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Once a person decides that he/she is ready to get sober it is common to feel a sense of relief, enthusiasm and desire to go back to relationships and situations as though nothing ever happened. Unfortunately, the people who have been subjected to the addict's behavioral storms over and over again are most likely not so ready to be available. Many people will have been so disheartened by repeated, failed promises to change and/or hurtful or even violent behavior from the past, that the recovering addict can be met with less support than he/she might hope.
This can be very painful and confusing to an addict in early recovery, but it is also understandable on the other side. In order to deal with such situations, it is suggested that addicts in early recovery not only remain very close to men and women who understand their actual desire to change, but also that they remain patient. As people observe you changing, they will, slowly, learn to trust you again.
The most difficult thing for recovering addicts to deal with is often relationships with other people. One common mistake people make in early recovery is to assume that everyone in one's recovery program is perfect. The flip side of that is for the addict to think that he/she is better than everyone in their recovery program. These thought processes are common manifestations of the insecurity component of addiction, and neither one is helpful to the recovery process.
While it is very helpful to form new relationships with other recovering men and women, it is also important to remember that not only are these simply other human men and women, but they are also other people who are struggling with a severe disease of the mind and body. It can be very scary to be in a group of recovering people who are irritable and moody. The flip side of accepting such behaviors, however, is that people then get to accept you when you are not feeling your best. Additionally, it is suggested that recovering addicts find multiple support systems and friends in the recovery program. While a sponsor in AA is important, one should not become so dependent on him/her (or a handful of people) that he/she feels devastated when they are not readily available.
Remember, the addict mind assumes that everyone is in the world exists solely for him/her and that anything less than instant gratification is sub-par. With that kind of intense need for attention (which does dissipate over time), it is important that one have numerous people upon whom he/she can rely. And also that if he/she wants others to be patient with him/her, that the same thing should be required in the other direction.
One of the most highly regarded ways to find peace of mind and contentedness in life is to focus on that which is good. It is common for all people to focus on what they don't have instead of all of the things that they do. This malady is particularly intensified in the alcoholic mind. The focus is generally on deprivation and the fear that there will never be enough alcohol, drugs or (fill in the blank) to go around.
It has been seen time and time again that those people who focus on positive thoughts and who even invite the option to think positively about that which makes them uncomfortable will develop a more positive attitude and enjoy a far more fulfilling life experience. Additionally, if a person is focusing on life's abundances, he/she has far less time to think about drinking/drugging.
It is likely that when you first get sober that you will find yourself with unimaginable amounts of frenetic energy. It is not uncommon for people in early recovery (even several years in) to have a difficult time sitting for any significant amount of time, remaining attentive for long television programs or conversations, or even sleeping very well. While if these symptoms are out of hand, you should seek medical attention, but understand that this is a normal and expected part of the recovery process.
Dr. Diane White of Chicago's Soma Medical Clinic recommends that to increase one's activity and to maintain a healthy lifestyle, one should engage in the physical activities he/she enjoyed as a child; such as playing active games or running around the park with a ball. Not only will this help addicts in early recovery feel healthier and more alive, it will help increase a sense of playfulness that has been lost in the abyss of addiction.
Cravings for one's drug of choice are an inevitable part of the recovery process. Some people experience cravings only as an early part of the process, and others will have intermittent cravings for the rest of their lives. The difference between a craving, however, and indulging in one's drug of choice, is that the craving can be used as a warning sign that you need to stop and do something to protect yourself against the disease of addiction.
Cravings do not generally last more than a minute or two, unless, that is, you allow your mind to indulge in the thought and to become obsessed with the idea of drinking/drugging. Here are some suggestions that can help you, literally, "move your head" to another place BEFORE you take a drink:
Finding replacement behaviors for the time the addict spent drinking/drugging may seem like a simple solution, but it can prove to be a very difficult change in which to engage.
The addict mind finds normalcy very boring. He/she has most likely lost interest in the simple pleasures of life, such as planting a garden or enjoying a home-cooked meal. Additionally, and often more saddening, is the fact the the person in early recovery has also lost any sense of identity. So what used to be a person that loved to paint or run or go to the theater, has become someone who is miserable any time he/she does not have a drink/drug in hand.
These feelings and experiences are both normal and to be expected in early recovery. It is suggested that those in this process be gentle with themselves and stay close to people with more recovery that will instill hope within them again. Additionally, it is highly recommended that no matter how scary or uncomfortable it is, that addicts in early recovery find one or two creative/enjoyable outlets to "practice" again. And while, at first, it will feel like you are an actor living another person's life, if you try such simple solutions, there will come a time when your life will feel abundant again.
It is the tendency of many people in early recovery to have the attitude that since they are feeling better, they should add numerous things into their life before being ready. Some of these things can be a new job, a primary romantic relationship, a major move to a far away land, or starting a family. While sometimes such changes are unavoidable, is strongly recommended that an addict in early recovery spends most of his/her time focusing on getting better.
The tendency to "add" comes from the feeling of emptiness that contributed to the addiction in the first place and will most likely lead to increased discontent and may even lead to relapse. It is suggested, although it will feel boring to the recovering addict at first, to keep life as simple and uncomplicated as possible. Recovering from substance abuse is most likely the most difficult thing a person will do in his/her life. No reason to make it more so.
The number one most recommended network of support for men and women who want to recover from addiction is Alcoholics Anonymous (and related programs, such as Narcotics Anonymous or Cocaine Anonymous). This does not mean that the only place in which a recovering person can seek support is through AA, however.
It is recommended that in addition to an active membership in AA, that one also look to the following outlets for support:
First, let your loved ones know you're aware of the problem, and you will no longer condone it. You will stop making excuses for them and allow them to face the consequences of their actions. Don't enable them to continue their self-destruction, even if it means they go to jail. Make a clear statement that unless their alcohol/drug abuse stops, you cannot have them in your life. Consult an addiction professional about doing an "intervention" with your loved ones, where you, your family and friends confront them about how their addiction has hurt you and how afraid you are for them if they don't get treatment NOW. You can't make decisions for them; they must do that for themselves. But you CAN make decisions for yourself and how you respond to their addiction. Always remember, this isn't your fault no matter what they tell you. You didn't cause their addiction, and you can't "cure" it.
One of the major problems with men and women who suffer from addiction is an overwhelming sense of emptiness. There is often a sense that one doesn't belong, has never belonged and that outside forces are essential in order to find any lasting happiness. Unfortunately, such a mindset inevitably leads to either literal or emotional relapse and a sense of loneliness that can pervade addicts long after they stop drinking.
In order to find any sense of fulfillment, persons in recovery are asked to identify some sense of spirituality. Spirituality does not mean religion, but, rather, a sense of some sense of purpose or connectedness to something other than one's self.
Spirituality can include any sense of "otherness" or connectedness through which one finds meaning in life. It can be found through a support system, a connection to nature, a humanistic perspective of the world, through a religion, or even through something like meditation/yoga. The outlet doesn't matter so much as the focus on finding meaning/purpose and a diminishing sense of self-importance. Without this aspect of recovery, most addicts have a very, very difficult time obtaining any long lasting sobriety.
You won't get over it. But you WILL get through it. Learn to put the past IN the past, and accept the things you cannot change. If you need to make an in-person apology to those you hurt, do so sincerely and without "dramatics." A simple "I know how much I hurt you, and I'm so very sorry." Forgive yourself for your human mistakes. No one wants to become an addict. Yes, to a large degree you caused your addiction. But once the disease took hold, you were feeling powerless to overcome it. Now that you're sober, reach out to others who are still suffering and help them, as others helped you along the road to sobriety.
If you are having a medical emergency because of drug use, or if you are in danger because of violent people associated with drug use, call 911. Police and ambulance crews are trained to handle drug problems.
If you are facing arrest, remember that your own cooperative attitude will be a factor in the way you are treated. You should give police your name, address, date of birth, and phone number. Beyond that, you do not have to answer any question and you are entitled to a lawyer.
If you are thinking of killing yourself, call a suicide hotline, where a trained volunteer can help you deal with your crisis. Two national suicide hotline numbers are 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) and 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). There may also be local numbers where you can be referred to resources for help in your area.
If you are craving alcohol or a drug and want to stay abstinent, call your sponsor or a sober friend, practice diversions to get you through the next minute (try 10 push-ups or a quick walk), and make a plan to get to a 12-step meeting as soon as possible. You may also find it helpful to visit an online meeting.
Alcoholism and drug abuse cut across all age groups, races, and social and economic levels. They can be found in rural farm communities and modern high-rises; in high-tech companies and churches; among sports stars and suburban parents.
As a voter and citizen in your community, you can help make things better. Here are some kinds of community programs that researchers have found effective:
-- Peer leadership programs that train young people in skills needed to encourage healthy choices in same-age or younger students.
-- Active involvement of parents in the lives of young people, including mutual support groups and modeling abstinent behavior.
-- Big Brother/Big Sister or other mentorship programs that connect at-risk youth with caring adults who serve as good role models.
-- Life skills training in schools that teaches assertiveness in situations where young people may experience pressure to smoke tobacco, drink alcohol, or use drugs. This should start in the sixth or seventh grade.
In addition to encouraging these resources in your community, you can also work to make sure young people have healthy outlets such as jobs, chemical-free entertainment, athletic and arts outlets, and educational opportunities, all of which can provide fulfilling goals that help keep young people rooted in society instead of looking for an escape.
Relapse -- returning to the use of alcohol or another drug after entering recovery -- is common, particularly among those who are in the early stages of recovery.
If this happens to you, seek alcohol or drug detox immediately! Many drugs react particularly strongly on a body that has been cleansed of toxic substances, but has not yet physically repaired the damage caused by months or years of addictive use. You may be running the risk of serious health problems or even death, and you need qualified substance abuse treatment to keep your body safe.
Do not give up on yourself or declare that recovery is hopeless. Instead, use the incident to learn more about your triggers and the feelings that underlie your addiction. A good therapist can help you practice coping skills for dealing with similar situations in the future.
Do not be ashamed to return to your 12-step group after a relapse. You may find that many of the people there have had relapses as well, and can help you through their experience.
Over time, laws have sought to address substance abuse by banning the consumption and trade of addictive substances. This does not stop many people from illegally consuming addictive substances, but it does give courts a reason to order treatment for people whose addictions may pose a danger to themselves or others.
While there are many critics of US drug policy, the fact remains that consuming illegal substances (including alcohol, if you are under 21 or driving a car) can get you into serious trouble with the law, which in turn can cost you opportunities for employment and schooling, relationships with family and other valued people, thousands of dollars for fines or treatment, and your freedom, if you are sent to prison.
All of these problems can add to the burdens an addict faces in trying to recover. If you are even slightly motivated to consider entering recovery, look for a rehab center now rather than waiting until the courts find one for you.
Churches, temples, and religious groups are often leaders in helping a community cope with substance abuse, and while many people will say a religious belief is not necessary for recovery, others have found that it works for them.
Religious organizations that are concerned about this problem may do some or all of the following:
-- Hire and train clergy in recognizing addiction problems and counseling active and recovering addicts, including referral to treatment programs and trained therapists.
-- Make space available for 12-step recovery groups to meet.
-- Develop and use chemical-dependency awareness programs and educational materials, in consultation with trained experts.
-- Gather information on local resources for getting help and make these freely available to visitors and members.
-- Communicate the message that chemical dependency is a chronic disease, not a sin.
-- Assess the community's needs and organize volunteer projects, whether it be to form a youth basketball league, distribute clean needles, or raise money for community treatment centers and hotlines.
-- Welcome back former members who are in recovery.
In addition, it is important that clergy members have their own support resources outside their immediate congregations. They are as prone to substance abuse problems as members of any other profession, and larger denominations may have programs in place to help them address such issues.
Sometimes, a life event -- an illness or job loss -- may send an older adult spiraling into alcoholism, or a prescription for back pain may turn into a Vicodin addiction.
Children in these situations face conflicting feelings. It's normal to respect a parent, yet in the case of addiction it may be necessary to be confrontational and even take over some aspects of the person's life. It's normal to want to do anything possible to get your "real" mom or dad back, but at the same time teens and young adults face significant responsibilities for taking care of themselves and building their futures.
A good treatment center can provide a significant break away from the person's familiar drug-using life while also providing family therapy to help relatives understand patterns of codependency and relapse signals. It may also be helpful to attend Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meetings to learn from others who have been in similar situations. If a parent's situation is getting in the way of your functioning in school or work, it may be helpful to get counseling to establish healthy boundaries so you can be supportive without draining yourself.
Sometimes people don't recognize the power alcohol or drugs have assumed in their lives until they are confronted by a concerned friend or family member, or until they get into trouble with school, work, or the law because of their use.
You don't need to be one of those people. If you suspect you have a problem, and you want to get well, there are resources where you can get help. These substances have changed your body and your brain in ways that are hard to overcome on your own, and it is not a sign of weakness if you don't succeed at managing your substance problem on your own.
It's hard to reach out for help. The people you love may be disappointed or scared. If they care about you, though, they will want to get you the help you need. Tell a family member, a counselor or teacher at school, a trusted medical professional, or call 1-800-ALCOHOL (1-800-252-6465) for help and a local referral.
Many people in early recovery wrongfully assume that they will be able to recover alone, without a drug rehab program or support network. By the time a person is ready to seek help for substance addiction, he/she has most likely tried every way imaginable to do so independently of others. These attempts have failed over and over again. The addict mind will lie to its inhabitant over and over and over again until that person either loses every reason to live and/or dies as a result.
Some common self-destructive thought processes to watch out for:
An addiction can seriously disrupt or end a marriage or relationship. If your partner is active in an addiction, you have probably experienced ill effects ranging from distance and lack of support to disappearing money, infidelity, or violence.
If you are afraid for your safety or that of your children, go to a safe place.
Talk honestly and calmly with your spouse about what you have observed, and offer your support in getting treatment and maintaining abstinence.
Of course you want your partner to choose you and your life together over the addictive substance. But the reality is that many addicts are willing to pay the price of losing their relationships and families. If that is the case, your job is to minimize the harm to yourself and others.
Even if your partner is willing to get help and build a new life, things will not be easy. This is a difficult path, and you shouldn't try to walk it alone. Seek help from Al-Anon or Narc-Anon meetings, which are for the families of people with addictions, and maintain ties with supportive friends, family members, and your religious community. Your partner's treatment center may have programs for spouses and families; take advantage of them to learn more about the early stages of recovery.
Once the addict has begun to establish a pattern of abstinence, it may be necessary to rebuild the relationship from scratch, to undo the damage done during the active addiction.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|