(press release: summitbehavioralhealth) // New Jersey // Maria Ulmer MA, LMFT, CAADC | Chief Clinical Officer
Early recovery is difficult; it is within the first six months of sobriety that most relapses happen. So, it’s recommended that you stay away from anything that may lead you to return to drinking or using.
If you have been to alcohol or drug addiction treatment already, you have likely heard that changing the people, places, and things in your life is often necessary to maintain sobriety. Balancing what you hope to keep in your old life with your new life in recovery isn’t an easy endeavor. Change is hard – you have to take it day by day. The following are a few thoughts to help you along your way.
When you’re new in recovery, it’s dangerous to continue to go to the places you went while using. Whether you frequented bars, parties, concerts, or other using settings, they are especially slippery in early recovery. You won’t necessarily have to avoid these places forever, but they can certainly put brand new sobriety at risk. It’s normal to not be in a completely healthy emotional place when you have just gotten sober, so there is no reason to go back to the places that you used drugs or drank alcohol – you have no business being there. Slippery places will only serve to make you feel like an outsider as you watch others drink. It can be tortuous and a relapse waiting to happen.
If there are specific drinking events that you feel you must attend in early sobriety, like weddings or family gatherings, consider whether or not you really have to. There is no shame in bowing out of situations that might challenge your sobriety. If you must go, talk with your sponsor or therapist to come up with coping strategies and to have support ready for you if you need it.
Don’t allow the fact that you can’t go to your old hangouts make you think that you will never have fun again. Get involved with other sober people, and you will quickly realize that there are a lot of activities and events that they attend that are exciting and interesting. Try new things – take a class, spend time outdoors, find a new hobby. Your life isn’t over it’s just changing.
Your top priority is your recovery. That means that anyone you used to drink or use drugs with needs to be cut off straightaway. That may mean that you are walking away from people and friends who have been in your life for a long time. However, if drugs or alcohol surrounded those relationships, you have to do it. If they really have your best interests at heart, they will be supportive of you making a positive change in your life. If not, good riddance. There’s a saying in recovery circles that “there is nothing like getting sober to show you who your real friends are.”
Of course, some people who are threatening to your sobriety you can’t get away from, like family members. And they are the most likely people to know how to push your buttons and send you right back to the liquor store. Try to keep contact and interaction with those people to a minimum. Talk with other people in recovery to see how they have dealt with those types of situations, and share your thoughts and concerns with them. It isn’t likely that you will have problems in recovery that others haven’t had too, so they can be a great support to you.
There may be specific things that you did while you were drinking or using drugs that bring up feelings of craving when you are in recovery. For example, maybe you always drank while you were listening to certain music or watching specific movies or television shows. Those may seem like harmless and normal things to do, but if they make you feel triggered to drink or use, you should stay away from them for a while. It doesn’t mean that you have to avoid activities that you used to enjoy forever; you just need to have more experience being sober and dealing with triggers before you try them again.
The key to avoiding risky behaviors and situations is to learn what your triggers are and then stay away from them until you are better equipped to handle them. Staying away from things that are going to cause you to romanticize your alcohol or drug using is a good rule of thumb in early recovery. Be mindful of how you are feeling and talk to someone supportive when you feel triggered. Those feelings won’t last forever, but hopefully your sobriety will.
Recovery Requires Change
The idea behind changing people, places, and things in recovery is to break your old patterns of behavior that led you to drink or use. People who are new in recovery often fall victim to “euphoric recall,” romanticizing or glamorizing their past using, only recalling the pleasurable feelings and positive times they had. This is a dangerous way of thinking, and putting yourself in situations (or around people) in which you used to drink or use can easily lead you to those types of thoughts. It’s always a good idea to break up the old pattern of the romanticized fantasy to its complete end.
Consider times in the past when you made positive changes that were difficult. It’s likely that those changes quickly became your new normal. Recovery is like that too. It will feel natural and normal to you given some time.
Making positive changes and finding the right addiction treatment and support for your recovery will make the process less overwhelming and reduce your stress as you embark on your new lifestyle.
To learn more about how change can help during addiction treatment and recovery read, Readiness for Change During Addiction Treatment.
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