26 Sep Moving Too Fast in Early Recovery
A lot of us in early recovery are fearful of walking away from things – school, a relationship, a job – in order to take the time necessary to work on ourselves, and our recovery. Addiction doesn’t have any regard for job responsibilities or upcoming midterms though, and a lot of the time the circumstances of our bottom will force us away from these things suddenly and unexpectedly.
Looking at and addressing all the underlying factors that go into and drive our drug and alcohol abuse is a lot more manageable once most of the contributing factors have been removed and full attention can be directed at the addiction. With a concentrated effort and a supportive community, relief can often come quickly in early recovery, and we start to regain the sense of control and direction that was missing for such a long time. Getting back into school, diving deeper into a career, or jumping into a serious committed relationship can all seem like pressing issues that need to be attended to. The problem with moving too quickly in early recovery though, is that it sets us up for failure. As a recovering addict it can be easy to let sobriety fall to the wayside and fix on these things instead. At the same time we haven’t fully developed or practiced the tools that come with time and experience staying sober – putting us in a position for a potential relapse.
The problem with addicts is that we always need to feel good. A big part of early recovery is learning how to be ok with yourself, and in order to do that we have to sit through some uncomfortable feelings and do the work that allows us to be all right in our own skin. So when you introduce an outside factor like going back to college or a relationship, the addict is able to circumvent the way they feel about themselves and use the external situation as a new fix or distraction. In a sense, college can become a replacement for drugs or alcohol and allow someone to get outside of him or herself the same way that using and drinking used to. But the underlying problem still remains. This is even more common in relationships, where newly recovering addicts will completely lose themselves in someone else’s needs and feed completely off of their approval and validation. The same can be said about the seemingly innocuous act of losing yourself in a career. It’s important to remember that none of these things are bad in and of themselves; the issue is when they are introduced too early in a developing addict’s recovery. When we move too quickly it is easy to fix on these externalities at the expense of our own recovery.
A big part of early recovery is developing and beginning to practice the tools that will allow us to be successful as we move forward in life and continue to stay sober. When we first dry out though, we haven’t had much experience when it comes to actually applying them to our lives. Eagerly rushing back into something like college can be a recipe for disaster. All of a sudden, while still emotionally fragile, we are getting thrown back into high stress, performance oriented, results driven situations. Families and addicts alike are often in a hurry to “get back to school,” ignoring the obvious pitfall of this situation; all of those factors are things that drove us to drink and use in the past. Doesn’t it make sense that if I just started a woodshop class; I’m going to practice making a few simple projects to get the hang of how everything works and get comfortable with using the new tools I’ve been introduced to, before immediately going out and contracting to build fine cabinetry? It’s the same with recovery. Putting ourselves in intense situations like college before we are adequately equipped to handle the added pressures is asking for a relapse.
While this all sounds like common sense, we see all too often in the rooms of AA, the exact opposite taking place. Someone will put together 30, 60 or even 90 days and decide, often with the encouragement of their well-meaning families, that it is a good time to go back to college. Unfortunately, time and time again, the same people come back home high or drunk, with everyone wondering why their sobriety didn’t stick. Likewise, we consistently see people in early recovery land high paying jobs with a lot of responsibility. Advancement becomes the focus at the price of time spent working on oneself. Sooner rather than later, when the career is more important than the recovery, a relapse happens.
Getting sober is all about moving forward and growing, and by no means is it a good idea to stay stagnant as you put together time away from drugs and alcohol. The sober young people’s community in Los Angeles is filled with people excelling in their careers, schools and engaging in healthy, happy relationships. The issue is jumping into these things at the right time. As recovering addicts, we have to first take care of our own recovery, and ourselves in order to build a strong enough foundation to handle the success along with the ups and downs as we move forward in life.