Wandering Around in a Fog: How to Start Thinking Clearly in Recovery

If everything is a bit fuzzy now that you’re in recovery, the first thing to do is not to panic. Recall what you learned about your addiction during rehab? It will take time for your brain to get back to normal, at least to the point where you’re able to perform logical tasks, remember things in sequence, and be able to comprehend written and verbal communication. Of course, it’s one thing to understand that healing takes time. It’s another to know what to do in the meantime. Here are some suggestions that may help you start thinking clearly in recovery.

Write Things Down

You know what happens when your mind is overloaded with too much to remember or you’re subjected to non-stop stimuli? Everything gets jumbled up and it’s impossible to make your way from point A to point B. A trick that is useful for anyone to help manage tasks and ensure that nothing’s forgotten is equally applicable to those in early recovery whose mental abilities may not yet be up-to-speed. The simple technique of writing things down can be immensely helpful in several ways. For one, you will have a record of what it is that you need to do, where you should be going, things to pick up or people to contact. It won’t be a matter of not knowing, since you’ll have it all written down on a piece of paper in front of you. If you prefer to use electronic means, load up your Blackberry or create a file on your computer. Send yourself emails or do calendar reminders function on your Smartphone. Sometimes just jotting items on a 3×5 card is sufficient. Why does this technique work? When you don’t have to have things you need to remember taking up space in your mind, you’re free to utilize that mental capacity in other ways. It also gives your brain a chance to heal without overtaxing it. Another benefit of writing things down is that should you be incapable of communicating your needs at some point, or require assistance from others, there’s a record of your daily schedule, medications (if any), and other tasks associated with your recovery. One more point about the value of writing things down: it serves as a record. As you progress in recovery and your cognitive capabilities improve, you’ll be able to look back and realize how far you’ve come. This instills a sense of self-confidence, makes you feel good about your achievements, and gives you hope for even further improvements on your path of recovery.

Enlist the Help of Others

No one recovers alone. This is another mantra you’ve heard before, first in rehab (if you went through formal treatment) and then in 12-step self-help groups. Recovery experts say that the most important part of recovery is the quality of the support network the individual surrounds himself with. The two most important components of your support network are your family and your 12-step sponsor and fellow group members. Let’s start with the family and how they can help you when you’re still in a fog and not thinking clearly in early recovery. Who knows you better than your loved ones? Who cares about you the most and wants you to succeed in your new-found sobriety? In fact, addiction is a family disease, affecting every member of the family. So, it’s not surprising that they have a vested interest in wanting to see you get better. Their understanding, support, and encouragement are vital to your continued progress. How can they help you start thinking clearly? Just as written notes are beneficial to ensure nothing gets forgotten or overlooked, family members can also provide this useful function. They can remind you when it’s time to go to a meeting, take you there, help you schedule your day, talk with you and keep your spirits up, and generally be there when you need them. Sometimes just being able to do things on your daily recovery schedule with a family member along is enough to motivate you to keep on going despite challenges and set-backs. Likewise, your 12-step sponsor and fellow group members know what it’s like to start off in recovery and be unclear, uncertain, and fearful about your abilities to do what you need to do. They’ve been there themselves and, while each person’s situation is different, can offer understanding, encouragement, and suggestions on how to get through this time of early recovery. They may relate stories of how they weathered the first few weeks of recovery, or list tips or techniques they used to help them start to think clearly again. The beauty of these suggestions isn’t that you have to follow them religiously – or at all, if you don’t think they’ll work for you. It’s that you have ready resources and other techniques that you can tailor to your own situation. In other words, you’ve got people in your corner ready to help you get through this time when the fog is still clouding your thoughts. The key is to ask for the help you need. There’s no shame in it. Everyone who’s gone through early recovery has needed the help of others in one form or another. Some may need it more than others, but support and understanding from your family and 12-step support group is always beneficial. If you don’t ask, you’ll miss out on a wealth of assistance. It doesn’t cost you a dime, and it’s always available to you. How much better does it get than that? And, should you think that this is a great imposition on others, don’t. When you get better, you can always give back. You can be the same rock-solid support for other newcomers to recovery who may be in the same position you are right now. See, no one heals alone. You can pay it forward by helping others when the time is right. For now, enlist the help of others as you try to clear away the fog and start thinking clearly in recovery.

Continue with Counseling

If your addiction was chronic and you suffered a great deal of debilitating cognitive effects, you may wish to consider continuing with counseling. Why is this important? Sometimes it helps to have the professional guidance a therapist can provide. Various forms of psychotherapy can prove beneficial, including cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT, which helps you to become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking, view challenging situations more clearly, and respond to them in ways that are more effective. In short, therapy or continuing counseling can help you sort out your jumbled thoughts, reorganize them or restructure them to make more sense, and teach you how to find new ways of dealing with everyday challenges in recovery – and see them clearly. What if you lack health insurance coverage for such counseling or don’t have any money? If you’ve been through rehab already, continuing care or aftercare may be a part of your overall treatment program. If not, they may have referrals to federal, state or local agencies that may be able to help. If you haven’t been to treatment for substance abuse and have been trying to make it on your own, use the Treatment Facility Locator maintained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Use Detailed Search or List Search and check boxes for “sliding fee scale” and “payment assistance” and then contact the facilities directly to ask about their policies. You can also call the toll-free treatment referral helpline at 1-800-662-HELP. You can also contact your local health department’s mental health division or other mental health organization. Talk with your family physician or member of the clergy. Describe what you’re experiencing and ask for a referral to the type of mental help professional they think may provide the best assistance. This may include a referral to a psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker, licensed professional counselor, mental health counselor, certified drug and alcohol abuse counselor, or others. If you want to talk with someone at Mental Health America, call their toll-free number at 1-800-969-6642.

Take it One Day at a Time

You didn’t get in your situation overnight. That is, your addiction probably took some time to take hold and obliterate your life to the point of constant drug- or alcohol-seeking. Treatment also took some period of time to get you to the clean and sober state where treatment began to make sense. Now that you’re in recovery, it’s not like everything is going to magically become clear all of a sudden. That’s not only illogical, it rarely happens that way. Time is the only answer. To give yourself the benefit of time, you can’t obsess over whether or not you’re better today than you were yesterday or worry about how far you’ll progress tomorrow or next month. The only thing you can do to ensure you keep going is simply to take it one day at a time. Recognize that there will be good days – times when you seem to be able to handle all the items on your daily to-do list and not come unglued – and there will be bad days as well. Those are the times when, try as you might, you encounter one obstacle after another and feel like you’re mired in quicksand and not getting anywhere. Have a little faith. Call upon your support networks, talk with your therapist, and recognize that you are making progress in your own way. Day by day you are getting stronger and better able to handle your decision-making. Your thoughts are beginning to take shape and make sense to you. You can formulate a plan and devise creative ways to go about achieving your goals. One success will lead to another and another. Before you know it, you will have stopped worrying about not being able to think clearly. You’ll just be doing what you set out to do, logically and full of purpose. Far from being in a fog, your life in recovery will seem clear to you. You’ll know what to do, when, and where, and beyond that, you’ll be fully capable of making the decisions that are right for you.

Give Yourself a Break

Along with taking it one day at a time, it’s also important that you lighten up on yourself. You need to be able to give yourself a break. That is, stop beating yourself up for your perceived deficiencies or past failures or whatever it is that you tell yourself that you’re not doing right or good enough to suit you. After all, you just entered recovery. You just got clean and sober. Maybe this is the first time in a very long time that you’re abstinent and it’s a whole new experience for you. That in itself is a huge accomplishment and one that you should be justifiably proud of. Giving yourself a break doesn’t mean that you slack off and forget about taking care of the things you need to do each day in your recovery. You still need to go to your 12-step meetings, see your counselor or therapist, keep any necessary doctor appointments, take any required medications, and learn how to better manage stress, and so on. One helpful tip is to do things with your family that everyone can enjoy. Go out on a family picnic or for a drive to a nature preserve to hike around for an hour or two. Rent family-rated movies and watch them while you eat popcorn. Make it a practice to schedule time for your family – to communicate with them, laugh with them, and demonstrate your affection for them. This doesn’t take anything away from your focus on your recovery. In fact, it helps strengthen it. What if there’s mistrust and lack of family bonding? What if your addiction has resulted in the dissolution of the family? This does happen and there’s no sense denying the reality when it does. The only thing you can do in this situation is concentrate on healing yourself and maintaining your sobriety. As you get stronger and are more effective in your recovery, perhaps you will be able one day to mend fences and bring the family unit back together. Once again, there’s nothing to be gained by condemning yourself for what you did as a result of your addiction. As you begin to think more clearly, you will perhaps be able to construct a healthier way of interacting with family members so that you will at least be able to have contact with them.

Believe in Yourself

Finally, you need to begin to believe in yourself. You’ve made a tremendous amount of progress already — going through detox and rehab, getting your first involvement in 12-step meetings and creating a recovery plan that you’re working hard at. While no one recovers alone, it does involve the person in recovery doing what’s necessary to achieve lasting recovery. This is you. It all starts with you. You have two ways to approach your recovery journey. You can look at the path you have chosen with optimism or pessimism. Guess which one will result in a better outcome? That’s right, being positive is much more likely to help you realize the kind of effective long-term recovery you’re after. For this, you need to believe in yourself. Yes, it may be hard to grasp at first, especially if you’re still in a fog and not thinking all that clearly. But each day, with each successful completion of recovery-oriented task and accomplishment of sobriety-related goals, you will gain greater respect for your own abilities, build up your self-esteem and self-confidence, and gradually increase your belief in yourself. You definitely can do it. You can stop wandering around in a fog and start to think clearly in recovery. The time is right for you to begin today.

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