Building a morning routine is important when you’re trying to quit drinking.
When you soften how you start the day (now that you no longer have to worry about hangovers), you are better prepared for the obstacles ahead—and there are many in early sobriety.
Morning rituals create structure. They set a destination for your mind right upon awakening—something extremely important for those of us prone to escapism.
Creating a routine that’s totally unique to your experience is empowering. The best part is that it can be anything you need as long as it supports your desire to stay sober. As you explore the freedom of building a sober life, here are some ideas to help you fashion your own peaceful morning ritual.
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1. Create a sacred space.
Start by decorating a corner of your home with candles, flowers, scarves, and pictures that bring you hope and comfort. For a while, when my partner and I lived on the road, the focus of my sacred space was a centerfold of Guanyin (bodhisattva of compassion) from Lion’s Roar Magazine. The paper had deep creases intersecting vertically and horizontally from all the times I spent opening and closing it. Your focus could be a picture of your grandmother, or even a childhood photo. It just has to mean something to you. And finding out what that is, and who you really are, is a part of getting sober, too. Start searching.
2. Watch TV.
Jocellyn Harvey, Certified Success Coach and author of Recovering the Home, explains how reading, going on walks and writing gratitude lists are all excellent activities in early sobriety. But something less conventional could be one of the kindest ways to start your day—watch TV.
Jocellyn describes giving ourselves comfort in our morning routine when we’re trying to get sober: “There are going to be times where you are crawling out of your skin with nerves and anxiety. Or getting out from under the covers can feel impossible if you’re sliding towards depression. It still happens to me, though it’s gotten better over the years. When these moods kick in, I’ll simply watch TV in the morning. I choose something that will make me laugh and isn’t too serious. It can help me ease into the day and feel comfortable. I’m sure no one will ever say “watch TV in the morning!” It goes against so much of the ‘this is a proper morning routine” ethos. But sometimes a little TV is exactly what you need. So, especially in early sobriety, be gentle with yourself. Wake up, see what you need that day, and move forward.”
3. Hot lemon water.
The first time I quit drinking in 2012, I replaced alcohol with Monster energy drinks and extra cigarettes. I never thought to take care of my body. But in 2017, when a new concept of sobriety finally clicked, I became willing to take care of my whole self. Hot lemon water flushes toxins from the liver—it’s science! Starting my day with hot lemon water was one of the first kind things I ever did for my physical body. So turn on the tea kettle, squeeze in some lemon, and drink up. (But if Monster energy drinks and cigarettes are what you need, that’s fine too. I’ve been there!)
This is the Japanese word for “beginner’s mind”. Incorporating shoshin into my morning is something I picked up during my time with Elephant Journal. It lets us begin our day with a sense of wonder. As the phrase,“one day at a time” reminds us that we have a daily reprieve, shoshin can help us walk into our day with possibility instead of dread. When we remind ourselves that we don’t know the outcome of the day yet, we’re less likely to catastrophize what hasn’t happened. Keep an open mind.
Stephanie Snyder, Yoga Glo instructor and owner of Love Story Yoga, explains the value of meditation first thing in the morning by saying, “Inform yourself before the world informs you.” In those quiet first moments, tuning into my own wisdom can help clear the noise brought on later in the day. Place a cushion or pillow next to your bed and take five to ten minutes right when you wake up to meditate. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Simply sitting down and following your breath is enough to set the tone for your day.
6. Go softly.
Slowing down is not in my nature. I rushed through 28 years of life before taking time to notice the trees and appreciate things like natural light. It still takes practice, but I try not to speed through simple tasks like taking a shower or brushing my teeth. I lay my clothes out the night before if I have somewhere to go. I let my mornings be as easy as they can. When I was drinking, every morning was rushed. I was always late and I never had a moment to myself. I was half-awake in my life, and bringing awareness into daily activities made a huge impact. Slow down and notice yourself just being.
7. Read quality words.
Find easy to digest literature. Something to cleanse your palate. Read a few lines and take a few sips of your hot drink. Maybe that’s lemon water, or maybe you need coffee. Either way, sit with your words and your hot drink. Sip and read. Keep it simple. I usually thumb through Pema Chodron’s Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better, my hand-me-down copy of Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, or some quality poetry by Maya Angelou, Joan Didion, Yrsa-Daley Ward, or even Rupi Kaur.
8. Move your body.
Maybe that means sweating. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter as long as you devote time to shifting those bones and muscles around. One of my favorite phrases in early sobriety was “move a muscle, change a thought.” And that still rings true for me.
How am I feeling this morning? Sometimes the answer is…terrible. I’m not feeling great at all. That’s a part of this too. We don’t have to bulldoze through the pain. If anything, we can start our day off knowing, okay, I’m going to be gentle with myself today because I know I’m having a hard time. I used to push through hangovers because I knew that in order to keep the illusion that my drinking was fine, I had to be willing to live with the consequences. I knew if I couldn’t keep it together, I’d have to admit that I needed to change. So I learned to ignore pain. I don’t have to do that anymore. One of the hardest and most rewarding parts of sobriety is awareness. When we learn to harness that awareness into growth, we can evolve.
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Devoting time to yourself first thing in the morning can serve as an anchor when you’re trying to quit drinking. Morning routines can soften the edges of your newfound reality and help keep a commitment to stay with yourself throughout the day. The minutes are long in the beginning, but having this structure can guide you through tough moments.
Morning by morning, you’ll build a foundation of trust within yourself. You’ll discover that your body is a safe place to live even when it feels difficult to stay.
Everyone has their own definition of peaceful, so your morning routine will look unique to you. Try lots of different things. One of the best parts about getting sober is learning who you really are. And you deserve to support your desire to stay sober with as many tools as possible. Get creative and dive in!