Last week I saw a picture online trying to portray how complicated the process of recovery from an addiction can feel in the early days for someone who had no clue about recovery. It looked like a giant blackboard packed full of mathematical equations which equal (=) ‘Recovery’. Now for someone who could never get the hang of basic long division and also as a therapist who sits across from men, women and family who desperately want to understand the recovery process in order to get a feeling for what to expect, I can wholeheartedly empathize with how confusing that analogy depicting the recovery process must feel. Abstinence and recovery is not a straight road. The various roles of an addiction counsellor are to support, listen, empathize, encourage and educate clients. But often in the early days, the individual is so clouded with emotion, stress, pain, dependence or chaos that they are unable to hear simple messages that anyone, including their therapist are trying to get across.
Early recovery should be about focusing daily on practical abstinence and harm reduction goals, support and positive habit forming behaviours. However, understanding recovery really comes from being in a recovery process and the personal experience gained from recovery and sobriety. Here are some of these insights and strategies which I hope will help to motivate and encourage individuals early in recovery to stick with the process through the good and bad.
- Make a clear conscious decision that some things in your life need to change. Make a long list of those specific things and how you might change them.
- Remind yourself you will have good days and bad days, it won’t be easy, but, it will be worth it.
- If you are blaming everyone else for all your problems, you are still in denial about your problem. Stop blaming others for the things only you can control.
- It really is ok not to be ok and to reach out to someone or a professional who can help you understand what might be happening.
- The first steps to getting help can feel like the hardest, you are not alone, there are people who will understand and help you, you just have not met them yet.
- You don’t always have to go to rehab to recover from dependence or addiction, you can try support groups and addiction counselling first.
- Start talking yourself ‘out of acting out’ instead of ‘into acting out’.
- Motivation to recover does not come naturally in the early days, sometimes sobriety and feeling better in yourself motivates recovery.
- Willpower alone is never enough to change. Willpower is all in your head BUT practice makes perfect.
- You will have cravings, physical, mental, emotional and psychological cravings, but they too will pass.
- You won’t really understand how addicted you are to a substance or behaviour until you stop feeding your addiction, focus on abstinence and actively try to stop for a period of 7, 10, 30 days etc.
- Recovery is a process of change, challenge, learning, abstinence, re-discovery and time.
- Expect mood swings, difficulty sleeping, frustration, aggravation, withdrawals, anger, sweat and tears but not forever!
- Do not expect your partner and family to understand what you are going through until you can learn to share with them what you are going through.
- Time – Focus on your recovery every day in everything that you do until you realize you don’t need to think about recovery and what you do anymore.
- Be realistic about your expectations of yourself and others once you achieve sobriety because real change and healing takes time.
- Learn and connect with healthy balanced people how to be healthy balanced and connected.
- Our addiction tells us everyone else is doing ‘it’, but that’s just the world you see around you, its not reality. When you are in recovery you will realise that in general most people are relatively healthy, functioning, non-users and enjoying life.
- You can recover, you are not your addiction, your addiction does not define the beautiful human being that you really are.
- Believe that you can change, trust in others to help you, tell yourself you are worth it, share your story and focus on getting mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually better.
Sobriety and meaningful recovery takes willpower, motivation, practice support, self-love, connection and time. The goal should also be gently focused on finding meaning and connection in life. Ultimately, recovery from illness and addiction is a path of personal development, self-love and healing.