Looking ahead at recovery can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, you’re excited to get started on your new life post-treatment. On the other hand, you’re filled with doubt and uncertainty over just how all this is going to work. What should you do? Just plunge ahead and hope for the best? Don’t put yourself in a stew, allowing your emotions to get the better of you. As many who have gone before you have learned, there are some good moves to make and some that aren’t so beneficial. Here are 10 best ways to start off in recovery that may also work for you.
Line Up Support
One of the most crucial components of effective recovery is the presence of a support network. Of the many different people that may prove to be a lifeline to you in times of crisis or concern, the two most important support networks are your family and 12-step groups. Of course, close friends also count, as do co-workers and others with whom you may come in contact.
What does it mean to line up support? First of all, your family knows – or should know – that you’re coming home from treatment for substance abuse or behavioral addiction. Let them know that you will really appreciate their support and encouragement as you transition back into society. It’s important that you have this discussion early, preferably before you walk through the door after being discharged from treatment. Make it brief and to the point. You can always have a good sit-down discussion when you’re home and getting back into the family routine.
It’s also a good idea to have your 12-step group locations mapped out in advance. Naturally, you won’t know from a listing you get off the Internet which ones will prove to be a good fit for you, so you should have several that you can check out in your first weeks of recovery. Go back and forth between them, perhaps alternating, or giving each group a few visits before checking out another one. In all, plan to attend any group a minimum of six times before you decide it’s not right for you. That’s because group members change from day to day, and you may need a week or more in order to find the pattern of attendance of some members whom you find similar to you or whose stories and demeanor you find appropriate to your circumstance.
Lining up these two support networks – family and 12-step groups – is the number one best way to start off in recovery. Right off the bat, you know you have allies and you have a place to go where people care about you and your desire to stay clean and sober.
Gather Your Thoughts
Everything may be a whirlwind in your thoughts at first. This is normal and to be expected. Just don’t let things overwhelm you when you first come home from treatment. You need some alone time to think over how best to approach the first stage of recovery. This is a good strategy to follow on a regular basis, not just the early days and weeks after treatment. First of all, you’ll want to have time by yourself to weigh and balance various options that you may wish to consider. Add goals to your recovery plan and revise them as you go along. Later on, invite your spouse or loved one to brainstorm ideas for goals you’re thinking about, but for now, concentrate on trying to determine what means the most to you.
Chief among your concerns should be taking care of your physical, emotional and psychological health. After treatment, which may have been quite rigorous and draining, you may have a bit of additional healing to do. You could be tired and a bit fearful of all the new responsibilities that await you in your life of sobriety. This is all the more reason to take some time each day to gather your thoughts. In a nutshell, make sure you allocate at least an hour each day to go over what went on that day, how it fits into your overall recovery plan, what you may wish to add for the next day or week, and any problems that need addressing. If you come up with other avenues to explore or areas that you want to improve, spend some time thinking about them as well.
Start Off Slow
The first 90 days of recovery are the most critical. It’s during this time that the most relapses occur. Some people are able to weather the first few days and weeks without falling out of sobriety – even if it is extremely difficult for them. But others aren’t so lucky. Whether it’s the beginning of recovery or a few months later, however, relapse can happen. Typically, relapse is more likely if an individual tries to push things too hard, do too much too soon, or feels a false sense of confidence leading to going back to old friends who use or places where drugs or alcohol are readily accessible.
To counter these triggers to use, make it a point to give your schedule some room to grow. What this means is that you should schedule – literally – your hours during the day to accommodate what’s absolutely essential during early recovery. This includes time you wake up, eat meals, do physical exercise, go to work, attend 12-step meetings, spend time with the family, and go to sleep. There should be blocks of time where you can meditate, pray, read, or work on hobbies as well. By working out a schedule for each day ahead of time, you’ll be better prepared to alter it when you have acquired more skills in coping with people, places and things that may otherwise cause you to use.
You need to start off slow so that you don’t become overwhelmed by all that you want or believe you need to do. Remember that recovery isn’t a race. You’re not trying to beat anyone else to a finish line. Recovery is a lifelong journey.
Practice Coping Skills
What you learned during treatment about how to cope with triggers – cravings and urges – is what you’ll need to practice in earnest now. It’s one thing to read about how to withstand an overwhelming craving for alcohol or drugs that wakes you up in the middle of the night, or how you can’t stop thinking about booze when you hear the sound of ice cubes tinkling in a glass. It’s another to actually be able to follow through and utilitze the coping mechanisms.
But you have to practice them if you ever expect to be able to get through those tough times. The reality is that no one knows when cravings and urges will occur. It could be a sound, sight or smell that sets off a powerful urge to go out and drink. You might be driving down the street from work and pass by the place where you used to drink or buy drugs and feel an overpowering urge to use again.
While you can’t expect to know right away which coping mechanisms work the best for you, and none will work all the time the same way, what you can expect is that with practice you will be able to readily discern which ones work in certain circumstances. Keep a log, if that helps, so you know what you can do when you experience a trigger. The good news is that most cravings and urges last only about 20 minutes. If you can get through them by using your coping mechanisms (distraction, counting, cleaning, crossword puzzles, calling your 12-step sponsor, etc.), you’ll not only have effectively overcome the craving, but you’ll also have the beginning of a manual, of sorts, of ways to help yourself stay sober in recovery.
Ease Back Into Work
For many in recovery, it’s not an option to stay out of work any longer following completion of treatment. Whether the treatment duration was 30-, 60-, 90-days or longer, when it’s completed one of the first things most people want and need to do is get back to work. Having said that, however, the last thing you want to do is jump right back into a full schedule right away. You need time to ease back into work.
Recovery experts recommend that you have a candid conversation with your boss or supervisor as soon as you return to work. Let your boss know that you learned a lot during treatment and you are fully committed to your recovery. It’s also important that your boss know that part of your recovery program involves attending 12-step meetings. This may mean going to meetings during lunchtime or before or after work. What’s most important to your employer is that you can be counted on, that you will be productive and not lose time from work. Reassuring your boss that you will gradually ease back into your assignments and will ramp up your productivity is key to having a work environment where you can build your self-esteem and self-confidence while producing viable results for the company.
If your old job was too stressful, you may need to consider changing jobs, asking to be reassigned to another department, or shifting some of your responsibilities to other employees temporarily. Be careful, however, that your co-workers don’t feel burdened by having to assume your workload. That could cause unnecessary resentment.
Limit Social Engagements
A well-rounded and healthy recovery process includes time for seeing friends and getting out to enjoy recreational, educational, and leisure time activities. But the first few weeks of recovery isn’t the time to start jamming up your social calendar. In fact, just the opposite is true. While you certainly can and should see some of your close friends and go to a movie or two, try to limit your social engagements during this early, crucial time of recovery.
Stick close to home, doing things with the family, or invite close friends to visit. There’ll be plenty of time down the line to ramp up your social engagements – when you’re more confident of your ability to effectively work the steps of your recovery.
No Major Life Changes
Recovery experts are quite emphatic about the recommendation to steer clear of any major life changes during the first year of abstinence. Why is that? Major life events such as marriage, divorce, having children, buying or selling a house, and jumping around to different jobs, among others, are extraordinarily stressful. You might think you can handle the turmoil that surrounds making such an important decision, but you’d be amazed at how little you actually are prepared for them when you do.
All the doubts and self-recrimination and guilt and second-guessing that normally happen are magnified ten-fold when you’re in recovery. You tend to blame yourself in advance for anything bad that might ensue. You wonder if you have the stamina, enough courage, or wisdom to even make the right decision. Often, in times of crisis, people in recovery make the absolute worst decision – and their sobriety suffers as a consequence.
You need stability in your life for the first year of recovery. So, unless it’s absolutely necessary, put off making any major life changes during this time.
If you still have counseling available to you as part of your overall recovery program, by all means take advantage of it. This is called continuing care or aftercare in the jargon of rehab programs. It may be an extra-cost service or it may be a part of your program. While many drug and alcohol rehab programs are only 30 days in duration, that’s simply not enough time for many people to be fully prepared to do what they need to in recovery.
If you don’t have additional counseling available to you as part of an ongoing aftercare program, look into getting therapy through low-cost or sliding-pay scale counseling services. Contact your treatment facility for a recommendation or referral. Your 12-step sponsor and fellow group members may also know of places where you can get free or inexpensive counseling.
Take Prescribed Medications
Just because you’ve completed treatment for substance abuse or other addictive behaviors doesn’t mean that you can ditch medications that have been prescribed for you by your doctors for continuing conditions. These may include prescription medications to combat anxiety or clinical depression, or medical conditions including heart disease or diabetes.
If you’re unable to sleep for nights on end, talk with your doctor and let him or her know that you are in recovery. Make sure that whatever is prescribed for you won’t affect your recovery. If you have a reaction or side-effect as a result of taking a prescribed medication, let your doctor know immediately so that the medication can be changed or dosage modified. Don’t just stop taking medication that has been prescribed for you – especially if it is recommended for you to continue taking following completion of treatment for substance abuse.
Find a Good Friend
Everyone needs a confidant, someone with whom to share experiences and conversation. When you’re in recovery, you want to know that you have such an individual that you can always turn to, someone who has your back, so to speak, who doesn’t judge you and respects you as a human being. For many in recovery, this good friend is actually a spouse or loved one. It is often a best friend from before treatment, or it can be someone you meet during the course of attending 12-step meetings.
Whoever this person is, if they’re a genuine friend, spend some time with him or her. Do things together that are not only beneficial for your continuing recovery, but help lift your spirits and give you an opportunity to laugh. Life should be enjoyable and you have every right to be happy in recovery. A good friend can be just the right addition to the mix of the best ways to start off in recovery.