For many addicts, the thought of stopping the use of drugs and alcohol is the goal of recovery. Many go into treatment for help to achieve abstinence, and come to learn that recovery and sobriety from drugs and alcohol has much more involved with it than simply removing substances. For many, there are behaviors that need to be modified or changed in order for them to live a life with less resistance; a resistance that may contribute to their need or dependency upon drugs and alcohol. For others, it may be underlying issues from trauma, or from events that occurred during childhood that have never properly been dealt with. Whatever the reason for using, recovery quickly teaches that staying clean and sober has many more elements to it than the substances themselves.
Feelings, Thoughts, and Actions
Whether or not you subscribe to a particular recovery program isn’t as important as whether or not you are working on yourself after removing the drugs and the alcohol from the equation. After detox, many of our behaviors either remain, or worsen as time goes on clean. For many addicts and alcoholics, drugs and alcohol made the realities of life easier to cope with; without the coping mechanism that had worked so well for so long, the realities are still there and may even intensify without substances to dull them down. Many addicts and alcoholics notice that their behaviors get worse as time goes on off drugs. Alcohol and drugs commonly act as a form of self-medication, where the behaviors, thoughts, actions, and feelings are masked and often times made to seem more manageable. The problem ultimately that most addicts and alcoholics run into is that eventually, because of consequences, finances, health related issues or even just increased tolerance, drugs and alcohol become less and less effective at treating these issues.
Attitude Is Everything
It’s important to recognize that drugs are a piece of a puzzle, and now that they’re removed, if even if they were to be reintroduced, they won’t quite fit back into the puzzle the way they may have fit at one point in time. While struggling initially to remain abstinent and to stay clean, outlook and perspective can be the archstone to happiness and long term recovery. Gratitude, as much as it’s over-stated and can seem mundane at time, is a positive state of mind in which appreciation is shown and stated for things that normally may have gone unappreciated or have been taken for granted. In showing appreciation, the addict or alcoholic starts to slowly recognize that the state their life was in while using was one of tunnel vision and bitterness. Staying positive also may mean a simple practice such as saying thank you, offering to stand for somebody else to sit, or complimenting somebody who may have frustrated you or that you may not like and attempting to be there for them as a friend. With a positive attitude, the addict or alcoholic can begin to an act in a way that is different than how they were while they were using. Eventually, they may start to feel different as well because of it.
A practice that’s difficult initially to get used to in early recovery is the practice of sharing about your feelings. As the body detoxes off of drugs, or remains abstinent off of drugs, different physical sensations may be confused with other emotions. Something such as thirst could be mistaken for hunger, sadness could be masked by anger; a resentment may be building over a miscommunication, and until the addict can find somebody they trust enough to discuss their feelings and their day with, they may find themselves becoming irritable or hostile; often wondering why they feel so strongly about something that may not seem important. Sharing with another person changes the behavior of wanting instant gratification or wanting the current moment to be different. Through substances, the addict or alcoholic may have adapted to their environment by numbing themselves internally. In recovery, by sharing about our feelings or our perception of the world around us, eventually we build trust with others and start to see that our way of thinking is slightly skewed and distorted, so it’s beneficial to run our ideas and our thoughts by somebody else, preferably who knows us well or has a bit of experience in recovery themselves.
It’s important not to be discouraged if after only a few weeks your newly sober loved one doesn’t appear to have changed; or if you’re a week off of heroin and you’re still feeling depressed. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but there are so many testimonials of change and hope from people who were hopelessly left in their addiction, who later began recovery and live happy and promising lives. If getting clean were easy, there would be very few relapses and little resistance to the process. Taking away the drugs and the alcohol leaves the addict with the addict, only without the tools they were using to muffle their thoughts and feelings. Therapy, meditation, yoga, nutrition, recovery meetings, prayer, and leisurely activities all help to mold the recovering person into a well balanced, healthier version of themselves. Simply quitting drugs and alcohol does not fix the underlying issues behind addiction. Time takes time; change takes action, but with the slightest bit of faith in oneself and the healing process, growth is possible.