25 Things I’ve Learned Since Entering Recovery From Addiction
This week, I was heartbroken to hear of Demi Lovato’s apparent heroin overdose but really happy that fans rallied around her and even celebrities like ex-bff Selena Gomez sent her love. To be honest, I am not fully surprised about her recent relapse since she admitted to having one earlier this year when she released the music video for her single “Sober.” In that song, she talked about a relapse and I applauded her bravery for coming clean. And I continue to applaud her as she re-enters rehab and continues on her recovery journey? Why? Because I can tell you from personal experience that recovery from addiction is not easy.
Something that I haven’t always been open about myself is that, after my own stint in recovery, I relapsed five times before I was able to seek help again and finally get clean. I am now three years in recovery and over two years sober, but those numbers don’t necessarily guarantee that I have it all figured out. Lovato herself celebrated six years sober earlier this year, so things may not always be as easy as they seem. We don’t suddenly stop being addicts after we get clean. In fact, there are a lot of things that are complicated once you enter a life of sobriety. On that note, I wanted to share the 25 most important lessons I have learned ever since entering recovery from addiction. I hope this helps others out there who, like me and Demi Lovato, may still be struggling.
1. You won’t get help until you’re ready to get help.
This is definitely the first lesson that everyone learns when dealing with an addict: We do not get help until we’re ready. That’s why I am not really a big fan of things like interventions. While family and friend support is crucial, getting pushed into rehab or recovery is not the thing that is going to make us want to get clean.
2. Rehab works for some. But not for others.
Rehab has been great for me and I am very glad for the month that I spent in there, but I also saw a few people that came and went. Not because they weren’t serious about getting clean but because the rehab environment just wasn’t for them. There are many roads to recovery, and this isn’t the only one.
3. Detoxing is a B-I-T-C-H.
Detoxing to the non-addict sounds like that thing some people do where they drink green juice for a week and nothing else, but in the world of recovery detox is the thing you do before going to rehab or getting clean. It’s literally spending time, typically for a week in the hospital, to get rid of whatever drug has been consuming your body. Usually, this is done under medical supervision because it can be quite dangerous to go off of something on your own if you are physically addicted.
4. Relapses happen.
As we recently learned with Demi Lovato, relapses happen. But they’re actually not unusual in recovery, although the stigma surrounding them is much worse. After going to rehab, I relapsed five times in the span of six months before I was ready to get help again.
5. In fact, relapses are a natural part of recovery.
Think five times is a lot? It’s not for some. Eminem has famously relapsed, as has Lovato. During my relapses, nobody knew and I kept it hidden. Eventually though, I sought help and, with the help of my therapist, learned to not beat myself up for those relapses. They are a part of the recovery journey and can be really difficult to admit to — but it’s only though being honest about them that we can get help.
6. 12-Step meetings aren’t for everyone.
Twelve step meetings (such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous) can work wonders for some. Truly, they can be great… But they’re not for everyone. For me, I preferred SMART Recovery meetings because that program deals in cognitive behavioral therapy (as does my therapist) and that’s what worked for me. There are many different kinds of meetings and recovery ways out there, so don’t give up if you don’t find yours right away.
7. But can be really great to make new friends.
The one thing I very much appreciated about 12-step meetings is that they were a great place to make friends who are also in recovery. In fact, women-only meetings were particularly my favorites because I could meet other badass chicas who were going through the same things I were and who could be my new support system.
8. Your family and friends might be supportive. They might not.
I am extremely lucky that my family supported me through my recovery. So did my friends. In fact, pretty much everyone in my life was absolutely incredible when I was dealign with early recovery, and I felt very much loved. However, that is not the experience of everyone. In fact, I have met many other fellow addicts who have had difficult times with family or friends understanding their addiction.
9. You might have to let go of some friendships.
The hardest part of telling your family and friends that you are an addict is that some of those relationships may fall away, either naturally or because you need to let them go. I have one friend who I very much loved but the main thing we had in common was going out drinking and hitting on guys. After I got sober, we just didn’t have much to do together anymore. I tried to maintain the friendship through coffee dates and ice cream outings, but she wasn’t into it. Eventually, I had to let that friendship go.
10. Isolating yourself is the wrong thing to do, even if you really want to do it.
Part of the reason why my relapses happen is that, despite my friends and family being super supportive about my recovery, I was still dealing with feelings of shame. And so, I isolated myself. I started working from home and pretty much rarely left the house. Soon enough, I was feeling both bad about my previous addiction AND my current loneliness. I know it comes natural to many addicts to isolate themselves, but I would actually say that we need to reach out to loved ones now more than ever.
11. You might need to have several talks with your loved ones.
Part of being an addict is that you might need to explain to many people what this means and what your new life in sobriety looks like. Often, this isn’t just one conversation in which you say, “Hey, I was addicted to (blank) and now I am sober.” Instead, it’s an ongoing conversation as your recovery continues and your relationships change. This might mean adjusting your behaviors and your friendships, but it will all be for the better.
12. Finding what works for you in recovery might take time.
As I mentioned above, 12-step meetings aren’t for everyone. Some people, like me, thrive in therapy and use that as their main tool on the road to recovery. Some people (though rarely) can quit cold turkey and never look back. But most of us need some sort of support system, so keep looking for what works for you.
13. You WILL be tested.
Now that I am three years into recovery and over two years sober, I am fairly comfortable being in situations where there is alcohol. However, that doesn’t mean that it is always easy. In fact, any addict will probably tell you that when you think it is “easy,” you are sadly mistaken. You will be tested, so make sure that you have safeguards in place when that happens, such as having a backup plan if you find yourself in a tricky spot face-to-face with your drug of choice.
14. You might not know how to act in social situations at first.
This is relation to the isolation I mentioned above, but it is SO very true that being an addict can be tricky at first. Your friends, even those you love, might not know how to act around you and you might not know how to act around them. Your relationships might have been based on boozy brunches, so what do you do know? You’ll figure it out with time, I promise, but just know that this awkward early phase is totally natural.
15. Not every day will be a struggle. But sometimes a lot of them.
I have a tattoo on my ribs that says, “You just have to get through today.” That is my daily reminder that today is the only day that matters and, especially when I am having a high anxiety or temptation day, I can look back at my tattoo and remember: I just have to get through today. This is to say that you will be tested, but you have to keep going. It won’t always be easy, but you can do it.
16. You might seriously crave SUGAR.
I have found that, especially for alcoholics, sugar cravings are a real thing. I am still having a hard time letting go of my sugar addiction because I crave it so badly sometimes, especially when my anxiety is high. That makes sense, of course, since I previously used to self-medicate with alcohol. Now I try to overcome my anxiety without sugar, but that’s still difficult. When I have a too-much-dessert week, though, my therapist reminds me that it is still pretty amazing that I didn’t turn back to the bottle.
17. You might also develop other addictions.
Many alcoholics and drug addicts suffer from what is known as “transference disorder.” This is actually true for other addicts, too. For instance, some food addicts become alcoholics and some alcoholics become food addicts. I’ve known pill addicts who became serious shopaholics, too. It’s very complicated, but something to watch out for.
18. Developing some healthier hobbies is a good idea.
Instead of allowing yourself to become obsessed with shopping or donuts, it’s a good idea to develop some healthier habits. I’ve known a few addicts who become total gym bunnies after going into recovery and that definitely seems like a much better idea than becoming a cupcake fiend. As for me? I love coloring books. I know this seems kind of silly, but it’s been really great for my mental health. Plus, coloring books keep my hands busy when I am crawling out of my skin and itching for something to do.
19. Changing your environment might be really helpful.
A lot of addicts, after becoming sober, realize that they need to change their physical environment in order to stay clean. Part of the reason why I relapsed is because I went back to my old life. It wasn’t until I literally moved cities (from New York City, where I lived and worked for almost 12 years, to Florida, where I was originally from) that I felt secure and successful in my recovery. This is actually pretty common behavior, to be honest. Sometimes you just need a change in scenery after a big change.
20. Try not to change too much, though… At least not too soon.
A few days after leaving rehab, I dyed my hair red. A month after that, I got bangs. Granted, changing my hair is actually pretty common for me. I’ve gone through being brunette to various shades of red and even a few stints as a a blonde, so this is not unusual. However, I would caution most addicts from changing TOO much. Yes, you might really want to “start fresh” and that can be good, but it can also shock your system. So take each change one step at a time.
21. You might want to change your hair or clothes, too. That’s okay.
As I mentioned, I changed my hair shortly after entering into recovery. I definitely don’t regret that, and I very much do not regret that I changed my wardrobe quite a bit after recovery too. I don’t know what it was, but all of a sudden being comfortable was the most important thing to me. So, since I was working from home, I started to be more comfortable wearing yoga pants for many occasions. It took two years, though, for me to fully make the transition here. As I said: One step at a time!
22. Falling in love after recovery is… complicated.
I got really, really lucky when I met my husband shortly after moving down to Florida. He wasn’t a big drinker and completely supported my recovery from the get-go. In fact, he gave up drinking himself about a month after we met. But dating before him was a bit complicated. I never knew quite when to mention that I don’t drink, and had to push for every first date to be a coffee date (as opposed to a wine bar date, which was my previous go-to). It can be awkward, but I would encourage anyone who is in recovery and dating to be honest about it up front. When I did that with my husband, it was honestly the best thing I ever did because I was able to get his support from the start.
23. You just have to get through today.
I have this tattooed on my ribs, and it is something that I have internalized through this journey of sobriety. It’s all about the challenges and, as I mentioned before, you will be challenged almost daily. This is especially true in the beginning, but remembering to take it one day at a time (instead of thinking about what your sobriety will look like next month or next year) is the only way to get through things. Don’t get overwhelmed by the future. Focus on the now and being sober today.
24. Connecting with others is crucial.
We already know that isolation is bad in recovery, and I am here to tell you that making friends is good. I mean, that seems kind of obvious, sure, but a lot of addicts have a hard time with this one because you don’t know how to make friends without a cocktail. But it’s definitely possible. As you grow in your recovery and build new friendships or reconnect with old ones, find ways to do things that you both enjoy. Go out for coffee or tea, get ice cream on sunny afternoons, invite friends for a picnic in the park or the beach. It’s those connections you build that will keep you moving forward and enjoying life, without a drink in your hand.
25. Recovery is a long, lifelong journey.
As my therapist has told me on more than one occasion, “Life is a long time.” I know that it is very overwhelming to think of it this way, to think about never ever having a drink again, or how to manage your cousin’s boyfriend’s birthday party next month without a cocktail. But know this: You CAN do it. Recovery is a long journey, sometimes with peaks (happy times without a drink) and sometimes with valleys (relapse). But it takes a long time to figure it all out and, to be honest, I think a lifetime to really master it. It’s a lifelong journey, which is why it’s important to just keep going. Even if you fall, like I did (five times!), you have to get up again.
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