Take Time to Make Time for Your Recovery
The First Few Months are Critical
While you were in the last phase of your active treatment, you went through relapse prevention training. Here you learned coping skills and techniques to help you avoid slipping back into your old pre-treatment habits. In your enthusiasm to be out of treatment and back in the real world, you may have forgotten some of the things you learned – especially the fact that the first few months of recovery are the most critical. It’s during the first 6 to 9 months that most relapses occur.
What causes relapse? There are many reasons, really. Some are predictable, while others seem to come out of the blue. Suffice to say, if you aren’t fully committed to your recovery, if you take it for granted, you’re almost sure to succumb to powerful cravings and urges that will likely plague you in the weeks and months ahead. Ditto if you have the mistaken belief that relapse is inevitable, that there’s nothing you can do about it, or that it will only be a brief hiatus and you’ll get back on the road to recovery like nothing happened.
It doesn’t work that way. Once you relapse, there are consequences. Some will be minor, and the addict will be able to resume a clean and sober lifestyle with renewed vigor and determination. For those lucky ones, perhaps the brush with the reality of just how precarious their newfound sobriety is enough to jolt them into a more solid commitment to being clean and sober. Others, however, are not so fortunate. For some intractable, hard-core addicts for whom treatment was more like going through the motions, relapse is more likely than not. This doesn’t mean that all hard-core will stay relapsed once they slip. On the contrary, many do succeed in recovery. But it generally takes a great deal of effort, persistence, support and ongoing counseling.
Whatever your addiction and personal circumstances are, the first thing to remember about early recovery is that the next half to three-quarters of a year is the most important. It’s during this time that you will solidify what works for you and discard what does not. You will likely need to make many changes in your life – some of which you’d much rather not, but which are necessary. You will make new friends, discover much about yourself and your abilities that you never realized, and find a wealth of opportunities within your reach.
How Much Time Is Necessary?
Making time for your recovery naturally leads to the question of how much time is necessary. Just what is entailed in taking time to make time for your recovery? The answer is different for everyone. It really depends on your personal circumstances, type of addiction, your motivation to succeed in recovery, and the choices you make.
Some who are new to recovery just came off treatment for a dependence that was only a recent occurrence, or to a substance that had become a daily ritual without leading to major consequences. It could be marijuana, or a dependence on nonmedical use of prescription drugs. For these individuals, if they are highly motivated, have sound support and encouragement from friends and family, recovery may be a lot easier. True, they will always be in recovery – unless they slip – but the healthy behaviors they will need to adopt and the new clean and sober lifestyle will be easier to incorporate and manage.
For addicts whose addiction caused extreme financial ruin, physical deterioration, loss of friends and family, vocational and/or legal problems, or those with co-occurring disorders (substance abuse and mental health disorder), recovery may require a great deal more work and time in order to “take.” Again, this is not to say that every addict who falls into this category will have a tough time of it. Many do not.
Tips to Help You Make Time for Your Recovery
Just as each addict’s treatment is personalized and unique, so, too is each person’s recovery. How and what you do will vary from one individual to another, from one day or week to another, and, possibly, from one type of addiction to another. Still, there are some general things that all addicts or individuals in recovery can do to help make time for their recovery.
• Begin with a positive mindset. – How you perceive your time in early recovery has a lot to do with making that time a successful progression into solid recovery. The difference between early recovery and recovery that’s 2 to 5 years old is time and experience. The more you can envision a positive outcome, the greater the likelihood that you will be able to weather some of the pitfalls and obstacles – as well as take advantage of serendipitous opportunities – that occur along the way.
Start thinking of your life in sobriety as a glass half full, instead of a glass half empty. In other words, instead of thinking of what you’ve missed out on, look at your new life as one in which you get to fill it up with whatever goals you want to achieve. Who’s to say what you can and cannot do? Don’t allow yourself to be limited in the scope of your dreams. Stay positive and stay on track.
• Take things as they come. – Typical of early recovery for some individuals is a nagging uncertainty, anxiety, piling up of worries over real concerns or unknown fears. While it’s important to deal with reality, with situations that can and do occur in everyday life, one of the best ways to take time to make time for your recovery is to focus on keeping things in perspective. Look at where you are today, at what you have to do today, and what is important today. Don’t pile troubles – real or anticipated – up in your mind. They’ll only fester and lead to more problems – sleepless nights, anxiety, depression, physical ills, or even relapse.
Instead, take things as they come. Deal with a situation to the best of your ability as it presents itself. If you need help – counseling, financial assistance, more training, a change in medication – seek it as soon as possible. Let’s say you want and need to mend a relationship and the prospect is not looking good. Do what you can now to make small improvements, little gestures, or take this as a sign that you will likely need more time to repair and rebuild this relationship. All good things take time. Don’t rush it. Just do your best today - and every day.
• Spend time with others who understand your situation. – Does it seem like no one understands what you’re going through? This often happens to those in early recovery, especially when they look at their loved ones and closest friends. Everyone seems to be on their best behavior, afraid that if they look at you sideways or utter a cross word that you’ll fly out the door and back into your alcohol or drug using ways.
There’s a solution for this, and it’s a good one. Spend time with your 12-step sponsor and fellow group members. They each have been where you are right now – in early recovery. They know what an uncertain time it can be, how difficult certain decisions are, how frightening and terrible the future may seem, how afraid you may be of failure, even whether you’ll be able to make it through today without picking up a bottle, going to the casino, or snorting, inhaling, injecting or swallowing drugs – or engaging in any of a number of addictive behaviors.
The time you spend doesn’t cost you a dime. The 12-step fellowships are free and the only requirement is a genuine commitment to being clean and sober. And, these individuals can prove to be a lifeline when you really need it most, when you feel you are drowning in despair, or can’t fight the cravings and urges, maybe at 3:00 a.m. or after you’ve just lost your job or your spouse walked out on you. By spending time with people who understand what it means to be an addict in early recovery, you are doing one of the most beneficial things you can do to make time for your recovery.
• Start the day with a healthy meal. – In order to deal with daily challenges in early recovery, it’s important that you get off to a good start. This means fortifying your body with nutritious food. No dashing out the door with just a mug of coffee or grabbing an espresso at the Starbucks. You need real food. It doesn’t have to be a full, sit-down meal, but it should consist of fresh fruit, whole grain toast or cereal, maybe an egg or two and a bit of lean meat, or yogurt, fresh juice – you get the idea. When you eat a well-balanced breakfast, you have more energy for your body and your mind. You’re better able to deal with little inconveniences and annoyances that might otherwise set you off. You can also think clearer, you’re more alert and you can more easily solve problems.
If your addiction has left you – even after treatment – with some medical conditions that require ongoing care and attention, it’s even more important that you keep to a regular breakfast schedule. Muscles that have become atrophied, organs that are being nursed back to health, strength that needs to be regained – all take nourishment on a constant basis.
One more point about starting the day with a healthy meal is that it makes you feel better. You’ll be less likely to snack on unhealthy items (empty calories, too many carbohydrates, too much sugar) during the day and you’ll be more likely to maintain a healthy weight. So, do yourself a favor. Take the time to eat a good breakfast.
• Get involved in something new. – Early recovery is a great time to immerse yourself in learning something new. It could be taking up a hobby that you’ve always been interested in but never had the time to learn. Maybe you want to study a foreign language, undertake training for a marathon, learn and perfect your skills at a recreational activity or competitive sport. Investigate what you need to do to get going on this new endeavor, and make the time to get involved in it.
While you’re learning something new, there’s ample opportunity for you to make some new friends at the same time. After all, these are people you probably didn’t know before you took up the hobby, went to the gym, studied at the university or community college, joined a cross-country ski club, or whatever. They don’t know you from Adam, either. It’s a perfect chance to brush up your communication skills and get outside of yourself and your everyday life to see what else is out there in the world. Who knows? This could open up new horizons for you, lead to many new discoveries that you can’t even imagine now. It might be a new job, travel to different locales or countries, maybe even a new love interest. If nothing else, you will be expanding your intellectual, social, and emotional boundaries. You’ll probably also find that you’re having a lot of fun. When you take time to make time for your recovery by getting involved in something new, you’re on your way to filling up that glass of possibilities.
• Acknowledge your successes. – When you achieve a milestone, whether it’s large or small, take the time to give yourself some credit for the achievement. This is especially important in early recovery when the days may seem endless, and the onslaught of cravings may come at you from every direction, or the bills mount up, or you’re still trying to overcome the physical and mental ravages of a chronic addiction. When you reach your first week of being clean and sober in recovery, congratulate yourself. Mark it on your calendar. Make a journal entry where you write about how you feel. Do the same thing when you reach two weeks, a month, 6 months, 9 months, and the first year anniversary. Your 12-step sponsor and fellow members will help you celebrate in healthy ways – and encourage you to continue your success.
You can also arrange a family get-together to celebrate your progress. Just be sure to keep it alcohol- and drug-free. If having a big to-do isn’t your thing, or you don’t feel you’re strong enough yet to have so many people around (well-meaning though they may be), have a one-on-one celebration – maybe a romantic dinner – with your loved one.
Little successes lead to big successes. Having a track record of months of sobriety will make it more likely that you will enjoy continued sobriety. So, take the time to give yourself the credit you deserve – and embrace tomorrow with hope and enthusiasm.