Let’s face it. There are many things we all wish we could do over again – including those of us who are in recovery. In fact, it’s not stretching it to say that those in recovery anguish more over what’s happened in the past than most people. This is especially true during the first few weeks and months of recovery, or, as it is more commonly referred to, early recovery. It’s this critical time that you often feel confused, uncertain, and emotionally raw. After all, you’ve just been through rehab (if you were lucky enough to be able to take advantage of treatment) and are now attempting to face life clean and sober. For many, this is the first time in a very long time that they’re walking around without being clouded by drugs and alcohol. It can be a shock, especially when you need to face the truths about yourself and your past behavior. Getting your feet firmly planted in sobriety takes a lot of hard work and practice. You need to work the steps, as laid out for you by your 12-step sponsor in self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and others. Besides finding it hard to face your truth, however, the other thing that you’re probably painfully aware of is how much it can hurt. The good news is that while it may hurt for a while, it does get better. What can you do in the meantime to better prepare yourself to face your truth in recovery – and have it sting a little less? Here are some suggestions you may wish to try.
Reconnect With Family
You know you don’t recover alone. Sure, it’s you that’s learning how to live your life sans alcohol and drugs, or gambling or compulsive spending, compulsive sexual behavior, overwork and so on. But everyone in your immediate family is also affected by your new-found sobriety. These are your closest allies, the people who know and care about you the most. In an ideal situation, you should be able to turn to them to ask for their support and encouragement as you begin your new life. Establishing a healthier lifestyle, practicing your coping strategies, meeting new friends that share your goals of abstinence, going back to work, and interacting better with your family require a lot.
- Take this opportunity to sit down with the person that’s closest to you, your spouse or partner, and talk about this new chapter in your life.
- If your past addictive behavior has caused the family great disruption, pain, financial hardship, this is a truth you need to both face and discuss with your family. Do the best you can at this point by just beginning to broach the subject. Ask for patience and understanding as you work through repairing your relationship with your loved ones. Even if your addiction hasn’t caused serious family hardship, there is always the blow-over effect to the rest of the family. You may not see it, but earnest conversation with your loved ones will gradually reveal the truth. Then you can work on a way to mend the damage.
- What if your family rejects you? While this may be a temporary – albeit seriously emotionally wounding – situation, it may not be permanent. You will need to work on getting stronger in your sobriety, rebuilding your self-esteem, making sure that your words reflect your actions – mean what you say and say what you mean, and act accordingly.
Seek Counseling to Work Out Lingering Emotional and Psychological Issues
Chronic addiction, particularly to alcohol and illicit drugs such as methamphetamine and heroin, may result in long-term damage to psychological and emotional well-being. It may be difficult to remember what you did during your deepest days of addiction, or you may have trouble concentrating on things you need to do that you’ve put down as part of your recovery plan. Emotionally you may be all over the place. First you may be elated that you’re in recovery, followed by a sinking feeling that you’re not at all up to this new-found sobriety. Don’t stew in your anxiety or allow depression to linger. If you find yourself feeling anxious, depressed, confused, or hopeless for a period that lasts longer than two weeks, get some help in the form of professional counseling. If continuing care or aftercare is part of your treatment program, what you do next is a natural. Get in touch with your therapist and start working things out. If you don’t have continuing care or never went to formal treatment, you can still find low-cost counseling available by checking with federal, state and local agencies. Start by talking with your doctor and ask for a referral. Check out the various agencies and look for counseling that’s based on ability-to-pay or sliding pay scale. Also check with your 12-step sponsor and ask fellow 12-step group members if they know of counselors that charge low or reasonable fees. It may take some time to wrestle away painful memories and deep-seated emotions, but you can do it. For lingering effects of trauma and/or post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), look for a therapist that specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Also check for licensed practitioners of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) therapy. For more information on EMDR, check out the EMDR Institute.
Attend 12-Step Meetings Regularly
The other huge asset you’ve got going for you is the ready support and encouragement you have available in your 12-step groups and 12-step sponsor. The importance of this kind of support cannot be minimized. Indeed, along with your family, 12-step group support is the other most important source of support for you in recovery. In order to benefit from this support, however, you have to make it a practice to regularly attend 12-step meetings. Sure, it may take a bit for you to find a meeting where you feel comfortable and want to come back. There’s nothing that says you have to be limited to one or two groups, either. Go to as many as you like until you find one or more where you feel at ease. You don’t have to put yourself out. Just sit in the rooms and listen to others tell of their experiences. You may hear something that will strike a chord in your mind and give you an idea how to modify a coping technique, for example, to work in your own situation. Gradually, when you settle on a 12-step group that will become your “home” meeting group, you will more than likely start to look forward to seeing the “regulars” there. Some of these individuals may even become friends, but even if you only go because you know you need the structure and stability of others who share sobriety, you’ll learn something new each time you’re there. Facing your truths in recovery will be a little bit easier as time goes by, especially if you listen to and absorb how others handled the transition.
Make Your Lists of Hurts and Amends
While you’re working your way through the 12-Steps, you’ll inevitably have to come to the steps where you make a list of all the people you have hurt by your addiction. This is undoubtedly one of the painful steps to tackle, as it brings up all kinds of memories you’d rather not contemplate – but must. Here’s a tip: Just start jotting down things that come to mind. Don’t worry about how you’ll ever be able to make amends for them at this point. The important thing is that you are as complete and concise as possible. Did you rip someone in the family off when you needed cash for drugs? Did you steal from a close friend or your employer to finance your habit? During your alcoholic or drug-fueled binges, did you physically harm another individual? Did someone die as a result of your drunken driving? Did your addiction bring about financial ruin to your family? Did your children stop looking at you as a source of love and guidance, all because you were too consumed by your addiction to be a responsible parent? Big or small, complex or simple, whatever the hurt was that you caused, by omission or commission, you have to write it down. This is your to-do list, meaning these are truths about you, things that you’ve done or said that you’ll have to make amends for. The amends list will come about as a result of working through your hurts list. Each hurt will need to have its own kind of amends. There’s no one-size-fits-all, and what works for someone else may not be appropriate for you. The best person to help you sort through all this is your sponsor. He or she has taken up this responsibility to guide you through the 12-Steps and help you as you make progress in recovery. One thing you’ll find as you make your lists of hurts and amends is that once you’ve put them down on paper, they’ll stop tormenting your mind as much as before. There’s something uniquely healing about acknowledging our faults and failings, and then working earnestly toward making amends that lifts previously intractable burdens.
Keep Busy and Meet New People
Sticking close to home is often recommended for the first few weeks of recovery. Experts say you should focus almost exclusively on your recovery during this crucial time. Venture out to go to work and school, and to attend your counseling and 12-step meetings. Don’t make any major life changes such as getting married or divorced, buying or selling a house, or having children – unless it is absolutely necessary or unavoidable. Obviously, if a child is conceived, even if you didn’t plan for it, this is a situation you’ll need to learn how to cope with. But, generally speaking, don’t make any major changes during the first year. With this as preamble, you will find that as you attend meetings, work the Steps and get stronger in recovery that you are ready to get out there and become involved in other activities. You will also be ready to meet new people. Why is this important? The answer is quite simple. You want to develop healthier relationships and become a more well-rounded person. You do this by broadening your horizons, expanding your social network, and getting involved in healthier pursuits. One thing that’s certain to cause trouble is boredom. If you’re bored, or hungry, angry, lonely or tired, you’re more likely to find yourself drifting back into thoughts of using again. You need to keep busy, learning new things, meeting new people, finding purpose and meaning in each day.
Learn to Deal With Stress
Let’s mention a big item that everyone in recovery has to deal with: stress. The truth is that life is filled with stress. Some stressors are inevitable, caused by high-pressure jobs, having to navigate jammed freeways on a twice-daily basis, trying to raise several pre-school children alone, and so on. But other stressors come and go: dealing with an irate customer, working out an amicable relationship with an abrasive co-worker, finding a parking spot in a crowded mall, even figuring out how to keep the truce among squabbling children at home. Do yourself a favor and learn some stress-busting techniques. For some, that means meditating one or more times each day. Some people burn off stress through vigorous physical exercise while others go on walks or hikes in the neighborhood, at the beach, a nearby park, nature preserve, or lake. Others escape stress by reading a good book, listening to or playing music, dancing, working on hobbies, cooking or entertaining. Here’s another opportunity to ask your fellow 12-step group members how they deal with everyday stresses, as well as major stresses that occur to everyone at some point. As with other recommendations, take what works and use it. Maybe adapt a certain technique that sounds intriguing and workable so that it suits your situation. Over time, you’ll build up a pretty decent toolkit of effective stress-reducing practices.
Make Time for Fun
Of course, facing your truth in recovery also means that you have to get over the idea that life is all about hardship. You have to absolve yourself of your self-condemnation and get used to the idea that you deserve to enjoy life and to have fun. Yes, fun. Life isn’t – or shouldn’t be – just existing. The human spirit is capable of experiencing incredible joy. Up to now, you may have thought it was all bad news and sorrow, but it’s time that you faced up to the reality that there is more ahead of you than you may have thought possible. What do you like – or love – to do? Whatever it is, make some time in your schedule to devote to doing it. As long as it is proactive, doesn’t involve use of substances or frequenting places that may be triggers to use, go for it. Be sure that you take care of your recovery-related work first, but do make some time each day that’s just for you. Have some fun today. Smile, laugh, and relax with friends. In fact, nothing feels quite as good as having a good laugh. It’s often contagious, and that’s an incredibly healing experience. Bottom line: When you can wake up each morning and greet the day with enthusiasm, a solid sense of direction, and start to feel hope and joy in your recovery, you will know that you’re on the right path to facing your truths. More than just overcoming the hurt, you will be secure in the knowledge that you’re getting better.