It has wisely been noted that, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Nowhere does this adage apply more than on the road to recovery. The decision to get – and stay – sober is a crucial one. It is the decision which sets the rest of one’s life into productive motion. It is, however, a first step. There are many steps remaining for the person who truly desires the transformation to a rewarding life of sobriety.
Expecting that life around us will change overnight is setting ourselves up for disappointment. We may have made our decision to change in an instant, but the rest of our world will need the chance to catch up. Just as our life of addiction wasn’t established in a day, our new reality of sobriety will need to be similarly constructed. New perspectives will need to be developed, and old wounds will need to be tended to. Some of the structures of our old life will need to be torn down, and new roads will need to be forged through unexplored territories.
Making the initial decision to live a sober life is what makes all of this eventual change possible. Approaching life through a sober viewpoint makes for a very different journey, and one which can be expected to have a long lasting, positive, impact on the future. When buckling down for the inevitable work which is required toward such progress, you can take heart in the fact that your choice of sobriety is the key to opening all of these future doors.
New Habits Take Time to Establish
When using drugs or alcohol, there is an instant reward which is delivered. That reward may come in the form of increased positive feelings, or decreased negative feelings. It may come as a boost of energy and focus, or it may deliver some needed relaxation. The use of substances to produce these desired states comes with a severe downside, however, which many later seek to rid themselves of. The good news is that these same benefits which are gained from the substance use can be found through more healthy means, and through routines which don’t come with the negative consequences.
Experts have noted that there are definitive patterns to forming a habit. The first aspect has to do with associating a certain place, feeling, thought, or action with a desire. You might, for instance, feel an urge to kick your shoes off as soon as you come home from work, or have an urge to eat something as soon as you step into your parents’ house. These scenarios form the trigger, or antecedent, for a habitual behavior.
The second aspect of a habit is to engage in the action which the situation has produced a desire for. Kicking off your shoes might be the action which results in your feeling like you are leaving the stress of work behind. Getting into mom’s cupboards to find something good to eat might produce a good feeling of childlike wellbeing. We do these habitual things because we know that there is a mental or emotional reward which follows them.
When it comes to substance abuse, it is this second stage of habit which many will find as taking the longest to change. Initially, trigger scenarios which have been related to the action of using a substance will tend to pop up quite regularly. You might even be surprised at how many situations, feelings, and thoughts you have associated with the drug or alcohol use. These triggers will be recognized by the strong urge that you will feel to return to using your drug of choice. Refusing to engage in that, specific, behavior is your task.
It has been found that it is much easier to say ‘yes’ to something than it is to say ‘no.’ While simply deciding not to indulge your trigger response with substance use may work in a pinch, it is better to have a plan in place to replace the old actions with better ones. The next time a temptation to use substances arises, take a moment to consider what it is that you would normally gain from the drug. Then, make a purposeful point to engage in an alternative behavior toward the same result. Over time, your brain will learn to associate this new behavior with the old triggers, and your temptations to use substances will begin to fade into the background.
Relationships Will Take Time to Adjust
Another hurdle that will be found along your journey will be that of repairing relationships. Similarly to how your own habits have to be changed following the decision to live sober, the habitual responses of others around you will need to become accustomed to this new version of you. Particularly if there has been a large amount of strife surrounding your substance abuse, you can anticipate needing to give time for others to learn that you have truly changed your behavior.
You are the only one who knows your true motivations and intentions. For everyone around you, it is your behaviors, over time, which clue them in to your genuine resolve toward change. Be prepared for their reactions toward you, during this early stage, to be very similar to the reactions which they had while you were using.
Often times, our loved ones are very scared that we are going to return to our former habits of drug or alcohol use, and they will be on high alert for any cues which seem to indicate the presence of that behavior. It will take time for them to observe and grow comfortable with the fact that your trigger situations are now followed by new, healthier, actions. Forgiving someone for past behavior can take place in an instant, but learning to trust that person for the future is a much longer process. Be patient with both yourself, and your loved ones, as your journey into a life of sobriety progresses.