Creating a nighttime ritual is important in early sobriety.
Closing out the day with a calming, reliable routine can guide you through your evening—sober. It’s just as important as having a peaceful morning ritual… if not more so.
Since most of us sought out alcohol to unwind in the evening (or even before), it’s important to replace that form of release with something new. So creating a nighttime ritual is a great way to develop new habits that will support your desire to stay sober.
Brooke Hudgins, LPC based out of Atlanta, explains that nighttime is especially difficult in early sobriety because it’s the most unstructured part of your day. This is the time where negative self-talk can creep in as we ruminate over the events in our day and the ones in the following days. Ms. Hudgins says, “Building more structure through a nighttime routine will help curb overwhelming thoughts and feelings, and allow one to focus on making healthier choices and prioritizing sobriety.”
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A nightly routine can tuck away any lingering mental hang-ups you have and help you fall asleep sober. When we solidify new habits to replace drinking, we can actually learn to look forward to those healthier practices. Finding out what you love more than drinking is a big part of getting sober. Here are a few ideas to help guide you on that journey while shaping your own unique evening ritual.
1. Prepare a cup of tea.
Alcohol gives the impression that it’s helping us sleep, but drinking actually disturbs natural sleeping cycles. It makes us more anxious. Replacing your nightcap with a cup of chamomile or lavender tea can feel good to your nervous system and help your body prepare for sleep. Amanda White, LPC with Philadelphia-based therapy program Therapy for Women, explains how the ritual of preparing tea can help tell your brain that the day is over and it’s time to relax. “The ritual of drinking can often be part of where we get the relaxation from without realizing it! So when you create your own ritual you can get that feeling without picking up a drink,” says White. If tea isn’t your thing, don’t worry; it took me a long time to be a tea drinker. Maybe a non-alcoholic cocktail or half a case of La Croix is more your speed. It doesn’t have to look any certain way. The act of replacing alcohol with something that says it’s time to relax is most important.
2. Stare out the window.
Observing subtle changes in my backyard at sunset every evening calms me down. Looking out of the window puts me in the present moment, which is a big deal in early sobriety. Maybe you live in a big city where skyscrapers reflect clouds and capture purples and pinks in a totally unique way each night. Or maybe it’s loud in your apartment building and your neighbor plays an out-of-tune piano. Take it all in. Slow down and observe your environment each evening.
3. Write your thoughts on paper.
I tend to overthink situations (usually five minutes before falling asleep) that send me into a spiral of worry. Overanalyzing the day’s events before bed used to be a major roadblock for me. To avoid reliving cringeworthy moments from my day, or even ones in the distant past, I find it helpful to empty out my mind on paper. It helps me stay in reality. When I examine my day, without judgment, I can close my eyes at night with a sense of peace.
4. Stay connected.
Make time for a phone call with a trusted friend after work, or find an online recovery meeting of your choice. Staying connected is a great way to close out your day in early sobriety (and beyond). It’s important to get out of your head and connect with other people, but mostly, staying accountable solidifies your commitment to sobriety. Isolation is my default, but that path leads to old comforts like drinking and using. Instead of isolating, make the choice to reach out. It will make you a better listener, and from my experience, that quiets noise in my own mind.
5. Prepare a nourishing meal.
Learn a new recipe or take a cooking class online. The ritual of preparing something for yourself is a healthy replacement for drinking. But if cooking triggers you (I know many of us associate cooking with wine), maybe use the money you’re saving on alcohol to order a special take-out meal while also supporting a local restaurant that could use the help right now.
6. Yoga Nidra.
Formal evening meditations were difficult for me in early sobriety because my thoughts and feelings were so chaotic. But following a guided Yoga Nidra was structured yet soft enough to walk me through the noise and prepare me for sleep.
7. Make time for creative outlets.
Penelope Moussa, Clinical Psychologist and founder of Recovery Buddha, says that we need to make time for creativity at the end of the day aside from our regular to-do lists. Moussa explains, “An evening ritual may consist of our ‘have-to-do list’ (E.g. making dinner at a certain time, making our children’s lunches for the next day at school, or walking the dog), but it is also important to [seek out] other activities that are soothing to your soul.” Painting, taking a dance class on Zoom, or attending an online poetry reading are all great creative outlets that can relax your mind at the end of the day.
8. Invest in a skincare routine.
Taking time to care for yourself is an act of love. Incorporating a skincare routine can show yourself—in a very physical way—that you’re worth caring for on a daily basis. This can be as simple as a cleanser and moisturizer situation. But maybe you want to dive all in and add a five-step skincare routine each night. It’s up to you.
9. Take a bath.
I took a bath pretty much every day in early sobriety. My sister jokingly says that the bathtub solves all of her problems. Clearly, she doesn't mean all of her problems disappear after taking a bath, but we both agree that 15 minutes of soaking in hot water is a gift of mental renewal. Soaking in the tub helps calm your body before bed. And if you want to go to the next level, try adding oils, Epsom salts, or candles to create a more soothing environment.
10. Choose comfort.
If you have the financial means, find some soft pajamas or splurge on high thread count bed sheets. Devoting care and attention to your sleep environment can help you feel more comfortable and even elated with going to bed. When I buy new workout clothes, I’m more excited about my workout routine, so in early sobriety, I invested in comfort and my bedroom area was a place I wanted to be.
11. Be consistent.
Hudgins emphasizes the importance of establishing a consistent bedtime routine, not only for sobriety but for overall health. By going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, we show ourselves that we are committed to our own wellbeing. Consistency helps us create new healthier habits. Whatever your evening ritual looks like, be consistent.
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We so often succumb to cravings under the impression that we deserve a drink (or several). Ending the day with a drink can feel like a reward. But the reward alcohol promises is never what we receive if we examine our history correctly.
Yes, we work hard. And that’s exactly why we deserve the raw freedom that sobriety provides. Closing your day with new habits to help prioritize your sobriety will keep recovery at the forefront of your life. Finding what brings you true peace away from alcohol is key for building a calming evening ritual. But these are just suggestions. Everyone has their own unique version of what works. So start digging and create your own, personally catered, evening ritual.
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