Remember Dory, the forgetful fish from Pixar’s 2003 movie Finding Nemo? Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, had a specific approach to life—no matter what challenges she encountered. When faced with difficulties, Dory would remind herself to “just keep swimming.”

While we admit that it might seem odd to turn to an animated fish for recovery advice, we nevertheless think Dory is onto something. Her short, memorable mantra reminded her that she had to keep swimming no matter what.

For a person in recovery from a substance use disorder, “just keep swimming” is another way of saying these extremely important words: just stay sober.

You Might Think this Advice is…Well…Fishy

We would not be at all surprised if you are feeling a little skeptical. After all, it is a lot easier to say something like “just keep swimming” than it is to actually do it. You might be feeling like the word “just” in a phrase like “just stay sober” fails to acknowledge the very real challenges you face on your recovery journey. 

Let us suggest another way to look at it. Think of the word “just” as a stand in for “the single most important thing you can do is stay sober.” When you look at it this way, “just” does not signify that staying sober is simple; instead, it suggests that if you can only accomplish one thing on a given day, that thing should be maintaining your sobriety.

Still and all, you might be wondering how you are supposed to “just stay sober” when all you really want to do is give into your cravings or party with your friends or “self-medicate” to find relief from stress, anxiety, and more.

‘Just Stay Sober’ in Practice – The Power of Routines

How do you consistently live up to your sobriety mantra? Our advice is that you develop a set of healthy routines that support your sobriety while also creating a list of options you can turn to when the going gets really tough.

Those healthy routines could include attending 12-Step (or other recovery program) meetings, making time for regular exercise, choosing healthier food options more consistently, and establishing a set of habits that support restful sleep. Mindfulness practice, keeping a journal, pursuing an engaging hobby, volunteering for causes that are meaningful to you, spending time with friends and family—all of these things and many more can be part of your thoughtfully created set of routines that provide ongoing support for your sobriety. These good habits really can provide a firm foundation for your ability to “just stay sober.”

‘Just Stay Sober’ in Practice – Planning for Emergencies

That said, recovery is not always smooth sailing—no matter how faithfully you stick to your routines. Cravings can arise from seemingly nowhere. A stressful period at work or in a relationship can tempt you to turn back to drugs or alcohol. A trigger you did not even know was a trigger could send you into a tailspin that puts your sobriety at risk.

How do you just stay sober in those moments? By deploying your emergency plans. 

Those plans are going to be individual to you, of course, but here are a few suggestions for the kinds of plans you could come up with:

  • If I am really struggling with a craving, I will call (my sponsor) (my friend) (my partner) instead of giving in to it.
  • If I find myself in a place where there are drugs on offer, I will leave immediately.
  • If work stress is really getting to me, I will set aside some time to relax or to engage in a hobby that I really enjoy before things get critical and I’m tempted to use drugs or drink.

Again, your emergency plans will be specifically yours, but taking the time to think of difficult situations that might arise before they do arise is a wonderful way to give yourself a better chance to just stay sober.

A Note About Relapses

In an ideal world, you would regain your sobriety and then never have to worry about relapsing. But this is not always an ideal world—and relapses are certainly a reality. If you experience a relapse, the most important thing you can do is to return to treatment so that you can again reclaim your sobriety, fine-tune your strategies for avoiding drugs and alcohol in the future, and start the process of just staying sober again.

We Can’t Help You Find Nemo, But We Can Help You Find Sobriety

At The Aviary Recovery Center, near St. Louis, MO, we help individuals who are struggling with drugs or alcohol to take back their sobriety—and their life. We provided personalized care grounded in empathy and drawing from evidence, experience, and expertise. If you have been searching for a way to get sober, we are glad you have found us. The sooner you reach out, the sooner we can help.