Many people who have gone through the years and therapy needed to overcome an addiction will tell you that it can be horrendously difficult to admit your addiction, and then take the necessary steps to seek help, find support, forgive yourself and beat withdrawal. Many more will also tell you that, as hard as all that is, it’s just the beginning – and the biggest challenge will ultimately be staying sober long after the treatments are over.
In many people’s eyes, recovery is the period after addiction when someone decides to seek treatment, and undergoes at least an entire program getting their life together and going “back to normal”. But the thing is that this is a misconception. There is no such thing as normal, and there will never be a template life to go back to. When you go through an addiction, you can overcome it and change your life for the better by staying sober – but you won’t go back to living how you did in the past.
When treatment ends, life will be very different from how it used to be before the addiction. And no matter how much time passes, you still have to live with the memories of the feeling of addiction, and the things you did.
Coming to terms with that while staying sober and finding a way to live with and live past the temptation is the real key to beating an addiction in the long-term – and understanding why is important to explaining why staying sober is so difficult to maintain, even after treatment.
Staying Sober: Defining Sober
Sobriety is not abstinence – rather, it is having a clear state of mind. That means not just skipping out on your drugs of choice, but it also means skipping out on alcohol and every other drug, and for many people, it means skipping out on any medication that affects your mind unless medically necessary. To be sober, you have to not be using.
Maintaining your sobriety can be torture at first, which is why treatments and programs exist to make the journey a little easier, and help work you through the challenges as they arise.
But people make the mistake of thinking that once the treatment is over, the temptation and the cravings magically disappear. They don’t. Instead, you’re meant to use the time and resources given to you during treatment and recovery to amass a set of tools to work with in times of stress and need, to fend off temptation, fight off cravings, and work on staying sober.
The Temptation Of Addiction
The reason addiction has such a radical and long-term hold over the human mind has to do with both a set of psychological reasons, and a set of physiological reasons. These reasons are intertwined.
On the psychological side, an important part of recovery is seeing it not as a treatment for addiction to be excised out of your life, but more as a training for how to deal with addiction, and beat it into obscurity within your life. This takes several steps, the most noteworthy of which is self-love.
This has nothing to do with spirituality, self-motivation, or surrounding yourself with people who love and adore you. It’s not about amassing massive wealth, success, and fame. It’s not about becoming the perfect human.
It has to do with staring into yourself in front of a mirror, and making conscious decisions to turn into someone who is true to themselves, and likes it. Sometimes, you may have to make changes. Other times, you may have to learn to live with, and even love certain aspects of yourself.
Only then, when you’re independently okay with who you are as a person and don’t need to seek validation from others or from outside objects and titles, will you be able to completely embrace sobriety without a shade of doubt. This is because addiction feeds on doubt. It feeds on insecurity and fear. It feeds on worry and stress. If you can’t be happy with yourself, then you won’t be able to live a happier sober life – and the temptations will stay.
The physical reason why addiction is so difficult to overcome is that it warps the pleasure center of the brain, completely changing the way we perceive joy and euphoria. Things that used to bring people happiness – like their hobbies – fall out of favor, while the need for the drug takes over.
Rewriting that takes time, because the stimuli of drug use cannot be beaten. Overstimulation of the brain’s pleasure center is essentially why it gets warped, and recovering from the effects of drug use and staying sober can take years.
Losing The Routine
Every drug recovery treatment plan has a routine. Routines are helpful when fighting an emotional or mental battle – they help make life simple, give us something to do, and take away time that might otherwise be spent thinking about or doing something harmful.
The structure that a routine can provide also gives people a daily pattern to adhere to, and return to when things go wrong. A big part of struggling with sobriety outside of the confines of a treatment center or sober living environment is the fact that the routine often eventually falls away, and with it, the sobriety can suffer.
You don’t have to have the same routine all the time, but be sure to bring structure to your life. When the stress begins to knock down your routine, don’t let it all fall into disarray. Adapt, accommodate, and stay strong.
Why People Struggle With Relapses
Relapses occur astonishingly often, at least in the eyes of some. Others might recognize that a relapse is nothing to fear, and may even be considered part of the early recovery process for most people.
Having a relapse can be damaging to your overall progress, especially as it resets your sobriety counter – but that does not make it the end of your chance at staying sober, or worse, spell out your doom. A relapse is not a failure. It is just another experience with addiction, and an opportunity to learn and do better.
Through relapses, you can mark periods and triggers in your life that bring you closer to addiction and the cravings, and find ways to be more vigilant of these factors and avoid them or work around them. No matter how large your setbacks are, the most important thing is to keep moving forward and continue on the path to lasting sobriety.