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What to Expect in Early Recovery

Early recovery

Early recovery is very new. So what can I expect in my first year of recovery after leaving rehab?

One of the most important things I wish I’d known when leaving rehab.

“I have gone through a life-changing five-week experience where I spent time examining my feelings, my drinking, my relationships etc. but the rest of my family & the world have not had this experience, nor do they work a programme.”

Leaving rehab can be frightening 

You’ll be asking yourself questions such as “what’s it going to be like?” and “where do I tell people I’ve been?” These anxieties are perfectly normal and can leave you feeling incredibly vulnerable and sensitive at first.

Smarmore has an exceptional aftercare programme designed to help all patients once they leave rehab. It’s part of our relapse prevention and is an important part of finishing primary treatment.

Treatment can feel tiring 

Recovery can feel mentally draining as there is a lot of focus on treating the psychological aspects of addiction. At first, you may find that you feel the need to sleep longer hours. It’s always best to listen to your body and get the rest you need. However, balance is key, and spending hours a day in bed may not be beneficial to your mental health.

 “I didn’t realise the world was so bright and so noisy. Everyone is so busy, life has gone on without me!”

The First Few Weeks

The first few weeks of early recovery are often full of challenges and new experiences, and most of it will be spent adapting to the family and home. If you have young children, you may be faced with inquisitive questions on your return. Some people report feeling a fair amount of pressure and expectation when they return home, this can feel overwhelming, which is why it’s important to stay connected during this period.

A few important things to remember when you return home are:

  • Those who care for you will be glad that you’re safe, well and sober.
  • Finding recovery is a huge achievement and you should feel proud to have completed your programme.

Work

You shouldn’t feel like you have to rush back to work if you’re not ready. However, if you’re fortunate enough to go back to work after treatment, it’s important to be mindful of the potential triggers you might face being back in that environment.

If your employer has a drug and alcohol policy in place, you should use this to your advantage. While it’s understandable that you might feel embarrassed about discussing addiction with your employer, being open about your illness means you may receive support in future, should you need it.

Philip Grant
Philip Grant
Specialist Addictions Counsellor

As the old recovery adage goes: the good news is you get your feelings back, and the bad news is you get your feelings back.

This can make work and family environments more intense. However, while it might feel uncomfortable at first, your treatment would have taught you ways in which to deal with your emotions.

It’s very important that you take time out when you feel the need to, and learnt to say ‘no’ when feeling overwhelmed.

The Next Few Months

One of the vital parts of any relapse prevention plan is to replace alcohol, drugs or problamatic behaviours with positive tools and a support network that works when you’re struggling.

These tools are there for you to use in situations where you would have previously turned to drugs or alcohol.

You may have a hard day at work, or you might argue with your partner. Maybe you’re feeling down for no particular reason, or maybe your friend has let you down again. Amongst all of this it’s important to remember that life still happens and part of early recovery is to learn to accept life on life’s terms.

Relationships in Early Recovery

Often it is heard in early recovery it is best to avoid any life-changing decisions. This can include embarking on new relationships. But what of family and friends?

If you’re in a long-term relationship or if you’re married this advice is not awfully helpful.

Girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands and wives are all hugely invested in your recovery. Are they supportive, are they understanding? Are they a martyr, are they downright angry and unhelpful? I’m sure most partners will fall somewhere in the middle.

What makes early recovery more bearable, is deciding that you yourself are responsible for what you do, what you say and staying sober.

Just as no one can make you drink, not drinking is up to you. It’s your life. Having a partner that asks questions like “you seem fine it’s been three months surely you can have a drink” needs education. You will benefit hugely by explaining what you have learnt and what you are doing

“Children and dependents may not understand why you are out four nights a week attending meetings. Where’s Dad or where’s Mum? I thought they were better, what about us?”

Relationships in early recovery are fraught with difficulty. Perhaps the best advice is to share in a meeting and ask other addicts and alcoholics what they did, how did they cope with the questions the lack of education etc.

Asking for help and saying “I do not know” are really important things to learn.

As the weeks turn into months

As you pick up your 30-day chip, your two-month chip, your three-month chip early recovery becomes a little easier. The rawest fades, recovery is familiar.

“Early challenges and fears begin to be a thing of the past. People at work have other things to talk about. Home might not be perfect, but there is a grudging respect that you are sober and you are trying everything you can to stay that way.”

Keep things simple and maintain routine

Hopefully, you will have had a chance to sit down and talk to the significant people in your life and begin to explain what you’re doing what you’re going through and how things are going to be moving forward.

  1. Partners can come to open meetings of AA
  2. You can see your therapist together
  3. They can phone Smarmore and ask for advice dealing with addicts

Feeling the exciting happy moments

One of the exciting things are getting your feelings back is you can begin to empathise with other people. This doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. There are many many times in early recovery which are hugely happy joyful times.

When you simply wake up on a Saturday morning and you do not have a hangover, you have not wet the bed, you do not have the four horsemen roaring and riding through your mind. You have not hurt anyone, you have not crashed the car everything is just OK.

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After Six Months

It’s very easy in the first year of recovery to become complacent and sometimes it can feel a bit repetative. However past behaviours can appear very quickly and seemingly out of the the blue. You’re there before you even know it. Having the right support, whether it’s family, recovery meetings or outpatient programmes, means you always have someone to talk to should you need help.

Angry and irritable

“No one’s recovery is perfect. These feelings are often a normal part of sobriety.”

Feeling irritable and sometimes angry is normal in early recovery. You have made big changes in your life and it will take some getting used to. But there are lots of ways to support yourself:

  • Recovery meetings – meet new people, ask them to support you
  • Doing fun things with your family, even if it means missing a group
  • Talk to your sponsor every day
  • Use a recovery app to help you get through the first few months
  • Go on social media groups that offer support
  • Meditation and reading the big book – also look for other spiritual books or books about recovery, there are lots of inspiring autobiographies out there
  • Exercise is so important, get out and enjoy the fresh air, walk a dog, go to the gym.

Other things that people talk about experiencing in early sobriety include:

  1. Insomnia, no matter how tired you are you can’t sleep
  2. Feeling sad or down for no apparent reason
  3. Being on edge, feeling that something awful will happen, an impending sense of doom
  4. Cross addiction, swapping the old addiction for a new one like shopping, overeating, gambling, immersing yourself
  5. Physical illness, your nervous and digestive system may be working overtime to rid the body of poisons and toxins, it will take time to recover
  6. Stress and feeling overwhelmed. After using drugs and alcohol to numb and escape our feelings, it is only natural that when we start facing everything and recovering it feels unfamiliar. You can feel disconnected or disorientated. It’s completely understandable. After living many years of using substances to change the way we feel, we don’t immediately wish to connect to all our thoughts and feelings just because we are sober.
  7. Mental health problems are very common in recovery – Ask anyone in AA or NA meetings if they suffer from depression or anxiety, dual diagnosis takes months or sometimes years of therapy to treat, but at least you can go to therapy sessions sober now.
  8. Feeling lost and alone. Feeling lost and alone is a very normal experience coming out of any treatment. It’s also a very normal experience when you change your life.

A and NA meetings

Tips to successfully navigate early recovery

Life can get in the way of fully focussing on our recovery. It’s common to leave rehab feeling optimistic for the new start in life that you have, until real life and the realisation of responsibilities kicks in.

“But I need to work harder, I need to spend more time with the children, I need to spend more time with her or him, I need to spend more time alone.”

All of these thoughts will crop up into your mind from time to time,  it is part of the illness of addiction. Make your recovery your primary focus and you will be about to handle anything life throws at you in your first year. It will get easier.

Go to meetings. You may not like meetings, not everyone does, you may not like the people there. But remember the bigger picture – AA or NA/GA have saved millions of lives, and it can work for you too – if you work the programme.

Share in meetings and take those people you can relate to telephone numbers

Get a therapist that works within addiction

Get a sponsor and stick with one and call your sponsor regularly

As they say in AA: “avoid slippery places” and be mindful of events where people may drink more than normal, celebrations, Christmas etc,

Get a new group of sober friends, educate the old ones

Tell people that you do not drink/use before you are in the situation where they are offering you a drink, so they are prepared and don’t react by insiting you drink,

You do not have to give an explanation to people that you’re an ‘alcoholic or drug addict’ and you’ve just left a rehab or a psychiatric hospital or you are in therapy

Explain to all the people closest to you that you cannot drink or use. If they wish to drink or use you may not see them as often

It’s important to inform your GP about Smarmore so that they understand who is prescribing your medication and why

Be careful what you share in meetings and who you let into your life

If you need prescription medication visit a doctor and stick to the prescription guidelines,

There may be negative moments when you are angry with someone who cares about you and the idea of going back to drinking feels like a kind of revenge, you may think “I will show them, I will drink, then they’ll be sorry.” This type of thinking can happen in early recovery when we feel isolated or judged or misunderstood. This is why it is so important that you have contact details of people you can talk to who are available to you and understand what you are going through.

If you feel like expectations are too high from family see it from their point of view and explain that you are doing the very best you can, addiction is a chronic illness and takes a long time to recover from.

Work your program. The steps are in order. Do not start at step nine or simply maintain at step 3. The Steps and where to start

Read the big book. Yes it was written a long time ago, yes it was written by men, but it is the best place to start and it will help you they stayed sober so can you go on to read other books

Try not to intellectualise things. It is very tempting in early recovery to use psychobabble. It is wonderful in early recovery to go for coffee after the meeting and spend the entire session taking people’s inventory. None of this type of behaviour will help you stay sober.

Connect with your higher power. If your higher power is God then take time to pray.