‘What to expect in early recovery’ by Veronica Valli

Unknown-1I like Veronica’s website. Here’s a recent blog.

‘The following is meant as a guide to support you in your early weeks of recovery from alcoholism. The first few days and weeks without alcohol can be frightening and confusing; you have, of course, put down your security blanket, your crutch, your way of coping with the world. It can be very challenging initially to go about your daily life without it.

The following are simple suggestions that when applied will greatly enhance your chances of a successful recovery; it’s the small things that can sometimes make the biggest difference.

Be good to yourself. Making the decision to ask for help is an act of courage and self-love. Don’t beat yourself up about the past. This will get sorted out in time.

Instead, try to take each day one at a time, or just a few hours at a time and acknowledge to yourself that things can be different now and the person who drank and used drugs wasn’t the real you. You only have to deal with the 24 hours in front of you. Nothing else matters right now.

Stay away from the first drink. If you don’t have the first one you won’t have the rest. Accept that you do not have control over alcohol and that now is the time to do things differently. If you have a craving think it through:

  • What usually happens when you pick up a drink? What are the consequences?
  • How do you end up feeling?
  • What happens the next morning?

Make a decision that ‘just for today’ you won’t pick up a drink. Plan your day around this thought, with actions that will support and strengthen it.

Only deal with what is right in front of you, with what is absolutely necessary. It’s very easy to get sidetracked and start panicking about all the things or people that need your attention. Allow yourself the time and space you need in order to get well.

Ask yourself ‘Will the world end?’ if I don’t do this task, or see that person now? In most cases the world will keep turning just fine without you.

Part of our problem is that we believe we need to be in control at all times, that things won’t be OK if we don’t have an input. This just isn’t the case. If you have friends or family offering their help and assistance, take it.

Try to rest as much as possible. You may have difficulty sleeping. This is very common at first, and with time people’s sleeping patterns generally return to normal.

There are lots of things you can do to help this, besides taking medication. Investigate meditation, yoga, herbal remedies, relaxation CDs, changing your diet, exercising more and so on. You may feel drained emotionally; you might experience new feelings bubbling to the surface. Rest whenever you need to. Remember, you are healing.

Diet and exercise are key to our wellbeing. Up to now, you may have neglected yourself and will no doubt be feeling the effects of this. What we put in our bodies is our lifeblood; if you have been feeding it takeaways and booze, your body won’t be running as well as it can.

Start by making small changes that you can cope with. Don’t expect to turn into Mr or Ms Fitness overnight!

You may notice a craving for sweet things. Again, this is very common due to the amount of sugar your body has been consuming in alcoholic drinks. Sugar also releases a chemical high that your body has been used to getting from alcohol.

At first it may be necessary to allow yourself sweet things when you have a craving, as your body needs time to adjust, but where possible try to reach for fruit rather than chocolate. Look at your diet and try to include fruit and vegetables, and have regular meals instead of picking at food or bingeing.

Try moderate exercise every other day; walking for fifteen minutes a day is a good place to start. The key now is everything in moderation – except alcohol, of course! There are numerous studies that show how beneficial exercise is for our state of mind. Just do what you’re capable of at the moment.

Change your routines – our brain works as a trigger. You may not think you are craving a drink or drug, but walking past your local pub or even just getting cash out of a machine can trigger automatic thoughts of drinking or using drugs, so we end up following through before we even realise it.

It is probably a very good idea to get rid of any alcohol you have in your house right now. There is no need to have temptation right under your nose.

Don’t go down the alcohol aisle in the supermarket and, in the short-term, there is really no need to go into pubs. Don’t kid yourself that you can go and have a couple of soft drinks – you may be able to at first, but if you put yourself in the same situations as when you used to drink, you will inevitably find that you will.

If there are celebrations or events coming up that you have to attend, where there will be a lot of drinking, arrive late and leave early. Prepare an excuse in advance, so that if you feel unsteady you can leave quickly. Don’t worry about offending people. Take responsibility for your sobriety by putting down boundaries that protect you.

Deal with your emotions. These might well be all over the place to begin with and can often feel overwhelming. You may feel angry and resentful, frustrated or full of self-pity, guilt and loneliness, or you may just feel numb. This is to be expected as you have been suffocating and hiding these feelings for a long time.

Your feelings may be the reasons you drank or used drugs in the first place. These feelings can’t be avoided and need to be felt and processed, but you don’t have to do this alone.

First of all, recognise what you’re feeling and develop different ways of dealing with feelings. It may help to write these feelings down and talk about them to a friend who’ll listen, but not judge you. Often, intense negative emotions can be triggered if you feel:

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired
  • Stressed

Feeling one or more of the above is enough to put you on the edge. Don’t underestimate how powerful these emotions are and how quickly they can weaken your defences. Begin recognising how you are feeling.

Loneliness can sometimes creep up on us, especially if we used alcohol to socialize. It’s very important that you meet people who don’t drink, with whom you can socialize.

One of the myths of sobriety is that it’s boring and there is nothing to do. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Everyone I know who doesn’t drink has a jam packed social life, full of exciting things they never would have dreamed of doing before. However, it will take time to build this up, and you need to take responsibility for this.

If you have decided to join Alcoholic Anonymous you will find this happens very easily, as AA is a good place to meet lots of sober people! If not, then look at other avenues where you can meet people who don’t drink.

Lastly, take it easy! You didn’t create your problems overnight and you won’t get rid of them overnight either. Accept that you are at the starting point and change will happen slowly, but it will happen.

Congratulate yourself that you have decided to take drastic action for your problem and things will get better from this point onwards. There may be some bumps in the road ahead, but you are on the path to recovery now; life will begin to get better, you will begin to feel better about yourself.

Living sober is infinitely easier than struggling with alcoholism.

Why not check out Veronica’s book Why You Drink and How to Stop