Relapse happens when stresses take over and force us to desire self-medication that puts us right back into rehab. What’s more, depending on the severity of your habit, you may have missed some key steps in your own development. In fact, when addiction piles itself on top of trauma, what seems like whole eras of development can go by without an addict noticing.
Arrested Development (not the show or the 90s rap group)
In other words, as you may have already heard, many people who abuse substances stay at virtually the same age as when they started using. A 2015 study1 conducted by E. J. McCrory and L. Mayes found that “each of these lines of evidence suggest that drug addiction (and perhaps addictions more generally) may be construed as developmental disorders, that is, as disorders with experiential and gene by experience antecedents relating to early caregiving and exposure to adverse and/or contexts characterized by deprivation.”
Your demons are still there…just hiding
A common piece of wisdom to the newly sober is “Good to see you’re clean; just remember the problems that were there when you used are still there now. You’re just sober, but the demons have been lifting weights in the parking lot.”
If you’re free from addiction and living sober, those challenges won’t go away. Depending on the length of your addiction, you may have difficulty accomplishing life milestones that seem so easy to non-addicts, such as:
- Finding and keeping employment
- Being able to live independently
- Understanding your finances
- Self-care (this includes meetings, therapy, meaningful community engagement, etc.)
- Evaluating your social group and understanding that come from that group may need to go
- Getting regular checkups and physicals
The list, as they say, could go on and on. What’s more critically important now as you contemplate sober living is that it truly is a daily process, if not more frequent. Meditation instructor Sharon Salzberg has described living life “breath by breath” as a way to conceive of her life as a series of choices, stimuli, and ever-changing dynamics that can only be dealt with as they approach. As addicts, we would be wise to take that tack with our own recovery.
Thus begins my life as a hermit…
…but probably not. Many newly sober people are pleased to report that there are far greater numbers of sober adults than they initially thought. While it might not be obvious to you now, remember the shame that came with your addiction and how much you want it to be part of your past. That’s every other recovering human being’s mindset as well. That being said, being open to sober events and activities can also draw others in recovery. It’s not all box socials and church dances unless that’s your thing, and being proud of your sobriety openly is a great way to find other sober mentors, friends, and compatriots in the cause of sobriety.
“I’m not the same person I was before.”
There can be a period of adjustment to life after addiction. The “self” that you feel you left behind—that person that went into rehab but didn’t come back out—that idea of who you are is no longer there. But it was just an idea in the first place. Your essential goodness, the talents that make you who you really are? Those never leave you; they are only enhanced by your sobriety. But there will be a “newness” to the world that might have lost its luster while in the throes of an addiction. Now, all you have to do is be open to that new world that awaits you like a wide-eyed kid.
“But, everyone else has a head start on their lives…”
So here’s a start for the newly sober, or those newly out of treatment. Find mentors. Find sponsors, find “normies”…heck, find people from history who accomplished what you are setting out to do. Learn from them. Steal their tactics. These are people whose sobriety has been tested time and again—by temptation, by stress, by grief…even by accident. Don’t live your life by accident. Find that purpose and drive. Make friends with whatever “sober age” you are and keep an open, beginner’s mind.
The next time you watch a toddler play, look at how they are viewing the outside world. When you look closely, you can see their openness to experience. It’s okay to feel not ready. It’s okay to feel like a child again. Let sobriety welcome you home. Find true recovery for yourself and those you love. For more information on recovery and anyone seeking help with addiction and substance abuse problems, please call True Recovery at (844) 744-8783
or visit us online.