Addiction Recovery – The change from being a drug addict or chronic alcoholic to being someone completely sober and living their life 100% substance-free can feel a lot like a fast fairground rollercoaster ride.
Packed with unexpected twists and turns, endless highs and lows, dramatic moments of real fear and panic, and other moments of pure and natural exhilaration, and all with the sense that, at any moment, the wheels will leave the track and send you spinning.
Yep, that’s about it. That’s exactly how it felt for me, anyway
Many people beginning their addiction recovery believe that their life has become boring somehow – just because they can no longer get high or get drunk. Boy, do they have a surprise coming…
Let’s face it – who ever heard of a “boring” rollercoaster ride
During the early months of addiction recovery, many things will happen and many things will change. You will face difficult challenges, too, that you’ll need to surpass to keep your sobriety intact.
The underlying mantra you have to keep with you is to keep pushing forward, to keep moving forward. In time, you will not only learn how to live in sobriety, but you’ll know how to really enjoy this new alternate existence.
Like the Rocky quote – you’ll have to imagine the voice…
“It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
According to many addiction specialists (and from my own experience, too), the most important aspect of first-year recovery is all about relapse prevention. Hopefully, you will have worked out an individualized relapse prevention plan with a specialist before you left treatment.
This relapse prevention plan is the most important document you will hold in your hand from now on. Read it. Understand it. Memorize it. It could very well save your life.
The subject of relapse prevention covers many important recovery topics, including:
- Managing potential relapse triggers
- Stress and anxiety management
- Addiction support
- Coping skills
- Self-care, and
- Maintaining your mental and physical health
So, let’s look in more element at what you should expect during your first year of addiction recovery, and how best to respond to each issue you face…
Dealing with Emotional Ups & Downs
Yep, we’re back on the rollercoaster, and it’s picking up speed. Rising higher and higher – just like you will be feeling emotionally – before the inevitable steep plunge downwards… again, just as you will be feeling and experiencing straight after your initial burst of recovery happiness.
This phenomenon is known as “Pink Cloud Syndrome.” Don’t be too concerned by the name – you are not going to suddenly start hallucinating pink clouds floating across your vision.
This syndrome is usually experienced by those who are in recovery for the first time, and is best described as “a ‘high on life’ feeling that often occurs during the early days of sobriety.”
According to Aaron Sternlicht, a New York City-based addiction specialist, the syndrome will often cause sustained periods of extreme joy. While these positive feelings can serve as a powerful impetus to continue with sobriety, they can also lull ex-addicts into a false sense of confidence and progress – potentially putting them at risk.
“An individual experiencing a pink cloud may also be less motivated to learn coping skills or implement them, as they may have a belief that they will never experience cravings to relapse.”
– Aaron Sternlicht, addiction specialist, New York City
Take this initial period of emotional ups and downs as a guide to how you’ll be feeling during your first year of recovery. There will be times of happiness and hope, as well as times of sadness and delusion – and, believe me, that’s 100% totally normal for a recovering drug addict or alcoholic.
With the right emotional coping tools for recovery, such as learning relaxation and breathing techniques, or taking meditation or yoga classes, you can control even the most powerful of emotions.
If you had told me that, before leaving rehab, I would be a staunch advocate of several types of yoga, I’d have honestly thought you were as messed up as I was. But I was, and I still am.
Finding Sober Relationships
This is big – as in uber-important for you. Finding or discovering a new social life – with new people and potential new friends – is a vital step in your addiction recovery. In fact, becoming friends with new people who are also sober-minded like you is one of the most enjoyable aspects of early recovery.
However, any unhealthy relationships from the past, particularly those that involve substance use in any form, need to be kicked straight to the curb.
Simply attending mutual aid support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, as I did every Tuesday and Friday evening with my favorite Tucson AA meeting, opens you up to a whole new demographic of people – full of those that are truly serious about their own recovery.
Establishing a whole new social life and new friendships and relationships doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and effort to realize healthy relationships, but it’s a critical step in your recovery journey.
Seriously, if you really want to achieve long-lasting and sustainable sobriety, you will need your friends and support systems for help in avoiding relapse.
Creating & Living a Healthy Schedule
Healthy routines and habits – healthy habits and routines. This is your simple blueprint for a sober life. Adopting healthy schedules (and sticking to them like glue) in early recovery is one of the keys to lasting sobriety.
Many people in early recovery choose to move into a sober living home, as, just by living there, you are subject to strict house rules, and you are held accountable for your recovery. In other words, it already has a vigorous schedule everyone lives by.
Sober living homes can provide you with this built-in structure in which to stay safe and sober, allowing you to design and construct your very own healthy routines – while still having the freedom to work or to study.
Remember, many things can put your sobriety at risk, such as boredom, stress, anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed by emotions or other issues. By creating healthy outlets for your energy, you will be able to best manage both your time and your sobriety.
Coping with Threats to Your Sobriety
The biggest threat to your addiction recovery is the risk of relapse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around half of those people in active recovery will relapse at some point in the future – and it’s is more likely to be in the near future, too, if your recovery is at the beginning or in its early stages.
It is for this very reason that your relapse prevention plan is so important at this time.
Should you stop following your treatment plan, the chances of relapse will increase significantly, such as to stop going to support group meetings, not practicing self-care and looking after yourself, not following a healthy sleep routine, or eating poorly or skipping meals
Remember, in the end, it’s not about how hard you hit, it’s about how you can get hit, and still keep moving forward. Stay safe.