Substance Use Disorder Recovery: An Ongoing Journey
Recovery from a substance abuse disorder is often seen as a goal achieved after time is spent in rehabilitation or treatment. However, as a certified addiction recovery coach, interventionist, an experienced C level executive—and an individual in recovery myself—I can tell you that recovery extends far beyond the walls of a rehab center. Instead of a singular goal to be achieved and never thought of again, recovery is a journey you will continue to travel over the long term.
What Is Recovery?
Your recovery journey begins the moment you realize your substance use disorder (SUD) has negatively affected your life and become unmanageable. You continue recovery when you take steps necessary to manage your SUD and regain control of your life. Through your efforts to enter substance use treatment, seek aftercare, stay sober, and make the hundreds of small decisions necessary to return to a normal life, you can maintain long-term recovery.
In a sense, recovery is what happens in your day-to-day life as you learn to see the world around you differently and craft a new sense of self through this change. Maybe you will not completely change as a person—deep down, you will still exist as you were before you began your journey. However, through the challenges you may encounter along the way, you will discover a new layer of strength within yourself you may not have known existed before starting this journey. This is where change occurs and the struggle to overcome cravings and feelings of failure begin to dissipate.
Why Is Recovery a Journey?
If you are struggling with a substance abuse disorder, you understand you do not just wake up one day fully recovered. Like learning a new language, you must learn every day how to craft a new life around a different mindset. It takes time and effort, and it also may take relapsing and then trying again until you learn to develop the hope and resiliency that is necessary to push you to continue through your journey.
This is why recovery from a substance abuse disorder does not involve a distinct end date, but consistent effort moving forward. One day you may feel ready to tackle a new and bright future, while the next day, you may feel the old cravings and triggers from the past creep up once again. No two days are alike in the same way that no two journeys are alike. Recovery is a personal journey for every individual and not something that can be forced into a mold. For most individuals, recovery unfolds over a lifetime of resistance and strength.
The Recovery Journey
As I mentioned earlier, to begin your recovery journey, you must first be able to acknowledge that you are struggling with substance misuse that is negatively affecting your life. Upon admitting that you have a problem, you are taking the first step to crafting a better life for yourself.
What follows is a series of emotions and feelings that you may encounter as you embark towards full recovery. Take in mind that a lot of these feelings won’t be pleasant and in the very early stages of your recovery it is normal to feel like the journey has no end but having hope to continue even without an end in sight can be what helps you achieve the seemingly impossible.
As you move through recovery, be prepared to go through several distinct stages. While they may not look the same for everyone, below are some of the common stages you may go through throughout your journey.
Feeling Heavy Pressure/Anxiety
When you begin your recovery journey, it is common to feel like you have a lot of pressure on you to stay sober. This pressure may manifest as heavy, anxious feelings that make you feel overwhelmed and like you want to give up. You may have constant cravings and have a hard time directing your mind elsewhere.
Feeling Restricted or Doubtful
As you move forward in your journey, you may begin to feel restricted by your substance use disorder. Maybe your illness is causing you to avoid seeing old friends, stop listening to music you used to like, quit working at your old workplace, leave a former partner, or move on from your previous home. Having to change so much of your life to avoid triggers can make you feel restricted or even doubtful about the value of your recovery.
A Sprouting Belief in a Better Future
As you progress in your recovery, you may become more hopeful in your future. You may not know exactly how to change your current reality, but you are seeing glimpses of a bright, attainable future. This a huge step in your recovery because you are beginning to let go of the doubt and anxious feelings that may have once encompassed you. In return, you are moving towards progress.
Small Changes Are Beginning
After you have grown accustomed to one way of life, it can be hard to avoid the familiar. Getting away from an old, potentially toxic lifestyle takes time, but once you begin to make small changes for the betterment of your life, then you may start to feel more optimistic about the future.
Flourishing Hope and Belief in Oneself
As you continue to make changes and progress in your recovery, you will start to feel satisfaction in yourself. You’ll then begin to sprout a deeper belief that things will be alright. This belief will begin to guide you towards the long-term recovery that you are searching for.
What Are the Main Components of Recovery?
There are many components that can factor into a successful recovery, and they go far beyond simply maintaining abstinence from substance use. Some of these components are based on the individual, while others are based on external factors, which may be either controllable or uncontrollable. Below are some of the major components that can either positively or negatively affect your recovery journey
Relationships affect recovery. If your friends/family are supportive, patient, and non-judgmental, your recovery may be smoother. Relationships that are non-supportive could include friends or family members who also have substance abuse issues or those who could trigger you to use by being impatient or non-supportive of your recovery.
Where you live and where you work can often affect your recovery. An ideal work environment for an individual in recovery is one with consistency. Inconsistent hours or tasks may not be the best for a person in recovery. Additionally, an ideal home environment would be one where you feel safe, secure, and relatively free from triggers.
Constantly worrying about money is not healthy for an individual in recovery. An ideal recovery process would be one where you have financial security and do not have to worry about paying bills and buying groceries.
A Developed Sense of Direction
Individuals who have goals and dreams often have a more successful recovery. Being able to see a brighter future and working towards that daily can contribute to your recovery.
Although too much responsibility during recovery could be overwhelming, having some responsibility is healthy. Responsibility and staying busy means you’ll spend less time thinking about using and more time being preoccupied with valuable tasks.
Belief in yourself and a brighter future may be the most vital component in a successful recovery. Maintaining hope through the difficulties of a journey is fundamental for success.
Stages of Mental Health Recovery
Recovery from a substance abuse disorder is more than just becoming sober, it is addressing your mental health, adopting a new outlook on life, and fostering a belief that you can face even the worst days. Although recovery may look different for everyone, there are some helpful steps you can utilize to assist in growing your confidence and facing your fears.
Learning as much as you can about your mental health disorder can prove to be a successful way to help you combat it. Educate yourself about symptoms you may experience, what your triggers are, and how you feel during certain circumstances. Jotting down your thoughts in a journal or seeking the help of a professional may help you get a better sense of what is going on in your journey.
Before you can begin to address your mental health, you must accept that you have a problem that needs to be faced. Acceptance is not always easy. Oftentimes, we are in denial of our shortcomings and illnesses, but acceptance is necessary to move forward in your healing process. Reflect on how your mental illness has affected your life and strive to seek help so it has less power over you.
Activity helps steer your mind away from stressors and calms anxiety. Whether you prefer running every morning, taking a bike ride, practicing yoga, or another physical activity, when you are being physical, your mind is directed elsewhere. You may find that physical activity is a great distractor and can help you combat any doubts that your anxious brain may create.
Feel Your Emotions
Society often tricks us into believing that repressing our emotions is what is needed to get by. Feeling your emotions and expressing them can help you get to the root of your mental health disorder. If you feel uncomfortable expressing how you feel to another person, try writing your emotions down. Once you become more comfortable with your deepest thoughts, you may find yourself ready to attend a group meeting or individual therapy. There, you will have a supportive audience who will listen to you as you dig into your mental health.
Whether you have just spent some time being physical or practiced openly expressing your emotions, it is important to allow your brain some solace afterward. Calming down can be accomplished by trying to ease your brain away from the busy, almost circular thinking patterns that can come with anxiety and other mental health disorders. If you have never practiced meditation, this can be a good time to start. If you don’t like the silence, try listening to music as you sit quietly and focus on your breathing.
Stay Confident in Your Recovery Journey
A journey of a thousand miles begins with just a step. When the journey is meant to last the rest of your life, it’s crucial to develop the confidence necessary to wake up each morning and take that day’s steps.
You possess the strength to accomplish what may have seemed impossible at one point. Your strength as an individual is determined by your attitude. Keep a positive attitude and always try to see the light in every situation.