I sit here with a clear head excited about what’s to come. I’ve worked hard these past few weeks and I’m actually hopeful. But when I’m all alone in my halfway houses’ room, I can’t help but think, what now?
I know I have the tools to succeed in my recovery, yet, I still feel stuck (sometimes). It’s like when there’s nothing to do and I’m a little bored, I find myself asking, what if I got high? I can’t. I know I can’t. And the truth is, I won’t. But seriously, what am I supposed to do now?
Let’s Taco Bout It
I used to be in that place. I remember it vividly. I recall having one month clean when I left treatment and started my new normal in halfway —it felt great. Honestly, there were a lot of downs but the ups were coming more and more.
I was hiding quite a bit, but I knew over the course of the next 30 days, I needed to start branching out and experiencing life sober. I was living in my junkie princess world for so long, it was difficult just figuring out what other people do with their free time besides watching bad tv, eating and working out.
I remember having dreams of getting high. There were mounds of crushed up pills spread throughout the floor of an imaginary apartment. The thing is, it’s not uncommon for people in early sobriety to experience a phenomenon called drunk dreams, or in my case, relapse dreams —meaning, you wake up feeling like you drank or used.
These dreams can sometimes feel extremely real, or other times might just be a fleeting thought of your former life.
They can be scary because it feels like your mind is playing tricks on you. It’s a sobering reminder that this disease is powerful and omnipresent. But in the end, they are just dreams. Luckily, their frequency seems to fade as you acquire more sober time.
And so, you carry on —except, you realize that you feel different —inside and out. Well, it may not be surprising to hear that when you first get sober your emotions will be all over the place. Alcohol and drugs numb you so it’s possible that you haven’t actually felt them in years.
That’s why it can seem overwhelming when you no longer use substances to numb your pain and emotions.
It will take some time for your emotions to balance out and with that, you’ll be feeling a lot of different things. Expect to cry, get mad, mourn your relationship with your drugs, but at the same time feel relief and happiness for this new chapter.
Because It’s Hard But Not Impossible
Besides your emotional state, you may also begin to see a change in your physical appearance and well-being. After detox is complete, your body should start learning how to function at its most efficient capacity without drugs and alcohol.
This means you’ll have more energy, you should sleep better, and you definitely won’t be fighting the physical symptoms of drinking and doing drugs.
Much like our emotions, the first 30 days of sobriety come with a ton of information and sensory overload. Drugs and alcohol not only numb, but they damage our brains and senses too. For me, I was overwhelmed AF with just about everything.
Then, something shifted. In short, things just clicked and I healed from the inside out.
I suppose I never realized the beauty of subtle scents of everyday places. Before, I only used landmarks as a way to describe where I was to my dealer. I snorted pills to forget what I had done to get them. I smoked other drugs to numb the in-between. And so, I needed some tools to bring me back without destroying what I worked so hard for.
Well, Here Are Those Tools
1. Take all the time you need.
This may include limiting social interactions. A well-rounded and healthy recovery process includes time for seeing friends and getting out to enjoy recreational activities. However, the first few weeks of recovery isn’t the time to start jamming up your social calendar.
In fact, strive for the opposite.
While you certainly can and should see some of your close friends, for the most part during the first few months, it’s recommended that you take time for yourself. I say this because you have been reinvented.
You’re a different person and well, the people in your life are still the same.
They didn’t just spend every day in therapy for 5 hours. As a result, they may not understand the new you. That said, you certainly can rent a few kayaks with your older sister and enjoy a day on the lake —actually, I encourage you to do just that.
There will be plenty of time down the line to ramp up your social life, when you’re more confident of your ability to effectively maintain your recovery in all situations. So ease back into socializing slowly because you will need time to identify your triggers.
2. Learn your triggers and practice healthy coping skills.
It goes without saying that you need to avoid triggers that will push you toward relapse; these can be especially hard to manage as you start your recovery when you haven’t yet developed a set of skills to help you fend off the cravings to use.
Start by finding ways to steer clear of the people, places, and things you most associate with using.
This includes that one bad friend as well as the spots you used to score and do drugs. Since you can’t realistically get rid of all known triggers, which can include seeing aluminum foil or an episode of Intervention —keep a log, if that helps, so you know what to do when you experience a trigger.
But maybe your trigger isn’t so far away. I say this because chances are, you’ve used at home. And, the healing process requires that you feel secure in your own house. As a result, you need to clear out anything that’s related to drugs. For example, throw away those bottles of booze and pills or other addictive substances.
Without delay, get rid of each and every one of them.
If you don’t trust yourself to do this, ask your sponsor (if you have one) or a trusted loved one to clean out your stash so that your environment is free of any temptation. Simply put, if you do come across one and don’t know what to do, call for help from the big dogs.
3. Find a sponsor, trusted mentor or therapist.
If you participate in a 12-step program, finding a sponsor should be a high priority. This important person will help you navigate the program and will serve as your go-to guy or gal in times of crisis. For those who choose other kinds of self-help support groups, the goal should be to find and maintain a relationship with a key person you trust and can depend on.
And then, continue seeing him or her. Many people in early recovery find that it’s essential to maintain a regular connection with a counselor or therapist.
4. Write things that are not as though they were.
Every recovery journey is conducted in the here and now, but it also includes a focus on the future. To do that, you need to craft a list of goals, things that you would like to achieve in the next one, five, 10 or 20 years.
When you first start creating your list, it may be somewhat vague. Don’t worry. You’ll fill in the blanks as you progress toward them. That’s why it’s important to put down short- and long-term goals.
5. Pay attention to your diet, sleep, and physical activity levels.
Getting back to feeling in tip-top shape and maintaining your sobriety entails more than just streamlining your schedule. Part of your new, structured environment in early recovery involves taking care of your nutritional needs, getting adequate rest and regular exercise. You are likely to be recovering from the effects of your addiction, or from complications related to your using.
For instance, you may be anemic, feel weak, or have a compromised immune system.
It’s also common to experience periods of sadness. Many who return home following treatment say they just want to hole up and sleep. Others are plagued by insomnia —addiction disrupts the body’s circadian rhythms, making it difficult to fall (or stay) asleep without your drug of choice.
In general, you should work toward getting eight to nine hours of solid shut-eye per night.
Oh and, yoga along with meditation can help bridge all three of those gaps. Meditation (a form of yoga) aids in the development of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for choice, which is also the area most compromised by alcohol and drug addiction.
Having practiced meditation on a consistent basis for almost a year now, I have experienced a total flip. I’m no longer a victim to the whim of my mind, but rather, the captain of the ship. Yes, it escapes me at times. But I never feel out of control —at least, not in the way I used to.
This control has been crucial in my recovery. I literally have created a strength of mind that I have never had before in my life, and further, repaired the parts of my brain that were directly compromised by my addictions. And so, I wake up every morning to a cup of coffee and a 15-minute yoga session. I like to maintain a pretty strict routine.
6. Create (and keep to) a daily schedule.
Making a daily schedule is much more than busywork, trust me. In recovery, it’s essential to have a clear list of what to do to help keep you on track. In fact, you’ll probably need to schedule most or even all hours of the day to accommodate what’s absolutely essential during early recovery.
This includes the times you wake up, eat, exercise, work, attend meetings, go to a doctor or therapy appointment, take medication, spend time with family and friends, as well as sleep.
There should be blocks of time, too, for meditation and/or prayer, reading, and hobbies. When you always know what’s next on your schedule, you’ll be less likely to have idle time to let your thoughts wander back to using again.
7. Ask for help from your loved ones.
If you’re among the lucky ones who have a spouse, partner or loved one to support and encourage you, ask for their assistance. Together you can create a routine that not only works for your recovery but also takes into account the needs of that person, as well as your family in general.
This is also the time to ask for a little time and patience.
Especially in early recovery, when staying sober is your primary focus, your partner or family may feel neglected. Explain that you will need to be self-involved for a little bit longer, and that it’s necessary for you to stay well. Consider asking them to attend one of your therapy sessions so you can start working on rebuilding your relationship as you learn to live sober.
Baby steps are very important in this beginning stage of recovery. The 30, 60, and 90-day sobriety chips that you will receive in meetings (if you attend them) are more than just pieces of plastic. They symbolize your ongoing commitment to recovery and are an achievement to be proud of. Take the time to celebrate (in a sober way) these important reminders of the new life you’ve chosen.
Today, I have almost five years clean, which is crazy to say and think about.
I remember feeling hopeless like I would never get better. I remember thinking I’d feel this way forever. But along the way, I changed. I take time for myself. I’ve learned my triggers and I ask for help when I need it. Yeah, I’ve been to hell and back. But as J.K. Rowlings once said, rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.