Starting Over: Embracing Life in Recovery
It can be the best of times or the worst of times, to paraphrase the opening sentence of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. What we’re referring to is the journey you begin after rehab for substance abuse or other addictive behavior, the phase when you start recovery. Many people are scared to death to start over. Not only has rehab been filled with uncertainty and ambivalence, even with the best intentions, the prospect of living clean and sober is almost too much to contemplate.
What’s a person to do? Here are some suggestions for that whole starting over period. The essence of all of it is to embrace life in recovery.
Get Out Your Magic Eraser
Imagine that you possess a magic eraser that can wipe away all the smudges and black marks you believe you have accumulated during your history of substance abuse or other addictive behavior. Once you’ve gone through treatment and are beginning your path of recovery, visualize yourself scrubbing that magic eraser over all the things you’ve said, thought, and done that you regret. It’s a do-over, of sorts, in that this conscious thought allows you to take the sting out of those maladaptive elements from your past.
No, this doesn’t absolve you from responsibility for your past actions. But it does help you to recognize that who you are today is whom you choose to be. You are no longer characterized by your addiction. In other words, your addiction doesn’t define you. And it can’t unless you let it.
So, give yourself some quiet time and make all that guilt, shame, remorse, and regret disappear from your waking thoughts. Getting rid of it gives you more energy to focus on doing the things to jumpstart your recovery.
Put Your House in Order
Think of your life now as getting ready to redecorate a house that’s been made ship-shape by renovation. In your case, the renovating was learning about your addiction, how to avoid triggers to use, coping strategies for dealing with cravings and urges, some relapse prevention techniques, and the importance of creating healthy relationships and living a more productive lifestyle sans drugs, alcohol, gambling, or any other addictive behavior.
Now that you’ve completed rehab, you’ve got some essential building blocks – a recovery toolkit – and, armed with a whole new outlook, it’s time to set about cleaning up and redecorating your house. This may or may not mean literally redecorating where you live. If you have the time and can afford it, go ahead and redecorate. But a new coat of paint, some fresh window coverings or just laundering the curtains, cleaning the carpets and floors, scouring the appliances and so on is also a good start.
The idea is to air out and freshen up the place where you spend a great deal of your time. This is your castle, your private sanctuary, where you heal and meditate and make your ongoing recovery plans.
Enlist the help of your family members and/or close friends as you go through your home and give it a thorough cleaning. There’s nothing like a fresh, clean and inviting place to come home to each day – especially in early recovery when little things mean a lot.
Get Rid of the Have-Tos and Focus on the Want-Tos
Maybe you’ve gotten a lot of unsolicited advice from well-meaning friends, co-workers, your boss, even your family members on what you should be doing now that you’re out of rehab. That’s all well and good except for one thing: It’s your recovery that you need to be focused on, not what someone else thinks is best for you. You need to keep this first and foremost in your mind.
Now that you’ve gone through treatment, you’ve likely got a pretty good idea of where you stand relative to your current capabilities. Sure, you will need a lot more practice developing your effective coping skills, learning how to communicate better with others, creating schedules and sticking to them, and creating goals that you work toward, but these are all integral to your recovery.
Early recovery will be a lot easier and more productive if you concentrate on the things you want to do to make progress in your life of abstinence – instead of things other people tell you that you have to do.
The only thing you have to do is work on your recovery. Everything else is secondary. This includes demands from your family, friends, and even your employer. Sure, they are important, but if your recovery stalls because you didn’t pay attention to what matters to you and your sobriety, everything else will suffer as well.
Start Off Right in 12-Step Meetings
You know you need to get involved in self-help groups and attend regular 12-step meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and the like. Depending on your type of addiction – whether it was for substance abuse or process addictions such as compulsive gambling, compulsive sexual behavior, overwork, or a co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorder – there are 12-step groups geared toward proving the support you need.
And you do need the support of people who, just like you, have gone through this metamorphosis of overcoming addiction and are working to sustain a clean and sober life. There’s only one way to start off right in 12-step meetings and that is to start going to them right away. If you are in the very first weeks of recovery, go as many times a week and multiple times each day if that’s what works for you. Don’t allow yourself to feel overwhelmed or uncertain about what to do when there are caring, nonjudgmental people in the rooms who can lend an understanding ear, offer encouragement, and help you with suggestions as to how they were able to navigate the tough times.
You also want to get a sponsor as soon as you can. This is an individual who has committed to helping newcomers to recovery – people just like you – get comfortable with the whole 12-step philosophy, how the group works, what the steps are and how to approach them, and being there when you need help the most.
Neither your 12-step sponsor nor the group itself provides counseling services. A.A., N.A., and the others do not provide treatment. For that you need to go to professional counselors or therapists. But the supportive environment of the 12-step fellowships is the second-most important part of your support network – the other being your family – and is integral to you being able to embrace life in recovery.
Don’t know where to find a meeting? All you need to do is go online to their websites, Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous – or do an online search for the type of addiction and put the word anonymous after it. You’ll receive listings of 12-step groups and you can go from there. You can also look up the group name in the Yellow Pages. On the 12-step group’s website, you’ll be able to find where meetings are held in your area as well as group meeting locations internationally. Many groups also offer online or telephone chat meetings.
Sit Down with Family to Discuss Your Needs
If you live with family, it’s also vital that you sit down with them to discuss your needs. No, this isn’t where you tell them that you’re going to do this or that. What you really want to impart is your sincere commitment to being abstinent, your focus on doing what’s right for your recovery, and that you appreciate their support and encouragement as you begin your recovery journey. You may wish to have several discussions with family members, some of which you conduct separately. For example, you’d probably want to discuss your new sobriety with your spouse or partner first – before you have the entire family sit down at the table for a heart-to-heart.
For many who have just returned home from rehab, there’s a whole built-in set of expectations and/or fears. On the one hand, you may have been gone for an extended period of time and the bills have piled up, discipline has been lax, the kids’ grades may have plummeted in your absence, and everyone is in a state of uncertainty. The family is looking to you to provide stability, a return to normalcy, to get back to feeling okay again. This is all fine and good except that you cannot just jump back into a maelstrom of stress and pressure. This may have the profoundly negative effect of precipitating relapse – and that’s definitely not what you or anyone else wants.
It’s much better to take it slowly, to ease yourself back into your normal routine of going to work, school, doing your everyday activities – after you’ve tended to what is at the top of your daily list of things to focus on for your recovery.
After a month or so of easing in at home, work, and school, you may be ready to take on a bit more. But don’t rush things. And if tensions build up, you get frazzled, frustrated, or feel like you’re in over your head, pull back and concentrate harder on simplifying your life. Too much stress and tension could have been a contributing factor in what got you in trouble before with substance abuse or other addictive behavior.
All you’re really asking for is understanding and patience. That’s not too much, considering that you have a lifetime ahead in recovery.
About Your Job
Not everyone who completes rehab has a job to go back to. If you were fired or let go as a result of your substance abuse, or they couldn’t hold your position while you were in treatment, or you were unemployed to begin with, now you have an opportunity and a need to find a new job.
Recognize that being self-sufficient is an important factor in your ability to maintain effective long-term recovery. When you have a job and can take care of yourself and your family, you begin to build – or, in many cases, rebuild – self-esteem, self-confidence and hope. So, having a job to go to each day is important in more ways than one. It’s actually a linchpin of effective recovery.
It may take you some time to find a new job. You may need to go back to school to finish or resume your education, learn a new skill, or undertake some brush-up classes to be more marketable. Maybe you do have a job that’s been held for you, but you’d really like to move into something else. That takes planning and a strategy to get what it is you want and where you want to go.
All that this means is that there’s good news about your job. Going to work is a testament of your self-sufficiency. It helps build your reserves of self-confidence and self-esteem. It helps give you the foundation to change careers or move up where you currently work. Your job is right up there as one of the building blocks that can help you start over and embrace life in recovery.
All Work and No Play…
You’ve undoubtedly heard this proverb before, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Anyone who ever took a typing class in business school likely is quite familiar with it. What we mean by using it here is that you need an outlet in recovery. Life isn’t all about making schedules, going to meetings, getting up and going to bed at the same time every day, watching your diet, getting exercise, and so on.
In other words, you need some playtime in your life. And, no, that’s not being excessive. It’s not a luxury, not something that’s out of the question just because you’re in recovery. Frankly, since you are in recovery, taking time to enjoy yourself with healthy activities and relationships is an excellent way to add joy to your day and embrace life in recovery.
How you set aside your time to play is entirely up to you. But it doesn’t have to be elaborate or take a lot of your day to be worthwhile. If you love reading, be sure to have a favorite book ready to pick up and lose yourself in it for a few minutes when you have an opportunity. Let’s say music really gets you enthused. Play your CDs, tune the car radio to your favorite stations so your ride to/from work, school, 12-step meetings and errands is soothing and relaxing.
Maybe you really like getting out there and hitting the courts for tennis or racquetball. Get involved in pickup basketball games in the neighborhood, or join a ski club or fishing group or go for hikes with a community group or friends from the neighborhood.
Do things with the family, too. That way, you’ll be getting enjoyment out of your playtime and you’ll also be spending quality time with them. Everyone wins.
Think of playtime as a much-needed opportunity to unwind, relax, and rejuvenate. It doesn’t take that much out of your day and the rewards far outweigh the minimal time you’re involved. Everything that you’ve got scheduled or planned for your day will still be there once you’ve taken a brief respite. The difference is that you’ll be so much more attuned and ready to embrace it once you’ve played a little.
Finally, Allow Yourself to Dream
Way back when you first began rehab, you may have thought that the road ahead would be difficult, perhaps impossible. Clean and sober may have seemed out of reach for you, particularly if you were addicted for a very long time or had multiple addictions. Now that you’re in recovery, the future is probably still a bit cloudy, maybe even fogged in.
That will all change in time. But as you move forward with your recovery plans, charting goals and putting down action items for how you get there, you will start to see a bit further into the distance. The horizon will seem to stretch away, allowing you to see more choices as they appear in your life.
And they will appear. Give yourself permission to dream. Remember that while you live in the present today, the actions you take today, the plans you lay down, and the hopes and dreams you have, will fashion the tomorrow of your recovery.
When you feel yourself lifted up by your dreams, energized by your enthusiasm, filled with hope and joy, you will truly know that you have embraced life in recovery. All things are possible. Believe it, work hard at it, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Read More About Attitude and Drug Addiction Recovery