 4: Reframe your thinking. Boredom won’t kill you. Substances can!
The biggest thing to remember about boredom in sobriety is that it won’t make you sick or kill you. Boredom doesn’t hurt anyone, although it sure can be agonizing. You undoubtedly will feel some sort of anxiety, and it’s possible you might feel some level of sadness and depression.
These feelings are normal!
Remember, you’ve removed old stimuli, and now you’re looking for things to keep you engaged. Not knowing what you’re going to do or not knowing what’s coming next naturally produces feelings of anxiety and depression. But in sobriety, you are able to start exploring hobbies and activities with a clear head. You have an entire world open for your exploration.
Perhaps you want to learn how to program computers.
Maybe you want to watch a television program and understand all of the nuances—while sober.
Even something as simple as sitting on a park bench and observing the day go by becomes different when viewed through sober eyes.
Considering how many millions of activities and hobbies this world has to offer, it is unreasonable to dismiss everything as being dull, uninteresting, or not worthy of your pursuit.
TIP 5: Feel the freedom to choose!
The final thing to keep in mind about your boredom is that this is actually not boredom. Instead of feeling bored, what you’re feeling is complete freedom. You are free to explore things you wouldn’t have or couldn’t have while you were high. In your sobriety, you are discovering that you have more time, more capability, and more options.
When you were high, you were severely limited in what you could do. Freedom means you can move in and out of activities, sometimes multiple activities every day, without having to spend a significant portion of your time chasing your drug of choice. Even if you long for the so-called “good old days” of being high, think about how much time you wasted and how much of your life you wasted when you were:
- hunting down your dealer or finding someplace to buy alcohol
- stealing, scamming, or otherwise hustling the money for your next fix or drink
- walking, driving, or getting a ride to meet your dealer
- making the deal or the purchase
- finding a place to get high and/or drunk
- getting high or drunk
- recovering from getting high or drunk
…And then repeating the entire cycle
This was your life as an addict! So consider: Were you really alive, or were you going through the motions? Grieve the loss of your past while welcoming with open arms the new relationship you have with the most important person in your life: you! Once you are able to look at the person in the mirror and start the process of accepting that person, the hardest part of your journey is over.
Bored after addiction recovery questions
Do you or someone close to you find it difficult to fill time with new and positive activities now that seeking, drinking, drugging, and craving time is gone? There are a lot of things you can do if your allow boredom to be your time for processing instead of toxic-time. We invite you to send us your questions in the designated section below. We try to provide a personal and prompt response to all legitimate inquiries. In case we don’t know the answer to your question(s) we will gladly refer you to professionals who can help.