Before I get give you some tools for success in early recovery from addiction, it is important to point out that recovery is not just simply stopping certain addictive behaviors. It is a change in how life is approached and practicing those healthy behaviors until they become integrated and internalized in who you are. Early recovery is nothing like being 2, 4, or 8 years sober. It is so different that many people relapse because they never move past the initial phase of addiction recovery where they are just hanging on for dear life to stay sober. This no longer works after a few months in recovery and eventually you have to start growing as a person in order to maintain positive direction in your life, however, in order to move to later stages of recovery you will need to have a solid foundation in the early stages of your recovery. It is advisable, that you work with a Psychotherapist to help you stay on recovery, initially.
Short term success in recovery may be something you have achieve many times because you “white knuckled” your way through, meaning that you simply used your willpower to stay clean and sober but this process eventually leads you back to drinking and using. Here are some of the tools that can be essential for success in early recovery:
1. GETTING RID OF PARAPHERNALIA- This seems like a no brainer, but addiction can have a powerful voice rationalizing the need for the paraphernalia to stay put. It is important to ask what is considered paraphernalia? Any equipment you needed to facilitate your addiction for drinking or drug use. So that old bong your grandmother gave you last Christmas that you are holding on to for sentimental reasons has to go. Syringes, storage boxes, and for alcoholics even a display of shot glasses may be a huge trigger to get you back to using. The fewer your trigger the easier early recovery will be. So start by cleaning out your surroundings.
2. SCHEDULE YOUR TIME- Having a daily planner and scheduling your time can make you be like a fortune teller. By writing down your schedule, you can see slots where you have too much time on your hands that can lead to boredom and often relapse. You can also have time to think of the activities you have planned. So if you see that you have scheduled a visit to your dealer’s house for a friendly chat you can rethink and revise, where as if you are flying by the seat of your pants and just going through your day it is much easier to miss the signs and relapse.
3. IDENTIFY YOUR TRIGGERS- How can you have a solution if you don’t know what the problem is? In recovery triggers are the problem so it is important to identify what they are so you can have a solution. Each person will have their own unique set of triggers, but in order to identify your triggers it is easiest if we break them in to three categories: External Triggers(people, place and situation), Internal Triggers(feelings) and Sensory Triggers(taste, smell and sound).
4. PLAN OF ACTION- Once you have identified your own unique set of triggers, you will need to have a plan of action in order to prevent relapse. There are three ways you can deal with a trigger: Eliminate meaning get rid of it all together. A good example for this would be getting rid of your drug dealer, unless you are the drug dealer yourself and then we would have to come up with something different. Avoid all the situations that could trigger you to drink or use. So don’t go to the bar you use to frequent to just have a cup of coffee with your buddies. Your last resort if you can not eliminate or avoid a trigger is to Plan. I want to make sure that it is clear that this is a last resort because often patients of mine will try to use planning for situations that could clearly be avoided. So just because you use the would plan in a sentence does not mean you have one. A great example of how addiction can rationalize almost anything was an old patient telling me that he was planning to go to his cocaine dealer’s home where people were usually snorting coke off the table and he was PLANNING on not using. So use planning if nothing else is possible, like if your drive to work is your trigger and clearly you can not eliminate or avoid going to work you may start thinking of a plan such as carpool.
5. THOUGHT STOPPING- What if you can not eliminate, avoid or plan for a trigger? Those trigger fall under the category of accidental. This actually happened to one of my patients where he was driving and stopped at a red light, his drug dealers stopped right next to him rolled down the window and wanted to front him twenty. Fortunately he did not take it but as he was driving he kept running the scenario in his head. “I should have just gotten it, lied to my therapist, and gotten my kid to do my urine so I would not show up positive.” If he would have continued running these thoughts in his head it would have been easy for him to relapse, but he was able to use the thought stopping tool to prevent use. Basically what thought stopping is understanding how relapse usually happens and stopping it along the way. The process of relapse looks something like this:
TRIGGER——-}THOUGHT———}CRAVING——-}USE. The objective is to stop your thoughts from developing in to cravings because once the cravings come the chances of using are much higher. It is important to replace the drug and alcohol thoughts with something meaningful or interesting to you which has nothing to do with using.
6. BEING SMART NOT STRONG-The idea here is to avoid relying on willpower as a means to maintain recovery and instead replacing willpower with sound decision making i.e. being smart. What that would look like in realistic terms would be for example being smart would be not attending a dinner with friends who are going to be ordering two bottles of wine for the table and strong would be going and using your willpower not to drink. You may not end up relapsing that night by using your willpower, but you will have just taken one step closer to relapsing.
Early recovery is very different from being sober long term. The initial part of recovery is mostly focused on gathering tools such as the above to solidify your recovery, however, long term recovery is really understanding and healing the wounds that starting the drinking and using in the first place. Counseling with a Los Angeles therapist who has expertise in the area of addiction can be a great first step towards growing as a person to lead a healthier more gratifying life.