Quitting drugs or alcohol, either by entering a detox center or doing it on your own, is just the first step in the long journey that is recovery. The first year in recovery is the most tumultuous, and everyone’s recovery is unique. There is no exact formula that works for everyone. There are, however, many things that can be expected regarding your first year in recovery.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms
Once you’ve gotten through the initial physical withdrawal symptoms, post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) are more consistent concerns throughout your first year in recovery. PAWS can last from six months to two years, and they occur as your brain continues to repair itself of the damage your addiction caused. PAWS include difficulty in thinking clearly, managing emotions, recognizing stress, and sleeping restfully, as well as difficulty with physical coordination and memory.
PAWS are some of the main reasons why it’s so important to build a strong support network and trust the advice of addiction professionals and people who have been in recovery longer than you. Support can come in the form of understanding family members and friends, addiction fellowships, group counseling, therapy, and doctors. You aren’t used to handling life without drugs or alcohol, so you must be willing to ask for help when you need it.
Depression and Overconfidence
There are many emotions that you’ll experience during your first year in recovery, but depression and overconfidence are two emotions that are particularly important to expect and address. Depression is common, especially in the first few weeks of recovery. If it lasts much longer than that, or if it’s so severe that you’re having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you should talk to your therapist or another mental health professional as soon as possible.
Several months into your first year in recovery, you might start feeling overconfident and thinking that you’re doing so well that you don’t need to follow a program or work on your recovery anymore. Overconfidence is dangerous, because you can take your focus off of your recovery, and you’ll be more likely to relapse.
Routines and Decision-Making
During your first year in recovery, it’s helpful to have a routine. Scheduling your days (including therapy, fellowship meetings, time for meditation, etc.) will help you adjust to your new life in recovery. Planning rather than being spontaneous is a critical skill to learn. You should also be careful not to take on more responsibilities than you can handle.
One of the best pieces of advice for people in their first year in recovery is to avoid making any unnecessary major life changes (unless a major change is necessary for your safety or recovery), like moving or changing jobs. It’s common for people to regret major changes they made during their first year in recovery before they were thinking more clearly. You need to learn and practice healthy decision-making, which often starts by deciding to avoid people, places, or things that you associate with drugs or alcohol and that could threaten your recovery.