How do I live life after recovery from addiction?
Quitting drugs is an opportunity to follow your dreams and live the life that you were meant to live. As your brain heals and you start to feel like yourself again, you will find yourself faced with some important decisions to make.
Returning to active addiction never works out in the end. No one has ever said that they were happy they went back to drug use after being addicted.
Each time you go back to using drugs or alcohol, you will be faced with the hard work and time that it takes to fight your way back to quitting and going through the healing process all over again.
However, you do have the option to make different choices this time. There is no reason that you have to lose more time from your life to active addiction. Why start recovery all over again if you don’t have to?
Going sober? The best time to get started is now.
Now is the time to finally get to work and get the things done that you have always wanted to do. After some time has passed from when you quit using drugs, you will start to see that you are capable of doing nearly anything.
As long as you do not pick up a drug, and you keep working towards your goals, you will get better and better at achieving more in life than you ever imagined. All it takes is making a little progress each day.
We will come back to discussing what you can do to stay drug free and find success in life. First, let’s cover a few things that you may want to avoid so that you will have the best chance for good health and long-term sobriety.
After quitting drugs or alcohol, are you recovering or are you recovered?
For many people who attend 12-step recovery programs, the answer to this question would likely be that a successful recovery does not end. They would say that recovery is a life-long process and that they are a “recovering addict” or “recovering alcoholic.” The word “recovered” is not used by 12-step members.
Yet, the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are not the only path to recovering from addiction and living a sober life. There are other peer support groups that do not share the outlook of the 12-step groups.
And, there are people who recover with the help of doctors, including psychiatrists or psychologists, and with the support of their families. In fact, some people recover from addiction spontaneously, without any special medical treatment or stay in rehab. At some point, they realize that they have had enough, and they are ready to live life differently.
So, it is perfectly acceptable to say that you have recovered from addiction and you are ready to move on with a life after addiction. What are some things that you should keep in mind as you embark on this new life journey?
Above all, avoid taking that first drug.
First, and most importantly, you should avoid drug use. Any drug use that is recreational should be avoided, and in many cases, prescribed medications can be problematic as well.
While it may have been a long time since you have used drugs, and the cravings have subsided, drug use can reawaken the addictive thoughts and take you back to where you started, back to active addiction. It doesn’t take much to trigger those thoughts and feelings again.
You may even feel as if you now have control over drug use. At first, you believe that you are able to limit how much you take and stop when you decide to stop. The thing about addiction is that it can sneak up on you. Before you realize it, your life is out of control again.
It is not uncommon for a person to find themselves back in the middle of active addiction, wondering how such a thing could have happened again. They can always trace it back to that one first drug use that seemed harmless.
At that point, when they took that first one, it seemed as if everything was under control. There is an ominous saying that comes up occasionally in recovery meetings, “It’s not the last one that kills you, it’s the first one.”
Be careful not to replace on addiction with another.
So, after establishing that you must avoid further drug use, what else is there left to do? Another thing to be careful of is to avoid replacing one addiction with another. Additionally, you should avoid performing dangerous activities in an attempt to recreate the rush of adrenaline that comes from using drugs.
For example, some people, after quitting drugs, get in the habit of shoplifting. They take small items from local stores without paying. Most often, this behavior is not because of a lack of resources or a need to steal due to hunger or poverty. They do it simply for the thrill of getting away with it.
Of course, what seems like an innocent and harmless activity can become a serious problem very quickly. You may think that a large retail corporation will not miss a small item, worth just a few dollars. But, this is not the case. Store security personnel are always on the look out for small theft, so they can prosecute and make an example of someone.
Modern security systems employ high-tech, sophisticated software that time stamps and matches purchases with camera footage. Machine learning and facial recognition are also used. You may be surprised one day to find out, while walking out of a store with a cart full of purchases and a few stolen items mixed in, that they can catch you and it will be viewed as a serious crime.
Some people do not need meetings or help from others to recover from addiction. Or, do they?
Other concerning behavior may include gambling, smoking, drinking, overeating, and reckless sexual behavior. You may even know of one or more people who claim to have overcome drug addiction, yet they consume excess alcohol at every possible opportunity, or they gamble often, or engage in some other form of substitute addiction.
When you see this type of behavior in members of your own family, it can be frustrating. Why do they get away with it and you are held to a different standard?
Are you treated like the “black sheep” of the family? Are you the family scapegoat who can not do anything right in the eyes of your parents and siblings?
Have you been marked as the family “addict” and watched carefully by each member of the family to make certain that you do not go anywhere near even a single drop of alcohol? They keep a watchful eye on you at dinners and parties as they drink glass after glass of wine, beer, or cocktails.
This family dynamic is not uncommon. In families that beat up on one family member for being the black sheep, there are usually others in the family who also suffer from addiction, but somehow get away with it by camouflaging their addiction in various ways that are accepted by the rest of the family.
Do not let malicious friends and family hold you back.
Do not let your family drag you down and make you feel bad about yourself. Being the family scapegoat very likely means that you are a gifted person with a high level of intelligence and creativity, and the potential to do great things in life.
Your family tries to equalize the standing of all family members by holding you back. Therapy can help you to recognize what is happening.
The best way to fight back is to stay drug free and take your success in life to a level where they cannot deny your abilities and value as a human being. And, you can build a new, better family by forming relationships with new friends who are inspiring and empowering.
Be mindful when you eat and be aware of your diet.
Overeating and binge eating is a very common serious consequence that occurs for people after quitting drugs. The problem is that food provides a stimulation to the reward center of the brain that is similar to the effects of addictive drugs.
When a person feels good while eating food, this is probably an evolutionary advantage, intended to help humans, and other animals, to learn to eat foods that help them grow and store energy. The problem comes up when the brain’s reward system is damaged, and the person finds the eating of high calorie foods to be comforting and difficult to control.
Food addiction is a serious problem for many people and often starts with drug or alcohol addiction. There are groups, such as Greysheeters Anonymous (GSA) to help people to overcome food bingeing and food addiction.
What about smoking and drinking too much caffeine?
As many recovery group members can attest, smoking is a problem with people recovering from addiction. Unfortunately, nicotine happens to be one of the most addictive substances on earth. It may even be the most addictive drug of all. Lists of the most addictive substances often put nicotine at the top of the list, followed by other drugs, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin.
A few years ago, people started to use nicotine vaping devices as cigarette replacements. Vaping became an unofficial way to “quit” smoking. Many people who used these devices continued to vape without any workable plan to discontinue the practice. They considered vaping to be a safer alternative to cigarette smoking, so they didn’t see any reason to give up inhaled nicotine.
In the early days, experts did not provide clear guidance on why vaping was bad, they just made vague recommendations to not use these devices that had not been evaluated or approved by the FDA. Now, there are clear reasons to give up this practice, and the official reports on the dangers of vaping are in. Vaping can cause, among other problems, something called “popcorn lung” which is permanent damage to lung tissue.
What is the best way to quit smoking? Also, should I quit drinking coffee?
The best way to quit smoking is by setting a definite quit date that you will stick to. The date should not be too far away, maybe only weeks or a month or two. During the time until that date, you can follow a regular schedule of reducing your cigarettes, 10% per week, for example.
Then, you should have support from professionals, including your doctor, group therapy, and possibly a psychologist or counselor. There are government funded programs available in many regions of the US that provide group support, education, and even free nicotine gum or patches. Your doctor may prescribe medication to make quitting cigarettes easier.
When it comes to caffeine, the recommendations from experts are not clear. Recommendations have changed over the years. Currently, some experts state that caffeine may be beneficial in moderation.
For now, if you drink coffee, consider limiting your intake to one or two cups daily. Also, using coffee as a vehicle to intake excess fat, sugar, and calories by filling your coffee with cream and sugar is not a healthy practice.
As you can see, there are a variety of alternative addictions and unhealthy practices that people overcoming addictions find themselves caught up in. Knowing about these risks can help you to be aware and make educated decisions.
Mindfulness, spirituality, and the brain.
It also helps to remain mindful and even practice mindfulness as a discipline, actively bringing your awareness back to the present moment. Carefully consider your decisions and think before acting.
Thoughts and feelings come and go. You do not have to act on them, no matter how much you think you want to do something in the heat of the moment. When you have a strong desire to do something that you know is not good for you, it may be the more primitive parts of your brain, including the reward center and the emotion centers fighting against the decisions made by the more advanced prefrontal cortex.
According to some experts in neuroscience and spirituality, your conscious existence goes beyond the functioning of your physical brain. Imagine that you, the part of you that experiences the outside world and your inside thoughts and feelings, is something beyond what the neurons of your central nervous system are capable of creating.
Think of yourself, your spiritual existence, as an observer and passenger, connected to your brain and body. You experience thoughts and feelings, and you are aware of the world and the actions that you take in the world.
Do I have to believe in spirituality to recover from addiction?
Having religious beliefs or a belief in something beyond scientific explanation is not necessary. You can think of this spiritual version of you as living in the prefrontal cortex, or you can think of it as being a spiritual part of you that transcends the physical world. There are scientists and doctors, even a world renown Harvard neurosurgeon, who believe in the spiritual explanation.
Of course, there are also people choose to believe that consciousness and spiritual experiences will eventually be explained by neuroscience. In being drug-free, you have the freedom to follow your convictions and explore these questions.
Either way, you will find that following spiritual principles, such as being helpful, charitable, grateful, and mindful, will help you to stay away from drugs and to follow your dreams in life. If you do choose to go to a 12-step program, spiritual principles are the foundations of these programs, without holding members to the specific practices of any particular religion.
There are alternatives to spiritual recovery programs.
If you would like to enjoy the fellowship of being in a discussion group with people who are going through or have gone through similar experiences in overcoming addiction, and you choose to avoid a spiritually centered program, there are alternative groups, such as SMART Recovery and LifeRing. SMART Recovery, for example, is based in evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
How do you know what you want to do when rebuilding your life after addiction?
One helpful exercise is to think of what you wanted to be when you were a young child. Maybe you wanted to be a famous musician, an astronaut, a politician, a doctor, or a teacher. It can help to brainstorm and take notes.
Consider asking trusted friends how they see you in terms of an ideal role in society and what they believe you would love doing in life. Write about the things you truly enjoy doing and see if you can refine those thoughts to break through and figure out what might work best for a future career or hobby.
You do not have to get it right the first time. With whatever you choose to do first, even if it does not work out the way you planned, you will have gained valuable experience. When you do discover what it is that you love to do and you are able to successfully transform it into a business or career, you will find yourself looking back and connecting the dots. You will see that even the mistakes you made were necessary to bring you to where you are today.
As you make progress in learning and trying things out, it is helpful to look back at the progress you have made to see how far you have come. This is an excellent mental exercise, to take a self-inventory of each small triumph along the way.
Being grateful for your progress can help you to stay on track.
Imagine being several years out from your last time using drugs. You may at times feel frustrated, because you think you are behind schedule on achieving a major goal. For example, your goal might be to have a successful business that can run without your day to day hands-on involvement.
In evaluating your progress, you realize that you have started a business and it is not losing money. When you think about how far you have come from the day when everything seemed hopeless to your successes of today, you feel an immense gratitude for what you are capable of when you move past active addiction.
Your goal might not be to start a business. Maybe you want to go back to school or you want to move up in your current career. Or, you might want to have a better relationship with your family. Whatever your life goals, looking back and appreciating your progress can help greatly in keeping you on track and feeling good about where you are today.
Everyone starts from a different place when putting down drugs or alcohol. Some people have major legal challenges or financial problems early on. Do not let these obstacles overwhelm you or deter you from quitting drugs. You will get through each of these issues and put them behind you, one by one.
Recovery takes time.
There is no rush to get better and fix up your life. Healing from addiction takes time. If you can take small steps forward in taking the actions necessary to fix problems and move towards your goals, those little steps will add up to major accomplishments before you know it.
When it comes to dealing with legal problems, it is usually the best choice to work with a qualified lawyer for your specific issues. If you have health problems, see your doctor. Asking for help and getting help from others is not at all a weakness. Being able to ask for and accept help is a cornerstone of being successful.
While it is important to ask for help from qualified people when you have specific challenges, don’t forget that much of the healing process takes time and cannot be rushed. Rather than getting frustrated that your life is not improving faster, you can simply remind yourself that staying drug-free is a major accomplishment by itself.
Medical treatment for addiction has a high rate of success.
If you are just getting started, and you are taking opioids or drinking excessive alcohol, you may be wondering what you can do to get off of the substances safely and comfortably. While opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl, and alcohol are the most dangerous substances to misuse, there is medical treatment for both opioid and alcohol addiction.
The first step in getting help for these addictions should be to see a doctor who is qualified and experienced in providing medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorder. Specifically, you can see a Suboxone doctor near you for buprenorphine treatment if you are using opioids. Or, if your drug of choice is alcohol, you can see a doctor who prescribes naltrexone tablets or the vivitrol shot.
Also, look up The Sinclair Method for quitting alcohol. TSM is a form of medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use disorder that uses naltrexone tablets.
Getting sober on your own is not easy. Medical treatment can make the process safer and more tolerable.
Tune in to learn more about the best ways to recover and rebuild your life after addiction.
To learn more about addiction treatment, you may be interested in tuning into podcasts on the subject of addiction recovery. The best recovery podcasts will cover all aspect of treatment, including medication-assisted treatment. You will find many great podcasts on the subject of addiction recovery and other interesting subjects on our network, The Mental Health News Radio Network.
Whatever stage you are currently at in recovery from active addiction, now is a great time to reaffirm your commitment to moving forward and reevaluating your recovery program. A sober life is the best life. When you put drugs and alcohol behind you, there is no limit to what you can accomplish.