There is no phase of recovery more important and more crucial than the beginning stage; it is only when we accept that we have an addiction that we can begin to treat it. With that being said, a very close second in terms of importance is the period of sobriety we call “early recovery”.
This period is the foundation upon which we build our entire recovery lifestyle. This time in our recovery can make or break us. The habits we form or don’t form and the changes we undergo will absolutely make or break us. This is when following suggestions from addicts who are further along on their recovery journey becomes a necessity. By taking suggestions from addicts in Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, we can easily avoid some of the most common pitfalls that set addicts back in their recovery. Let’s discuss some of these common pitfalls.
Feelings Coming to the Surface
In early recovery, we start to experience feelings and emotions for the first time in a very long time. It’s a new experience, and as with other new experiences, we need guidance from experienced people in recovery. When these emotions first come back, they can be very raw and intense. Many addicts experience extreme and intense bouts of anxiety and depression.
Anxiety and depression go hand-in-hand; when people become depressed in early recovery, they very often experience anxiety surrounding these feelings because they don’t know how to deal with their feelings yet, and sometimes don’t even know why they’re experiencing them. In some cases, what so-called normal people consider routine tasks such as taking a trip to the grocery store, or going to get a haircut can cause crippling anxiety attacks. Feeling as though you cannot accomplish simple tasks such as these can be very emotionally and mentally debilitating.
Knowing you could go to the doctor and easily be prescribed narcotics that would make you feel better, but having to abstain to remain in recovery can be seriously frustrating. Anxiety attacks can become a daily struggle, something that remains in the forefront of your mind. You start to become scared that it could happen at any time, and you start to fear when the next one is coming. In other words, you start to have panic attacks about panic attacks. After dealing with this for a while addicts can become very depressed and sad, it is a vicious and unrelenting cycle at times.
The NA and AA literature and members of the fellowship have a ton of suggestions that they give to newcomers. Some of these suggestions come straight from the literature as I said, and others are sort of like unwritten rules that get passed down to new members based on anecdotal evidence and members’ experience in recovery.
There is a bit of controversy in the rooms surrounding this particular suggestion. NA and AA purists would tell you that opinions kill people and the only thing that matters is what an addict can find in the “big book” or the “basic text”. If you want to be in a relationship, simply check your motives and make sure you are prepared for the potential consequences. 12-step fellowships were never meant to control the personal lives of members. In my experience, early relationships tend to complicate an already complicated process, but then again some of my best friends have been in relationships since day 1.
Other 12-step fellowship members would tell you that getting into a relationship in early recovery is an exercise in futility nine times out of ten; this is where phrases such as “two dead batteries can’t start a car”. A relationship is built on certain principles such as trust, honesty, communication, reciprocity and emotional availability. These are principles addicts in early recovery struggle with, and often times simply do not have at all. This is why there is a very pervasive school of thought within the recovery community that strongly suggests newcomers avoid getting into relationships with the opposite sex, or the same sex if that’s your thing.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
When you first get off of the substance or substances you were abusing in active addiction, there is an acute withdrawal period that every addict must get through. In some instances such as alcohol and/or benzodiazepine abuse, the acute withdrawal phase is in fact potentially lethal. This is another great reason to detox in a medically qualified facility with a professionally trained staff to monitor you 24/7.
These facilities utilize various treatment modalities including but not limited to medication, massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, recreational therapy and perhaps most importantly, group and individual therapy. Although this phase is extremely challenging emotionally, mentally and physically, this phase is very brief in the grand scheme of things. Unfortunately, there is another phase that follows acute withdrawal known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome is a persistent set of symptoms that occur as a result of the brain and body gradually returning to a pre-active addiction state. Despite the most intense symptoms being over, addicts are usually forced to endure weeks and sometimes months or even years of a variety of impairments such as insomnia, increased libido, increased appetite, migraines, mental illness, chronic pain and more. Post-acute withdrawal typically comes in waves of varying intensity but gets less and less intense over time and easier to manage. This is why it is extremely important for addicts in early recovery to have positive role models who have been through this process. Utilizing the good advice of addicts who have come before you and developing good habits is paramount to your success during this phase.
Some great tips for managing those pesky post-acute withdrawal symptoms are to develop a sleep schedule and stick to it. Make sure you are practicing good sleep hygiene as well. Eat a healthy diet rich in complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. Utilize over-the-counter supplements to manage headaches and chronic pain, and to help you sleep. One of the best things you can do to manage these symptoms is to get at least thirty minutes of cardiovascular activity on a regular basis. No matter what you decide to do to manage these symptoms, or how you decide to develop your early recovery foundation, the best thing you can do to ensure your success is to find positive role models in recovery and follow in their footsteps. Always make sure that you have a plan in place, and that you execute it!