28 Mar Adjusting to the Real World in Early Recovery
Okay, so what exactly is “the real world”? The term gets thrown around pretty casually, and it can mean a lot of different things for a lot of different people. In sobriety, however, we’re simply talking about everyday life stuff – you know like work, friends, and social situations, among other things.
For some of us in recovery, particularly in the early days, simple tasks like going to the grocery store can be challenging, often because, you know, umm…the alcohol aisle? Talk about a direct trigger. Then, we have our friendship circles (they’ve historically been drinking buddies, maybe?), weddings (hello, open bar), work (which often comes with difficult personalities), and the list goes on. Whether these things throw us right into the line of fire in terms of having quick and easy access to drugs or alcohol, or they’ve historically made us want to drink or use (i.e., difficult personalities), it can be a real challenge knowing how to navigate life in early sobriety. Because, how do we change everything? Or, do we need to, and if we don’t need to, then how do we overcome the urge to pick up again when faced with the real life stuff that makes us want to get loaded?
These are some million dollar questions right here, and while we don’t have all the answers, we do have some suggestions. And, we’ve witnessed their power firsthand. Also keep in mind that everyone’s recovery journey is different – some folks will throw themselves into a program (like AA or NA, for example) and never be tempted to drink or use again. Then, there are those of us who absolutely need a period of rehabilitation (“rehab”) along with a period of detox in order to stay clean. Many folks will chronically relapse as well, getting clean for periods of time only to frequently slip back into old addictive patterns. That being said, many of these suggestions will work better for some than others, but we’re here to try and cover the whole spectrum. So, follow what resonates:
Remove triggers. This is probably a lot easier said than done, but whenever and wherever possible, it can be a good idea to distance yourself from anything that might tempt you to want to pick up a drink or a drug (or engage in any other compulsive behaviors you might be dealing with). So, yeah, if alcohol is your drug of choice, you might want to steer clear of the grocery store liquor aisle for a while, along with bars, nightclubs, and old drinking or using buddies. This can be challenging when your “real world” life is structured around triggers, though. If you work in the hospitality industry, for instance, and you’re serving alcohol, or if you’re used to going out with coworkers – even your boss – for drinks after work, triggers could be hard to avoid.
If these types of situations do become a challenge for you, try talking with someone in your recovery network, or even a sponsor if you work a twelve-step program. These people are usually able to provide feedback, or simply the support you need to get through these triggering moments. It’s been our experience that over time, these situations always get easier, and oftentimes our lives begin to move in the direction where the triggers become removed automatically. For example, if you worked in a bar when you got sober, you might find that you’re beginning to gravitate toward alternative career options, and ultimately move in a new direction. More time in recovery almost always includes major life changes, and this is a good thing. Our lives adapt to our wants, needs and desires.
Adopt new positive habits. Finding things that make us feel good in recovery that don’t involve drugs, alcohol, or other compulsive behaviors is one of the cornerstones to a truly successful recovery program. Most of us engaged in addictive behaviors in order to feel better. While this might work for a period of time, doing anything addictively is almost never going to result in anything more than a quick fix – it’s a shortcut to feeling good. Drugs, alcohol and other addictive behaviors are like Band-Aids for our problems, but removing a Band-Aid from an unhealed wound is always going to re-expose the wound.
If you’ve fallen into the habit of using drugs or alcohol, for example, to feel better after traumatizing events, like job losses, breakups, and more, then you’re invariably always going to feel worse after the effects wear off. Your hangovers or comedowns will be dark and depressing and, moreover, you’ll never learn how to truly overcome painful situations. Trust us – this stuff gets bottled up and only perpetuates when we don’t learn how to handle it in healthy ways. Learning how to do things like meditate in order to process difficult emotions and work through them slowly, and exercising when we feel a dip in our mood – these kinds of things allow us to process our emotions in healthier ways. And the best part? No hangover or comedown. Oh yeah, we also get to experience long-term, sustainable growth that sticks with us through the years. No more Band-Aids, no more shortcuts.
Find a recovery community to connect with. Integrating back into real life situations in recovery can feel lonely, overwhelming and confusing. You don’t need to do this alone, though. It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one who’s ever felt the way you’re feeling when you go back to work after getting clean, or you start incorporating the everyday stuff back into your life, like passing through the liquor aisle at the grocery store for the first time. There are, however, so many others out there who’ve experienced these kinds of feelings in early recovery, and some who may even be experiencing them now.
Plugging into support groups, such as twelve step and other recovery programs, allows you to connect with others who’ve dealt with, or are dealing with, the same types of difficult emotions that you are. These communities can give you a safe group to connect and share your feelings with, and connection is so key to your recovery. It’s been our experience that being able to relate to others on a similar journey can make our own journey feel profoundly less overwhelming.
Know that it’s okay to say, “no.” When you make the very brave decision to get clean, your recovery is more important than anything. If you have a big wedding, birthday, event, or anything that might involve a triggering chain of events, know that you can always opt out. The people who truly care about you and have your best interests in mind should truly understand. And while we know that people have obligations to tend to, more often than not, there’s the option to say no. Sure, ultimately, opting out can become a Band-Aid in and of itself, but if it gets you through the early days and keeps you sober, then there’s really no better option. And as long as you continue to work a solid recovery program, you’ll be able to slowly reintegrate these types of gatherings, social situations and more back into your life without being triggered. Just go easy on yourself, take it one-day-at-a-time, and know that life in recovery can and will be full of gifts, new adventures, deeper, more meaningful friendships and, yes, many good times accompanied by zero hangovers. We say…winning!
Kembali Recovery Center is here to Help
If you or someone you know is struggling to get clean off drugs or alcohol, or is battling other compulsive behaviors, Kembali Recovery Center can help. Contact us today to learn about our four week treatment program as well as our Recovery and Beyond program. All communication is kept completely confidential. Just remember, you never have to do this alone.