Addiction recovery is a lifelong journey, rather than a finite and scheduled process. And while rehab and other recovery programs can help an addict survive the process of withdrawal and early recovery without relapsing, it can take years for a person to feel comfortable in their sobriety and live with a sense of peace regarding their past addiction. It’s important to understand that, because recovery is a lifelong process, the need for support and recovery resources extend far past the first few weeks of addiction treatment.
It’s critical to plan in the long-term. That means facing the possibility of more than one relapse, problems with cravings, and other similar challenges. As grueling as it might sound, there is no real state of “failure” in recovery. As long as you haven’t given up, you’re still in recovery.
Is that a bad thing? The answer to that is that it’s a matter of perspective. It’s neither good nor bad, it simply is – but how you might choose to view it heavily affects your chances at successfully maintaining sobriety. Coming to terms with the reality of your circumstances and making the best of what you have is important when wanting to overcome an addiction. While difficult, for many, it’s going to be important to learn to embrace the recovery process, and understand that the struggle to stop using is a part of who you are now, regardless of whether you identify with any specific philosophy of sobriety, or are exploring what it means to be sober without a sober group.
Why Recovery Is a Lifelong Process
Addiction is not an illness that has a definitive cure. Instead, it is a condition that appears chronic in nature, and must be managed and controlled. Anyone can become addicted, and the potential to be addicted to a substance is something most people are born with. It’s only through repeated drug use and a number of other factors that an addiction comes to be – but once the brain forms a connection to a certain drug, breaking that connection becomes very difficult. It’s impossible to fully wipe away the memory of addiction, and even after decades of sobriety, cravings and memories may still persist, especially in times of stress.
Because the cravings might never fully go away, any recovering addict needs a number of reasons to stay away from the drugs that once consumed them. Sober life, rather than a penance or an escape, must be a second chance at life, one that a recovering addict takes full advantage of so as not to be persuaded back into using again.
However, it’s not feasible to live a great life every day. We all have ups and downs, and while recovery programs focus on helping recovering addicts make the most of their sober living, it’s also important to learn to rely on others to help get them through the hardest days. Whether through AA sponsors, role models, family members, close partners, or best friends, we all need people we can rely on to help us in our darkest hours. On the other hand, we owe it to ourselves to minimize the impact and frequency of those hard and harsh days.
You Must Have Fun
Drug recovery begins with the process of withdrawal, helping recovering addicts overcome the physical and emotional challenges of the first few weeks of sobriety. But after the withdrawal symptoms end, other challenges come into view. Living a sober life can be very difficult for many, especially for those who have spent several years struggling with addiction.
For one, severe cases of addiction and physical dependence also struggle with greater cravings. On the other hand, living life without the use of drugs to soothe pain (both physical and emotional) is often harder for recovering addicts than for other people. The brain has learned to completely rely on drugs as a coping mechanism and can only slowly recover through a long period abstinence.
To remain sober, many recovery programs and recovering addicts insist on the importance of having something to focus on. Whether it’s a hobby, a passion, or a job, time spent in recovery should not be invested for the sake of recovery, but for the sake of other more tangible forms of personal growth: to learn new skills, acquire experiences, meet new people, and think new thoughts. And, of course, to have fun. Addiction can often leave people bereft of the ability to feel pleasure – it’s important to find better and healthier ways of feeling good, even if they don’t provide the kind of high you might be used to.
Moderate exercise, an exciting or adrenaline-pumping experience, an extended walk through nearly untouched nature, and a healthy, fibrous, and nutritious meal can promote the release of endorphins, reduce the depressive and anxious thoughts that sometimes accompany recovery, and help you ease into a long-term sober life.
Maintaining a Long-Term Commitment
Long-term is the keyword here – a lifelong commitment to being sober might not be feasible at first, given how many struggle to avoid a relapse early on in their recovery, but it does get easier over time. A large part of that ties back to how the brain recovers from drug use over time and regains its former make up and structure. However, much of it also hinges on the changes you commit to throughout the recovery process, from your first day at rehab, to your first anniversary celebrating sobriety, and beyond.
Rehab, which typically lasts one or two months, is not enough to keep someone motivated for life. Recovery must be a life-long process, with a continued commitment through group meetings, contacts with other recovering addicts, efforts at sponsorship, regular therapy sessions, or other ways.
Thankfully, this is not a fight you have to fight alone. The relatives you stood by you during recovery to the friends and loved ones you meet over time, as well as those who helped you through the first few months of recovery and continued to help in the form of the treatments and therapies, all play an instrumental role in your continued sobriety – just as you can aim to play an instrumental role in someone else’s journey. The fight doesn’t end, and it has its ups and downs, but it does get a little easier over time.