Many recovering alcoholics and addicts do not realize until they attempt to get clean and sober that they where, in fact, medicating their anxiety all along with their addiction. Because of this, things can be especially challenging in early recovery when they realize that their first line of defense against anxiety has been taken away from them.
So the question is, if you find yourself in this predicament and you are struggling with anxiety in early recovery yourself, what are your possible solutions? How can you deal with it in such a way that you preserve your new found sobriety?
I have a couple of suggestions. First of all I would recommend that you start out your journey in the best way possible, with the most support possible, by going to inpatient treatment as your starting point. This is recommended because if you do not attend inpatient treatment then you are very likely to have all sorts of compounding factors that will tend to increase your anxiety in the long run.
For example, if you go to inpatient treatment then they will likely match you up with a trained therapist, who can then help you to identify issues that you may be having in terms of these complicating factors. Then the therapist and the therapy team at the rehab center can help you to make a plan that allows you to overcome and adapt to your situation in early recovery and have a higher chance of being successful.
So I would say that access to therapy and counseling would be a huge factor in terms of setting yourself up for success, and going to inpatient treatment is the perfect way to get started with that process.
Also, if you decide that you want to avoid inpatient treatment and just start seeing a therapist, your results are not likely to be nearly as effective. I say this based on personal experience, because I was seeing a therapist myself before I went to rehab and the problem was that I was still stuck in active addiction at the time. Because of this I was not able to really benefit from the counseling and therapy as much as I would have if I was clean and sober. I passed off suggestions and just sort of ignored all of the good advice I was getting and I just continued to self medicate in between therapy appointments. This wasn’t helping me a bit, and the tragic thing is that I was able to tell myself that I was at least making an effort, because of course I was still attending therapy once a week. But the truth was that this was just an excuse that I told myself in order to feel better about my addiction.
I think that seeing a therapist on a weekly basis is important in early recovery if you have anxiety because they will actually help you to troubleshoot the anxiety and create solutions and a real plan. This is different than many of the other techniques which may just focus on getting some immediate relief from the anxiety without really getting to the root of the problem.
For example, when I was in early recovery a therapist helped me to see that I was often playing the victim role in my own mind and then getting all worked up with anxiety over the fact that I was being treated unfairly. So I had to first become conscious of the problem, then I had to create a plan to fix that problem and eliminate it. So I was able to do this eventually by raising my level of awareness and practicing some gratitude and changing my mindset to one of empowerment. Again, this required some real work on my part. I had to make a serious effort at targetting and then fixing my own emotional and mental hang ups with the help of a professional.
Now there are several other things that you can do for anxiety but like I mentioned, most of these things are more pallative and represent more of a short term fix rather than a long term solution. That said, some of these ideas can become quite powerful, especially if you incorporate them into your daily routine.
One of these techniques that is all the rage lately is “grounding.” When you practice grounding technique you are really just trying to focus on grounding yourself through the use of making concentrated observations so that you can, quite literally, stop yourself from going into a full panic. So you might focus on a piece of jewelry that you wear and start rubbing it and noticing the texture in order to ground yourself to reality and stop yourself from “time travelling” in your mind and creating more anxiety. You can obviously research grounding and learn quite a bit more about this simple but powerful technique.
Now if you want to create some daily habits that create positive lifestyle changes in the long term then I would recommend that you start keeping a written journal. If you write in a journal every day then it can help you to identify your emotional hang ups, and it can also help you to work through your anxiety. As you write in a journal every day you will also be building up a powerful tool that you can one day look back on and realize the growth you have made. It is very difficult to see how much better you have become at dealing with anxiety through your recovery journey, but if you keep a written journal and then you refer back to it you can see it much more clearly. Seeing this progress may be vital for you one day in the future. Writing in a daily journal was a huge part of my early recovery and it helped me to synthesize a lot of complex emotions and feelings that I was going through. Some people think as they write; I am definitely one of those people, and you might be too. So try journal writing every day for about 5 to 10 minutes, stick it out for a full month, and then evaluate your results.
Of course if you are having anxiety in early recovery then talking to your doctor about it may be wise. Beware of doctors who do not really know about, or believe in, addiction and alcoholism, as they may just prescribe you addictive anxiety medication as their solution. The alternative to this is that there are some anxiety medications that exist today that are NOT addictive, and you might want to explore those options if you really believe that you need the extra help. So that may be a path worth exploring. Also, it is my belief that some people have a chemical imbalance in their brain that is going to require medication for them to really live a better life.
Finally, be sure to reach out to your peers in recovery in order to get support and daily interaction. This can be huge in helping you to overcome your anxiety.