There is no question that addiction recovery is hard work and that most of the relapses back into addictions occurs during the first year or recovery. What, then, can a recovering addict expect in the early stages of breaking free from their old lives? What can they expect in the first year and what can they do to stay on the sober path?
Addicts are well advised to stay away from their old cohorts who remain addicted to drugs or alcohol, to stay away from bars or parties where drugs and alcohol are within reach.
However, finding new friends is not always easy. There are old habits to break and it takes time to develop new interests. In early recovery, loneliness and boredom can be a problem serious enough to send an addict back to their substance of choice.
Be willing to try new things. Be a joiner and look for group activities in your community. Moreover, attend lots and lots of recovery meetings, such as 12 Step meetings and group therapy. In addition, work with a 12 Step sponsor and a therapist to make sure you don’t cross boundaries with new friends too quickly.
Whether emotional mitigation was the root cause of an addict’s addiction or not, masking or dampening down emotions becomes a clear motivation for continuing with an addiction. When an addict is feeling hurt, depressed, angry or lonely, seeking out the comfort of their substance of choice has established itself as the easy out.
In recovery, the opposite occurs, which is to say, now those old emotions come roaring back, all the more powerful and potentially destructive because those years using substances did two things: They taught the addict that emotion avoidance was within reach and they put off learning, evolving and maturing. Essentially, they set aside years in which they could have learned how sober people handle rough emotional episodes in their lives.
A trusted friend or a therapist comes in very handy when emotions come raging back during early recovery. Recovering addicts should also find therapeutic avenues for expressing emotions, such as keeping a journal, writing poetry, painting or going for a jog or to the gym to burn off pent up emotional energy.
Believe it or not, positive emotions can be just as difficult to deal with as anger, frustration or depression might be.
In short: When good things occur in your life, you should feel happy. When bad things occur, you should feel sad. Addictions, however, cancel out the highs and the lows. So when happiness comes back, it can be difficult to handle in early recovery.
Humility is a key ingredient in addiction recovery and happiness is a good time to remember this. If you are suddenly happy, a recovering addict might try to be humble about it. Don’t try to ignore the happiness, but try to learn from it. Try to be someone humbled by the power of joy and happiness. Step back and enjoy it, rather than getting swept away by it.
We all make mistakes and find ways to forgive ourselves and learn from them. Addicts have mostly forgotten how to do this because negative feelings and day-to-day problems were swept away by being high or inebriated.
Someone in early recovery might obsess over a mistake because they have forgotten how to process one. In addition, a simple mistake might snowball in their mind, given the years they made mistakes as addicts and never corrected them, acknowledged them or atoned for them. So, one mistake might bring back a flood of negative memories based on unresolved issues.
Humility, again, is key to early recovery. Step 1 in a 12-Step program is to admit that you have lost control of your life, the first step in admitting you cannot control everything. You must forgive yourself for your shortcomings, but also take responsibility for them.
Everyday mistakes are a time to remember the Serenity Prayer. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”