Sobriety – we’ve all read the self-help books telling us why it’s great. We’ve scanned the many, many quotes on the internet that remind us how great it is to be sober.
“Your best days are ahead of you. The movie starts when the guy gets sober and puts his life back together; it doesn’t end there.”
This stuff is fine, but we often don’t shed enough light on the fact that there are hard things about sobriety. It can be uncomfortable, and sometimes, boring. We don’t like to focus on that for fear of inciting relapse, but the truth is recovery is all about acknowledgement – the good and the bad. Recovery from any addiction is hard in a myriad of psychological ways.
Below are three unexpectedly hard things about sobriety as a reminder that you’re not the only one that feels them:
1. Change Is Uncomfortable.
I know what you’re likely thinking.
“Duh, of course it’s uncomfortable, or otherwise I would’ve done it long before now.”
What people fail to understand about recovery until they go through it is that the whole process is uncomfortable because it’s the unknown. Addiction is always a ‘known.’ It keeps you in the same place, in the same feelings, and in the same state of being for however long you’re living it. Addiction comes with predictable chaos, I like to say. Oftentimes, that chaos can become a comfortable norm.
When you go through recovery, especially in those first couple months, everything feels uncomfortable. Everything is strange because you’re seeing the world through sober eyes again. You’re inside your deepest thoughts that are beginning you to make decisions about “What next?”
If you don’t have the excuse of addiction holding you back, then “What next?”
Not only is change uncomfortable, it’s scary. In the beginning stages of recovery, we are constantly trying to reevaluate life and what we want out of it now that we are becoming free of the chains that held us down. We don’t know what that life will be or if it will be successful. Oftentimes, we’ve made a lot of poor choices through our addiction which can lessen our self-worth or the trust we have in ourselves to make “good” decisions. It’s all about building back up that self-worth to know that you can move forward and make a life that is worthwhile, even joyful.
Understand that sobriety is uncomfortable in the beginning. Accept that, and work with it instead of trying to push that discomfort away. It will serve in building up your worth again. It will only serve in making you stronger.
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2. You Have High Expectations To Stay Strong.
I termed the phrase “living in the flexible okay” a few months ago on when discussing recovery. It means exactly what you’d think it means: to live in the flexible okay that is recovery and be content you found that place at all.
There’s always this assumption that goes along with seeking recovery, and it’s that feeling that you’ve snapped your fingers, made the choice to get clean, and everything should align the way it’s supposed to.
It won’t ever happen. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be ‘perfect’ in recovery. Typically, we have the support of our friends and family throughout the process, and we do not want to let them down. To let them down in recovery only means you feel like you’re disappointing them yet again. People often enter into recovery in the first place to save their marriages or their families, or to mend the relationships they’ve destroyed.
Regardless why you entered, there is always the pressure to stay in it. That’s the easy part. The hard part is understanding that it will not be flawless.
I left rehab after struggling with eight years of eating disorders, and the moment I was back at home I ran too much and pulled a ligament after months of non-activity.
With my tail between my legs, I had to waltz right back to outpatient treatment the next morning and admit that I’d pushed it too hard.
This will happen to you in alcohol or drug sobriety as well. The statistics of relapse are a staggering 90%. No one gets out of this unscathed. If you relapse, tell someone. Addiction, as you know, thrives off of shame so that it can stay clutched to you. If you take a drink, it is not the end of your recovery world. It is merely a misstep. Figure out why you did it, and know that you don’t have to make that choice again.
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Nobody likes to admit this, but life can feel quite boring in the first few months of recovery – which can be a reason why people relapse at such fast and alarming rates that they do.
When you become so wrapped up in addiction, you lose everything else. Who are you without it? What do you even like to do? What are your hobbies? What were they as a kid? You have to dig deep and be willing to take steps to explore.
Now that you’re no longer hanging out with the people you drank and drugged with before treatment, you will likely feel a sense of boredom. I felt this many times in the first few months of my recovery, and I wish someone had addressed it with me while in treatment.
When you’re feeling like you want to drink out of boredom, restlessness, or loneliness, call your support group. Make new friends, pick up some new hobbies, and return to the activities you enjoyed before you started blacking out and forgetting about life. Find employment, return to school, occupy your time. Having plenty to do will help with the feelings of self-worth, but you have to be willing to put yourself out there and explore.
At the end of the day, recovery is a tough cookie, or we would’ve all done it sooner. Being aware of what to expect and acknowledging that it’s uncomfortable helps ease the psychological pressure we put on ourselves to have this “perfect recovery story.” Overtime, it will get easier. These complex feelings will both fade and return at various times. That is the “flexible recovery” we all should expect and strive to keep.
Lindsey Hall is an eating disorder activist by day and mental health writer by night. She is the author behind the award-winning eating disorder blog, "I Haven't Shaved In Six Weeks," which she started following a six-week experience at an inpatient treatment center for an eating disorder. Having spent the past three years shedding light on her ten-year battle with anorexia, binge eating and body dysmorphic disorder, Lindsey embodies a voice for those who need support, but are often too scared to speak out.
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