Coping With Illness, Pain in Sobriety

young woman suffering from neck pain

When you’re in recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction, you’re on a continuous journey of learning to live life sober. Each day presents new lessons on coping with life chemical-free, and some lessons are more challenging than others. One of the biggest challenges people in recovery may have to face is dealing with illness and pain.

When you are hurting or simply don’t feel good, the temptation is ever present to do whatever you have to do to relieve the discomfort. If you have been in the habit of using drugs or alcohol to relieve bad feelings, you may find it difficult to resist the urge to pick up. How can you cope with pain and illness without reaching for a drink or a drug?

Minor Illnesses and OTC Medication

Minor illnesses such as a cold or the flu can cause major discomfort. The fact that the discomfort is temporary and will go away in a short amount of time may be small comfort when you’re dealing with body aches, toothaches, earaches, broken bones or any other short-term ailments.

Be cautious when turning to over-the-counter medications. Some contain alcohol or other ingredients that may set off cravings. Look for non-chemical forms of relief, such as heating pads or hot baths. Drink plenty of healthy liquids such as water, juice or herbal teas, and rest as much as your schedule allows. Keep in touch with your sponsor or other sober friends when illness keeps you away from meetings. Hang in there, and the discomfort will soon pass.

Staying Sober When Suffering From Chronic Pain or Illnesses

The last thing you should do if you are suffering from chronic pain or long-term health problems is to allow yourself to become consumed with self-pity. One of the big lessons of living sober is that you are now living in reality, and whatever difficulties you are dealing with, picking up a drink or a drug isn’t going to make it better.

You may have to remind yourself every day why you chose to get sober and why you should make hanging onto sobriety a priority. If your physical pain is severe and your doctor prescribes narcotic pain relief, stay close to meetings and talk about your struggles with your sponsor or sober friends.

Although chronic illness and physical pain are among the biggest challenges you may have to face sober, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to learn to cope with these problems and maintain your sobriety.

Learning New Ways to Cope

To stay sober in the midst of feeling sick or uncomfortable requires that you want to be sober more than you want to drink or drug. There are reasons you decided to get sober. In the past, you may have caused a great deal of pain for your loved ones by getting arrested or being irresponsible. The last thing you want to do is go back to being the person who would hurt the people you love.

Another thing to keep in mind is that physical illness may be worsened by drinking or drugging. Remind yourself frequently that your physical problems may be aggravated if you pick up. You may want to consider keeping a journal, and in it write down a list of reasons that you want to stay sober. Write about what you’re going through.

In illness as in life, there are things you can control and change and things you can’t. You may not be able to make your illness better, but you can work on your attitude and on methods for making yourself more comfortable without drugs or alcohol.

Consider learning yoga, deep breathing or meditation. By focusing on your breathing and drawing your attention inward, you may be able to obtain some relief. Learn relaxation techniques, and keep practicing them. These practices may not come naturally right away, but you will get better at them with time.

Learning to control physical discomfort without turning to chemicals will take time, willingness and practice. You will get better at coping with whatever hand you’re dealt as long as you refuse to pick up no matter what.

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