The Importance of Making and Keeping a Schedule in Early Recovery

While making a schedule is a good idea for keeping track of many of life's events, we don't always think of scheduling as a critical tool in sober recovery. We think, "Let me get sober first, then I'll worry about a schedule." Nevertheless, a schedule can be an important aspect of your recovery plan and a great tool for helping you stay sober.

Anxiety Can Prevent Clear Thinking and Planning

Even if you were relatively high functioning while using, you may find yourself struggling to know what to do next when you get sober. For some, alcohol or the drug of addiction was our anxiety-reliever, entertainment, recreational activity, and the glue that connected the different aspects of our life. When we get sober, we are usually a mess. Things will settle down eventually and seem less chaotic, but in the beginning, the reality is that the brain will not be able to focus on much of anything at all during the withdrawal period and for a short time afterward. Once that short time period after withdrawal and rehab is over, it may be time to begin planning a schedule of activities to keep us busy in our new, sober life. Having a schedule in place can help you steer clear of anxiety or avoid relapse during the early recovery process.

As Old Habits Are Broken, New Ones Must Be Put in Place

As with any habit, we need to break the old patterns in order to break the old habit. This is where a schedule comes in handy. Working with someone else in recovery to create this schedule may help. Nevertheless, there are a couple of ideas I can suggest to get you started on your own. Think of scheduling as turning over a new leaf.

Start with a template. Whether you use a computerized template, a calendar booklet, or a piece of paper, start with a weekly plan or weekly schedule sheet, with days of the week across the top, and times of the day down the side.

Plan on a full night of sleep. Sleep is important, so decide what your approximate sleeping times will be, and then mark your waking hours on the chart. Even though it may take a while to get a regular sleep schedule happening, it is good to start trying to do so.

Take time for recovery. One of the first events on your schedule should be some time set aside devoted to your recovery. Many people like to do focus on recovery exercises first thing in the morning with their coffee. Reading something on recovery, contemplating, and keeping a journal ("journaling") are all things that can be included in this set-aside time. Try to make it a time when you are uninterrupted. You are setting a plan for the day, and you are setting your brain for the day. Take it seriously, and your day will begin on a positive note.

It is also important to schedule recovery support meetings, 12-step meetings or group therapy, or whatever else you are using to aid in your recovery. For any day of the week, it is best that you know where you are going, and at what time, so that you have only to look at the calendar and you know where to go. You can even schedule in extra meetings in the event that you find yourself with extra time on your hands (which can sometimes lead to anxiety). It never hurts to have a ready list of constructive and distracting things to do when you hit those down times or rough moments when all you can think about is drinking or using.

Include daily responsibilities—work, family, errands. If you are working or in school, you will want to put those daily commitments on your schedule. Be careful of spending too much time in these events, though. Time for recovery is crucial. We cannot simply stop using drugs or alcohol without giving attention to the part of us that needed that crutch in the first place. The time you spend on your recovery exercises and meetings, is the time you need to get in touch with that part of yourself, so you can begin to heal. And, as is often said, if you could find time to drink or use, you can find time for your recovery. Don't let your work or school become an excuse to neglect your recovery or other areas of your life.

Time for exercise. Another helpful addition to your schedule is time for physical exercise. Whether that time is spent walking or running or working out at a gym, regular exercise will do wonders for reducing the anxiety created by withdrawal. Exercise can help relieve the anxiety that we generally attempted to cure with our favorite alcohol drink or drug of choice.

Time for play. Oftentimes, when we get sober, we get wrapped up in making up for lost time. As such, we sometimes forget that time is time, and we cannot undo a lifetime of mistakes in a few weeks. It is important to remember that we still need to take time just for relaxing and having fun. Organized sports, going out with sober friends, spending time with family, listening to music you love, and taking the time to do whatever you consider to be enjoyable. Fun time will rejuvenate you, and keep you from taking yourself too seriously.

Schedule even basic activities in the beginning. I find it is also important to include things in your schedule that may strike you as mundane. Learning to schedule everything is learning to get into a healthy routine. Schedule your daily shower. For example, perhaps you will get up, have your quiet time, exercise and then shower. That shower every day can be important for you psychologically. It says to you, I am going to show up for life today. Schedule a time to go to the grocery store. Plan what you will buy. Schedule time to make meals. All of these are merely suggestions, but it doesn't hurt to start thinking about how you can take care of yourself, and learn to love your new, sober self. This is also a time to learn to care for your body. After all, you have spent a number of years abusing it, and it needs a little TLC!

Take a proactive role in your life. When we are using, we are reacting to life in a destructive way. Most of our reactions are based upon our need to feel good. When we get sober, we have the opportunity, perhaps for the first time, to live life proactively rather than reactively. Making a schedule is one way we begin doing that. We choose how we will live our day,and how we will spend our time. With this in mind, it is helpful, if you are unemployed, to decide when to add looking for a job into your schedule. Maybe you will schedule time to explore possible career fields. Maybe you have a dream job that you want to research. Maybe there is a skill you want to learn. When we schedule time for these things, they become more concrete. One small action can provide motivation for the next action, and the next.

Don't become a slave to your schedule. More than anything else, though, it is important to remember that the schedule is a tool to help you organize your life. It should not be used to fill every minute, nor should it be used to beat your self up. You will find your schedule more helpful if you allow it to be dynamic. You may decide that it isn't working for you. If so, you can change it. You may over-schedule yourself, so do what you can, and adjust accordingly. If the schedule becomes a weapon to beat yourself up with, you will quickly abandon it. Make sure the schedule works for you, not against you.

Create your new life. Consider scheduling as a process for learning to live one day at a time—and have confidence that each day will be better than the last. Design your schedule to meet life's obligations, but also design it to make time for things that bring you joy. This schedule, and your life, is your work of art. Get busy creating it!


P. G. McGraw is a 30-plus year sober alcoholic, writer, blogger and "joyfully rebellious heretic and mystic." She enjoys learning about Eastern and Indigenous Religions and applying that knowledge to her spiritual recovery. A former attorney, McGraw has a certificate as a chemical dependency counselor assistant and has worked as a sponsor, helping many people in the recovery process over the years.

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