You made the decision to get help for your substance abuse problems. You entered into a medical detox facility then went on to either an inpatient or outpatient thirty-day treatment program. You may have even gone a step further and moved into a halfway house or sober living community. Physically you are feeling better and mentally you feel as though the fog has lifted. Yet every so often you feel down and depressed for what seems to be no reason at all. There are days where the cravings pop up out of nowhere and you just cannot seem to shake them. You want to pick up, you want to use but you don’t understand why. You went to detox so why do you occasionally ache and get the chills? Didn’t you go to treatment? Shouldn’t you be better? Why do you feel this way? You may feel a bit relieve to know this can be a normal experience for many in early recovery.
The fact of the matter is that thirty days of treatment is not a cure-all. It is in fact recommended to stay in a rehab facility for up to 90 days. This does not mean you need to do this inpatient in a residential program but to continue treatment on an outpatient basis. This is recommended due to how critical those first few months in the recovery process. In fact, those first 90 days after putting down drugs and alcohol is when the most relapses occur for addicts. Being in early recovery you have yet to build upon the proper coping skills and tools needed to maintain your sobriety.
For many addicts who have used for years, it is easy to become accustomed to living with their drug of choice. An addict will use their drug of choice for the effect it produces which provides a form of relief. When uncomfortable feelings arise, addicts will choose to use in order to not deal with an emotion that causes them distress. For addicts new to recovery it will be a process to learn how to live their life while in sobriety. Those newly clean will experience unfamiliar emotions they do not have the benefit of blocking with drugs and alcohol. This can cause distress at times. This is the reason that the first 90 days are deemed crucial to the recovery process. It is a hump that can be a struggle due to the intense cravings and roller coaster ride of emotion. While these early months can be the most grueling it does not end there. It can take months before an addict in recovery can become comfortable in sobriety.
However, this is the reason that a stable and structed environment is important. Creating a schedule and sticking to it will help. The fact of the matter is that cravings in early recovery are fleeting and temporary feelings. However, when a person with a substance abuse problem has nothing to do too much down time then their thoughts will run rampant. Every heard the expression, “Idle hands are the devil’s plaything”? Same principle applies. Set your alarm clocks for the same time each morning. Writing a schedule and adhering to it can be beneficial. It allows you to not be overwhelmed by too much in one day if you balance out the things you need to do throughout the week. Make time for work, exercise, meals, meetings, step-work, counseling, sleep, and time for family and friends. This is also why they suggest attending 90 meetings in 90 days. It gives a routine and structure while also allowing somebody who is in early recovery to hear others experiences and share their own.
As mentioned earlier, continuing counseling sessions on an outpatient basis is advised as well. This is important to express your thoughts in early recovery. Some people new to sobriety will not share they are struggling or let it build until the emotional pain is greater than they can handle. It is important to share these feelings and emotions with a clinician as they are better equipped to help you deal with them and work through them together. Working with a counselor continues the support you built within those first thirty days in rehab. Now is not the time to break from that. In previous blogs I have talked about the research done on how greater lengths of time in treatment results in greater periods of maintained sobriety in recovering addicts.
It is also beneficial to make a list of goals in your first few months being sober. The trick is making short-term achievable goals. You may have a larger goal, such as “staying sober”. How about we break that idea down a bit. How do you stay sober? Maybe make some smaller goals with bench marks which will allow you to achieve your larger goal such as: hit a 12 step meeting every day for 90 days, exercise 5 times a week, get a sponsor within a month, start working on the steps with sponsor within 2 weeks, meditate each day for 10 minutes, etc. Another goal may be “get a new job”. This can be broken down into smaller goals as well that can be highly achievable: make a list of types of work you are willing to do, make a resume, look for jobs for 30 minutes a day, apply to 6 different jobs each week, etc. When you break these larger goals down into more achievable objectives you will not feel as overwhelmed and the task does not seem so insurmountable. By creating short term achievable goals, you lessen stressor that can trigger cravings and anxiety.
In early recovery you should also work on setting healthy boundaries and limits. Boundaries can relate to finances, work, emotions, family and friends. Boundaries are set by you for various relationships in your life. Limits are boundaries you set for yourself based on your comfort level with certain things. An example of this is setting a boundary to not put yourself in compromising positions. In your first year of recovery you may get invited to family functions and events where liquor may be served. You need to determine if this will make you feel uncomfortable, stressed or trigger cravings. A way to cope with this is in how you make the boundaries for these events. You may decide to ensure you have transportation that allows you to leave the event in case it becomes too much. Or perhaps you limit your time at the function (plan on only stay 2-3 hours for example). It is not uncommon in your first year of sobriety to steer clear of activities and functions with friends and family where alcohol or stressors could be involved. It is okay for you to set boundaries and limits and your family and friends should respect them.
There are many more things to list that could help you in the early months of sobriety. However, the few things I mentioned will help you to build a solid foundation for your recovery.