Breaking Through Boredom in Early Recovery

Recovery Boredom

Early sobriety is tough for so many reasons. Not only did I have to adjust to a new life without alcohol, I also had to heal from two decades of heavy drinking. However, after my withdrawal from alcohol subsided, I was faced with an unexpected contingency I was not prepared for: boredom.

Amongst other symptoms (headaches, lethargy, increased appetite), I found myself riddled with feelings of ennui and boredom very early on in my sobriety. I felt like I would be listless and unhappy forever while I watched the rest of the world drink and be merry. However, once I broke through the boredom, my life got a whole lot better — and way more entertaining. 

The science behind early recovery boredom

Being bored in early recovery isn’t rare – it’s actually grounded in science. Individuals may experience feelings of boredom and indifference as the body undergoes adjustments in dopamine production while acclimating to sobriety. It’s important to recognize that overcoming substance use disorders not only involves a physical transformation but also mental readjustments from the changes in brain chemistry that alcohol or other substances created.

In other words, your brain is repairing itself after alcohol or drugs trashed and rewired your brain’s pleasure center. The time required to undo the damage substances cause can take weeks to months. An analogy used in recovery regarding the time it takes to heal from substance use disorders is, “We walked into the woods, now we have to walk out.” So if you can imagine how long you used for, that’s how long it may take to fully heal and recover from it.  

But that doesn’t mean you are doomed to be bored for all eternity. When perusing r/stopdrinking, the vast majority of posts complaining of boredom are made by people counting days in single to double digits. The first 100 days of sobriety can be considered extremely early recovery and likely the most challenging. However, once people surpass three to six months clean and sober, they tend to write less about being plagued by boredom and more about starting to enjoy life.

How to deal with boredom in early recovery

You may feel bored as you adjust to your new normal in sobirety but while you do, it’s good to push yourself a bit by creating new routines. This can include doing things you may not feel like doing — and doing them until you actually want to do them. This can be things like going for a daily walk, meditating, making dinner, etc. These seemingly monotonous tasks can provide you with some structure to your day. And before you know it, you may actually look forward to doing these things. 

In terms of keeping yourself out of boredom’s choke-hold, perhaps you can rediscover things you once enjoyed doing. You can pick back up an old project or hobby, or get back into an old exercise routine you once enjoyed. 

Boredom can also be a great motivator for you to try something new, and those possibilities are endless. Without hangovers or weekends revolving around getting fucked up, you can literally do anything you want. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is a great way to get healthy doses of dopamine as well. So maybe try out that rock climbing wall, take a trapeze class, or sign up for a 5K. 

Boredom danger!

Boredom can signal danger— it’s invariably cited as one of the biggest relapse triggers. People may feel more tempted to pick up when they are bored. So while ennui is a natural part of a healthy recovery, combatting it is just as important.  If you find yourself thinking that returning to the substance you are recovering from will relieve you of your boredom, do anything but that. Being bored can’t kill you, but returning to active addiction can. 

Weekends can be particularly challenging to people in early recovery because that is often when people (especially drinkers) used the most. So while a big part of recovery is finding peace and serenity, it’s imperative to stay occupied in the early days of sobriety. The woo woo stuff like meditation and quiet contemplation comes later. Till then, planning out your weekends and getting busy is a good thing. 

What’s next?

Recovery is not only a complete lifestyle overhaul but also a practice in patience. That means giving yourself some grace and time to get through the early days, with all the highs, lows, and doldrums. There’s no magic solution for remedying boredom as you move through it. But the more active you are in combating it, the easier your transition will be into your new normal. You aren’t stuck like this forever, and this boring phase will pass. 

Did you pick up any cool, new hobbies in recovery that were born out of sobriety boredom? Tell us about ‘em in the comments below.


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