No two individuals are likely to experience recovery from addiction the exact same way. This is because people are unique and each journey in life is different. There are certain commonalities that people in recovery are likely to experience so it is possible to describe progress in phases. Such descriptions are not exact but they can be useful as a guide. A common way to describe the phases of recovery includes:
* Initiation into treatment often refers to the first day of rehab or attempt at sobriety.
* Early recovery includes the initial withdrawals and the first few months of building a life in recovery.
* The recovery maintenance stage refers to the first two years of recovery. The individual settles into life away from alcohol and drug abuse.
* Advanced recovery is said to begin after the individual has been sober for more than 2 years.
Those who have reached the phase of advanced recovery can expect:
* Those who have reached advanced recovery usually claim that they rarely think about alcohol or drugs. The cravings can sometimes reappear but they are rare.
* The focus moves from staying sober to building a good life. The individual is now physically sober so they can turn their attention to becoming emotionally sober.
*Any lingering effects of post acute withdrawal syndrome should now have disappeared.
* The individual has gained confidence in their ability to stay sober. The idea that they are missing out on anything in life by not abusing substances will often have disappeared.
* Those people who are in advanced recovery should be able to cope more easily with stress because they have developed better coping mechanisms. They will now be better able to deal with the major life changes that they were told to avoid in early recovery.
* By the time that people reach this stage of their sobriety they will be in a position to start working towards making their dreams and aspirations a reality. These ambitions may involve work, hobbies, or personal goals.
* In early recovery the individual needs to work hard to overcome those major character flaws that will drive them to relapse. In advanced recovery the individual can begin chipping away at those other character flaws that get in the way of happiness – this work never ends.
* People in advanced recovery will be in a much better position to help other people. Even if they do not actively engage in any type of voluntary work with addicts they can still act as inspirations to those who are still struggling.
Making it to advanced recovery is a great achievement but it does not mean that the individual is cured from their addiction or that their problems are completely over. The most common mistakes that people make in advanced recovery include:
* Some people hold onto the dangerous idea that if they can stay away from alcohol or drugs for a couple of years they will be able to return to social drinking or responsible drug use. If the individual uses this logic as a justification for relapse they will end up back in the misery of their addiction.
* Another common mistake that people make when they hit advanced recovery is that they believe that they have graduated and no longer need to put any effort into staying sober. Many of the characteristics of the addictive personality
* Those people who have expectations for recovery that are too high may feel disappointed because their life is not perfect yet. This can lead to disillusionment with recovery and may be used as an excuse to relapse.
* Some people become stuck in advanced recovery because they are faced with challenges that they do not wish to deal with. These individuals may deal with being stuck by turning to other maladaptive behaviors such as exercise addiction or workaholism.
* The fact that people have now had a reasonable amount of time free from addiction means that they can begin to forget how bad it was back then. There is a well known saying that warns those who forget their mistakes are doomed to repeat them.
* Some people will continue to feel bad even though they have been now sober a long time. This may be because they are suffering from an untreated dual diagnosis (this could include something like depression) , and they will need to speak to a professional in order to receive help with this.
It is believed that many addicts share certain personality characteristics that make them prone to falling into maladaptive behaviors such as addiction. Even after the individual has become sober they can still have difficulties as a result of these character flaws. The negative traits associated with the additive personality include:
* Tendency to have symptoms of anxiety or depression.
* Feelings of insecurity in relationships.
* Antisocial tendencies.
* Low self esteem.
* The individual will usually feel that they have an excessive amount of stress in their life.
* Prone to attention seeking behavior.
* Those with the additive personality tend to value nonconformity.
* A tendency to act impulsively.
* They struggle to delay gratification.
* Feelings of alienation from the rest of society.
* Tend to view deviant behavior positively.
The character flaws associated with the addictive personality may mean that people will always be at risk of adopting maladaptive behaviors. It is therefore important that the individual chip away at these character flaws in advanced recovery so that they reduce their risk of relapse.
Once people have established themselves in physical sobriety they can next turn their attention to emotional sobriety. The founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W., described emotional sobriety as the next frontier for people who have escaped alcoholism. It will often have been an inability to deal with their emotions that drove the individual towards addiction in the first place. Emotional sobriety is often described as the ability of people to feel their feelings and it includes:
* The ability to live comfortably in the present moment. The individual does not spend most of their time planning the future or regretting the past.
* The ability to cope no matter what is happening in life. The individual has developed the coping skills to deal with all the vicissitudes of life.
* Those people who have developed emotional sobriety are far less likely to have to deal with strong emotions.
* They have developed a high degree of control over their own behavior.
* Such individuals will experience less stress in their life so they will also be likely to suffer from stress related illness.
* Those people who have developed emotional sobriety have no urge to ignore reality by turning to drugs or other forms of escape.
* Such individuals will usually hold a positive view on life and their future.
* They avoid extremes of mood.
Those who are in advanced recovery can develop emotional sobriety by:
* Facing the life challenges that come their way and overcoming these.
* Developing coping strategies that they can use to deal with any problems in life. The individual accumulates a toolbox of coping skills and eventually they will have a tool to suit every situation.
* Those people who are following a spiritual path are likely to find that this helps them develop emotional sobriety.
* Practices such as mindfulness meditation can allow the individual to understand their emotions better and develop a sense of mastery over them.
* Keeping a recovery journal allows people to chart their progress in developing emotional sobriety. Such progress can be slow and may only become obvious when people look back on past entries in their diary.
On page 83 of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book there is a description of what people can expect if they have followed the 12 Step program into advanced recovery. Those who do not belong to a 12 Step group can still enjoy these benefits so long as they put sufficient effort into emotional development. The promises include:
* Experiencing a new freedom and new happiness.
* No regrets about the past.
* Serenity and peace
* The ability to help other people
* An end to self pity and feelings of uselessness
* An end to selfishness
* No more financial insecurity
* An end to self seeking
* An improved attitude
* Intuition for how to handle any situation
* No more fear of people
The process of recovery from an addiction is said to last a life time. This is because there is always going to be room for improvement. Over the years the individual will be able to slowly chip away at their character flaws, but they are unlikely to ever eradicate them completely. There is always more work to be done. The suggestion that the task of recovery can never be completed might leave some people feeling a bit disappointed, but it shouldn’t do. The real aim is progress and not perfection. It is not necessary for the individual to have reached the end of the path before they are able to enjoy life. Real happiness is to be found in the process of working towards the goal and not the goal itself.
Serenity is often touted as the final goal of recovery. In its most basic terms the word serenity means being calm and tranquil, but for people in recovery this word means much more. Those who have developed this attribute are able to stay unruffled no matter what is happening in their life. This does not mean that they become some uncaring zombie. It just means that they never feel overwhelmed by things. The individual who enjoys serenity has this inner reserve of peacefulness that seems to never be affected by the outside world. As the years go by it is usual for people in recovery to experience periods of serenity. If the individual continues to work on their sobriety it will mean that these periods get longer. Eventually the individual reaches a stage where they feel serenity almost all the time.
The development of serenity is not some magical or unexplainable event. One of the main reasons it occurs is that the individual has developed sufficient coping skills to deal with any problem that comes their way in life. This means that no matter what is happening in the life of the individual they know how to react. The individual has developed a sense of mastery over their own life so that living becomes almost effortless. Under such conditions it is easy for serenity to arise.