1) Triggers and Cravings. Urges to drink or use come in two flavors. A trigger is something that sparks an urge, usually something that is associated with past using - the sight of your favorite drink, the smell of your favorite drink, meeting a drinking/using friend, sitting in an airport waiting, anything external that happens to spark an urge. A craving is a very strong urge, that may or may not come in response to an external trigger. These are features of addiction recovery, and one way to manage them is to distract our attention to something else. Music, reading, driving, walking, playing with a child or pet, leaving the room, anything that diverts our attention for a little while can be a huge relief. These urges don't generally last long, and if we can manage for even 5 minutes we're usually past them. Most people find that cravings are limited to very early recovery, but triggered urges can and will come up occasionally for a long time. We learn to live with them, and just let them pass on by.
2) That addict voice in your head. While the concept may not be grounded in physiology, many people are nevertheless helped by thinking of themselves as two parts, the sober self and the addict self. The addict self might be referred to as the "Addicted Voice", or the "A", or the "Lizard Brain", or the "Reptile", or just "Stinkin Thinkin". It's the part of you that wants to drink or use, damn the consequences, and can be thought of as the source of all temptations. It can help us to externalize this part, the evil little bird sitting on your shoulder telling you lies. Learn its ways, learn how it works, and learn to differentiate what is and is not rational sober thought. The addict voice grows faint over time.
3) Keep your support going. Now is not the time to isolate. Humans are social animals, and we gain strength and personal power in part by interacting with other people. Continued support might be the most critical aspect of recovery, and many people who decide they are beyond that need are fooling themselves and may be setting themselves up for a relapse. Remember, your addict voice wants you to stop the support because "you don't need it anymore".
4) Remember that this is a process that can take years. We can't lose focus and think we're "cured". It often took us years for us to dig our holes, and it can take years to fill them back up. This is the long haul, a change of lifestyle, and not just a near-term goal.
5) Watch for black/white thinking. The world is really pretty gray. Thinking it is black and white, either/or, right/wrong, can be empowering in the short-term, but it is misleading and can build anger and frustration. There is serenity in understanding that everyone is different, and there are no black/white answers to recovery from addiction, other than abstinence, however you achieve and maintain it.
6) Watch for anger, frustration and intolerance. These emotions can be triggering at a time when we wish to build peace and serenity. Distraction can be our friend when these feelings start to take over. Listen to your favorite music with headphones, pet your cat, play with your children, anything that takes your mind away can provide relief.
7) Practice sober stress release. We may need to practice new tools, particularly if we started using and then abusing drugs and alcohol as a perceived stress release. Take walks, listen to music, take a drive, meditate, anything you wish that you can train your brain to rely on for relief.
8) Give back with service. This might be serving coffee at your local support group meeting, this might be facilitating a support group meeting with Freestyle Recovery or another group. Service rebuilds our sense of responsibility and self-esteem while helping others. It feels good, and it is good for your recovery.
9) Consider long-term therapy. Trauma is often, but not always, what drove us to use and then abuse drugs and alcohol in the first place. This might be emotional or physical trauma, sometimes it is sexual, and often it dates back to childhood. We may also have underlying mental health issues like depression. Long-term therapy for these issues can help us come to terms with who we are and how we got to where we are, and once we've built up some clean and sober time we might decide that now is a good time to get some professional assistance. There are also other kinds of peer support groups to explore, including dual-diagnosis groups for people with addiction coupled with other mental health issues.
10) Consider a Sober Living Environment (SLE). A SLE is usually a group home, where you live temporarily with other recovering addicts in a safe environment that is removed from your home life. This can be a transition period after leaving an inpatient/residential treatment facility, or it can be an escape by itself while you attend outpatient treatment. You can continue to work, or look for work, while staying away from triggers and possible dysfunction at home and benefitting from the group support of the SLE.
11) Don't make major life changes if you can avoid them. The first 6-12 months are a good time to try to maintain balance and not make major life decisions, including starting or ending relationships, if at all possible. The focus is on building your new clean and sober life, not making major and possibly life-changing decisions in other areas.
12) Accept your losses.The serenity prayer has wisdom here, you cannot change the past and some of the wreckage may be simply unfixable. There are things in this world that we cannot change. We can grieve, and this is healthy, but we must eventually accept our losses and move on.
13) When you are ready, apologies may be in order. As we begin to understand how we must have behaved towards and appeared to those close to us, and how we may have harmed them, we can feel deep shame. This shame is dangerous for recovery, and the addict voice wants us to feel shame. A simple and absolutely appropriate response is to accept what we've done and apologize, sincerely. This may or may not change anything external to us, but it helps us internally and it is the right thing to do. We cannot change the past, all we can do is move forwards.
14) Have fun! Abstinence is a reprieve, not a sentence. Have some sober fun, there are countless ways. And remember to laugh.
15) Accept your growing personal power. You have done an amazing thing, be proud and confident in all things except going back to drinking and using.
16) Move your horizons back gradually. At some point, one day at a time may become a hindrance instead of a help. Think ahead. Where do you want to go in life? The sky is the limit as long as you stay clean and sober, and your personal power will take you wherever you want to go.
The first few months to two years are what most people consider addiction recovery. By the end of this phase, we are probably solidly clean and sober, and we probably feel better than we ever have. What is next? The rest of your life!
Sustaining Your Recovery Takes Work!
Many people surprise themselves with how easily they adapt to abstinence from drugs and alcohol in the early recovery period. The challenge can range from easy to a brutal hour by hour battle, but it usually gets easier fairly quickly if we stick with it. We rebuild our personal power each and every day, we build confidence, we build self-esteem, our minds clear up, and we begin to see that it's not as impossible as we might once have thought. But if we think we've won, we are often surprised again by how easy it is to relapse and wind up back where we started, or in an even worse place. An analogy might be going on a crash diet, perhaps following the latest weight-loss program you see advertised on TV. If you follow the diet and treat weight loss as a near-term goal, you can accomplish that goal - but you may very well wind up back where you started farther down the road, because you didn't make the lifestyle changes necessary to sustain it.
Keeping your recovery going takes work and continued focus. There are many, many things we can do to make this continuing process easier, but there are some commonalities that often help. Some suggestions to keep in mind during the first months to a couple years follow. As always, take what you can use and leave the rest for the next person.