“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Commonly Attributed to Winston Churchill
Out of Control
When the decision to enter recovery is made, the addiction is often out of control. Something has to change or nothing will change. Life has become unmanageable and there are problems that affect numerous areas of living. There may be occupational problems, relational conflicts, housing concerns, legal issues, and spiritual dryness. Common emotional problems include increased levels of depression, guilt, shame, regret, anxiety, worry, disappointment, and despair. Chronic substance use has likely created a physiological and neurochemical impact. Added to that, chronic sleep disturbance, withdrawal effects, nutritional deficiencies, and dehydration are blending together to create a very unsavory stew of chaos.
Residual Effects – Over Reactions
This is how most people enter their first days of recovery and there are numerous after-effects. The chaos of addiction lingers after recovery begins. Often, every nerve is on fire, every relationship strained, every thought tainted, and every moment colored by addiction and withdrawal. Just as a car continues forward after the brake is applied, so the damaging momentum of substance use lingers. This aftermath combines physical illness, emotional overreactions, and pessimistic thoughts in a very unpleasant beginning of recovery. Typically, this is evidenced by depression, worry, emotional outbursts, irritability, low frustration tolerance, complaining, and a general discomfort.
What Can You Do?
Although self-control is in short supply and it is difficult to soothe yourself, there are several strategies to consider. First, understand that this is an adjustment period, although difficult, is survivable and will end. And while the discomfort feels unbearable, it is worth enduring. Knowledge of this process allows a person to be slightly more patient. Second, accept that your heightened sensitivity and your over-reactions during this confusing time of turmoil are unusual and other people often over-react to your over-reactions. Don’t allow yourself to be out of control emotionally and expect others to be perfect in their response. Third, even in this stage, you can own your mood, attitude and disposition. Even though having a disease may not be your fault, recovery is still your responsibility. Don’t make other people responsible for your discomfort and don’t minimize your efforts that produced success.
You likely have consequences because of your substance use. These are tough to manage at any point in time, but more difficult while in this chaotic period of initial recovery. The aftermath of addiction screams to be cleaned up even though you lack the energy or motivation to do so. People in early recovery are suffering; they don’t see the beauty of the world, at least not yet. The glorious colors of life have faded to gray. When asked about the radiant pink and orange stripes of the setting sun bouncing off the clouds in a spectacular display. The person new in recovery might snap, “Shut up with your stupid bouncing colors-what is that to me!” This answer is straight out of the emotional and physical pain of withdrawal which now, taints everything. But wait, normal will reset.
Over time homeostasis is regained, that is, things begin to look, feel, sound, and taste normal again. Those in recovery begin to have usual experiences and standard and ordinary reactions to those events. Irritability and over-reaction are beginning to quiet down. Your thoughts are more rational, logical, and better controlled. It takes several weeks sometimes, and the best advice is simply, endure it. When you accidentally hit your finger with a hammer – shake it off, distract yourself, and move on. Staring at it only seems to make it throb even more. In the same manner, during this early recovery period, endure the irritability, resist the urge to stare at the inconveniences of life, and focus on the positive future. If you are going through hell, keep going. Peace and the contentment of recovery are just ahead.
Recovery is a journey. Enjoy the ride!