One of the most discouraging things that I can remember about my life when I was still using drugs and alcohol was the challenge of getting clean and sober and realizing just how tough it was. I had dabbled in sobriety a few times by attending rehab but I quickly went back to my drug of choice because I was so discouraged with recovery. It was just too tough for me at the time and I could not overcome the challenge. I just wasn’t ready and really I did not even give recovery a chance.
The struggle leading up to surrender
Before you can even attempt to change your life and overcome your addiction you have to first surrender to your disease. This is a struggle in itself and the amazing part is that you will go through a few stages leading up to this decision. For example, before you fully surrender to the disease and agree to ask for help, you will undoubtedly go through a stage where you realize that you actually do have a problem and you will wish that things were different. This is wishing for change, hoping for change, and wanting a different life. But, you will still not be at the point of full surrender where you become willing to ask for help and take real action.
I stayed in this particular stage for a few years. I knew I had a problem and I actually went to counseling and a few rehabs but I had not yet surrendered fully and I was not willing to go to any lengths to find recovery. I wanted the change in my life without having to put in the massive effort. I wished for things to be different but I was not willing to put in the work just yet. Things did not get any easier for me until I hit bottom and finally surrendered completely to my disease. Until that point I just kept playing games, flirting with the idea of sobriety but never fully committing to it, and so on. I had to endure more pain and chaos until I could reach the point where I was able to finally give in entirely and turn my life over to a new direction. This was the big struggle of my will leading up to recovery. I had to become miserable enough so that I was willing to do what it took to become sober.
The challenge of detox and very early recovery
So I had this attitude and this mindset that it was never going to get any easier. What I was doing is a classic mistake: I was projecting what I felt during the first week of detox on to the rest of my entire life in recovery.
This means that I was assuming that the rest of my life in recovery would feel like my first week of detox. So obviously this is very discouraging because that first week of detox is absolutely miserable. Not only are you going to be feeling physically bad from the withdrawal symptoms, but you also are ill equipped to handle any of the stress or the problems that come with early recovery. You are going to learn coping mechanisms and new ways to deal with stress in recovery but at this early stage you have not learned any of them yet. So it is unfair to project this early state of being on the rest of your life in recovery, because things WILL get better than this, much better. But it is difficult when you are just getting clean for the first time and you have no idea what to expect and there is no assurance that you will feel better in the future. It is natural to assume that you may never really feel much better, and that you will always be this miserable and upset in recovery.
So I believe when people ask “will it every get any easier to overcome my addiction or my alcoholism?” what they are really referring to is this time during early recovery. These people have dabbled in sobriety and they have had a small taste of what it is like to be sober but they do not know what it is like to live in long term recovery and experience personal growth and really be fully immersed in recovery. They are asking the question about when it gets easier because they are miserable and they have heard these promises that “it gets greater, later” and they want some of the good life. They want the pain to end and the chaos and misery to leave them behind and they want to enjoy this good life in recovery right now. That is why they ask the question.
The answer, in my opinion, is “YES, it does get easier, and fairly soon.” Stick it out and things will get better fairly quickly. But there may be a slight delay because addiction is complex and it destroys lives like a cancer that grows throughout an entire body. So each area of your life may need some work and improvement in recovery and it is not all going to happen overnight. For example, you may have some physical damage and bad effects from the abuse that you have put your body through, and so it may be a few months or even years before you are back to operating at 100 percent when it comes to your health, nutrition, exercise, and physical strength in recovery.
Likewise, your spiritual condition is damaged from addiction, and it may take several months before you reconnect with your inner peace in a way that is equivalent to what you used to have in your life before your addiction took over.
Mentally you may be in a bit of a fog for several months before you can think sharply and clearly again. Socially you may have to attend meetings or live clean and sober for months or even years before you build up the friends and close relationships that you want to enjoy in life. Depending on what happened in your addiction it may take a long time to reform healthy relationships.
In terms of personal growth you may struggle for months or years in recovery before you really start to challenge yourself to make positive changes on a regular basis.
The rate of recovery and the rate of growth is sort of up to you, and it is also a function of how damaged your life is from your addiction. It may take longer for some to than for others to “achieve this awesome new life in recovery.” But remember too that it is more about the process than it is about the end result. In other words, just working towards these goals is the whole point and is really the beauty of recovery, rather than arriving at these goals and saying “OK, I am fully recovered now and so therefore I can be happy now!” It doesn’t work that way. You never really “arrive” in your recovery and the joy of it all is in the process itself, in the growth, in the learning.
So do not be discouraged and say something like “Oh, I have been abusing drugs and alcohol for so long and I am so messed up in so many ways that it will take years or decades for me to get back to any sort of good life in recovery. I may as well not even bother.”
Nonsense! The joy is in the journey itself, in AA the big book says “you will be amazed before you are halfway through.” This is certainly true of any recovery program that focuses on positive growth, be it AA or otherwise. And at the end of your life you will be able to look back and realize that you were never more than halfway through with your journey and that there was always more positive changes to make and more growth to pursue.
So just realize that if you are in early recovery, if you are in detox, if you are in a rehab setting and you are discouraged because you believe that it may never get any easier, just remember:
It does get easier. You are not unique or special for some reason and destined to be miserable forever as a recovering addict. You can recover and become happy again just like thousands of addicts and alcoholics who have come before you. You are not unique in that regard. Anyone can recover and have a better life and learn to be happy again without drugs and alcohol. You just have to be miserable enough to give recovery a fair shot. Give it a full year. What have you got to lose? Stick it out for a full year and see how happy you become. If you don’t like it then you can always go back to your addiction, right?
It does get better. It does get easier. Recovery becomes joyful at some point, you just have to gut it out for the first few weeks/months to get to the good part.
Leaving treatment and the challenge of changing your whole life
So if you go through detox and very early recovery you will undoubtedly get to the point where you have to walk out that door of the rehab and face your life in the real world.
This is the true test of recovery because being in detox makes it pretty darn easy to remain sober. When you are out in the real world you are faced with the constant choice: should I get high/drunk? Or remain clean and sober? That choice is always there, it never goes away, but I can assure you that it does get easier to make that choice every day if you stick it out in the beginning.
So you leave rehab and suddenly you are faced with the massive threat of relapse. This is the point where so many addicts and alcoholics screw it all up. They are back in the real world and they are tested. Most fail the test and simply relapse. In fact I believe something like half of everyone who leaves rehab relapses within the first 30 days. Something like 85 or 90 percent relapse within the first year. A slim percentage go on to stay clean and sober for over a decade. I have no idea how many stay clean and sober until death.
So obviously it is not super easy in the beginning–hence our big question: “when does it get any easier?” Obviously this question is widespread and the sentiment must be felt by nearly everyone.
But you can see that it does get easier because a certain percentage of people do make it to a year clean, five years clean, ten years clean, and so on.
You can prove it to yourself by going to an AA meeting and doing a quick informal survey. Find a few people who have multiple years clean and simply ask them: “Hey, at what point did recovery get easier for you? Because obviously you are not climbing the walls today just trying to avoid the first drink. And I am sure that you were on your first day of recovery. So at what point did it get easier?”
If you ask a bunch of people this question who have significant clean time you are going to get a handful of different answers. I have asked this question of people myself and they almost always say that during the first year of recovery it got easier. If you press them and really make them think about it they will admit that it got quite a bit easier even during the first six months.
I can remember thinking in my early recovery that I still thought about using drugs or alcohol every single day, even though it was not a constant craving, it still popped up at least once per day. And then I experienced a miracle in my journey right around the six month clean mark: I went a whole day without thinking about using drugs or alcohol. This was a revelation for me. I had to admit, at this point, that it was in fact getting easier. I went a whole day without a single thought of using drugs or alcohol! I had left the old life behind completely! And here I was at only 4 to 6 months clean or so. It had not even been that long.
And realize too that there was a progression here, that even BEFORE that moment I had found great relief.
The day I got sober I was thinking about drinking all day long. I was thinking about it ten times just during a single smoke break. This was during my first week of recovery. Cravings were rampant, nearly constant. This is completely normal, and expected.
But long before I got to that day of “no cravings at all” I had plenty of days where I had ALMOST no cravings at all. This is progress, and I had to look back on it and realize that it did, in fact, get quite a bit easier as I went along.
It is very difficult to see our own progress sometimes. The fact is that we are just too close to ourselves to realize when we are making such progress. But looking back it was easy for me to realize that my cravings had been significantly reduced even after just one month of sobriety, and my cravings were completely gone after six months. So yes, it does get easier, but it can be difficult for YOU to realize it or see until you can one day look back on it.
If staying clean and sober is a chore and a drag then you are probably not fully surrendered yet
During the first month of recovery you are allowed to be miserable. The detox and withdrawal process can be pretty tough, even if you are in a medical facility and on medication to help with the symptoms. Dealing with early recovery can just be challenging.
But after a certain amount of time things will get easier if you are making positive changes in your life. The key is that you are taking action in your recovery. If you just get clean and sober, go through detox, and then sort of drift aimlessly without actually DOING anything in recovery then you are likely going to be miserable.
If you want the rewards that recovery has to offer you then it takes more than simple abstinence. If abstinence were enough then you would never have become addicted in the first place, would you? You just would have been abstinent because that would have been satisfying enough. But it’s not enough, and it never will be. Which is why recovery requires real work and serious effort.
I realize that during the first month or so you are going through detox and this can be challenging no matter what. But after a certain period of time (say within the first six months to a year) things should start to get better. You should no longer be in complete misery. If you are then you are doing something wrong. And it may simply be the case that you are not yet ready to be clean and sober yet. If this is true then you lack surrender. You have not given yourself completely over to a recovery solution. You may still be hanging on to the idea that you could possible use your drug of choice successfully one day.
“Real” recovery is not going to be a boring drag where you are constantly fantasizing about using your drug of choice. Real recovery is exciting because you will be making positive changes in your life and eventually the benefits of those changes will start to kick in. This is where recovery becomes exciting. Even if you start making positive changes very early in your recovery journey it may take a little while for those benefits to really kick in, so therefore you have to have faith that this new path in life will reward you at some point.
In long term sobriety, the challenges that you face and the prospect of future growth experiences is exciting. The process itself becomes joyful because you realize that it is all a learning process, that the world truly is your oyster because you can achieve anything you want. It is all a matter of setting a goal, taking consistent action, and achieving it. You learn this by getting clean and sober and you continue to learn it as you make positive changes. Thus, recovery is empowering. You realize that you have the power to make positive changes, if only you are willing to put in the required effort.
When positive growth is a natural habit, avoiding relapse becomes trivial
In the beginning of your recovery journey, avoiding relapse takes nearly all of your effort. You have to focus and concentrate each day with the intention that you will do “whatever it takes to avoid relapse.” You are one drink away from being drunk, and you know it. The threat is close and immediate.
After you have been clean and sober for a long time and you are in the habit of making positive changes in your life, the threat of relapse is much more distant.
It is true that you are still just one drink away from being a drunk. But the thing you must realize is that you are much more well protected from taking that drink if you are in the habit of positive growth.
This is because your pattern of making positive changes in your life helps to protect you from relapse. It distances you from the possibility of relapse. The reason for this is because you are much less likely to throw away your sobriety if you are making positive changes on a regular basis and reaping the benefits of those changes.
It does get easier. I believe it gets easier very quickly, even within the first month of recovery, though you may not realize it right away.
Stick it out, push yourself to make positive changes, and recovery will become a joy to you.