Feeling Stuck in Recovery?
The first few weeks of abstinence from drugs or alcohol are often accompanied by a surge of motivation. You are sleeping better, you have more energy, you are starting to feel ‘normal’ and friends and family are complimenting you on how much healthier you look and how well you are doing. But as the weeks go by, you might start to feel restless, agitated or simply bored with your sobriety. People have stopped commenting on your efforts at abstinence, the initial excitement is beginning to wear off and the first thoughts of returning to active addiction are starting to rear their ugly head.
Coming off the “pink cloud” as it is known, has derailed many a person in the early days of sobriety. As the pink cloud slowly drifts away, you can become plagued by thoughts such as “Is this all there is”? “Life was much better when I was using/drinking.” “I can’t do this” “ I’d rather die from my addiction than live like this” “ I could end up being run over by a bus – so what’s the point” “Why can everyone else drink but I can’t” “ Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was” “ I’ll just drink/use at weekends and not during the week” These thoughts just generate more discontent, confusion, misery and in the end a feeling of paralysis – you can’t seem to move forward in your recovery and part of you – the healthy part that wants to live – doesn’t want to go back. You feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.
So what can you do to move forward?
1. Understand and accept that this is totally normal.
Recovery, as opposed to abstinence, is about making changes to all areas of your life. Just because you have stopped using, you won’t miraculously become the person you have always wanted to be. Alcohol and drugs were used as a coping method for a whole range of underlying factors. Maybe you used alcohol to help you to connect socially. When you stop drinking, you will have to develop skills that will help you to connect socially. If you used drugs to help you deal with anxiety, the anxiety is actually likely to be worse when you stop. Whatever issues your addiction helped to mask – they will need to be dealt with in recovery. THIS is what recovery is all about. Remember, millions of people have been where you are and gone on to have happier, more fulfilling lives. You can get through this.
2. Identify why you are stuck
What exactly are you finding it difficult to address? What do you feel is lacking in your life that drugs/alcohol made up for? Are you feeling bored? Why is that? Boredom is actually an inability to engage in the present moment – often because we are either dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Boredom is a common complaint in early recovery but it can be addressed. Really, in this day and age, there should be no reason to be bored – there are hundreds of books to be read, films to watch, things to do. So what is it about you that stops you enjoying your life. Or are you struggling with loneliness because you feel awkward around other people without your crutch? This is where support groups come in. If you are not comfortable with AA then you can attend smart recovery or a life-ring group. You might find it easier to connect with people who understand what you are going through. Work out what it is you are struggling with and get the appropriate help. If you can’t afford a therapist, there are a lot of free online resources that are available to help.
3. Address the negative thoughts
Look at what you’re telling yourself about your addiction. Counter these thoughts with a reality check. Yes, it really was that bad or you wouldn’t be trying to stop. No, you can’t moderate your use or you would have already done that. No, life was not better when you were using, it was miserable in the end. Don’t fall into the trap of ‘Euphoric Recall’ i.e. remembering only the good times. Yes there were good times earlier on – but ultimately it was miserable – constantly feeling shit, hating yourself for not being able to stop, worrying about what you have done or said. Recall the bad times. When you get the thoughts about returning to active addiction, play the tape forward. Visualize in detail how it will pan out if you use, right through to the next day, when inevitably you will promise yourself that you are going to stop AGAIN.
4. Keep a journal
Relapse is a process that starts long before the act of drinking or using. I often ask my clients,” what triggered the relapse?” they say they don’t know – that it just happened. Suddenly, out of the blue, they found themselves in a bar with a drink in their hand. However, on further exploration, they were able to see that the changes leading up to the act of drinking began a while before. They might have started to feel angry with someone but not express it – or they were entertaining thoughts of using but didn’t tell anyone. The stages of relapse usually start with emotional difficulties. These then trigger unhelpful thinking patterns which in turn cause behavioral changes, such as beginning to isolate, stopping being open and honest, or stopping going to therapy or meetings. Writing in a journal every day can help you become more aware of feelings that you are struggling with, unhelpful thoughts that you are beginning to entertain and behavioural changes that are not serving you well. Sometimes, just the act of writing about feelings can help them to pass.
5. Commit to doing one new thing.
When I was working in a rehab facility, part of the treatment program involved clients describing how they would want life to be without drugs and alcohol. The purpose of this was to provide a vision to aim for or something to help them stay focused during the darker days of early recovery. Often clients would have a list of all the things they wanted to do from, traveling, to changing career, to getting fit, to taking up a hobby. However, once they left treatment the motivation to do these things dwindled. Remember, if nothing changes, nothing changes! Spend some time thinking about something new you would like to try. Don’t focus on big changes or it can feel overwhelming. Perhaps it might be to read a new book or go to a concert. Or if one of your goals is to get fit – commit to a twenty-minute walk around the block. Don’t wait for motivation to come – you might be waiting forever. Just doing something different can boost your mood, change your perspective and give you a sense of optimism to move forward.
As Einstein said “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results” So what can you do differently today?