How to Know When You are in Recovery

If you feel like you've climbed out of a deep, dark pit and are just beginning to see daylight after treatment, it may still seem like you're in a fog. You may very well be filled with uncertainty, even fear, over what you're supposed to be doing now to help maintain your sobriety. This period of anxiety and trepidation is common, but it doesn't necessarily help you to know that - especially when you're right in the middle of it.

How do you know when you are in recovery? What should you expect? More importantly, what are some ways that you can jumpstart your progress in this new life of sobriety that you've chosen to live? Here are some answers.

Finished Rehab - You're on the Mend

Typically speaking, once you've completed treatment for drug or alcohol abuse or addiction (or for compulsive gambling, compulsive sexual behavior, overwork, overeating, or overspending), what the experts say is that you're on the road to recovery.

This means, however, that you're just beginning the hard work of maintaining your sobriety. What you've done up to this point is to get clean and sober and begin to learn some practical coping mechanisms and strategies to help you remain abstinent.

It doesn't mean that you'll automatically have everything completely in mind in terms of daily schedules, how to deal with every conceivable situation or problem, or even that you'll be 100 percent comfortable doing what you've already learned.

You are healing, and that is the most important point to remember at this time. It may not feel like you're really in recovery, but you are. Take comfort in that fact and resolve to keep moving forward.

Take Things in Stride

If it seems like all the details and projects and responsibilities you put on hold to go into rehab are now hitting you in the face and demanding your immediate attention, don't panic. What's most helpful now is to learn how to prioritize and to only do those things that are most beneficial to your sobriety.

After all, you've just finished treatment. You can't expect to jump right back into your everyday life - nor should anyone else demand this of you. You need time to adjust to your new life of sobriety, to take care of your recovery needs, and to have a sufficient amount of freedom to get more familiar with the principles of recovery.

Key to getting more acclimated to recovery is learning how to take things in stride. Not everything that comes along today needs your attention. Put off what you can and concentrate on your recovery needs. As you begin to feel more at home doing what you need to for your sobriety, you will be able to devote the proper attention to other concerns.

But you shouldn't worry about those other things now. Today, right now, focus on your recovery. Recognizing that you are in recovery and that you need time to devote to the work of recovery is what will help you make progress going forward.

Those Pesky Cravings and Urges

Now that you're free of drugs and alcohol - perhaps for the first time in many months or years - this still doesn't mean that you're going to be totally free of cravings and urges to use.

You probably already know that, however, since the cravings that appear out of the blue or wake you up in the middle of the night demanding satisfaction of the urge are more than likely experiences you've already had - not that you want to.

Learning how to deal with cravings and urges in the most effective manner will take time. It's as simple as that. But the methods and strategies you use, the ones that turn out to work the best for you, will vary from time to time - even from one situation to another. What you will find is that your recovery toolkit, if you will, will grow as you add new techniques and coping tips that you hear about in the rooms of recovery, or in your readings, or in conversations with your therapist, your sponsor, even your loving family members.

Still, it doesn't seem all that comforting when you have to go through one of these episodes, does it? Realize that cravings and urges are time-limited. That means, if you can get through the 20 minutes to a half-hour that most of these last, you'll be well on your way to identifying the technique that proved most effective in this instance. Add it to your repertoire of strategies to use the next time cravings or urges strike.

What you will find is that the best way to deal with them is to have a number of different things that you can try. If one that you've used successfully in the past no longer works, or is less effective than you'd like, try modifying it or replace it with another that you've learned about or perhaps tried before, even if it was less successful then.

Keep in mind that you are evolving and growing and learning every day you are sober. And recovery, which is what you are now in, is very much an ongoing process. While it may not seem like you know very much about how to take care of yourself when cravings and urges strike, you are making headway.

Feeling Welcome in the Rooms of Recovery

The majority of individuals, who complete treatment for drug and alcohol addiction or other process addictions, or co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorder, find themselves entering recovery with the strong recommendation that they continue participation in the 12-step groups they've likely been introduced to during rehab.

The truth is that you need ongoing support, and there's no better place to get the kind of non-judgmental support and encouragement you need in recovery on an ongoing basis than the 12-step groups. Whether you take part in Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous or any of the other self-help groups, the more you go to the meetings, the more familiar the environment will become. After a few weeks of attendance, you should start to feel a little more comfortable being there. It may not feel like home, per se, but you will definitely feel that you are welcome there.

Over time, you should start to feel like you have something valuable in the 12-step group, particularly if you've identified a group that you like. It could be that its proximity to where you work or live or go to school is what drew you there in the first place, and maybe that continues to be a factor in your continuing to go there.

It could also be that you find the kinship and friendship there appealing. In the rooms of recovery, you're never alone. There's always someone there to talk with and listen to. The stories of recovery and the suggestions for managing various issues are uniquely and freely available to all who participate.

Getting to Know the Principles of Recovery

One of the ways that you'll know you're in recovery is when you fully commit to the process. This means that you not only regularly participate in 12-step group meetings, but you take the next step to find a sponsor.

Your 12-step sponsor will serve as your guide, introducing you to the principles of recovery and to the Twelve Steps. By beginning your step work, you will be acting in a proactive manner, doing what you can in a logical and building-block process that will benefit your recovery.

No, it's not easy going through the Twelve Steps and some of them are a lot harder than others. But none of them is unachievable. It may just mean that you need more time on one versus another.

You will make progress according to where you are in recovery. That is, when you are ready to move from one step to another, or even skip around to a different step that you may be more willing to tackle, that's the time to move forward.

Don't get hung up on a particular step that's causing you difficulty. But don't avoid it, either. Instead, have a candid talk with your sponsor about what's going on with you. Ask for his or her advice and suggestions on how to best proceed. Remember, your sponsor has been through this before, just as you are going through it now. Being somewhat detached, and yet fully committed to helping you navigate the early stages of recovery, your sponsor can be your biggest ally and constant supporter during this all-important time.

When Recovery Starts to Feel Normal

A big question many newcomers to sobriety want to find the answer to is when recovery starts to feel normal. That will vary from one individual to another, but the general answer - and the most honest - is that it depends on you.

What were your most pressing concerns when you completed treatment and went home newly sober? Did you have mounting financial obligations that kept you up at night? Did you lose your home and family over your addiction and are desperately trying to get them back? Were you fired or demoted or passed over for promotion because you were unreliable as a result of your substance abuse? Did your health take a serious downturn as a result of using?

These are just some of the contributing factors that may mean some individuals find that it takes longer for recovery to feel normal than others.

But make no mistake about it. This is not like rolling out of bed for anyone. It isn't going to feel normal at first. Expect alternating periods of a little bit of confidence and some measure of doubt. Talk it over with your sponsor and fellow group members, if for no other reason than to reassure yourself that what you're going through is fairly common in early recovery.

Getting Back to Business

You know you're in recovery when you feel capable enough to go back to work and resume your job so that you can support yourself and your family.

Of course, not everyone who completes rehab has a job to go back to. If you were fired or let go as a result of your substance abuse, or they couldn't hold your position while you were in treatment, or you were unemployed to begin with, now you have an opportunity and a need to find a new job.

At this point in your recovery, you undoubtedly recognize that being self-sufficient is an important factor in your ability to maintain effective long-term sobriety. When you have a job and can take care of yourself and your family, you begin to build - or, in many cases, rebuild - self-esteem, self-confidence and hope. So, having a job to go to each day is important in more ways than one. It's actually a linchpin of effective recovery.

It may take you some time to find a new job. You may need to go back to school to finish or resume your education, learn a new skill, or undertake some brush-up classes to be more marketable. Maybe you do have a job that's been held for you, but you'd really like to move into something else. That takes planning and a strategy to get what it is you want and where you want to go.

All that this means is that there's good news about your job. Going to work is a testament of your self-sufficiency. It helps build your reserves of self-confidence and self-esteem. It helps give you the foundation to change careers or move up where you currently work. Your job is right up there as one of the building blocks that can help you start over and embrace life in recovery.

Live Life in the Present

While you undoubtedly will encounter times when your mind wanders back to what happened in the past, refocusing your attention to the life you have now is a sign that you recognize you're in recovery. Still, it bears repeating: Stay in the present. Be here now. What you do today is what matters, not what happened yesterday and not what may possibly 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.

Making Time for Play

Let's face it. All this concentration on doing the hard work of recovery can be exhausting. You will understandably be primarily focused on your recovery tasks for the first few weeks and months of sobriety, but there will also come a point when you recognize that you need some playtime in your life, too.

No, that's not being excessive. Play time isn't just for children. It's not a luxury, not something that's out of the question just because you're in recovery. Frankly, since you are in recovery, taking time to enjoy yourself with healthy activities and relationships is an excellent way to add joy to your day and embrace life in recovery.

How you set aside your time to play is entirely up to you. But it doesn't have to be elaborate or take a lot of your day to be worthwhile. If you love reading, be sure to have a favorite book ready to pick up and lose yourself in it for a few minutes when you have an opportunity. Let's say music really gets you enthused. Play your CDs, tune the car radio to your favorite stations so your ride to/from work, school, 12-step meetings and errands is soothing and relaxing.

Do things with the family, too. That way, you'll be getting enjoyment out of your playtime and you'll also be spending quality time with them. Everyone wins.

Think of playtime as a much-needed opportunity to unwind, relax, and rejuvenate. It doesn't take that much out of your day and the rewards far outweigh the minimal time you're involved. Everything that you've got scheduled or planned for your day will still be there once you've taken a brief respite. The difference is that you'll be so much more attuned and ready to embrace it once you've played a little.

When You Can Dream

Finally, it's important to mention another way you will know that you are in recovery. It's when you can dream, or, to be more succinct, when you can dream again.

Way back when you first began rehab, you probably thought that the road ahead would be difficult, perhaps impossible. Clean and sober may have seemed out of reach for you, particularly if you were addicted for a very long time or had multiple addictions. Now that you're in the early days of recovery, the future is probably still a bit cloudy, maybe even fogged in.

That will all change in time. But as you move forward, making and working on your recovery plans, charting goals and putting down action items for how you get there, you will start to see a bit further into the distance. The horizon will seem to stretch away, allowing you to see more choices as they appear in your life.

And they will appear - if you give yourself permission to dream. Remember that while you live in the present today, the actions you take today, the plans you lay down, and the hopes and dreams you have, will fashion the tomorrow of your recovery.

When you feel yourself lifted up by your dreams, energized by your enthusiasm, filled with hope and joy, you will truly know that you have embraced life in recovery. All things are possible. Believe it, work hard at it, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Bottom line: How to know when you are in recovery will become self-evident. You will feel it. You will live it. You will be in recovery - and it will feel completely normal.

Posted on May 31st, 2012

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