The most effective treatment for addiction is time. It takes time to heal from the effects of drug dependence. It takes time for the effects of therapy to settle properly. It takes time for the lessons and treatments applied in rehab to truly stick. And within said time, trying not to relapse can be one of the hardest things a recovering addict will ever have to do.
If you or someone you love is struggling to stay sober, then take heart in the fact that you aren’t alone. An estimated 24 million Americans struggle with substance dependence, and it’s a disease that doesn’t let itself be treated easily. Rather than see it as something that can be cured, think of addiction as a chronic illness that requires consistent and ongoing treatment and management.
Rehab is a good first step, but it’s important to think more into the long-term and consider other treatment options – like therapy and sober living homes – as a way to continue to manage symptoms past the first few months of recovery.
It’s not that the decision to quit is one you make in a single day. It’s a decision you make every day. And some days, that decision is much harder to make than on other days.
Continuing to stay sober against all odds is a difficult game where you must take advantage of every possible avenue you have for treatment – from avoiding old triggers and friends, to staying at a temptation-free sober living community, taking up new hobbies to relearn how to live without drugs, making new sober friends, and burying yourself in your work. Even then, it doesn’t always work. There may be slip-ups and relapses. But it’s important to know that that’s okay – as long as you’re committed to getting back up on to the horse.
It’s Not A Race
The only way to fail in recovery is to give up. There is no deadline, no minimum requirement for success, no metric by which anyone scores your recovery progress or tries to compare how you’re doing versus how others are doing.
Recovery by its very definition implies healing, and that takes a certain amount of time – an amount of time that differs from one person to the next. In another context, the recovery process is indefinite, as there is no reliable way to tell that an addict has successfully ‘finished’ recovery.
Don’t worry if you’re still struggling to stay sober or have cravings. Don’t worry about being tempted in the presence of alcohol or drugs. These are normal feelings, even for recovering addicts with several years under their belt.
If you feel these feelings are overpowering, avoid their triggers at all costs. If you feel they’re challenging, but manageable, then consider how far you’ve come since day one to be able to feel that way.
There is no race to the finish line, if there even is a finish line at all. Instead, take the recovery process on one day at a time. Don’t judge your progress by how long it’s taken you to get to where you are, but by asking yourself how you feel today.
Let Go of Anxiety
Once you start on the path of recovery and treatment, the fear of falling back can become immensely pressuring – to the point that you find yourself stressed out over your own thoughts.
It’s good to be enthusiastic about your own progress but obsessing over potential mistakes only leads to a pessimistic and negative outlook, leading you to believe that you’ve got no chance at long-term sobriety because it’s just too hard, or unreachable.
Therapy can help dismantle this outlook and help you snap yourself out of a funk when you’re feeling particularly negative. Talk therapy can also help you identify symptoms that might have masqueraded as part of your addiction, while instead being a separate co-occurring disorder. Anxiety disorders and depressive disorders, for example, can drastically hamper and even prevent recovery unless treated concurrently.
Beware of Triggers
Cravings and other feelings aren’t just a part of early recovery, but can be triggered by people, places, sounds, smells, and other things. Identifying these triggers and removing them from your life is an important part of the first year.
As you grow more confident in your sobriety, and as you establish a stronger sober life for yourself, these triggers will begin to bother you less. But for the first few months – and in some cases, the first few years – they can quickly derail your efforts.
Don’t Fear Failure: It’s Okay to Struggle & Relapse
If it were easy, it wouldn’t be a problem. One of the main reasons why the shift towards recognizing addiction as a disease in the eyes of the public is so important is because, until we acknowledge that addiction is a medical issue, it won’t be addressed adequately.
Overcoming an addiction isn’t easy. It isn’t uncommon for recovering addicts to struggle with cravings and feel tempted in moments of doubt and frustration even years after pledging themselves to sobriety.
And while it’s common for addicts to punish themselves and feel worthless after a relapse, the statistics are pretty clear: relapses are common. So common, in fact, that they’re not an indication of failure, but rather an indication that a recovering addict has a long road ahead of them.
In that sense, it’s important to recognize that struggling to stay sober is just another part of the recovery process, and that some mistakes and slip-ups will happen, if only to remind the recoveree to get back into recovery, address a trigger they were not aware of in the past, or remind them that staying clean can be a life-long challenge.
Like any chronic illness, addiction must be managed rather than cured. There is no cure for addiction, but there are plenty of ways to help manage it and reduce its effects on your life. You may struggle, you may stumble, and there may be moments when you’re fully doubting your ability to get clean and stay clean.
But these moments don’t have to spell the end of your recovery process.