When you started addiction recovery, you probably thought that drugs were your biggest enemy. You fought hard through detox and rehab to extricate yourself from the hold those substances had on you. You probably believed that once you got away from them, your life would be easy again. You would never flirt with addiction again.
In rehab, however, you learned that overcoming addiction is not easy. It is not just about getting the drugs out of your system — you need to develop a whole new relationship with yourself through education and personal growth. As it turns out, addiction isn’t as much about the drugs as it is about your physical and mental make-up and your emotional status. Addiction recovery requires a complete personal lifestyle overhaul.
The Stages of Addiction Recovery
Addiction is a complicated disease that even medical experts don’t know everything about. Part of it is a physical reaction to continued use of a substance, and part is an emotional response.
The human body is capable of adapting to a wide variety of circumstances, but there are limits. Substance abuse often pushes the body to those limits, creating unsustainable habits. Ultimately, addiction affects brain chemistry, which is an even tougher process to un-do.
Step 1: Detox
The first step in addiction recovery is detox. It is important to get the toxic substances out of your body as soon as possible. While you continue to use drugs, their effects on your physical health are compounded. Depending on the substance of choice and the amount of use, detox can be a dangerous process. You should never begin without around-the-clock, professional supervision.
Detox will bring on withdrawal symptoms that can be uncomfortable in some cases. Professional intervention can help alleviate them. Professional intervention can also ensure you withdrawal safely, that your vital functions are working as your organs give up their reliance on the drugs. Most withdrawal symptoms subside within several hours or a couple of weeks. With the toxins out, your body will begin the long-term healing process.
Some people think that detox is all you need to overcome an addiction. Getting the substances out of your body and returning your body chemistry to normal is a big step. It can take your body some time to figure out how to function again without those toxins. Detox alone, however, will not end your addiction. Getting clean and sober will not last without rehabilitation.
Step 2: Rehab
A good rehab program is essential to overcoming addiction. Once the immediate physical symptoms of withdrawal have passed, you need behavioral therapy to keep from using drugs again. Recovery is different for everyone, but there are some common elements. Rehabilitation deals with changing your habits, so you do not go back to using again.
Habits are formed by thought patterns, which is why they are difficult to change. A rehab program will include various therapies that help you examine your thought processes to determine what led you to addiction in the first place. In many cases, there is an underlying mental or behavioral health illness that contributed to the addiction. You need to address any underlying conditions — otherwise you are likely to start using again for the same reasons.
Behavior modification is also a key part of rehab. When you are in the habit of taking a drink every day after work, it is hard to suddenly come home one day and not drink. Habits are like subconscious behaviors: We do them without thinking about them. In addiction rehab, you learn what to do instead of taking that drink after work. You learn how to restructure your life, so it is not built around people and places where you get high.
Step 3: Long-term Recovery
After successfully completing detox and a rehab program, you will feel pretty good — you’ve figured out and addressed many of the problems in your life. The main sources of your depression or anxiety are dealt with in rehab, so you don’t feel the urge to escape unwanted emotions by drinking or using drugs. In many ways, you feel whole for the first time in a long time.
Completing rehab is a great milestone to mark on your journey to a healthy life, but it is not the final step. Recovery is something you will continue for the rest of your life. At each stage of your personal development, your recovery may look a bit different, but you will still be in recovery.
Personal Growth in Addiction Recovery
The underlying theme of addiction recovery is personal growth. Although each addiction is different, one commonality is that it’s born out of a desire to escape. Whether you chose drugs specifically as a means of escape, or you discovered the euphoric feeling a substance provided you and continued seeking it, there is a sense of escape. Often, you don’t realize what is happening to you until it is too late.
To stop craving the escape, you have to learn to face your emotions. Substantial personal growth takes place in rehab at the beginning of this journey. You start by figuring out what you are afraid of, what realities or emotions you do not want to face and what it is about yourself that you do not like. Then, the growth continues as you learn to face those emotions and move past them. Keep in mind that:
- Addiction recovery is a long journey to yourself. As you grow, you develop a better relationship with yourself. You learn self-care and self-respect. This is the part of addiction recovery that many people refer to as an onion because there are many layers to it. As you proceed through one aspect of personal growth, another challenge is revealed. You continue getting better one step at a time.
- Personal growth is a lifelong process. During rehab, you complete enough of your growth to be able to function without your drug of choice. Following rehab, though, you are still very vulnerable. More growth has to take place for you to be confident in your sobriety. As you grow, you understand what you need in your life to be healthy and happy. Rehab gives you the strategies to go out and rebuild your life, your career, your relationships.
- Rebuilding takes time. You will gain strength and confidence over time, but there is always more to learn. Addiction recovery takes a lifetime, during which you continue to rebuild, develop new healthy habits, work your program, and become more comfortable with yourself.
When you achieve sobriety, there is a lot of fear around relapse. Part of it is just having the wrong mindset. Sobriety is not something you achieve, as if it happens in one moment. Instead, it is a condition that you work to achieve and maintain. People who have not suffered from addiction maintain sobriety always. While you were actively drinking, sobriety alluded you. Now that you’re in recovery, you are sober and maintaining.
Relapse is also not something that happens in one particular moment, such as tripping on a crack in the sidewalk. Relapse is the result of a deterioration of your recovery behaviors. Rehab has taught you how to live a sober life, and in recovery that is what you do. If you stop following your program, eventually you will slide back into old habits, and addiction will be right there again.
Maintaining sobriety is a life-long process — not a one-time happening. Life is a journey, and now that you are in recovery, it is a healthier, happier one. You are still responsible for where your life journey takes you, so you want to develop a strategy to build and maintain a clean and sober lifestyle. To achieve long-term sobriety, you should:
Set Goals and Work Toward Them
Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. While rehab might have taught you that busy work is just another way you distract yourself from the emotions you do not want to face, no work at all is the other extreme that can have an equally bad outcome.
Life needs momentum — you have to be working toward something. The safest way to carry out that work is to plan it carefully. Set a healthy goal and work toward it. Decide to learn a new skill or develop a new behavior. Make a plan for how to achieve your goal and set a particular timeframe. You may wish to take a class or join a club.
Structure is an important part of life in recovery. By setting goals, you are creating the structure in your life that you need to succeed. Making a plan for how to achieve your goal gives you something to focus on each day as you move closer to attaining your goal. Success is a great feeling that you can experience each time you reach a milestone.
Remember to break your goals down into smaller steps. A goal that takes five years to achieve, with no measurable milestones along the way, will not inspire you to strive. Instead, break it down into smaller goals that build on one another. This way, you can celebrate success every once in a while.
Continue to Attend Meetings or Therapy
The day you think you do not need your program anymore is the day you start to relapse. No matter how good you feel or how confident you are in your sobriety, remain humble. Remember that working your program is what got you to this point.
You have to think of recovery as a new way of life — not a program that starts and ends. It’s not a diet, but a new way of eating for life. Not going to meetings anymore is not a reward for sobriety. Actually, the further you are into your sobriety, the more you should attend the meetings. They represent the basis for your new healthy lifestyle.
If you are feeling complacent, you might want to make some changes to your routine. Try going to meetings at a different time or location to meet new people. If you feel as if you are in a therapy rut, ask your therapist for some ways to shake things up. Not going to meetings or canceling therapy sessions is not the answer.
Volunteer and Help Others
A great way to reinforce your recovery program and continue your personal growth is to help others. The act of volunteering keeps you humble and provides a way to give back for all the help you’ve received along the way. No one recovers from addiction alone — you have had plenty of help. When you interact with people who are not as well-off as yourself, you gain perspective on your world.
When we take a look at the stats, it’s clear that volunteering is a popular activity:
- 62.6 million Americans volunteered their time at least once during 2015
- 27.8 percent of women volunteered their time in 2015
- American men volunteered at a rate of 21.8 percent in 2015
By volunteering in a recovery program, you can also review some of the lessons you learned earlier in your own program. Helping others through a difficult time reinforces your own understanding of basic recovery principles. Sometimes focusing on someone else’s problems gets you out of your own head where you might be obsessing about something beyond your control.
Helping others is a way to practice balance in your life, also. In rehab, you learned to care for yourself, and throughout your recovery, you need to continue those healthy practices. Volunteering gives you a chance to focus some of your energy on someone else while maintaining your own self-care. Maintaining balance and not giving away too much of yourself is an important practice.
Develop Healthy Habits
In addiction, you had some habits that worked against you. Now that you are in recovery, you can use habit-forming to your advantage. When healthy activities become habits, your healthy life gets easier.
Creating habits is all about structure and repetition. Decide what activities you want to add to your life. Take it one step at a time, so you do not get overwhelmed. Exercise and nutrition are two healthy topics you can explore. Develop a new exercise routine for yourself. Exercise is a great healthy habit, and when you get bored with this routine, you can simply develop another one.
Healthy eating habits are another way to maintain your sobriety through improved self-care. Create a routine of healthy eating that is easy for you to maintain. Eating clean, non-processed foods, reasonable portions and at regular intervals throughout the day are all healthy habits you could develop.
Healthy social habits will also support your long-term recovery. Develop habits that support healthy relationships in your life. Get in the habit of calling a friend or family member regularly. Practice active listening when in a conversation with someone you care about. Develop a routine of meeting friends in healthy places such as coffee shops or at the park for a walk.
No matter your lifestyle, you can always add some new healthy habits. By developing healthy habits, living a healthy happy lifestyle can become easier and almost automatic.
Enjoy New Drug-Free Hobbies
Hobbies are an important part of a healthy lifestyle because they combine recreation, creativity, physical activity and social interactions. Hobbies help us develop and define our personalities and can be life-long pleasurable pursuits. Hobbies also reduce stress.
In the early days of recovery, you may have noticed you did not practice any hobbies. Addiction tends to take over everything in your life until it is just you and your substance of choice. Part of rebuilding your life in recovery is discovering drug-free hobbies.
It’s not unusual to realize that when you were actively using drugs your hobbies were all related to substance abuse. It can take some time to figure out what you like to do that does not involve drugs. Maybe you can think of something you liked to do before the addiction — maybe even when you were a child — that you could try again now.
It is important to practice some new hobbies because they are a healthy, creative outlet. Drug-free hobbies will also put you in touch with others who share a common interest and give you something safe and fun to do.
Take It One Day at a Time
This is a simple phrase that can be hard to really understand. Life is long. You do not have to dwell on the parts that are passed or the mistakes you have made. There is plenty of time to outshine those times with better days in your future.
Taking it one day at a time means waking up in the morning and getting through the day. Do not spend time worrying about yesterday or tomorrow. If you can have a successful day today, work your program, do healthy activities and talk with a friend, you are good. Eventually, all these good days will add up.
Develop an Enthusiasm for Life
You are alive and not using drugs today! Enthusiasm for life begins at this most basic level. Focus on the little things in your life that make you happy, such as watching the sunrise, taking a walk, receiving a compliment or petting your dog. Having enthusiasm for life is not reserved for gold-medal winners. Anyone can be happy and excited about all that life has to offer.
By building your enthusiasm for the small things, you get to start being happy today. As that happiness grows, it will pull you forward into a future you cannot imagine now. When you recognize the good things that happen in your life, you will begin to expect more good things, and this will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Life is good! Without drugs and alcohol, it can be even better. Get excited about all the possibilities.
Ongoing Growth in Addiction Recovery
For addiction recovery to be successful long-term, you have to realize it is never over. Although you are no longer using, and the cravings have subsided, the right set of circumstances could send you back to addiction faster than you realize. Part of your personal growth journey is understanding this reality.
That doesn’t mean that relapse is inevitable. Long-term recovery from addiction has been achieved by many, and you can be one of them, too. Rehab put you back in control of your life, but now it is up to you to build and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Recognizing that your program will always be important to your well-being is a good step toward lasting recovery. It is also important to realize that complacency could be your biggest enemy. Always maintain an active stance against addiction by:
- Continuing your personal growth
- Looking forward to what life has to offer
- Using the supports you put in place to guide you
Addiction recovery has a cyclical nature to it. You do not just go through a rehab program one time and consider yourself cured. Understand that there may be times when you need a little extra support. It is a good idea to reach out to 12 Keys when you think your recovery might be in jeopardy. We have the expertise to recognize warning signs and can help you get back on a healthier path before any damage is done.
At 12 Keys our compassionate staff is here to answer your questions about addiction and recovery, whether you have been through a rehab program already or not. We recognize the need for continuing follow-up throughout the length of your recovery and have programs in place to provide that extra support when necessary.
If you are feeling complacent about your recovery or think you no longer need to work your program, this is a good time to contact 12 Keys.