Setting Course: Self-Binding Techniques in Early Recovery

Often, one of the most frightening times in an addict’s life is leaving residential treatment. Sober and full of new knowledge, self-awareness, and coping skills that worked for you within the confines of a full-time therapeutic community, you must now translate this new version of yourself into the real world—the same real world where your addiction was kindled. It is here that your recovery will truly be tested and where you must commit yourself to sobriety again and again until the decision to remain sober becomes instinctual.

One critical tool many people in early recovery use to fortify themselves against relapse during this vulnerable phase is self-binding, or monitoring your own behavior by creating obstacles between yourself and drug use. Although most addicts use some form of self-binding as part of their healing process, each person must develop their own particular set of behaviors that address their unique history, habits, and lifestyle. Not only do these behaviors help you create a practical framework to encourage sobriety, they also serve to give you a sense of control over your recovery and remind you that using is a choice that you can opt out of. The following are some common techniques you might want to incorporate in your own recovery:

Avoid Using Cash

Drugs tend to be a cash business and if you don’t have cash, purchasing drugs becomes a trickier prospect. To optimize your chances of resisting the urge to buy, avoid having cash available; set up direct deposit for your paycheck, cut up your ATM card, and urge any loved ones offering you financial support to pay service providers directly. There are also specialized financial products specifically designed for the needs of addicts and their families; the Next Step Prepaid Mastercard allows a family member to load and monitor the card, which can’t be used in liquor stores, bars, casinos, pawn shops, tattoo parlors, or other places where it may be inadvisable for an addict to make purchases. The card also can’t be used to withdraw cash, preventing you from making clandestine purchases.

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Avoid Boredom

Drugs or alcohol used to take up a lot of your time—the planning, the using, the comedown, the regret all served to fill time and create a structure around which to live. Residential treatment temporarily replaced that structure with an intensive recovery framework that kept you occupied as you began your sobriety. Now, it’s up to you to create a structure that will fortify you against using. Boredom is recognized as one of the most powerful relapse triggers and staying busy can be a vital part of maintaining sobriety through these early stages. Fill up your time with healthy activities like exercising, working, meditating, reading, and socializing. Take this opportunity to rediscover interests you had before your addiction took over or to find new passions. Write down a list of things you want to do, make a schedule for yourself, and set realistic, healthy goals. For many, 12-step meetings serve as a profoundly useful means of strengthening early recovery while also providing concrete structure and activity.

Edit Your Social Calendar

Ending or modifying relationships with the people we used to use with is an obvious if difficult step for many recovering addicts. When we’ve worked so hard to achieve these early stages of sobriety, the last thing we want to do is surround ourselves with people who are using. However, other types of relationships can also increase vulnerability to relapse, particularly any stressful, contentious, or troubled interpersonal relationships with family, friends, or co-workers that leave you emotionally distressed. While you do not have to cut everyone who ever upset you out of your life, being mindful of who you spend time with at this stage can help you keep yourself safe and minimize your chances of relapse. Sometimes this may mean limiting contact even with people who are very valuable to you; for example, a dear friend of mine couldn’t handle talking to her mom for the first 6 months of her recovery because the risk of emotional explosiveness was too high. Remember, your sobriety comes first, and putting potentially damaging relationships on pause can help you establish the stability you need to stay clean.

Change Your Routine

Recovering from addiction involves thoughtful examination of the emotional routines that inform your substance abuse. However, our day-to-day behavioral routines are also typically infused with triggers and reminders of a well-established pattern of addiction, whether it’s passing by a certain bar on the way home from work, reaching for our dealer’s phone number on a Friday night, or structuring your workday in a way that allows you to hide your use, the habits of addiction are often so ingrained in us that they become second nature. While part of recovery is learning how to cope with inevitable triggers, it is also prudent to remove unnecessary triggers by changing your daily routine in a way that minimizes cravings, nostalgia, or distress; for example, I can no longer drink coffee in the mornings because I obsess over wanting a cigarette the whole time. One of my co-workers takes a different route home after going out to dinner or to the theater because her usual walk through the entertainment district was spent in an acute state of cocaine craving. Specifically, what you change and how drastic the change must be depends on your own unique circumstances; you know yourself best and can design a life for yourself that honors your needs.

Self-Binding As Part of Aftercare Planning

Exploring which self-binding techniques will be useful for you can be a valuable part of aftercare planning and help you establish a solid foundation for maintaining sobriety after residential treatment. Because addiction recovery is an ongoing process, these techniques may change over time as your situation, cravings, and distress tolerance evolve; it is important to be open to recognizing your own growth and remaining aware of the challenges you face throughout recovery. By combining intensive residential healing with thoughtful transition back to your regular life, you can create sustainable, healthy sobriety and allow your authentic self to flourish.

Alta Mira’s world-renowned treatment program offers comprehensive care for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you or your loved one on the journey to recovery today.