First Year Growing Pains

I’ve talked about the beginnings of recovery a few times, but it’s a subject that demands a lot of attention as that first year is possibly the most important year on that journey. I’ve compared a newly recovered person to a baby before, and suggested you treat your new self as if you were a baby, with gentleness, care and protectiveness. (This is different from “babying” yourself where you absolutely avoid life as we are all grownups and simply must engage in life even if it seems like a daunting idea at the start.)

There are two kinds of “beginnings” in recovery—the one when you do it for the absolutely first time, and the one that you do if you happen to have a relapse.  They differ in that, with the first one, you really are starting all over and everything seems scary and new, but the second one (after a relapse) is hugely challenging, too. Some people get discouraged only because there’s a lot of guilt and shame associated with relapse and the feeling of “I can’t believe I have to do this all over again” can be quite prevalent (or “Why couldn’t I just get it the first time? Or the second, third… time?”). The commonality is that judging ourselves in regards to the type of “first” you’re having will do nothing much toward how well you do. What’s done is done and what matters is that you’re here and you’ve got another chance at life. So give yourself a break and take good care.

Photo by Joanna Nix on Unsplash

There’s a belief in recovery that within the first year, you should probably not get involved in anything that’s too emotionally – or otherwise – taxing. You might hear in the rooms of AA that it’s a bad idea to get into a new relationship, that it’s a bad idea to move, to have a child, to change jobs, to travel even. Ideally, yes, it would be beneficial if we could enclose ourselves in some kind of protective cone and focus entirely on getting sober—on attending meetings, therapy, and PRACTICING skills for long-term recovery such as craving management, relapse prevention, communication and so on. It would be ideal if we could spend a long time indeed just practicing without actually having to deal with real life, but the truth is some of us might not have that kind of possibility open to them. The truth is many people with substance use disorder who are newly sober will have to look for housing, will have to deal with uncooperative family members, with illness… and some of us will fall in love and will get a new job or travel opportunities. We can control our environment to some extent, but cannot schedule how our life is going to go no matter how hard we might try to control it.

If we’re able to attend an inpatient program, that is a great place to stabilize and use the time to indeed practice a lot of relapse-prevention skills, such as how to deal with cravings; many programs will also offer services that will help us with getting housing and dealing with legal issues. I cannot stress enough how beneficial those programs are to people who are re-starting their lives.

On the other hand, if attending such a program is not possible, what you can still do is that you are buffet yourself enough in your recovery so that when trouble (or a good thing!) happens, you are at least somewhat prepared and supported in how to deal with it. This is why good sponsors (or people who you trust in AA rooms if you attend meetings), good sober friends, family members who are “on-board” are crucial to you managing and dealing with whatever curve-balls life throws at you.

The most important thing to remember is: don’t isolate during your first steps of living a sober life. You are fighting for your success so treat it as a small battle – be brave and try to make new friendships, share in groups and in therapy, tell people what you’re struggling with, join online groups if you can’t make it to meetings, ask for suggestions, educate yourself, and no matter what happens try to always be in your warrior stance where Recovery is number one and everything else must come secondary. For now. With time, things will shift and you will be able to organically incorporate all your curve-balls and good things into your sober days but at first, immerse yourself into recovery in the best capacity you can. Treat it as if your life depends on it. It does.

 

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