Remaining faithful to your recovery efforts may be the most challenging thing you’ve ever had to do. The reasons that lead many to live lives with addiction vary, but addiction is usually the byproduct of adversity and trauma, which pushes individuals to pursue unhealthy and dangerous ways to cope.
Time is the hardest thing for those emerging from treatment. Getting through their first month of recovery only to face the next month, and the month after that, and so on — all the while not knowing whether this will be the month they relapse. For some, being addicted can be far more comfortable than living in the unknown of the recovery zone. So, this is their daily battle, and it’s not an easy one, because it doesn’t take much to jump-start the old habit.
The brain pathways that were once used to encourage addiction are still intact, the only difference is that now they are needed to function normally in recovery. They need to be retrained. Learning how not to crave and react to adversity can mean the difference between sobriety and relapse. Brains have an incredible capacity to adapt to environmental changes and stimuli — like drugs and alcohol — but it can be retooled for recovery, as well. Through medication and intense psychotherapy, the brain can once again learn to find pleasure in a clean and sober life.
But retooling the brain is only part of the challenge facing those in recovery. Others include:
- Finding meaning in life again – Adapting to life without drugs for some is empty. Rediscovery can be difficult but not impossible. There’s no rule that says you can’t return to some of the things that made you fulfilled while you were addicted, but this time pursue them minus the drugs and alcohol. You might find you like them more.
- Boredom – Boredom can be a very powerful thing. While life in treatment can be structured and busy, post-treatment life can be boring. Your free time in the past would usually be filled with drugs and alcohol. Now fill that time with the things that make you happy or that you’ve always wanted to try.
- Building new relationships – You will have to cut out your old associates during your first year of recovery — especially those who encouraged your addiction. This is not an optional choice; if you want to maintain your recovery momentum, those who once were drug buddies, enablers or dealers must be cut from your life, or the chance of relapse will rise significantly.
- No drug crutch – Many use drugs and alcohol as a crutch to deal with shame and guilt. It takes bravery to face these issues clean and sober. Working with addiction counselors is an opportunity to face them and, with hard work, overcome and grow beyond what once was and into what can be.
People in recovery can sometimes find themselves in trouble in the early days. It’s important to never take your sobriety for granted and that you recognize the true power addiction can wield when it’s unleashed. Attitude is everything. Continue counseling sessions since participation is critical. Remain honest with yourself because changes in attitude, feelings and your behavior can kill your abstinence and throw you into a relapse. Another important note, relapse doesn’t always begin when you pick up your first drink or favorite drug. It is gradually marked by negative changes in your attitude, feelings and behavior. Recognize the warning signs and develop a plan to change direction when you start heading down that path. Research shows again and again that relapse is always preceded by a recognizable set of warning signs that you can learn to avoid before a full-blown relapse.
Relationships play a major role in recovery. Those who isolate themselves after treatment don’t recover as well as those with a loving support system. Relationships can help your brain develop healthy neuropathways to foster recovery, which can only be built through stimulus from an interpersonal support system from both treatment and beyond. Understand that life’s problems usually are transient, and perhaps most importantly, acknowledge that life is not always supposed to be pleasurable. Therefore, you don’t have to use a psychoactive substance to get away from the negative things that happen in life.
Keep the Faith
Some final thoughts in regard to maintaining the “clean and sober you” 365 days later and avoiding relapse are simply this: avoidance. Steer clear of those persons, places, and things that triggered your original trip into addiction oblivion. Remember that strong cravings will tempt you periodically without warning, so you need to remember how to manage them and ride out the wave without getting swamped. Make a list with your counselor that has all your possible triggers, and don’t forget to think outside the box.
Here are some you may have thought of, or not have even considered, and some possible responses to those cravings:
- If you’re returning to your old job, see about taking a new route to avoid those sites that once supported your addiction — bars, street corners, parks, etc.
- Avoid situations where you’ll be within sight or smell of cravings or temptations. Do everything in your power to avoid these old haunts.
- If you see your old associates or those toxic friends that either tempted or drove you to addiction, run the other way.
- Put yourself in situations where you will be able to create new friends and groups who will support your recovery.
- Try not to become hungry, angry, or tired. Those three are a lethal combination that will leave you vulnerable to relapse.
- Want to pick up a drink or use? Go for a run instead. Practice “healthy distractions” like movies, long walks in parks, trips to the beach with a friend, going to the gym. Structured schedules are road maps for avoiding that wrong turn toward relapse.
- Keep your sponsor or a supportive friend or family member’s number on your speed dial. It’s important to talk with someone when you’re going through a tough period like a craving or self-doubt. These folks can usually be successful in talking you through it and pull you back from the ledge.
- Challenge yourself and change your thoughts. Keep reminding yourself why recovery is your best choice. Sure, you felt great when you used, but that was a temporary moment. Most of your addicted life was spent in despair — living for the next moment when you could grab that temporary high. Challenge yourself with new experiences that change your thoughts about addiction and relapse.