May 4, 2020

12 steps for a great summer in recovery

by Kelly Burch

Dr. Nancy Sobel knows a thing or two about recovery. With 34 years of sobriety under her belt, she has discovered many tricks to living in recovery that work for her. In addition, as a licensed psychologist practicing in Los Angeles, Sobel has helped many other people in recovery find their new passions. Sober living is anything but boring for Sobel, who incorporates equine, adventure and surf therapy into her own recovery and that of her clients.

“I love days off, and love thinking how do I want to spend it,” she said. “I’m always running, so when I do have some time I’m thrilled.”

Here, Renew caught up with Dr. Sobel to talk about her favorite ways to have healthy fun this summer.

1.     Be a tourist in your hometown. “Often where you live remains unexplored,” Sobel said.  “There’s lots right in own backyards to see and do.” Look up walking tours, get a tourist book on the nearest city, or just set out for the day and see what you can find.  “It turns out lots of treasures that you wouldn’t even think of,” Sobel said. An added bonus? You can get the feeling of going on vacation without having to put up a large amount of cash. “With early recovery there is often a financial side, and not everyone can afford an around-the-world ticket,” Sobel said.

2.     Step outside your comfort zone. At home we all get stuck in our day-to-day routines Sobel said, but taking a simple step outside that regimen can have great rewards. Sobel realized this herself last summer when she rediscovered downtown L.A., an area she hadn’t been to in years. “At first I wasn’t sure if I dare go, but now I have new friends and old friends. We meet there and explore new restaurants and [sites] in the area.”

3.     Travel. Exploring your own back yard is great, but if you can afford it, traveling is also a great way to facilitate self-discovery and break away from the day-to-day norms. “In early recovery I purchased a round-the-world ticket and just went,” Sobel said. “It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

4.     Find a way to be of service. If you’re feeling stuck, there is no better way to get out of yourself than to volunteer, Sobel said. Not only are you giving back and becoming more involved in your community, but you’ll also meet an array of like-minded people. Websites like can help you find charities and organizations that are a perfect fit for your interests, whether that is arts and culture or animals.

5.     Involve your pet. … Speaking of animals, summer is the perfect time to get your four-legged friend involved in your healthy lifestyle. “Make sure your pet is well,” Sobel said. The return on your time investment will be huge. Pets are often tuned into their owner’s emotional needs, and offer judgment-free companionship. Plus, they can help you meet more friends of the two-legged variety. “It’s also a great socialization thing,” Sobel said.  “You meet a ton of people if you walk down the treat street with a dog.”

6.     Take a training class. For the dog lovers, taking a training class with your pooch can be a great summer activity. The discussions of self-regulation and boundaries that are keystones of most pet obedience classes match perfectly with what you’re learning during your recovery. “You learn for your own recovery in midst of caring for your animal,” Sobel said.

7.     Try a new outdoor adventure.  “I always wanted to surf, but I thought I would never be coordinated enough,” Sobel said. “That was not true and was self-defeating.” When she finally tried surfing at 48-years-old, it opened up her world (see surfing story, page XX) “If there is some secret thing that you always said ‘I could never do that,’ this is summer to try it.”

8.     Find a summer concert series. Nearly all cities have free summer concert series that are a perfect way to enjoy the outdoors and meet new people. “We bring the blankets and candles,” Sobel said of the downtown Los Angeles concert series that she discovered last summer. “It’s lovely.”

9.     Catch a game. While the World Cup may be over, baseball season is in full swing. Don’t limit yourself to just local sports – get out and see what catches your interest. “Think global,” Sobel said.

10.Get planting. If you’ve ever had a neighbor extoll the virtues of spending time with your hands in the dirt, you’ll understand the idea behind horticulture therapy. The American Horticultural Therapy Association ( says that the advantages of gardening range from memory improvement to emotional well-being. If you’re ambitious you can even begin your own therapeutic garden, a perfect place to get in touch with nature and your higher power.

11.Eat what you grow. “It’s lovely to enjoy flowers, but now in terms of sustainability and earth-consciousness, growing sustainably and eating the food we grow really resonates with recovery,” Sobel said. If you’re new to gardening start small. “I have a black thumb, but I’ve got some basil growing in my back yard and some mint.”

12.Throw a party. While summer cocktails may be off the table, there is no need to avoid socialization this summer. Throwing a party for your friends can provide an entire day of holistic living, Sobel said. “Start with a nice walk, and end up at the farmers’ market. Get some great fresh vegetables, invite your friends over and have a wonderful day. Feel good about yourself and what you’ve done.”



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