My sober date is January 1st, 2016, but I’ve been in and out of recovery for much longer than that.
My father was in a 12 Step Program when I was a kid, and that was my first foray into the world of recovery. It did not go well. He was going to meetings and getting drunk afterwards and coming home talking to my mother and I about sobriety. Given that this was my first glimpse, I didn’t think very highly of these sorts of programs. I think that’s an experience a lot of people have. Every family has a designated drunk [or two, or more] that goes up and down and in and out of what we in recovery call ‘the rooms.’ Well, that up and down in and out thing is exactly what I did for about the first year.
I don’t claim to have a lot of sober time, or to know everything, but what I do know is my own experience, and this list is based on that alone.
1. amplified emotions
If you’re anything like me and most other addicts I’ve met, you’ve spent the entirety of your drinking or using career trying to suppress any and all emotions. You may have done this because you didn’t know how to deal with them to begin with, or maybe you started too early in your life for that to matter, but it all catches back up with you.
Sometimes, in the beginning, it felt like my brain was on overload. I would be joyful one minute and devastated the next. I had no idea how to process these feelings. It was as though every emotion that I drank to escape hit me all at once. When it became too much to bear, I learned that I just had to talk about it, even if I didn’t think I had the words. When I expressed my feelings, whether it was in a meeting or over a cup of coffee with another addict, I felt immense relief. They usually understood exactly what I meant, and if they didn’t, well, at least I wasn’t alone.
2. the pink cloud
People call this different things in different places, but this term basically means the high you get from finally being clear minded. It’s as though your head is in the clouds. Maybe it’s adrenaline or serotonin, or maybe you’re just reveling in the knowledge that there is another way, and you don’t have to live in misery forever. Food tastes better, you drink water, you suddenly have a huge group of people who actually want to spend time with you and would never turn you away.
There’s nothing wrong with this feeling at all. As a matter of fact, it’s a really great place to be, it just doesn’t last. Remember that this too shall pass, and try not to be alarmed when life catches up with you and you realize that you need to put the work in to achieve the rewards.
3. other ‘isms’
This is another one of those terms like the ‘pink cloud’ that’s called different things by different people. Some people simply refer to them as character defects, which you’ll identify later as part of your step work.
When you get sober, you suddenly don’t have your fallback substance to help you deal with life, and other coping mechanisms come out of the woodwork. You may smoke more, obsessively clean things [I used to wipe down the kitchen counters about a million times a day,] or fixate on your food intake, especially if you’ve had issues with eating disorders in the past. I call this food noise. [There are recovery programs for eating disorders- please go to one if you need help.] Most of this will pass. They may be things you have to work on, or symptoms of underlying issues, but you don’t have to tackle it all at once. Seek help if you need it, and give yourself time to adjust.
4. body freak outs
The severity of physical changes will depend, of course, on how long and how much you’ve used a specific substance. Generally, though, it will have been for a while, and your body will need to re calibrate itself to the lack of chemicals you’re no longer flooding into it.
In recovery, my whole body went through a detox of sorts. My skin broke out, my digestive system did some weird things, and my energy bounced back and forth between limited and excessive. It’s good to try and take care of yourself during this time- eat well, rest, exercise, the general recommendations. You don’t need to go out and run a mile, just try to eat food that isn’t all brown in color.
5. changing your people, places and things
Sobriety truly opens up the world up. Suddenly, you are a part of your community and have new friends and can make plans any time you want. However, if you continue the same habits you had before you entered recovery, the likelihood is that you’ll go back out for some more ‘research.’
If you listen to suggestions, you’ll change your people, places, and things. Sometimes, old friends may have a hard time adjusting to this. Of course you don’t need to cut everyone out of your life, but you’ll probably find that people who you only drank or used with will move on to someone else that does. That can be really hard to deal with, especially if you’ve known them for a long time. You may even need to take a step back from family members to protect your recovery.
These changes are not forever, unless you decide you want them to be. And while it’s hard to lose friends, you may find that you like knowing who your real ones are.
I hesitate to include this, because relapse is absolutely not necessary to recover, but it does happen. Sometimes, you’re just not ready. Sometimes you need to do some more research to decide if you really do have a problem. Maybe you just want to dig your rock bottom a little deeper.
I was in and out for about a year. I’d get 90 days, a week, 24 hours, 30 days. I’d go out and drink and come back in and listen politely and then try to figure it out on my own. My drinking got so much worse during this time. People in the rooms always accepted me and invited me to return. Eventually I decided that I was miserable, and I finally tried what they said. I picked up the phone instead of a drink. I did the next right thing. I got a sponsor. None of it happened immediately, but I didn’t rush myself, and I felt the rewards as I put in the work.
You’re simply not ready until you’re ready.
We are our own harshest critics. We either think we should have it all figured out or we’re admonishing ourselves about our pasts. We hold ourselves to the highest standard or convince ourselves that we deserve nothing because of the pain we’ve caused others. A lot of the time we have all these thoughts at once.
I still struggle with this. I have to remember that recovery is not linear, and just because yesterday was good or bad doesn’t mean today will be, too.
It is likely that you will face criticism from others as well. Some people will take issue with your sobriety. They’ll tell you that you just need to slow down and that you’re too old or young or pretty or whatever it is to give up your drink or drug of choice. Sometimes, you will want to believe them. Trust that this talk is much more of a reflection of themselves than it is of you, and people like that tend to avoid mirrors.
Remember that this is your journey, and even taking the first step is amazing. You have your whole life ahead of you and loads of people who love you. Keep coming back.