Dealing with addictions and substance abuse is tremendously difficult. Many people moving through substance abuse recovery face stress, isolation, and social stigma. These factors make recovery difficult beyond the addiction itself, especially as many people start using substances as a coping method for stress and trauma.
If you’re just starting your recovery journey, the road ahead may seem long and daunting. It’s important to take things one step at a time. Here are some of the things you can expect during recovery and some important lessons to learn along the way.
It’s More Common Than You Think
One of the most surprising aspects of joining the substance abuse recovery community is that addiction is more common than you think. You probably meet people who struggle with substance abuse every day. Some of the people you admire the most have likely battled demons of their own.
Despite there still being so much social stigma around addictions, it can happen to anyone: doctors, mothers, grandfathers, teachers, scientists—addiction has no preference.
Why is it important to understand this as you dive into treatment and recovery? Because the experience can feel incredibly isolating. Men, in particular, struggle with societal perceptions about substance abuse and suppressing emotions. As you go follow the recovery path, it’s vital to understand that you aren’t alone; you’re dealing with a taboo subject.
Meetings Are Worth It
Many people facing substance abuse are resistant to the idea of attending meetings. There’s a misconception that hearing the problems of others won’t be helpful or that vulnerability is a negative thing. However, meetings are a great way to connect and get support from others going through this journey. It’s a way to recognize that you aren’t alone and recovery is possible.
It can be helpful to understand the rules of Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous before attending to minimize intimidation. This forum is meant to be a place of mutual respect. You listen while others are speaking and don’t repeat what you hear outside of the meeting. Attending as an observer can be helpful the first few times until you’re ready to share.
Some people attend daily meetings during their initial recovery period, and that’s ok. Over time, you may feel less compelled to go to a meeting unless a triggering situation arises. That’s ok too. Meetings are a resource and a community, but it’s also important to focus on your personal journey outside of structured programs.
Your Body Will Change
You can expect your body to go through some dramatic changes during the recovery process. Many of these changes will be for the better, but you might feel disoriented or worse for a time.
For example, you may notice significant changes in your weight. Your sleep schedule should start to regulate, which could result in periods of fatigue. Your skin and hair will start to improve as you nourish your body.
Depending on the substance you struggle with, you might notice changes in your moods, thought patterns, and energy levels. These changes are all a natural part of the process. Embracing these changes and thanking your body for what it can do will help you orient during this time.
Recovery Isn’t a Cure
As you start the recovery journey, it’s important to remember that it’s just that: a journey. There isn’t a finite destination to work toward. Addiction is a disease that has treatment, not a cure.
You’ll find that people who have been sober for decades still consider themselves in recovery. They may not think about substances for years, then hit an unexpected rough patch when a stressful situation arises.
It’s essential to have hope as you start the recovery process, but it’s equally important not to have false hope. Understanding that recovery is a continuous process that gets easier but never stops is essential for success.
Many people compare the process to grief. When you lose someone, the initial pain and shock are overwhelming. Over time, moving through daily life gets easier, but you’re never “over it.” Then, some days, something might remind you of the person, and that initial pain comes back for a while. Addiction is like that too.
Success Isn’t Linear
You are not a failure if you relapse. In fact, relapsing is an expected part of the process, especially during the early days. This experience can feel disappointing and elicit feelings of shame. You might feel as though things will never get better.
Success isn’t linear. As long as you keep trying, you’re not failing. Accept that you made a mistake and let the guilt go so you can focus on course-correcting and moving forward. Take some time to reflect upon what led to your relapse and learn from it. Put plans in place to avoid or manage those situations, so your next attempt will be better.
You’ll Wonder if It’s Worth It
Many people in recovery are shocked to discover that they miss the substance that has caused them so much strife. It’s normal to grieve the loss of your substance, especially if you used it as a barrier or mood enhancer against the hardships of the world.
It’s also normal to miss the people or experiences that were a part of your life during substance abuse. Don’t guilt yourself for having these emotions. Accept them and consider the positives about your new path.
Keeping an Open Mind is Essential
As you navigate your recovery, you might be faced with treatment plans or new activities that feel strange or even pointless. You might be resistant to meetings, therapy, or MAT.
If you want to be successful with recovery, you must keep an open mind. Maybe the thought of hiking or mediation seemed stupid before, but it could potentially become the new passion that keeps you grounded. Maybe you think therapy is a waste of time, but it’s the key that unlocks why your addiction started. Embrace the process.
Forgiveness Is Hard
The final thought is that forgiveness is hard. People you care about may never forgive you or understand. You cannot control how they respond to you; you can only control your actions moving forward.
Forgiving yourself may also feel impossible, but it’s necessary to heal. Move forward knowing you’re not alone while embracing the recovery process.