Early recovery from addiction is often a time of sweet comfort. The withdrawals are over, and now real life begins. Naturally, one is excited to get back out there in the world — to get a job, make amends, start a relationship and make life livable again.
All of these steps require hard work, and that’s the beauty of being clean or sober. You now have the power to accomplish your goals with meaning and gratitude.
However, it’s critical not to rush your recovery.
While moving quickly during early recovery may seem harmless, it can be a hindrance that negates all your hard work. So let’s have a little chat about the risks of rushing through the process.
Recovery is a process, and that process is different for everybody. Fundamentally, our needs will differ as well. My needs during my recovery from addiction may be different from your recovery needs or those of your peers. We are rebuilding our lives, reteaching ourselves how to grow and cope in a positive manner, so of course our learning speeds may be different.
But even so, there is one fact that remains true. Despite our different needs, if we go flying into every step and stage of recovery with haste, we are bound to eventually fall by our own hand.
The intimate pressure we put on ourselves, or that pressure we may feel from peers and loved ones, can provoke relapse if we aren’t careful about how we manage it. The phrase “miracles don’t happen overnight” definitely applies here. Think of all the damage we did to ourselves while we were using. That damage was built day by day and accumulated to the mass that took us to rock bottom.
In all that time we were using, we stunted our emotional growth. While we inevitably hurt others, we hurt ourselves too. So in order to succeed at our recovery goals, we need to repair what we ignored and damaged the most: ourselves.
When I got clean for the final time and came around to the fact that I deserved a better life, I felt like I was on another planet for the first month or so. I was scared and incredibly nervous that recovery wouldn’t stick and that I’d relapse again.
I was living with my father at the time, and I was lucky to have a supportive family. Seeing my restlessness and anxiety, he pushed me to get a job and keep myself busy throughout the day. Feeling guilty for all the money I had stolen from him during active addiction, for taking advantage of his kindness in the past, I agreed to start working again.
However, I remember feeling this knot in my stomach. I felt like I was going against my instincts by going back to work, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what those instincts were. Nevertheless, I persisted and found a serving job relatively quickly.
Things were fine at first until I was about two months clean and found myself emotionally unraveling. My job performance was suffering, which of course caused more anxiety. Eventually, I broke down in my restaurant’s bathroom, overwhelmed with emotion and the shame of things I didn’t yet know how to process. I quit a few days later, citing my reason as health problems.
Indeed, it was health problems. As someone with a co-occurring mental health disorder, my recovery and mental health go hand in hand. Feeling the pressure from my father and doubling that pressure onto myself, I rushed into a situation that I was severely unprepared for.
All of that harm I caused myself, not to mention the trauma I experienced while using, had gone ignored and thrown under the rug. A few months into recovery, I started getting all of my emotions back that I had attempted to bury for so long. All of these feelings came hurling at me, and I had absolutely no idea how to process them because I wasn’t giving myself the care that I needed to move forward.
Recovery is about more than “becoming a normal person.” It’s about becoming the person you are truly meant to be. This is something I didn’t consider during early recovery, and I paid the price for it. Recognizing that I was missing something, I discussed that issue with my therapist and care team and made self-care my number one priority.
That was the best decision I could have possibly made.
Granted, it took me a relatively long time to heal from all I had done and gone through. But when I was finally ready to take on the responsibility of going back to work, I found a job that was perfect for me (a job I still work today). The lesson I learned about taking my time applies to a multitude of turning points in recovery.
It’s important to slow down during recovery and take each new challenge step by step. Before you take on a new job, a new relationship or start living on your own, consider asking yourself some tough questions to understand if you really are ready.
Some good questions to ask yourself include:
Ask yourself these questions and similar ones when you are approaching a turning point or major event in your recovery. Honestly analyzing your answers, perhaps with the help of a sponsor or therapist if applicable, will help you a great deal in knowing if you’re ready to move forward.
There is absolutely no shame in needing more time to accomplish whatever goals you may set in your recovery plan. This is your journey, and while others may support you and share this journey with you, your recovery timeline and the rate at which you move forward is yours to decide.
Don’t use this decision as an excuse to put off major steps in your recovery, but instead use it as a tool and guideline to help you understand that everyone moves at a different pace. So long as you are working on yourself in a positive manner, your recovery will blossom and thrive.
Slow down, give yourself a break and be honest. People in your support network, if they are truly there to help you and watch you succeed, will appreciate your honesty and dedication to becoming the person you are truly meant to be.
One day at a time.
And just for today.