It's National Recovery Month: How to Start the Right Way
How to begin the daunting task of recovery?
Posted Sep 25, 2019
“Recovery doesn't have to be awful.” —Adi Jaffe
The month of September is National Recovery Month. Sponsored by SAMHSA (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) and now in its 30th year, National Recovery Month was created to increase awareness and understanding of people with mental illness and addictions AND to celebrate the people on the path to recovery.
Though it can be inspiring to hear voices of recovery, it can also feel intimidating. These people are already over the hardest part. How do you begin to tackle the daunting task of recovery?
The short answer? Preparation.
Just as you need to prepare before embarking on a road trip (you have to fill up the tank, get a tune-up, let your friends and family know your itinerary, plan your route and your stops, etc.), you also need to prepare for your recovery journey.
In this post I will provide the essential tools you need before getting started on your recovery journey. In addition, I’ll share some successful recovery stories from my own work.
Essential Tools for Successful Recovery
What are the essential tools to recovery? Let’s look at the ones that make the biggest difference in working towards recovery including health, purpose, community and real assessment.
- A well-balanced diet to help ease cravings, without substituting sugar as a discomfort replacement (known as cross addiction). More health food tips in recovery here.
- Incorporating exercise and movement into your life regularly (current recommendations are for at least 30 minutes of real movement daily; we are not meant to be sedentary).
- Consider Medication Assisted Therapy (MATs). Not only are MATs regulated, controlled and administered in a safe environment but they help people overcome their addiction by REDUCING associated risk issues such as access, overdose, and social and occupational consequences.
- Understand the mind and body connection through meditation and mindfulness and adopt relevant practices in your own life (I literally teach clients to prepare their morning coffee mindfully or do a mindful dog walk - we can ALL fit it in).
- For more tips on boosting your mental health and general wellness, read this post.
It helps to have purpose during recovery (and generally in life, IMO). Being connected to your “WHY” and a deep understanding of the motivation you have for creating change, doing your work and being healthier can create levels of motivation and drive that have been lacking and unimaginable for most.
Many of us do things we know we “should” do but this simply creates stress and misery. Getting clearer about your purpose(s) in life and aligning your world to work along that path eliminates internal resistance and creates a fruitful and long-lasting path forward.
The purpose doesn’t have to be spiritual or some higher calling, it can be something simple that motivates you toward your goal. For me, I HATED school until I realized that was the best way to make sure I didn't return to prison. Then I became one of the best students at my school!
I believe in this concept so much I added Purpose to an essential recovery tool I call the wheel of life (click here).
Make sure to choose a recovery program that offers a community element. Some people find solace in AA because of the sense of community and there are many other programs that cultivate belonging and understanding without inducing shame and guilt. This is a core principle of my online recovery programs — to provide a sense of belonging wherever you may be in the world.
Finally, stop thinking of the problem in black and white terms and get clear on the nuanced areas of your particular struggle. This will clarify your recovery journey roadmap and stop, finally, the completely false language that you’re an “addict, like all other addicts.” The individual differences make a huge difference in determining the path forward.
Voices of Recovery
Yep, I was at a pretty low point in my life, perhaps the lowest.
These days I draw on everything I’ve learnt as someone struggling with addiction, the barriers I’d faced to seeking treatment and all the knowledge I’ve gained in becoming a Ph.D. in psychology and neuroscience to inspire others to rebuild their lives.
I’d like to share with you the recovery stories of Rob and Julia, participants in an online recovery program' I have developed.
“Every day is a battle, but it’s a good battle.”
Rob has been in recovery for five months. What brought him to the decision to try? He’d hit rock bottom too. There was no other option. He had to fight for what he wanted which was his wife and his relationship. He needed to make changes in his life. He had so much to fight for including a 9-month-old child. He wanted to save that. Getting help online was one of the pillars to his recovery.
What did he try before online treatment? Rob lived in a small town and he’d done some counselling, but the person wasn’t getting to the root causes. Now he can do the work on his own time. He is on call for 24 hours with his job, so it makes it difficult to stick to regular appointments. With online treatment, he can jump in and start doing the work when it's convenient for him, even if it's at 1am.
The contact was always there. With a therapist, he'd have to wait until his next session, but the entire online program team was always in communication with him, responding to his emails, etc. When he saw that the person who was helping him (me) had walked the path to recovery, it gave him hope.
Rob is now 5 months in and is no longer holding on to guilt and shame, so he is able to rebuild his life. He now knows who he is and what he wants. He knows what he loves.
Rob’s advice? “The power is in your hands, you have the choice to make time for what you need, you can do this. There is flexibility in the delivery, but you have to want it.”
What brought Julia to recovery? “My drinking had gotten worse by session. Not drinking every day, but drinking a lot. If I had one, if I had two, it was going to be an all-night thing. I liked partying but I had stuff I wanted to do the next day. I had all of these goals. The days after I drank I couldn't write. I couldn't produce. I believed I couldn't stop. I was stuck.”
What did Julia try before online treatment? “I tried a bunch of things, including judging myself, shaming myself. I had a lot of bad feelings about who I was as a person because it had become a part of my life. I tried cutting things out of my life. But would then feel guilty about not being a strong enough person. I tried abstinence but then fell into the vicious cycle of discontent. I felt like I was letting myself down. Every time I broke a promise to myself, my self-esteem got lower and lower.”
Julia didn’t really want to stop drinking altogether. She just wanted to have some control over her drinking. Eighteen months after reading an article about naltrexone she reached out to a friend who’d tried it and he said it had worked wonders and referred her to us.
“I intuitively knew that the shame was blocking my progress. It's been 2 years ago that I reached out. I stopped binge drinking almost immediately. Within 3 months’ time, that's when the deeper work began, like asking myself why I felt awkward in certain social situations? Where were the areas of my life where I was not giving myself a chance? I started to become really aware of where I felt good, where I felt bad. I became really aware. Once that became clear, the alcohol wasn't attractive to me anymore. It's not a struggle.”
Julia’s advice? “Give yourself a chance. II now see myself in a new way, and believe that there isn't anything wrong with me. It's a habit, it's natural how you get there. Once I gave myself a chance everything in my life changed. Recovery doesn't have to be painful.”
Ready to embark on your own recovery journey?
If you're ready to start, find a system that speaks to you—there are many options out there. Make sure that you incorporate, ahead of time, each of the elements I mentioned above: community, purpose, health, and real nuanced assessment that takes into account your needs instead of simply determining that you're an "addict."