Beginning the Journey into Sobriety
Those who have managed to escape an addiction are about to set out on a marvelous journey into sobriety. The individual will need to pass through various stages and one of the first will be early recovery. At this stage the life in sobriety will feel new and fresh, and it will be the job of the individual to get used to this new way of living. Early sobriety can be like a foundations for a house so it is vital that that the individual progresses successfully through this stage. This phase of sobriety is also the most treacherous and it is when people will be most at risk of relapse back to their addiction.
Phases of Recovery
No two recoveries are going to be the exact same, but it is appropriate to break down development in recovery into phases. These are helpful because they give the individual an idea of what they can expect. The phases of recovery include:
- Initiation into recovery. For many people this will occur in rehab.
- Early recovery refers to the first few months of sobriety when the individual will need to adapt to living with alcohol or drugs.
- Recovery maintenance. The individual is beginning to settle into recovery, but they need to continue to put work into staying sober.
- After about two years the individual enters advanced recovery. This does not mean that they are cured, but doing the things that keep them sober can feel like second nature.
Transition from Rehab to Home
One of the most treacherous periods for people in early recovery is the transition from rehab to home. This is because the individual will be moving from an environment where they are relatively protected to one where they will be faced by familiar temptations. If the individual is not ready for this transition there is a high risk that they will relapse.
Preparation for the return to home should begin almost from day one in rehab. This is because the goal of this inpatient program is to prepare people for sober living in the real world. The rehab will be able to offer the resources that the client will need to prepare themselves for the transition. At the end of the day, it will be up to the individual to make the best use of these resources. It is important not to underestimate the challenge of this move from rehab to the real world. The fact that people feel a bit of trepidation about the move can be a good sign – it shows that they are taking things seriously.
Emotional Rollercoaster in Early Recovery
Early recovery is often described as an emotional rollercoaster. This is because during this time the individual may have to deal with extreme emotions that may at times appear to be out of control. The reasons for why such emotional swings occur include:
- Withdrawal symptoms can interfere with people’s mood.
- Insomnia is common in early recovery and this can make people emotional.
- When people become sober they are faced with the wreckage of their past actions. This can be difficult to face and lead to extreme emotional feelings.
- For years the addict will have been numbing their emotions with chemicals. They are no longer used to feeling things so it can appear as if their emotions are quite intense.
- During the early weeks and months of recovery the individual will be expected to make some major changes in their life. This can be difficult for them and involve a great deal of stress.
- The individual may be experiencing these problems as a result of nutritional deficiencies that occurred while they were addicted.
Dangers in Early Recovery
Early recovery is a stage when people are most likely to relapse back to their addiction. The most common dangers during this time include:
- Spending time with old drinking and drugging buddies. These people can tempt the newly sober person back to addiction.
- Spending time in wet places such as bars. In Alcoholics Anonymous they warn that if you spend enough time in a barber shop you will eventually get your hair cut.
- Those who take their recovery for granted can fail to do the things they need to do in order to stay sober.
- Some people will believe that the fact they are no longer abusing substances means they are cured. This fails to take into account the reality that the reason they turned to alcohol or drugs in the first place is likely to be still there.
- Pink cloud syndrome can lead to overconfidence.
- If the individual in early recovery fails to be vigilant for relapse triggers they may be caught unawares.
- Those people who have expectations for early recovery that are unrealistically high are likely to end up being disappointed. They may use their disappointment as justification for a relapse.
- Ambivalence is dangerous for people in recovery. It means that they are still not completely convinced about the need for lifelong abstinence, and this means that their recovery is on shaky ground.
- Some individuals appear to need more support than others in recovery. It is probably preferable to have too much support than too little.
- Those individuals who were highly motivated in rehab can run out of steam in early recovery. This is why it is advisable to take action in order to maintain motivation – for example, some rehabs offer booster sessions.
Dangers of Pink Cloud Syndrome
It may sound like a bizarre claim but feeling too good can actually be dangerous for people in early recovery. Pink cloud syndrome is a term that is often used negatively in recovery to describe newly sober individuals who have become too high on life. The reason for judging such happiness negatively is not about being a killjoy. The dangers or pink cloud syndrome include:
- The individual can feel so good that they begin to wonder if they are cured.
- The fact that things are going so well can mean that the individual stops doing the things that have been keeping them sober.
- The pink cloud always ends and the individual can hit the earth with a bang. This can lead to a great deal of disappointment and people can react to this by relapsing back to their addiction.
How to Successfully Navigate Early Recovery
There are things that people can do in order to increase their chances of successfully navigating early recovery including:
- Staying sober has to be the priority for people in early recovery.
- It is often suggested that people avoid making any additional major changes to their life in early sobriety. This is because they will already have too much to deal with.
- Some people do appear to benefit greatly from membership in a recovery fellowship. This may not be a good option for everyone, but it is certainly worth considering.
- The individual needs to be aware of the common relapse triggers such as hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness (the acronym HALT makes these easier to remember).
- Willingness is the key to success in recovery. So long as people are willing to do what it takes to stay sober they will eliminate their risk of relapse.
- Beginners mind is the best mental attitude to have in recovery. It means that the individual does not allow their old beliefs and opinions to prevent them from gaining new knowledge.
- It is often suggested that so long as people remain grateful for their recovery they will never relapse.
- If people who get sober just wait for the good things in life to come their way they are likely to end up disappointed. The newly sober person has to take action and be willing to take the steps necessary to find success in life.
- It is important to always keep in mind that recovery is a process and not an event. Giving up alcohol and drugs is just the beginning.
- People become stuck in recovery when they are faced with something that they do not wish to deal with. Becoming stuck in recovery often leads to relapse or new maladaptive behaviors such as workaholism.
- The individual needs to be aware of how the addictive personality can get them into trouble. Over time the individual will be able to chip away at these character flaws.
- It is vital that people have realistic expectations for early recovery. It is unlikely that their life became a mess overnight so it will also take a long time to fix things.
- The individual should never have conditions on their sobriety – for example, they will only stay sober if people are nice to them.
- People in early recovery need to understand that they are likely to have bad times in the future. This is because nobody gets a completely free ride in life – all humans need to deal with ups and downs.