If you’ve just come out of treatment for drug or alcohol abuse, or if you are welcoming home someone from treatment, the prospect of what to expect during the first 30 days in recovery is probably pretty frightening. There’s good reason for that. In fact, the early days of recovery are the most critical. It’s during this time that most people are in danger of relapse. The good news is that you can get through it, just as millions have before you. Still, it may be helpful to know what to expect – and what you can do to help ease the transition into recovery.
A Whole New Experience Than Treatment
First, it’s important to note that the early days of recovery, while they may be confusing and discomforting, represent a whole new experience – one that’s completely different than what you encountered during treatment for substance abuse. For one thing, you’re not going through detox. That’s something to be grateful for. No matter what your former drug of choice, coming off using involved enduring withdrawal symptoms that ranged from mildly uncomfortable to downright nasty. During that one to seven-day period of detox, you most likely wondered if you had what it takes to continue with the program. Sure, you wanted to get clean and sober, but it was so tempting just to go back to using – anything to stop the withdrawal symptoms. It’s a testament to your tenacity and determination that you stayed with detox to the end. That paved the way for you to enter active treatment. And, while treatment was a whole new learning experience (for most individuals, although some return for multiple treatments based need or repeated relapse), treatment is not the same as recovery. In recovery, you’ve already pretty much learned the basics of how to recognize and identify triggers to using. You now know some strategies for coping with cravings and urges. Together with your counselor during one-on-one therapy, as well as with others during group therapy, you engaged in role-playing and practicing how to handle difficult situations. You examined past motivations for using and received instruction in how to develop healthier behaviors – ones not involving drugs or alcohol. Now, however, you’re out of treatment. You may feel like you’ve been tossed to the wolves, like you’re isolated and on your own. You’re not. But convincing yourself that you’ve got all the tools at your disposal may require a bit more effort. Okay, a lot of effort. And you can do it.
Middle of the Night Sweats, Nightmares and Other Unpleasantries
No doubt you’re relieved to be back home again where you can sleep in your own bed and not have to worry about meeting a particular schedule for counseling or group meetings. Even mealtimes are your own choice. Ah, freedom! Who doesn’t relish the opportunity to make his or her own decisions again? On the face of it, there’s only an upside. You’re not using. You’re out of treatment. And you’re back home again, ready to resume your life. But are you totally ready yet? Recovery experts say that treatment is just the first step in the broader picture of recovery. And, just as treatment is separated into phases (detox, active treatment, relapse prevention and preparation for release), so, too, is recovery. Early recovery covers basically the first 30 to 90 days. Then there’s mid-term recovery, roughly three months to a year. After that, it’s long-term recovery. But the worst of it may be the first 30 days. During this time, many in recovery report that they have difficulty sleeping through the night. They wake up with night sweats, cravings so powerful they have to get out of bed, or nightmares so vivid and disturbing that they awake with a feeling of utter panic and helplessness. What can you do to counter such nighttime disturbances? There are a few techniques you can employ. Use whichever one or combination works best for you. • Call your 12-step sponsor – By now, you probably have a sponsor at the 12-step group you’ve been attending. If not, you need to make it a priority to a) start attending meetings and, b) find a sponsor. When you have a sponsor, he or she is committed to doing everything possible to help you on your journey to recovery. It’s your sponsor who can listen to you when you call in the middle of the night. It’s your sponsor who knows what you’re going through – since he or she has been there as well. It’s your sponsor who can offer concrete suggestions, or just listen while you talk to ease your mind. Don’t feel like you’re imposing on your sponsor. This is what sponsors sign up for. Again, it’s all in the interest of furthering your recovery. You’re not likely to call night after night, since such nighttime disturbances are usually time-limited and ease off after a while. If they do linger, you need to try something else. • Call your counselor – It may be that you need additional counseling to help you overcome whatever it is that’s waking you up in the night and preventing a healthy good night’s sleep. If you have continuing care or aftercare as part of your overall treatment program (many residential rehab programs include this), get in touch with your counselor and make an appointment. Of course, you can’t call in the middle of the night, but do call the first thing in the morning. If you don’t have such continuing counseling available, call the treatment facility and ask for a referral to a private counselor or ask about available low-cost or sliding-fee scale outpatient continuing counseling. • Get up and read or listen to music – If you can’t sleep due to disturbing dreams, cravings, night sweats or other difficulties sleeping, there’s no sense staying in bed and possibly waking up your spouse or partner as well. Get up and leave the room. When you’re in another room, sit where you are most comfortable and either read or listen to music. If you watch television, make sure it’s not a program with a lot of action or violence. You should rehydrate yourself by drinking water – but stay away from caffeine. Ditto nicotine – you don’t need the added stimulant. Avoid exercising, too. While it might make you feel better in the short term, the point is to be able to return to your bed and get much-needed restful sleep, and exercise will only stimulate you further and make getting back to sleep that much more difficult.
The Power of Support Networks
Remember how alone you felt when you first came home? No matter how many people surround you on your return, aside from the back-slaps and hugs and well-wishes from family and friends, it’s still you who’s facing recovery. It’s still you that feels like you’re out here on a limb. You have two huge assets working for you: your family and your 12-step fellowship group. These two networks are your most fiercely loyal and dependable sources of nonjudgmental support and encouragement. You need to make full use of them.
First, when it’s convenient, sit down with your spouse or partner and discuss what your recovery plan entails – such as you currently know it. If your family members participated in family treatment, this discussion should be easier in that they already have a fairly good idea how important it is to be supportive of your recovery goals. If they didn’t attend treatment or counseling, it’ll be up to you to help convey what you need from them in the form of ongoing support and encouragement. This conversation doesn’t have to be lengthy to be effective. It’s a starting point, a place where you begin the two-way dialogue that’s always focused on your recovery. And this is key – it’s your recovery. The kind of discussion we’re talking about here has nothing to do with how to raise the kids or qualify for a second mortgage. It’s all about how you intend to further your overarching goal of effective long-term sobriety. There are plenty of other times for ancillary discussions, but in early recovery, your first and foremost area of concentration is on how to maintain your sobriety. Many individuals in early recovery report that they couldn’t have made it through the first few weeks without strong support from family members. This is perfectly understandable, since family members know you best and care about you the most. That doesn’t mean it’s an easy time. It isn’t. There will be days when things seem to be going great, followed by days when almost everything goes wrong. Family support can be help you anchor to your sobriety.
The other key component of your support network is the 12-step fellowship group that you attend. In the beginning of recovery, you may not have yet settled on a single group or meeting location that serves as your home base (the group that you attend on a regular, weekly basis). It’s recommended that you go to various group meeting locations to find one that feels most comfortable to you. In fact, go to at least six meetings before you make a determination whether or not this group meets your needs. That’s because it takes some time to become familiar with the fluctuating audience (people tend to attend meetings on particular days) and find the group of attendees with whom you feel most at-home. Once you settle on a single group for your home group, attend this one regularly. During the first 30 days, in particular, you need the support of other 12-step fellowship members to steady you, to help you strengthen your recovery goals, to help allay your anxieties and concerns about the whole recovery process, and to offer advice and counsel based on their own personal experiences. There’s nothing like the power of solid group support. There is truly strength in numbers, and with your 12-step group, you definitely have the numbers. As time goes on – but don’t wait too long – you should find a person to be your sponsor. As previously mentioned, the value of a 12-step sponsor is that this individual commits to helping you make your way along your own unique path to recovery. Guide, mentor, friend, and advisor, your 12-step sponsor is not a counselor. For that, you have your therapist or continuing care counselor. He or she is not your family member either, and therefore can be detached enough to be able to give you the benefit of his or her observation on how you’re doing in your recovery efforts. This does not mean that your sponsor will criticize how you handle your recovery. If you’re going off track, he or she will definitely call you on it. But the goal is always to help you find your way back to what works best for your continuing sobriety. Whenever you’re feeling lost or unsure what to do in your recovery, make use of the 12-step support network and your sponsor to help you find your way again.
Getting Back to Work
Recovery took some period of time from your life – whether it was a 30-day program, 90 days in duration, or six months or longer. Now, you feel like you have to get back to your life as quickly as possible. If you can, don’t rush right back to work. Give yourself a week or two before you go back to your job. You need the time to reacclimate yourself to being home and to get your schedule down for what you need to do for your recovery. You may not have the luxury of staying away from work any longer, however. If that’s the case, you need to prepare yourself for the challenge of returning to your job. That’s if you still have a job. If you lost your job due to your addiction, you should start the process of finding new employment. Either way – having to go right back to work or not having a job to go back to – you need to get prepared. Plan ahead so that you know the times and locations of 12-step meetings you’ll be attending on a daily basis. You may wish to attend several a day during the first couple of weeks of recovery, so knowing where those locations are close to home or work is important for your scheduling. You could go to a meeting before work, at lunchtime, and immediately after work before you go home. This will help you schedule what’s important to your recovery as well as factoring in your work hours. Get plenty of rest before you start back to work. Make sure you’re able to sleep through the night before taking on the added stress of job responsibilities. Eat well-balanced and nutritious meals, and be sure to eat breakfast every morning before you head out the door. Your body needs to be properly fueled in order to meet the challenges and stresses of the day. Talk your plans over with your spouse or partner and get the family schedule down so that everyone knows what your timetable is. Again, what matters to you is your recovery, so you absolutely have to make this your first priority. If you will be stopping after work for a 12-step meeting, let your family know so that dinner can be at an appropriate time when you can all be together. When you do go back to work, it’s also recommended that you have a conversation with your boss or supervisor. Let him or her know that you learned a lot in treatment, that you are better now, and that you’re committed to long-term sobriety – and to getting back to work and being productive. Ask for a little leeway as you ease back into your assignments. Let your boss know that your recovery is important to you and that you will be attending regular 12-step meetings. While this may interfere with some meetings that go past the normal work-day hours, as long as you clear it with your supervisor, there shouldn’t be any major problems. Remember that what your employer cares about is having you return as a productive employee, one that he or she doesn’t have to worry about and has complete confidence in. It’s your job to convince your supervisor that you’re up to the task.
Learning the Art of Keep Away
One final point about the first 30 days of recovery and what to expect concerns learning the art of keep away. What this means is that you already know you need to steer clear of old friends, places and things that you associate with past use. This may be a tough assignment, but it’s one that you definitely have to become more practiced at doing. Learn how to keep away from friends that want you to join them after work at the bar, from driving past the places where you bought or used drugs, from the things that remind you of your former drug- or alcohol-using life. It’s sometimes referred to as coping strategy. It could also be described as an art. On the one hand, you have to craft a strategy for how you deal with people, places and things that may trigger relapse. On the other, in order to carry out this strategy, you almost always need to employ an artfulness or carefully-designed and rehearsed delivery. You may not be able to completely divorce yourself from certain individuals – especially if they are close family members, your co-workers, boss, or others. You may not want to hurt their feelings or prompt retaliation. Maybe you just need to come up with some clever way of politely refusing invitations. Talk over how to deal with these triggers with your counselor, your sponsor, and 12-step group allies. You can also discuss it with your spouse or partner, if you feel comfortable doing so. He or she may have some suggestions that you can use or adapt to fit the particular circumstance.
Stay in the Present
What’s left to say about the first 30 days in recovery? While you undoubtedly will encounter times when your mind wanders to what happened in the past, refocus your attention to the life you have now in recovery. Stay in the present. Be here now. What you do today is what matters, not what happened yesterday and not what may happen tomorrow. Focus your attention on your goals. Be involved with your family and show them how much you love and appreciate them. Get in touch with your Higher Power and express gratitude for the gift of life and sobriety. Be humble, be open to learning new things, and embrace your new life in recovery. It will get easier to learn how to manage your recovery. But it will also require that you give it all you’ve got.