What to Expect When You First Quit Drugs or Alcohol

What to Expect When You First Quit Drugs or Alcohol


Yesterday we explored the zero tolerance policy for recovery, and how that could help you to stay clean and sober (and also while it is probably the most important concept for recovery, period!).

Today we are going to look at the initial transitional period when you first get clean and sober.

If you are thinking of attempting to get clean and sober then hopefully this information will help to set your mind at ease. Really there is nothing terrible or scary about the recovery process but our minds certainly build it up to be scary for us (which of course is part of the denial that keeps us trapped in addiction).

Reeling from total surrender

When you first take the plunge and attempt to get clean and sober you will probably be emotionally reeling from your moment of total surrender. This should feel like a complete defeat and you will likely not be happy and bouncing off the walls. Instead your overall mood will be very somber and you will basically be open to any new ideas and suggestions about how you might successfully get off of drugs or booze. This is the entire point of course and if are not in this suggestive state of being then it is likely that you have not fully surrendered yet.

Many people who have tried to get clean and sober have done so while trying to skip this step. If you skip the process of total surrender then it prevents you from moving into the important processes of recovery and benefiting from them. Failing to surrender will prevent you from taking the more extreme suggestions that will ultimately help you to recover.

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I can remember when I had completely surrendered and it was not a happy feeling. For several days I was somewhat depressed, but at least I was taking suggestions and doing what the therapists and counselors were recommending.

Recovery did not start out with extreme amounts of joy and happiness for me. The process of surrender puts a very negative spin on the early recovery process, because you have to be in that state of mind where you say “I give up, just tell me what to do.” This is not a joyful state of being.

On the other hand, you may feel quite a bit of relief at this point, which should feel nice. I can remember feeling relief during surrender because I knew that I was done fighting and struggling with my addiction.

Taking advice and direction

If you have fully surrendered to your disease then you are ready to take advice and direction from others. My opinion is that this is critical for early recovery and if you are not willing to do this then you are probably not really ready to be clean and sober just yet.

Our ego will naturally cry out against this concept because of our own self interest. We inherently believe that no one else on the planet could possibly have our best self interest in mind more than we do. We naturally believe that no one on earth could possibly understand our unique situation any better than we ourselves do. Therefore it can be very difficult to trust someone else when they suggest what we do with our lives in order to recover.

The stakes are always quite high in recovery. For example, they will probably suggest that you go into an inpatient rehab facility for somewhere between 3 and 28 days. This is a very likely suggestion for anyone who is struggling with addiction or alcoholism and has decided that they want to get help. If their friends and family are competent and compassionate then it is very likely that this will be one of the major suggestions.

The reason that the stakes are so high is because going to inpatient rehab for a few weeks or up to a month is a really big deal, especially to the struggling addict. The person who suggested it may not believe it to be that big of a commitment, but to the addict it is huge. This is because the addict or alcoholic is seeing this suggestion for inpatient treatment through a different lens than what the rest of the world does. In particular, they might think that:

* Going to inpatient rehab for several days or weeks or shameful, because it means that they are out of control and cannot control themselves. So they feel intense shame at the idea that they need to be “locked up” in order to get better.

* Going to rehab feels threatening because they know they will depriving themselves of their drug of choice. So they may feel intense fear at facing life sober and being without their drugs or booze.

* Going to treatment may feel threatening because the person may have intense social anxiety, and they know that there will be group activities and that they will be put on the spot in front of others. This may be even more terrifying for some than the idea of going without drugs or booze.

* Going to rehab for several weeks may mean not going to a job, and the individual may place great importance on their job, not wanting to lose it or miss any time, etc. They may believe that attending rehab will cost them their job.

* The stigma attached to rehab may be holding someone back. They may believe that everyone will know they are in rehab and talk about them behind their back. This may be too much for them to bear, even if it is all in their own mind. They might think that they will lose their job based on the stigma and people talking about them as well.

These are just a few of the more obvious reasons why the stakes are so when you suggest that a struggling addict or alcoholic go to rehab.

When the clean and sober person suggests that a struggling addict attend rehab and get some help, they do not realize what all they are suggesting. The idea has to gravity to them because they are not trapped in this ultra dramatic world of the struggling addict.

Now if the struggling addict or alcoholic could back up and look at their situation from ten thousand feet, they would see that going to rehab for a month is no big deal. They would see that this is something they need to do, that this is something that would be extremely healthy for them, and that their world will not fall apart just because they go to inpatient treatment for 28 days.

But when they are stuck in addiction they cannot see this. They are stuck on the idea that they will go to rehab and people will talk about them and they will lose their job and then everything will just go downhill and it will all be a tragic mistake. Most of this is just denial and their brain is manufacturing all sorts of “what if” problems to help keep them out of rehab so that they can continue to self medicate.

Honestly when I was facing the idea of going to rehab my brain was doing whatever it could to talk me out of the idea. None of my rationalizations really made any sort of sense in hindsight. My life was a complete mess and I had almost nothing to live for and I would have been totally smart just to put my entire life on hold and go to rehab for a while. But I foolishly thought that my life was so important that I could not afford to go to rehab for 28 days, or I believed everything would fall apart and I would somehow be even more miserable or perhaps the whole world would just grind to a halt. Somehow my denial convinced me of this and therefore I did not think that I should attend rehab. The idea of living in long term treatment was completely unthinkable. What a waste of time! But later on I realized that this really was the best choice for me, and I also found out that it was not a waste of time at all.

What it was, was that my priorities were screwed up in my active addiction. I believed that fun and happiness revolved around self medicating. I believed that going to rehab and going to prison were probably about the same. I believed that treatment was a punishment. And therefore I was hesitant to take advice and direction from anyone, because I wanted “my freedom.” Really when I talked about my freedom I was talking about my choice to self medicate with drugs and alcohol every day. I could not see that this “freedom” was really a self made prison, and that I was trapped in addiction.

I could not see that if someone came along and forced me to live in long term rehab and get clean and sober that this would have been a vast improvement in my life. I could not see that when I was still using drugs and alcohol every day. All I could do was cling to the idea that my choice to self medicate every day was my expression of “freedom,” and no one was going to take that away.

What had to happen was that I had to get miserable enough that I no longer cared about this “freedom” of mine. I had to become so sick and tired that I was willing to sacrifice that freedom and subject myself to the “prison” that was inpatient rehab.

And I had to be willing to take some advice and direction from others. Never mind what the people actually suggest. Don’t bother to question it or believe that you have to find just the right sponsor, counselor, or whatever. Such ideas only distract you from the fact that you need to surrender and start taking advice from others. What they suggest is not nearly as important as the fact that you simply start taking direction. Anything is better than slowly killing yourself with drugs and booze.

Detox and inpatient rehab

If you take the advice that you are given then you will probably end up in a traditional treatment facility that has a medical detox unit. You will likely have to go through the detox process first before you are admitted to the residential part of treatment.

Detox is not a big deal.

Period. It is really easy actually.

If you have never gone to treatment before then here is what you can expect:

Inpatient detox is really easy to deal with. Most likely you will lay in a bed most of the time and sleep until you are well again. Nurses will take your vital signs and give you medications to help keep you comfortable.

No one is screaming or climbing the walls in detox. No one is in pain or agony or complete misery.

I went through detox myself (a couple of times!), and I also worked in a detox unit for five years. And sure, there are some people who are uncomfortable in detox at various times, but they are not being tortured non stop. They quickly get the medications that they need to stop being miserable. No one goes through undue suffering and torture, like the media might make you believe.

No, detox is actually the easy part, believe it or not. Because you have medical help at this stage, it is actually the easiest part of your journey in some ways. My suggestion to you is to kick back and relax during detox. There is no need to freak out or get worked up over anything. No one is going to deliberately let you suffer if you go to a traditional rehab center.

After about 3 to 6 days you will probably be moved from detox to residential treatment. Do not be surprised at this point if they force you to start attending all of the groups. Most rehabs will do this….otherwise, what is the point of being in treatment?

If you have social anxiety then you should realize that it is actually pretty bearable to be in rehab. I have been to several different rehabs and I worked in one for over five years. I can tell you that no one will push you relentlessly if you are shy and afraid to speak up in groups. For the most part they will cut you some slack and leave you alone, because they will see that you are nervous but you still made the effort to be in treatment even though you are shy.

Therefore I do not see social anxiety as a valid excuse to avoid rehab. You can still go to treatment and the people there will be very understanding of this. It is easy to sit in groups and not become the focal point of them. You can easily blend in with the crowd and not have to be put on the spot, if that is your intention.

It is really very easy to be in rehab. Inpatient treatment is not scary, and no one should be scared of attending it. The only scary part is what you build up in your own mind. Sure, you are going to be eliminating your drug of choice. But ultimately they will do what they can in rehab to make you comfortable, and the whole thing will be very laid back.

Rehab is easy. Don’t make it out to be some big monster in your mind.

A strong push for 12 step programs as the solution

I believe it is 92 percent of all rehabs in the world use the 12 step model of recovery. This is based on AA and the 12 steps of their program.

What this means is that when you go to rehab you can pretty much bet on being introduced to the 12 step program of AA and going to meetings.

Most likely they will bring AA meetings in from the outside. People from AA will come in to the rehab and chair a meeting each day for you. This is quite typical.

Now this is just what you should expect, it is not necessarily good or bad.

Overall I happen to take a bit of an anti-AA stance on this website. My belief in the long run is that the individual should overcome their addiction based on personal growth and positive action. I see dependency on AA meetings as being a liability.

That said, there is real value in the program in early recovery, and I would suggest that anyone who is exposed to it should try to treat the program with an open mind. If you thrive on social support then attending AA meetings after you leave rehab can be a serious lifeline for you.

AA is toted as the solution pretty much everywhere that you go. It may or may not become your long term solution of choice for recovery, but you should probably give it a chance when you are in early recovery. You don’t have anything to lose by doing so, especially in early recovery.

My belief is that once you are living a stable life in recovery during long term sobriety, it is then that you can evaluate if you want to stay dependent on daily meetings in order to stay sober.

So just be ready for this push towards AA and the 12 step programs. Just accept that they are going to be ramming it down your throat. This is not good or bad, it is just how modern recovery is going right now. AA is the universal solution. Accept this and deal with it accordingly. Try to get whatever benefit that you can from the exposure to AA. Later on when you are established in recovery you can make your own decision about how you will work your own recovery program. In the early days I would just accept whatever they offer you and go with the flow for a while.

In other words, the struggling addict or alcoholic is probably not stable enough to turn their nose up at AA when they have a week of sobriety under their belt. Maybe later when they have a year or so they can go off and do their own thing. But in the early days I think it would be foolish to forgo all of that support that you can get from the fellowship.

An overwhelming amount of advice and suggestions from modern recovery support

You are going to hear conflicting advice when you are in early recovery and rehab. Therefore, what you might want to do is to get clear on what is truly important to you in your recovery right off the bat.

For me, this meant getting really clear on a concept in my head of what my highest truth in recovery was.

That concept was that I should commit to not using drugs or alcohol no matter what. This was my own internal policy that I made with myself, and it became my highest truth.

I think it is important to define your highest truth in recovery because otherwise it will be defined for you by other people. They will tell you that the most important thing in your recovery is “daily meetings, or sponsorship, or your higher power, or working the steps,” and on and on and on. In fact if you listen to everyone in your first two weeks of treatment you will find that some of their suggestions may even be in conflict with each other.

If you are attending an AA meeting every day (quite likely) then you will be getting an overwhelming amount of advice. Everyone puts in their 2 cents about what they think is truly important for recovery.

Therefore you want to be sure that you have it straight in your own mind what is most important to you. And this should be your commitment to total abstinence, period. That has to be your highest truth in recovery.


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