When I first checked into the rehab center, I thought to myself that I’m going to get sober and everything will go back to normal. What nobody told me about sobriety is that you are going to experience a completely different level of stress first hand.
Managing stress is particularly important in the first year of sobriety. I have lived with alcohol so for long that it became a part of me. It never occurred to me that in addition to helping me forget all about my work issues, Jack was also my walking stick, the one that kept stress at manageable levels.
Where did all this stress come from?
Stress in early recovery is the immense pressure you feel due to physical and emotional responses to certain situations, thoughts, and feelings. Before submitting to recovery therapy, a glass of neat whiskey was all I needed for the times when I felt beat, had a hard day or was feeling stressed out. True, it took more than one glass to do the trick, but I was sure of one thing: it worked.
In the early stages of the recovery, I felt that my crutch was unjustly taken away from me. My temporary relief was gone and I had all these post-acute withdrawal symptoms to deal with. I had constant headaches and experienced all sorts of physical discomfort like nausea, chest pains, and mild colds. I was going through huge metabolic changes and I often felt overwhelmed and stressed out.
The mere fact that none of the pieces fell neatly into place as I had expected really got to me. It was a difficult moment and I didn’t understand what was going on. The thought of pouring a drink was tempting and terrifying at the same time. I was moody, edgy, agitated, and it felt like the first days of detox all over again.
Learning stress management prevents relapse
When I couldn’t take it anymore, I decided to call my AA sponsor. I must admit I was proud of myself for not asking my old pal Jack for help. My sponsor recommended a therapist who taught me how to manage my stress levels during this period.
I learned that even though I will never be able to fully eliminate stress from my life, I could keep it under control via more constructive approaches. Unlike the short-term relief provided by alcohol, stress management techniques focus on its internal sources, meaning the ones I had created in my head.
The stress management techniques I practiced were based on two things, namely making some lifestyle adjustments and manning up enough to challenge and change my dysfunctional thinking. While the first tasks were simple and implied getting enough rest, a healthy diet and visiting the gym from time to time, modifying your attitude and beliefs is not going to happen overnight.
Alcoholics are notorious for their narrow and self-righteous philosophy. The feat of strength consists of being able to disregard everything you knew for a fact and start re-thinking the critical aspects of your life with an uncluttered mind.