The Pain of Renewal

Maybe it’s the promise of a warmer weather, my first foray to my happy place this spring (my lake retreat), or just a general feeling some of us get when it comes to the end of winter and return of sunshine, but it made me think about renewal and how recovery is exactly that. Some call it a “new lease on life,” some people will go as far as consider themselves re-born (and there’s a tradition in 12-step meetings to celebrate monthly and annual milestones of continuous sobriety), some people will simply acknowledge that there’s a brand new way of living available to us once we put our substances away.

Putting substances away is, of course, only a small part of this thing – there are many changes a newly sober person has to make, for some of us those changes might mean severing toxic friendships, changing place of employment, moving away, changing phone numbers… There are some people in recovery whose lives have to be altered so drastically it’s as if they have to now live under the witness protection program – they have to get away from everything they know because everything they know would lead to their demise. Minor and major renewals all around as we get sober and continue in our recovery.

Renewal is almost always good. Or I should say it’s always good, but it’s not always easy or obvious that it’s a good thing. For example, changing your social environment can be quite an ordeal. Severing ties with people close to us (with whom we used to use or who would trigger us) is difficult and can be emotionally traumatic even if it’s relieving and essentially good. Some people have to leave their husbands or wives, end loving relationships that had nurtured them as much as they hurt them. The choices can be really difficult. Sometimes it’s hard to see the benefits of isolating yourself socially from questionable influences because nothing is ever black and white—there are so many grey areas of human relationships. The same husband you used to drink with, is the same guy who brings you to your meetings, the dealer who sells you your drugs was there for you during your surgery, the bartender at your favorite dive has helped you deal with your divorce… the list of complicated relationships goes on. But self-preservation is the most important goal in early recovery. This is why sometimes we need to be ruthless and assess our relationships and our surroundings – do those things benefit or hinder my growth? If they hinder it, it’s time to re-evaluate.

Photo by Hanna Postova on Unsplash

The same goes for places that we call home or neighborhood or communities. Those fun drinking buddies and going to sporting events with your crew might no longer be on the menu. Same with after-work drinks at the agency. Same with Friday nights girls’ night out. Same with poker nights, boozy dinner parties, picnics, clubbing… you name it, whatever used to rock your boat. Right now, in recovery, those things will only sink your boat. Yes, it will take some time adjusting and yes you will miss all those activities and people and you will feel a huge amount of loss in many instances. But in the end, you will learn to replace all those gaps with different activities and different kinds of people—perhaps starting with some friendly folks in your recovery groups who can probably relate to this.

There’s a saying that there’s no renewal without erosion. It exists in nature – fall and winter erode and spring and summer are all about renewal. Perhaps the hardest job we all have – people with substance use disorder and just people in general – is to accept that there’s not one without the other. We all want warm days and sunshine and flowers but we cannot have those without the preceding winter months. The losses have to be acknowledged and honored and it’s okay to grieve (yes, even your relationship with that friendly dealer) so don’t beat yourself up about it. And you might not be so happy about your renewal just yet but with time, peace might come over you and you might be able to find your new happy places in recovery, in your new life. I wish you that.

 

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