Recovery from substance abuse can be a very different experience for people at different stages of recovery. At the same time, recovery is a journey full of both joys and challenges. You may find that some of the same challenges that happen in early recovery can reappear in later recovery when you least expect them.
Many alcoholics and addicts wish that recovery meant that they were cured and that they would never have cravings or the threat of relapse again. But that isn’t how it works. Recovery, like life, is full of ups and downs. What does life typically look like in different stages of recovery?
Joys and Challenges of Early Recovery
In early recovery, you may feel like your emotions are on a roller coaster ride. There are days that you feel excited to be sober and extremely blessed to be alive. You feel like your vision is coming into focus and you have a sense of complete clarity. The sun seems brighter, the flowers seem so much more beautiful and you feel deep passion and joy for the things and people you care about.
But then your emotions take a nosedive, and you experience negative feelings with a degree of intensity that you can’t remember ever experiencing since you have been in the habit of numbing your feelings. When bad things happen to you in sobriety, it feels like the end of the world. Feelings like sadness, fear and anger take on a whole new meaning because you feel them so strongly.
One of the biggest challenges you may experience in early recovery is an all-consuming compulsion to reach for your drug of choice. Cravings may feel overpowering at times, but you are learning to work through the urge to pick up a drink or a drug.
Now that you are sober, good things are starting to happen. You might find that you are suddenly able to show up for work consistently. You are not picking fights with family members or friends. You’re not getting arrested for drunk driving, drug possession or domestic violence. As time goes on, you are starting to feel something that just might be self-respect.
You are starting to surround yourself with people who are mentally and spiritually healthier than people you used to spend your time with. Your support system is growing. It might be the first time you find out what it’s like to actually have a support system and people you can count on in your life.
Joys and Challenges of Later Recovery
One day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time, you’re staying away from alcohol or other substances. Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, months turn into years. Time is passing and you are realizing that you are no longer a newcomer to recovery programs. You haven’t had to pick up a drink or a drug despite a variety of ups and downs in your life. By now you may have experienced some disappointments, losses or tragedies and you were able to allow yourself to feel your feelings and not turn to alcohol or drugs. You have gained enough experience at staying sober that you are able to offer support and advice to others who are just getting sober and are having a hard time.
The compulsion is gone. You no longer are compelled to want to drink or drug on a daily basis. If the thought does cross your mind, you know what to do. You go to a meeting. You call a sober friend. You hang in there. You don’t pick up.
As time passes and you put together several years of sobriety, as long as you continue to make your recovery a priority, you are able to handle whatever happens in your life. There is no doubt that some days are better than others, but for the most part, you are able to experience contentment and serenity.
Threats to Sobriety at Any Stage
A sober, contented life is a great way to live. Life is better than it ever would have been if you hadn’t gotten sober. But there can and will still be threats to your sobriety when you least expect them, even when you have put several years or even several decades together.
Triggers to pick up may happen when you least expect them. You may run into your old drug dealer. You may get extremely busy and stop going to meetings or associating with sober people. Suddenly you start to have thoughts that you could probably handle just one drink.
This doesn’t happen to everyone, but it can happen if you stop putting recovery first in your life. Remember that you will be able to get through any experience without picking up a drink or a drug as long as you stay committed to living a sober life and doing the things that you know will work to keep you sober.