Early Recovery From Addiction And What To Expect
The second time I was discharged from an inpatient treatment facility I had fully completed the thirty days required of me.
The facility was in western North Dakota, smack in the center of the big oil boom of 2009. I was working as a professional in the community and hated my job. Added to that fact was that I had loads of flexible time to pursue my little hobby of drinking and taking pills, mostly opiates and benzos.
My extracurricular activity cost me my sanity and my physical health. The motivation to get my life back was instigated primarily by a burning desire to simply feel normal again.
With the encouragement of my wife and after a professional assessment I entered an inpatient program for the second time.
There’s no question that both inpatient and outpatient treatment for drug and alcohol addiction work. Which one a patient enters depends on myriad factors such as severity of the addiction, insurance coverage, as well as the psychological needs of the patient.
I went through the program and I made it. Like most people who detoxify their bodies and minds after 30 days, I felt like a million bucks.
Then I had to return to . . . life.
Early recovery is that magical time of simultaneously feeling like you dodged a bullet and that—just maybe—if you started using again the “right” way, you could reclaim all the fun of getting high without any of the consequences.
Therein lies the rub: unless you change the life circumstances that got you in trouble in the first place, you will fall back into patterns that set you up for a relapse.
For me, inpatient treatment had effectively removed the chemicals I had been using. The program gave me the tools I needed to stay sober. However, I didn’t use them. Since I hadn’t really changed the life patterns I needed to radically alter, I relapsed soon after. I was back in the place where I started two months prior.
Below is a short list of what you can expect in early recovery. Today I realize that had I known what it was going to be like, I may have had a better chance at staying sober that second time around.
1) It’s going to suck.
It doesn’t matter how good you feel after you get sober. In fact, that you feel as healthy and energetic as you do are just as much a negative as they are a positive, because you will remember the good experiences of using drugs or alcohol without recalling the bad. The fact remains that you still have your life to lead. And life, at times, is hard!
In an inpatient facility, you are protected, insulated from real life. The number one priority is to get you off the chemicals you’re dependent on. Real life, on the other hand has: stress at work, relationships, kids, bills to pay, toilets to clean, parents to call, and other people to deal with. Life is annoying. It’s frustrating. It wears on you.
As much as you no longer physically depend on the chemicals you did prior to getting sober, the sweet siren song of the bottle or just-one-hit will cry out. Psychological addiction (Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome or PAWS) is real. Depending on what chemicals you abused, it can take a while for the itch to disappear. This itch to escape real life will at first be in the background. Then it will scream. If you didn’t change the way you deal with life, you’ll eventually give in.
But what if you do change? Well, that’s not easy either.
2) You have to change. A lot.
Human beings are mostly creatures of habit. We don’t like to change and generally don’t like change itself. We like things to stay the way they are, even if the status quo is killing us.
For me, I needed to attend Twelve Step meetings and change the people, places, things, and circumstances that led to drug and alcohol abuse. After my second treatment, I didn’t do any of this. I attended meetings at first sporadically. Then, not at all. Since I was a hidden, private drinker and drug user, I continued to isolate and it led to my downfall.
Not everyone gets and stays sober through a Twelve Step program. There are many modalities for change and recovery is an intensely personal experience. For me, reworking my life to change the purpose and meaning for existing (eventually) worked, but only after a third treatment.
The real, hard truth is that your best intentions got you to treatment in the first place. Why should you expect anything different if you don’t change the patterns that lead you down the same path?
3) Hope is real and people do recover.
Lest I begin sounding like a Debby Downer, let me leave you on a positive note—people do recover. After you go through a period of adapting to the changes you’ve made, it gets easier. Millions of people throughout the world have gone to the bottom and come back, many of them stronger and more successful than they ever had been before.
Early recovery is just something every alcoholic and addict has to go through. Whatever modality of treatment or ongoing recovery you select, if you stick to it, chances are you will make it. As with most support-based illnesses, 90 percent of the program is simply showing up. Early recovery is a phase, a period you go through. When you get through it and establish new patterns, your brain will heal.
The capacity for the human mind to change, after all, is much greater than most of us assume.
Daniel D. Maurer is a freelance writer openly living in long term recovery. He is the author of Sobriety: A Graphic Novel, a Hazelden Publishing youth and young adult resource. He lives with his family in Saint Paul, Minnesota.