6-minute read time.
I was excited, but nervous, to leave treatment. For 45 days I was surrounded by doctors, nurses, counsellors, and other clients. For 45 days I was safe from most triggers, had assistance when I felt cravings, and had a strict routine. I didn’t have to think much about what or when I would eat, when I would go to bed or wake up, where I would go, or any of the other choices we usually make on a daily basis. These decisions were all made for me, and made life simple. Now leaving, these decisions were all up to me again, and that safe and comfortable net underneath was gone.
The question I had to keep asking myself was “How did I stay sober here?” In order to maintain my recovery, I had to replicate my experience as best I could outside those walls. I knew I had to surround myself with doctors, counsellors, and others in recovery. So, when I left treatment, I had an honest conversation with my doctor and got setup on the proper medications, continued to see a counsellor from the treatment centre as part of their aftercare program, got a psychologist that could work on deeper, trauma-based issues, and joined a 12 Step Fellowship for peer support. I knew I had to go all-in on available community supports.
Though I had a toolbox of skills and knowledge to take into the world with me as well, out of everything I learned I was told two things during my time that had a profound impact on me, and still do to this day.
Recovery Comes First
On day one of treatment I was given a piece of paper that had a quote:
“My recovery must come first, or everything I love in my life will have to come last.“
Nothing can be more important to me than my wellbeing and my program of recovery. Nothing. It takes the cake and must continue to. It seems a bit selfish because addiction is a self-centred way of being, and now recovery is another focus on the self, but it really comes down to the results of your self-centred actions.
We are told as children, and definitely as teenagers, how “selfish” we are. I do agree that in those times the selfishness can come from a place of ego and decisions are made without the thought of others. The wellbeing of everyone around you isn’t taken into account. We want the world to work our way and our way alone, but when it doesn’t (as it won’t and never will), we throw a tantrum and become resentful of whoever or whatever was in the way. We do this in addiction as well, when we don’t get the money, the drugs, or the people around us don’t fall into our manipulative traps, all hell breaks loose.
It’s much different in recovery. We focus on ourselves to be the best for not only ourselves, but for those around us. When we are at our best, and our mental, physical and spiritual health is solid, we are able to be there for others and be of service to those in need. We are happy, healthy, positively contributing members of society. Our families benefit, our partners benefit, our employers benefit – it is for the greater good of everyone around us.
And so, my recovery has come first since the day I was passed that piece of paper. Because it has come first, I am typing this article as a sober, contributing member of society. I am sitting in a warm house, surrounded by my family, and have a few incredibly important friends around me. I run a business in addiction support. Life is good. However, I must never rest on my laurels and think “I’ve got this”. Just for today I have all of these things, and I must continue doing the right things to continue living a good life.
It’s a New Game
The second most important thing I was told was on the last day of treatment. One of the counsellors said to me – “Remember, it’s a new game.”
For anyone out there struggling with addiction or mental health, know that starting today, it’s a brand new game. There is absolutely nothing we can change about the things we have done or the damage we have caused. This doesn’t mean we can pretend nothing happened, or expect forgiveness from others. What it does is give us the ability to let go of a lot of the shame and move forward with a fresh perspective and mindset.
I get a restart. We all get a restart. Every single day. We get to choose, one decision at a time, to move in a direction of growth and positivity, or to move in the direction of negative, habitual, pleasure-driven, and selfish motives.
I had always dragged my past into my present. I wove the story of who I was into my present experience, which were two completely different things. Our ego’s love continuity and coherence – things have to make sense and have to continue as normal. For my recovery, I had to dismantle the story of me and my addiction so it would no longer determine who I would be moving forward. This was a vital step.
Once I dropped that story, accepted the things that I had done, and decided to move forward as a new and ever-evolving person, I could finally break free. They say the only true amends is to never repeat the same behaviour again, and I believe that to be the truth. To make it up to the people around me, I had to take consistent action to be a better human, and show everyone I was changing for the better. At this point, my words were hollow. All the lies, manipulation, the ‘sorry’s’ and ‘I’ll never do it again’s’ fell on deaf ears. I had to show them.
Truth be told, I fell in love with the process of recovery. I guess I can say I am one of the lucky ones. I love self-improvement and discovering who I am behind the masks and protective layering.
Recovery also evolves over time for everyone, as it did for me. In the beginning, it looked much different than it looks today. There are certain things that remain the same, but their importance and priority may be different. This will continue over my lifetime, as I am growing and figuring out who I am each day.
Throughout this process I have done and continue to do a lot of work. This list is extensive, however I feel it is necessary to list some of what recovery consists of. Over time I will be writing about these categories in more broad and detailed ways.
- how to properly regulate emotions
- distress tolerance
- mindfulness / meditation
- interpersonal relationships
- trauma processing
- diet and nutrition
- yoga and exercise
- discovering my core values
- improving my self-esteem
- learning to deal with my thoughts
- learning my triggers
- how to handle anxiety and mental health issues
- learning acceptance
- letting go of control
- developing healthy habits (and removing unhealthy ones)
- building structure and routine
- finding alternate pleasures
- how to lay and keep boundaries
- effective communication skills
- rebuilding trust with myself and others
- codependency traits
- jealousy and comparison
- judgement of myself and others
- my fears and resentments
- self-care practices that work for me
- developing a new sense of purpose and meaning
- taking responsibility and accountability
- learning to be my authentic self
- learning how to express myself creatively
- determining short, medium and long-term goals
- developing my own definition of spirituality
There are seven things that I have left off this list intentionally. This is because they form the absolute pinnacle of my recovery program today, and deserve more than a bullet-point of writing. In the next post or two I will dive much deeper into these seven topics to give you a clear view of why.
The beautiful thing about the process of recovery is that the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know, and the more I continue finding things to learn and work towards. I remain a beginner, which ultimately keeps me humble.
I am recovering the old me I once knew many moons ago, but I am also discovering parts of myself that I either forgot, or never knew to begin with.
Disclaimer: By no means is this supposed to say that I am ‘recovered’. I firmly believe that if I were to pick up another drink or drug, I would be right back where I left off. I’m not sure why that is exactly, and I will surely be writing more about this mystery in the future.