What Can I Expect in Early Recovery? Early recovery sometimes feels like an overwhelming series of challenges. Giving up the old way of life didn’t fully prepare us for the new one – how are we to cope? The answer lies in managing our expectations and responses.
Don’t expect too much too soon. Recovery from addiction is a wonderful experience but early recovery can feel intimidating. It suddenly seems a bit frightening, and this is perfectly normal. The good life doesn’t just suddenly happen, it takes a little time to learn new ways – the first three months are especially crucial.
Changes you may experience in early recovery
Here are some potential challenges you may expect and some ways to respond:
Expect early recovery to be a time of emotional peaks and troughs. For years we have used strong chemicals and other mood-altering behaviours to regulate our moods and it takes months before our emotional responses return to normal. It’s likely you will sometimes feel anxious and depressed. Other times, you may feel absurdly euphoric. But slowly, things will improve as the brain and nervous system settle.
Respond by recognising the process and don’t try handling things alone. Keep track of your emotions and discuss your feelings with loved ones, or friends in recovery. There is comfort in knowing you are not alone in this. It will pass and things will improve. Take it a day at a time.
Expect there to be reassessments on both sides. You have changed and people will see that. Many will be glad but not everyone will like it. Some of your old drinking and using friends may avoid you. On the other hand, your family and true friends will be delighted. You will find that there are new friends to be made in community support groups if you choose to attend.
Respond by accepting that you may need to end some relationships that might put your sobriety in danger, however painful this may be. Accept that your recovery must come first.
Expect to put romance on the back burner during the short but crucial period of early recovery. This may seem hard, especially as you may be feeling sensitive, lonely and unloved, however a relationship will be hard to maintain at this stage of recovery.
Respond by reminding yourself ‘first things first’. Your priority is maintaining a strong recovery. Addiction is an attachment disorder, and you must deal with your dependence issues thoroughly before you consider any sort of romantic attachment. What you need most at this time is peace of mind.
Cravings are a natural part of recovery, so you should expect them. They come as part of the body’s response to sobriety, and they also go away too. Most cravings last about fifteen minutes so do not panic, they pass.
Respond by learning techniques to help you focus on something else – you might have a friend to call for such emergencies. Another technique is to count the chairs in the room or the clouds in the sky. Take action, don’t do nothing.
Dangerous relapse situations
Expect trouble, it may come when least expected. You may plan your day with care and your recovery may be your guiding principle, but you might still run into an old friend who offers you a joint. You can’t control events, but you can take precautions. Accept that life is unpredictable but don’t over-react.
Respond by taking a moment to think. Remember the Serenity Prayer – acceptance, courage, wisdom. Think of those refusal skills you learnt – ‘no thanks’ is all you need to say. You are not here to meet anyone else’s expectations but your own so, no need to apologise or explain. Remember too that most dangerous relapse situations are created by your attitude of mind rather than outside pressure. ‘What will people think if I refuse?’ you may say to yourself, or ‘just one won’t matter’.
You may find that you have time on your hands. It’s important that you don’t see this as boredom or extra time to be spent in bed. Active addiction is a time thief. Now you no longer have to focus on supporting all of those problematic behaviours and activities. Your new life is full of opportunities and the free hours you now have can be spent in exploring and expanding your interests.
Respond by first putting a daily structure in place. Set times for sleep, meals, meetings, work and play. Write them down and stick to them. At the start of each day, ask yourself ‘what can I do today for my recovery?’
Expect there to be times when everything seems to be going really well, although perhaps you’re not sure why. Expect intrusive thoughts to creep in: ‘This is easy’, ‘Do I really need to go to all these meetings?’
Respond by reminding yourself of your last drink or drug use. Some people carry a ‘flash card’ in their wallet – a photograph of them in trouble from addiction which reminds them of the dangers, or a few words such as ‘think, think, think!’
Party time is where temptation lurks
Expect the sight of lots of people drinking and perhaps using too, to trigger all sorts of feelings. The sight of people indulging themselves and losing their inhibitions can be pretty boring but can also lead to resentment. It’s therefore preferable to avoid them altogether. If you have to go, take precautions. Respond by taking a sober friend who will look out for you or have someone to call if things get difficult. Always have an exit strategy for if it all gets too much.
Expect to feel some anxiety before returning to work. It’s best to take as much time off as you can, but not everyone has that option. The workplace can seem judgmental but your performance in sobriety is likely to be vastly improved. Most people will be too occupied with their own issues to give your absence much attention. Many employers now have a drug and alcohol policy which you should use if you can – it may provide much helpful support.
Respond by focusing on your own work. Be upfront with people who need to know but don’t feel you have to explain yourself to everyone. Arrange as much support as you can from sober friends and contacts in the Fellowships, especially on your first day back at work. It will pass.
If you’re struggling with your recovery (maybe you recognise you are having a relapse or lapse) or are beginning to recognise problematic behaviours, Which Rehab can help get back on track with the right course of treatment.
For advice on which type of recovery programme is best suited to your needs, call our free 24-hour confidential helpline 0800 170 7000 for advice on treatment options available to you or fill in out contact form and a member of the Which Rebab team will get back to you.