Early Recovery–What Does That Look Like?

The hard part is over.

Residential treatment is successfully completed.

New definition for recovery from addiction has been released

The addict or alcoholic is sober. That means everything will be all better, right?

No. This is just the beginning. The next phase is crucial to establishing and sustaining long-term recovery.

Just Sober

For a newly sober individual, here are a few things to remember in early recovery:

  • Recovery comes first.
  • Do something recovery related every day.
  • Emotions may be all over the map. Be patient.
  • Avoid spending time with using friends or drinking buddies.
  • Do not go to bars or places that trigger cravings to use.
  • Follow the discharge plan as designed by your treatment team.
  • If available, enroll in an Intensive Outpatient Program.
  • Many people find mutual help groups supportive, including AA, LifeRing, or SMART Recovery. Find what works for you.
  • Be patient with the process of recovery. Your life didn’t change overnight, so don’t expect it to get better overnight.
  • Be realistic: “pink clouds” might exist for some people in early recovery. Much like the saying, “What goes up must come down,” so too shall life have its ups and downs. Remember that it will pass.

Recovery comes first.

People in early recovery learn that they must put their sobriety and recovery ahead of everything else. I like to use the example of the airplane. The flight attendants tell you to first put the mask on yourself before putting it on your children, or anyone else you are responsible for. In order to help others, you have to take care of yourself first. Once you have yourself in order, you can be of service to others.

We hear about people who put things “in front” of their recovery–their relationship or their work–and ultimately lose them because of the relapse. The suggestion: keep recovery first and everything else will fall into place.

Do something recovery related every day.

Part of being “in recovery” means participating in your recovery every day. But what does that mean? For some, that might mean going to a meeting every day. For others, it could mean meditating every day and having coffee with someone they know in recovery. What it means for you is unique to you and your situation. A daily reminder of what your recovery looks like and means to you is a healthy way to reaffirm your commitment to sobriety. In some ways, it’s like “screwing your head on straight” every day.

Emotions may be all over the map. Be patient.

Bottling up emotions or using drugs to suppress emotions are common among alcoholics and addicts. So when a newly sober individual is facing life free from drugs, just know that emotions may run the gamut. Be patient with yourself. Try finding healthy ways to cope with your emotions and trust that it will pass.

Avoid spending time with using friends and drinking buddies.

Because habits are hard things to break, hanging out with old using friends or drinking buddies is a dangerous place for the newly sober individual. Your recovery is so new, so fragile. Treat it as such and you can safeguard your sobriety. Old drinking buddies might say they are supportive of you in your recovery, but just being around them can trigger feelings or memories of drinking or using. For a newly sober individual, you want to avoid slipper slopes as much as possible.

Do not go to bars or places that trigger cravings to use.

Similar to hanging out with friends or drinking buddies, bars and clubs are not safe places to go when in early recovery. If you hang around the barbershop, you’re bound to get a haircut. Enough said.

Follow the discharge plan as designed by your treatment team.

Your treatment team is experienced with designing and creating successful discharge plans for addicts and alcoholics. Similar to when you go to the ER for stitches, your discharge plan will include: how to keep the wound clean, what to clean it with, what products to avoid, and when to return to the doctor to have the stitches removed. Addiction treatment is the same: a simple plan of action to help keep you on track with sobriety and recovery.

If available, enroll in an Intensive Outpatient Program.

Enrolling in an IOP can be extremely helpful for some individuals after residential treatment. Intensive Outpatient Programs can help by continuing education and support groups after leaving residential. IOPs also allow you to participate in work, school, or other commitments while continuing treatment services.

Many people find mutual help groups supportive, including AA, LifeRing, or SMART Recovery. Find what works for you.

Connecting with people who know what it’s like firsthand can be invaluable for early recovery. Building a community of supportive people is helpful in establishing a strong foundation for recovery. The guidance and support found in mutual help groups can keep you motivated to “stay the course.”

Be patient with the process of recovery. Your life didn’t change overnight, so don’t expect it to get better overnight.

Recovery is a process, not an event. It took a while for things to unravel, so it will take a while to put it back together. For an addict, instant gratification is a common thread, which is why doing drugs or drinking is abused–to instantly dismiss feelings or reach euphoria. So it isn’t a surprise to find yourself wanting everything to be immediately better once you get sober. But the reality is that it will take time.

Be realistic: “pink clouds” might exist for some people in early recovery. Much like the saying, “What goes up must come down,” so too shall life have its ups and downs. Remember that it will pass.

Without the bad times, we would not know to appreciate the good times. Remember that just because you are sober does not mean everything is going to be rainbows and flowers. Your part is to have patience and trust that it will pass. Hard times will arise, but rely on your support group to get you through. Be kind to yourself and to others. Find healthy ways to keep your recovery on target. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.