Building a successful life in recovery requires plenty of effort. Ending the substance abuse is the most crucial step, but it is only the beginning. This is why recovery is often referred to as a process and not an event. In order to keep their recovery on track the individual will need to overcome many challenges. Once people have established themselves firmly in sobriety they will become more skilled at dealing with obstacles in their path. They will never reach a point where there are no more challenges to face, but they may develop the ability to deal with any problem almost effortlessly.
In 12 Step groups it is frequently stated that, pain is the touchstone of growth in recovery. This is the view that challenges are like exams along the path of sobriety. If the individual passes the exam they can move forward, but if they fail then they need to re-sit the test. These challenges help the individual put their new coping strategies to the test. They can then find out if these tools actually work or if it is time to go back to the drawing board. Instead of seeing problems as the enemy they can actually be viewed as the greatest friend people can have. It is nice when life is going well, but this is a time when there is not much progress in human development.
As the individual learns to cope with different challenges they become more skilled at facing them in the future. They build an armory of tools that they can use for almost any situation. If they are persistent then they will likely reach a stage where they are unruffled by the vicissitudes of life. They automatically know how to handle any situation and enjoy a wonderful sense of inner peace most of the time. This type of deep serenity is the reward for dealing with life on life’s terms. Such a state is not reached overnight and only develops from a willingness to keep on meeting new challenges in recovery.
The relapse process begins when people become stuck in their recovery. They are faced with a challenge but feel unwilling, or unable, to confront it. Recovery is driven forward by facing these obstacles in their path so when people refuse to deal with them it stalls their recovery. They are then on shaky ground as their life becomes increasingly stressful. Such an individual will usually turn to inappropriate coping mechanisms as a way to deal with their dissatisfaction and inner turmoil. This path eventually leads them right back to alcohol or drugs.
There may be a number of reasons for why people run away from challenges in recovery such as:
* Some people will have unrealistic expectations of what life should be like away from alcohol or drugs. They believe that by just giving up the abuse their new improved life should just fall into place without any real effort. When such people are faced by challenges they feel cheated. Instead of viewing these obstacles as a chance to grow they view them as evidence that life in recovery is a disappointment. Such people can be described as suffering from dry drunk syndrome.
* Early recovery is an emotional rollercoaster and people may experience pink cloud syndrome. They go through a period where everything feels effortless, and they begin to believe that all their problems are in the past. This can be aly satisfying time in recovery, but it can also be dangerous if people are not prepared for it to end. The pink cloud concludes when the individual is once again faced with a challenge. They may react to abrupt end to their pink cloud experience by becoming disillusioned and feeling unwilling to put any more effort into their recovery.
* A fear of facing challenges is often what drives people into addiction in the first place. The use alcohol and drugs as a way to hide from their problems. If they continue with this attitude in recovery they will always be looking for ways to avoid facing reality.
* During the first few weeks of recovery it is vital that people develop new coping strategies. They can pick up these skills in rehab or by attending some type of outpatient program or fellowship. The old coping strategies that the addict will have used to deal with life were ineffective; this is why their life ended up in such a mess. They need to develop new strategies in order to face the challenges that lie ahead.
* Some people lack the real motivation to stay sober. They may have felt coerced into quitting their addiction and are just looking for an excuse to relapse. Instead of viewing challenges as a means to grow in recovery they just see them as a good reason to return to substance abuse.
* There are many individuals who have a mental health condition such as depression alongside their addiction. Until they receive adequate treatment for both aspects of their dual diagnosis they will struggle with the challenges that appear on their path.
Self-efficacy is the belief and individual has in their ability to achieve a goal. If their self-efficacy is low then even small challenges may appear like insurmountable obstacles. There are a number of ways that self-efficacy can be increased including:
* Through personal experience. If the individual manages to accomplish something it gives them increased confidence that they will be able to do the same in the future.
* Motivational conversations and materials. If people can be convinced of their ability to achieve a goal then this will increase their self-efficacy. This type of motivational input can come from a therapist or even from books.
* Observing a peer achieve the same goal. This encourages people to think, well if they can do it, so can I.
Here are just some of the common challenges that people will usually face during the early months and years of recovery:
* The first challenge that people will face will be developing new coping strategies. Doing things the old way did not prove affective so a new approach is required. Those who attend a rehab will usually devote a great deal of time to finding out about new coping strategies and testing these out.
* The transition from rehab to home can be a particularly stressful time for people. Unless the individual has been adequately prepared it can fell like a challenge to leave the protected environment of the rehab.
* Early sobriety is a time when people start rebuilding their relationships. This can be a challenge because not everyone will be willing to forgive and forget easily. They newly sober can find it upsetting to find that friends and family still do not trust them. It may feel like these other people are just waiting for them to relapse. Action is far more impressive than words, and the only way that the individual can rebuild trust is by building a good life in recovery. It takes time and they may have to accept that some relationships are damaged beyond repair – accepting this can be the hardest challenge of all.
* Finding purpose in recovery. For years the life of the addict will have revolved around drugs. This focus point will no longer be there and so the person in recovery needs to find a new purpose in life. In order to find success in recovery the individual needs to have a sense of purpose. This can be found in fellowships, spiritual endeavors, or new hobbies.
* Boredom is a potential relapse trigger. It is therefore essential that the individual finds new ways of spending spare time. In the past most of their day may have been focused on using or obtaining drugs so they will likely have plenty of extra time on their hands now. People can use this time to rekindle old interests or find new ones, usually a combination of both.
* Working to eliminate character flaws. People in recovery are unlikely to ever achieve perfection, but it is recommended that they constantly try to improve themselves. Everyone will have character flaws such as anger, jealousy, laziness, and selfishness. While completely eliminating these may not be possible it is important to keep trying to do so.