How to keep a recovering alcoholic occupied?
September 22, 2008 10:11 AM   Subscribe

How to keep a recovering alcoholic (going through his quarter-life crisis) occupied?

My boyfriend made the decision several months ago to stop drinking. He'll go for weeks without wanting a drink until he gets bored. Once the boredom sets in, he'll get frustrated and depressed. He'll start talking about how pointless life is and drink until he can't think straight anymore.

We live in Iowa, so there isn't enough creative stimulation to keep him happy. We're planning on moving, but until we get to that point, he needs several different hobbies to keep himself occupied.

For a while, he was writing every day. This was what stopped his drinking initially. He would get off work and immediately start writing all his thoughts and ideas. He would write well into the night, every night. During this time he started drawing and sketched out some ideas for a graphic novel. Both of these projects ended after about a month or two.

I bought him the Orange Box for PC, and he filled his evenings with Team Fortress 2 for about a month. His latest hobby has been World of Warcraft, but I can feel it's pull starting to wear away.

He's always been into standup comedy and has recently been looking to that as a creative outlet. He also plays guitar, but can't find like-minded musicians in this area.

I believe he's going through his "quarter-life crisis." Just years ago he was touring Europe with his old band, feeling on top of the world. Then he crashed, his life feel apart, and I met him as he was trying to pick up the pieces. He has come so far, and I know he's really happy with his progress, he just can't seem to find anything that keeps him happy in the long run. Once it hits him that he hasn't gone as far as he was hoping, or that he's not "good enough" at a particular hobby, he gets depressed and drinks.

He's not the kind of person to read a self-help books, so I'm just looking for more ideas to keep him busy. He'd prefer to have a group of intellectually stimulating people to surround himself with, to bounce ideas off, to work on creative projects with. Any ideas on where to find something like that, or get a group started, in Iowa? He's open to any ideas for new projects or hobbies. He really wants to keep away from drinking and being in the state of mind it brings, but once he gets bored it's inevitable.

What do recovering alcoholics do when they get the urge to go out to the bar? How do you find creative stimulation in the middle of nowhere? What's a good hobby that takes up a significant amount of time and is still rewarding in the end?
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Service. In whatever shape or form that'll take for him. Visiting the dying, reading to the blind, feeding the hungry, working in a homeless shelter, delivering meals on wheels, being a Big Brother etc. etc. And beyond this - in between - MEETINGS. Does he have a sponsor? If not, he needs to get one asap and run this dilemma by them to see how they would round it out.
posted by watercarrier at 10:27 AM on September 22, 2008

And just as a side note - the entertainment industry - nightclubs et al - is NOT the kind of venue you want to be sending a recovering alcoholic into that soon in their recovery if at all. It's a relapse opportunity just waiting to happen.
posted by watercarrier at 10:29 AM on September 22, 2008

I commend you for your efforts. I will add that if he has a problem, being away from Iowa or someplace where there is more stimulation probably won't cure him. The problem will be there regardless of where you call home.
posted by mmascolino at 10:29 AM on September 22, 2008

What's a good hobby that takes up a significant amount of time and is still rewarding in the end?

What about photography? It's an excuse to get out of the house and the end result can be some pretty amazing images. Also, all you really need to get started is a decent digital camera.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:30 AM on September 22, 2008

I'm going to second watercarrier with the meetings thing. One of the things that makes AA so effective (imo) is the fact that you are encouraged to go every day for at least three months, which means you never have a lot of time to get bored and start losing control in between reminders of why you stopped in the first place. Also, when recovering alcoholics get the urge to go to the bar, they usually call their sponsor.
posted by Dr. Send at 10:31 AM on September 22, 2008

Encourage him to start running and lifting weights, especially in the morning if possible. He'll feel good for the rest of the day no matter what he does.
posted by milarepa at 10:33 AM on September 22, 2008

I second SERVICE. It can't help but expand one's world and an expanded world is not boring. Reading's good, too. But skip the self-help books. Go deep. Commit to literature.

Bottom line: get involved.
posted by philip-random at 10:34 AM on September 22, 2008

jayne - maybe this can help.
posted by watercarrier at 10:35 AM on September 22, 2008

Sounds like he's a not very successful whiteknuckle drunk. Seconding AA, if he's really trying to quit.
posted by electroboy at 10:38 AM on September 22, 2008

Totally second watercarrier's meetings recommendation. Accountability is absolutely crucial for any kind of recovery, and not only because you have to face someone after you slip, but because you have someone to call before you do. Maybe that person can be you, but a better bet would be someone a bit less involved, someone who has a more objective perspective. Also, you probably need someone to share the load. Get him in AA if he'll go, but at least bring someone else on board, someone he can call 24 hours a day whenever he gets the urge to drink.

In terms of finding things to do, how about taking evening classes? I'm guessing that his job isn't particularly intellectually stimulating. Touring Europe with your band says that 1) Iowa is going to be a pretty drastic letdown under any circumstances, but 2) he hasn't probably acquired the kind of resume you need to get more than a low-level paper-pushing job. As he apparently has plenty of time on his hands, consider enrolling on continuing ed classes towards a college degree if he doesn't have one, or something more advanced if he does. Maybe a teaching certificate. Not only might this provide something more interesting to do during the day, but it's likely to put him in closer contact with more interesting people than goofing off on the interwebs.
posted by valkyryn at 10:40 AM on September 22, 2008

He has attended a few AA meetings. They helped him a ton in the beginning, because he could hear the stories of people who had gotten far worse than him. It made him realize how real his problem was and that he did need to do something to make a change in his life. However, he's not religious in the slightest, and it was that aspect of AA that didn't work for him. It eventually drove him away from the meetings.

Thanks for all the help so far! These ideas are great.
posted by jaynedanger at 11:04 AM on September 22, 2008

Seconding working out. Being a student, I used to drink all the time. Now that I work out, I don't want to wreck my gains or hurt my motivation and endurance by getting drunk.
posted by ydnagaj at 11:09 AM on September 22, 2008

AA doesn't have to be religious. Has he tried going to several different meetings in different towns? It's also good to hear stories from people who are BETTER than you. It's really inspiring to hear about the experience of someone who has been sober for 20 years and really found serenity. The "my life rules" stories can be just as powerful or more powerful than the "my life sucks" stories. I think that it's important to try out a lot of different meetings until you find one that feels like a good fit. Different meetings have different cultures. It's very possible to find "a group of intellectually stimulating people to surround himself with" at AA.
posted by TurkishGolds at 11:11 AM on September 22, 2008

I can't believe nobody's mentioned therapy yet. It's more effective, empirically, than AA.
posted by callmejay at 11:53 AM on September 22, 2008

That's a bold statement callmejay - which methodology of therapy is more effective in treating alcoholism than AA?
posted by watercarrier at 12:13 PM on September 22, 2008

I come from a similar situation and doing yoga regularly really got my body and mind to the calm place I used to drink to get to. Also, I would suggest reading Infinite Jest if he hasn't, especially if he is a writer.
posted by headless at 12:30 PM on September 22, 2008

I can understand his disenchantment with AA and the whole Higher Power thing and go through similar periods myself. I even live in one of those eastern liberal type cities where meetings are likely more diverse than they would be in Iowa. While AA proposes that the qualifying, "... as we understood Him," at the end of the third step indicates that it is not a secular program, when meetings are regularly opened and closed with Christian prayer it can be a little hard to swallow.

That said, there isn't any rule that says you have to pray and the rest of the tools are certainly helpful. There's an AA aphorism for damn near everything and one of my favorites is, "Take what you need and leave the rest." The commitment to service work was very important to me, especially early on. It's amazing that we'll often neglect ourselves but when someone else is depending on us we tend to do the right thing.

Hearing about people who were worse off than myself didn't do much for me. We all have our horror stories and what is often neglected is the fact that the feelings and pain of an addicted lifestyle are the exact same whether experienced in a suite at the Plaza or your local crack den. I don't care so much what you did as I do about what you're doing. Your SO may find meetings a little more palatable if he can look for commonalities rather than differences.

If he keeps plugging away, what he will find is that there are plenty of smart, creative and stimulating people who do not drink alcoholically. There are also plenty of people who used to and now don't, those people have a funny way of turning up at meetings, and you know what: they're even smarter and more creative sober. If he can't find these people, he isn't looking very hard.
posted by cedar at 2:15 PM on September 22, 2008


Sorry, I don't have time to track anything down right now and I should be clear that I'm not a doctor or anything resembling one, but I've seen various studies which revealed AA to be not only no more effective than therapy, but potentially worse than no intervention at all. (The abstinence-only message is thought to increase binge drinking in many people.)

Here's a link from a clearly biased against AA source for right now. I'm sure the bibliography at least will be useful.
posted by callmejay at 2:28 PM on September 22, 2008

Well, as someone who got sober while unemployed at age 26 I can certainly relate. What indeed does one do when their biggest source of entertainment gets taken away from you? Here's some things I did:

Got a Netflix subscription and start plowing through movies like there's no tomorrow.

Read - a LOT - and be fairly indiscriminate about it. Kills a lot of time and you learn a ton.

Went to meetings. I know you mentioned he's tried that, but it is something I did and in addition to keeping me occupied, it helped tremendously (and continues to do so. Incidentally, it's absolutely possible to be sober in AA and not be religious. I'm a good example of this.)

Exercise - specifically long walks. A lot of people experience increased anxiety and angst when they first quit drinking. This helps deal with that.

Meditate - helps calm the mind.

Played video games (looks like he's found the time sink that's WoW already. Might I suggest a Wii or an XBox as well? Totally addictive.)

Nothing - which sort of leads me to my next point.

If your boyfriend is indeed an alcoholic, it's important to realize he drinks not because he's bored, but because, well... that's what alcoholics do. The boredom is just a convenient excuse when, really, any excuse will suffice. If he's serious about giving up the booze, he's going to have to be serious about doing it when he's bored too, because that WILL happen. Boredom happens to everyone - not just recovering alcoholics, and we all have different ways of dealing with it. Rather, determining the causes and conditions under which he drinks, and then addressing those might be a good place to start. There have been a ton of good suggestions already in this thread. Please feel free to MeFi mail me if you'd like to discuss this further. Good Luck!
posted by Rewind at 5:26 PM on September 22, 2008

Thank you for all the responses! We had a good talk about every comment on this thread tonight and came up with some excellent solutions for the short and long term.
posted by jaynedanger at 9:09 PM on September 22, 2008

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