When a loved one enters treatment for substance abuse, many family members may rejoice over their loved one’s decision and effort to treat their disease. The amount of therapy, education, and building of sober support while in treatment can be a major boon to the addict and their families. While most of us know that treatment does not “cure” those of us who suffer with addiction, the first year of recovery should be highlighted as the most important, and most challenging time for those in addiction recovery. This article will aim to help the addict in early recovery and their families have a better idea of what to expect, what to watch out for, and where to get assistance when needed.
Early recovery gives one the opportunity for a new beginning. Once the addict has removed themselves from their substance of choice, life may take on a new meaning. This can be overwhelming for someone in early recovery. It is helpful to expect challenges and new obstacles to appear, even if one doesn’t experience them directly. It is never faulty to have strategies in place for any challenge.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: the desire to drink or use drugs again will be there. Whether we are ten days sober or ten years clean, urges will come. It is vital that we have strategies to know how to get through the urge safely and how to be able to communicate with our support system on how we are feeling. If we are in the position of supporting our loved one in the first year of recovery, it is important to display a sense of empathy and compassion for our loved ones should they admit they are experiencing a desire to drink or use drugs. A common mistake is to see an urge as a setback. If our loved ones are being open and honest about their feelings, THAT IS PROGRESS! Offer to help remove them from the situation, get them to a meeting, call their sponsor, or another fellow in recovery.
There are many men and women in recovery who have offered help to others by saying something like: “Here’s what I did to get sober, and if it worked for me it can work for you too.” We must understand that there are many different paths to recovery. So, too must we understand that each person brings a different path to the table when entering recovery. A 19-year old will have a much different experience in early recovery than someone in their fifties. Someone who has lost their job and home as a result of their addiction will have different challenges to face than someone who has a supportive career and family. Relationship issues, sexuality, gender, age, race, socioeconomic status, geographic location are just some of the ways one’s journey in recovery may be different than another.
Remember that while we are learning to gain our footing towards a new way of living, you know yourself better than most. Understanding what our needs are in our lives during the first year can bolster our chance for long-term, sustainable recovery. If we find that we are lacking friends that support sobriety, there are an array of different mutual aid groups one can attend: Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, and Recovery Dharma to name a few. One may also decide that a sober living house is a viable option. If we find that we are challenged with coping with past trauma or mental illness, individual or group therapy would be a viable option. It’s okay if we don’t know which road to take in early recovery. It is also okay to try as many options as possible during the first year. If we put our recovery first, our chances are higher than average.
Lastly, be aware and mindful of PAWS (Post-acute withdrawal syndrome). PAWS symptoms can appear during the first two months of recovery. Symptoms may include: mood shifts, restlessness, irritability, lack of libido, fatigue, or depression. PAWS Symptoms are mostly emotional and psychological in nature, therefore ongoing support from addiction professionals is important in treating this common experience.
If you feel like yourself or a loved one may be struggling with addiction or are interested in ways to treat addiction, reach out to us at Longbranch Retreat and Recovery Center. One of our professionals will be happy to answer your questions and concerns.
Brian Hirsius, LPC
Utilization Review Manager, Counselor