Whether it is recovery from addiction or mental health relapse or even mental health maintenance, routine is critical. It took me a very long time for this piece of crucial advice to sink in. Mental health educators and peer support advocates repeat this advice (almost to the point of ad nauseum) because there is an overwhelming amount of time-tested evidence that having a positive routine makes the difference between success and failure. While I am not personally a 12-step program advocate, I happen to like the 1st step so much that it has become a mantra and call to arms for establishing a positive routine: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and/or Mental Health Symptoms and that our lives had become unmanageable.
Routine begins with the very smallest of actions and self praise for taking them to begin to make our lives manageable. For me, this began with the simple acts of taking a shower, shaving, and brushing my teeth everyday. Before this simple act, I could go days without and it would be a combination of forgetting or just not having the energy or motivation to do so. I found that after 4 days it was getting easier – I needed an alarm on my smartphone to remind me to brush my teeth. I was finding that I was beating the alarm to the punch and it made me smile.
From there I looked at the state of my bedroom which really and truly looks as if an F4 tornado hit it. Seeing its rather sorry state evoked some physical symptoms of anxiety and the feeling of being overwhelmed. Again, I sought the simplest solution – let’s just make the bed. And thus I made the bed and said to myself, “That’s an improvement.” 3 days later and I am still making the bed. Now it’s time to tackle the dirty clothes strewn about and into the hamper they go. The simplest and smallest step made me feel good. I daresay I was proud of myself for taking an action.
Like a snowball rolling downhill, gathering speed and size, I began discovering the joy of self care that a routine provides. These minute actions began to take over where the anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications have left off. I now feel as if I am ready to tackle some slightly more involved and complex tasks by breaking them down into smaller and manageable ones. These tasks add to that quintessential thing called routine. Now I see why mental health professionals and educators firmly believe that recovery, whether it is from addiction, mental health relapse, loss, etc. begins with establishing a routine.