Dogs & Addiction Recovery – Sobriety’s Best Friend?

In the early days of my recovery journey, staying sober was my primary focus and it kept me busy. I had no time for a dog. In order to beat the cravings, I had to fill my time with all sorts of activities. There were meetings and talking with others in recovery to help me from picking up that first drink.

 

Spare time on my  hands, should I get a dog?

As my confidence grew and I learned to be more comfortable in my own skin, I found I had more spare time (which would have previously been filled by alcohol).  I wanted to ensure I used this time productively and positively to keep growing and pursuing my sobriety.

 

Before I admitted I was an alcoholic, I would drink out of boredom, stress, hunger, tiredness, anger – you get the idea. I just drank. I would very quickly hit blackout and then the next morning would be upon me without any recognition of the elapsed time. Each day was a  “top up” of the day before. Time passed me by so quickly that I never stopped to look at where I was going, or where I had been. Never mind how I was destroying my life and everyone around me.

 

For many years I had wanted to get a dog, but I was selfish. I knew that having a dog would hinder my drinking and my selfishness meant I was most definitely not going to go for a walk early morning or when it was raining, never mind picking up poop …

 

My safe place was on my sofa with alcohol in hand ready to block out the whole evening until I got up the next day to do it all over again. But a year into sobriety I was doing well. My recovery was strong and I had a solid set of people around me. Isolation continued to be my biggest demon. I had days when I found it hard to get off my sofa. I’d sit and stare at the TV for hours at a time, wishing the day away.

 

After years of contemplating, I made the decision to get a dog.

recovery dog Wallace

The rather adorable Wallace

I would like to emphasize that this was no light-hearted choice. I researched and read up on the best breeds and made sure a dog would fit in with my lifestyle. My final decision was made only when I accepted that this was a 10 to 15-year commitment. And I knew I was in a place that would allow me to love this creature unconditionally. I also had the support of my two children to help care for him.  After trying to get a rescue (and failing) I decided on my puppy. He was local and adorable and buying him is one of the best things I have ever done for my recovery.

 

Having a Puppy Got Me Active Again …

Wallace (that’s his name) is a chocolate Labradoodle who is now two. And having a puppy got me active again. In fact, for the first year I wasn’t able to sit still for 5 minutes. As I had to feed him, train him and clean up after him.  When he was bored, he would want to play and therefore, I wasn’t able to just sit and do nothing. 

 

Evenings flew by and before I would know it, bedtime arrived. I had conquered another sober day.  It was hard work and there were some days I could have easily thrown in the towel (and Wallace), but my newfound mindset encouraged me to persevere. I went out walking and met other dog owners who would swoon at how cute Wallace is. They would also share their puppy stories and offer support and advice.

 

New Relaxed Relationships – Dogs in Recovery

I was still very scared of people and lacked confidence in myself to forge new friendships. So these new relaxed relationships with dog lovers were positive for me. They were distant enough for small talk and some light-hearted company, but never so close that I had to reveal myself and my demons –  still hanging around in the shadows ready to pounce.

 

I had a positive routine! A dog was good for my recovery! A combination of caring for another living creature and getting outside to walk covered exercise and socializing. This helped my mental health and kept me busy – therefore keeping my mind off of alcohol. And Wallace gave me purpose, structure and unconditional love.

 

My Life and Recovery is More Complete with a Dog

Two years on, I could not imagine my life without him.  Some days he looks at me as if he can see into my soul and knows exactly what I am thinking and feeling. He is my companion and is always pleased to see me.  If I am happy, he wants to play. If I’m sad, he wants to comfort me. And when we are tired, we cuddle up and go to sleep together.

 

We explore the forest, the beach or just local streets. And we always see other dog owners. The community is pleasant, and with Wallace I dare to go to places I would never dream of going on my own. He makes me brave. The weather doesn’t bother either of us and whether it’s in Wellington boots or flip-flops, we will get out as often as is feasible.

 

I walk with friends or on my own and feel content as my dog is always company. This time allows my mind to process and it acts as a meditation. I let thoughts and feelings pass through my mind and not linger as something new always catches one of my senses and diverts my thoughts.

dog addiction recovery author and Wallace on beach

Th author with recovery’s best friend …

New Year New Best Friend

This year I fulfilled a very simple dream – to see in the New Year sitting on the beach.  At 11.30 PM, a friend and I drove to our local shore-side and there we sat, me, my friend and my dog. We watched the fireworks and wished each other a Happy New Year.  And we sat peacefully and happily enjoying the moment.

 

Imagine my surprise when I saw that other people did this too and not to get drunk or cause trouble but purely to enjoy the moment in the same way that we were. The simple pleasures I am finding in sobriety are all the more special having my best friend, Wallace, at my side.

 

Nicola Lee had it all - a successful career, 2 children, marriage, car, house... She found herself at alcoholic rock bottom on the 5th December 2015. Nicola says, "After some time in sobriety, I decided to write down my journey through recovery and finding a way to live happily and sober. By writing my truth I hope to dispel some of the myths around what defines an alcoholic." Nicola Lee lives in Hampshire, England. She writes a blog at called 365 'Days a Year' and also writes for the Huffington Post UK.