There’s a misconception that with sobriety your life becomes amazing as you bask in the happiness of clean living and all of your problems seem easier to solve—that is if you have any problems at all! I’m exaggerating, of course, nobody believes it’s really that easy but many still believe that becoming sober or clean is like walking through some kind of a magic door that leads to paradise. For some it might. For some sobriety is a straight road to a better, happier, healthier life. For many others it isn’t.
It is often that, in sobriety, people learn about what used to underlay their drinking or using – trauma, mental-health illness, combinations of all other factors that need to be dealt with. For many of us it turns out that substance use was even a necessary evil, a coping mechanism that helped us get through life’s troubles that could otherwise destroy us completely. Some of us drank to deal with abusive situations at home, some used drugs to dull the memories of childhood traumas, some used substances to fight depression or quiet the voices of mania. Once you take the substances away, there you are, still left with your issues and all the emotional and psychological fallout from them.
This is why for a lot of us recovery – and especially early recovery – can be quite hellish, quite the opposite of what we expect. Sober and clean, we are now facing a reality with no option to hide from it and its ugliness, however that ugliness presents. Sober and clean, some of us have to deal with divorces, courts, finding housing or employment. All kinds of stressful events that would normally trigger us into using again present themselves. This is why it’s important to make recovery your Number One—for as long as it takes for your brain and your body to adapt to reality of dealing with life on life’s terms.
What does making recovery your Number One mean? It means attending your support groups, whether those are AA meetings or some other form of connecting with people like you. It means re-learning some of the basics of living such as eating a healthy diet, exercising, taking care of your busy, panicked mind in the form of meditation or even through reading self-help books. It also means talking to professionals about the issues that you might discover have been buried under the cloak of addiction. It might mean taking medication for your depression or bipolar disorder, and it might mean signing up for therapy to deal with your anxiety (cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, mindfulness based stress reduction – something that you will find beneficial for your particular issue). There might be a lot of trial and error in the beginning when trying to find out which medication is right for you and before that, which diagnosis fits. Psychology is not a perfect science, and as it is with anything that needs perfecting, getting ourselves better takes time and it’s not instantly successful.
Your main job and motivation is to under no circumstances revert to drugs or alcohol to help you cope. I’m not pontificating – I’m simply stating one truth about addiction, which is that it is a chronic disease and that it will try to get you when you’re most vulnerable – so watch out for it. I believe that dealing with whatever trouble surfaces in your sober life will be better dealt with while sober than high or hungover or in other state of disrepair (despair) related to your addiction. Sometimes it will take all your strength -mental, physical, spiritual – to get through the day when things get tough but once you get through it once, you’ll have proof that it’s possible. Then, next time you come across an obstacle, you’ll know that you’ve dealt with it in the past without the aid of alcohol or drugs. Even if your trouble is ongoing and depleting you from whatever inner resources you have, please know that there are many others like you who have succeeded and who were able to face their reality. Those are the people you will meet in meetings or therapy; those are the people you can read about in memoirs, see documentaries or movies about – let them inspire you.
There is a great quote by Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” And I will add, don’t stop, don’t look at the flames and don’t look back – time and perseverance will lead you to an exit. And the next time hell comes, you’ll hopefully have the map and will be able to navigate a solid escape.
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