working hard

Imagine you’ve never run a marathon. How do you think you’d make out if you didn’t train for it? What if you start training, 100% committed, but after a couple weeks you start to cancel sessions, cut them short, stop asking your trainer what he thinks is best and instead tell him what you think you should do – even though you’ve never been in a marathon before? Would you consider this self-sabotaging behavior?

We can take this scenario and replace “marathon” with “recovery” to illustrate what happens to a lot of people who are newly clean and sober. Motivated by pain and desperation, they ask for help and are willing to do whatever it takes to find relief. Within a couple weeks or months of not drinking or using drugs, they’re feeling pretty good. This change has come about from the combined effects of abstinence and applying the tools they have learned, exercise and stress reduction techniques  What they’ve been doing is so obviously working that their pain and fear have subsided. Then amnesia sets in. When their addict-mind starts to minimize how bad using left them feeling , the newcomer is incapable of separating these distorted thoughts from reality. This is  the seduction of the disease of addiction in action.

What do you suppose their next move is? They cut back on the effort they’ve been making. Same as the person who decides they have what it takes to run a marathon without completing their training. After a few weeks clean and sober they’re are anxious to get “back to their lives” and are willing to compromise the time they’ve been spending developing a healthy recovery-based lifestyle. Here’s what’s missing from their thought process: a few weeks abstinent isn’t long enough to create any lasting changes in their brain yet. The disease-mind is still in control, albeit a bit weaker. It’s hungry and busy at work trying to trick the newcomer away from any actions that will continue to weaken it.

The disease of addiction is like a computer virus that has read your hard-drive. It can mimic your thinking and the newly sober person can’t discern disease-driven thinking from healthy thinking. In active addiction, it hijacks the brain to keep feeding it more drugs and alcohol – this is why, when using, we feel out of control. Without the defenses that come from actively participating in recovery, the reasons for using again will always seem to make sense  – one way or another. Self-reliance in early recovery usually shrinks the recovery-commitment. The way the disease of addiction regains power simply gets subtler. This is how a lot of relapses begin.

This is why it is important to have a recovery support system. When you’ve rationalized cutting back on the tools that have helped you to stay clean, there will be someone to point what you are really doing – moving away from recovery.

You know how hard it is to go back to the gym after time away? Well if someone in their first few months clean starts coasting on abstinence alone, they won’t reap the benefits of recovery. Without coping skills, feelings are too uncomfortable. Recovery is taking repetitive actions until you re-train your brain to take life-affirming actions rather than seek to escape reality. Learning how to honestly assess where you are at emotionally by identifying feelings comes with practice. By cutting back on the things that helped you at the beginning, the muscles you were building weaken. When emotional discomfort comes along the old wiring starts asking for relief. Often this story ends with, “I don’t know how it happened. I really wanted to stay sober.” Of course staying engaged in recovery doesn’t mean that you’ll always feel great but you will have choices on what to do with these feelings other than get high. t takes a while to thaw out but all feelings pass. During the first six months there will be highs and lows. Generally emotional roller-coaster starts to even out between sixty and ninety days.

Here’s what I really think is behind the shrinking commitment. The first sign of disengagement from a recovery routine is also the first sign of some feelings thawing out. On some unconscious level, they know these feelings have surfaced from being in recovery so their first reaction is to step away from the cause. The irony is that recovery teaches you to be fearless so that you can embraces your feelings rather than run blindly from them.

If you are new to recovery, connect to others whether it is finding support in a 12-step or alternative recovery group, an outpatient group, a therapist or drug counselor, or simply search for people to connect to on websites like Trust me, the disease of addiction will make a convincing case for why it’s important to take a “day off” from taking care of yourself emotionally, physically and spiritually. So where are at you today? Are you working hard or hardly working?









Patty is a nationally recognized certified recovery coach and writer. She lives in New York City.

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