Recovering after recovery. It sounds a little strange, but it is a process that all addicts need to take. It is a process that, unfortunately, is rarely ever spoken about when discussing addiction and recovery. Many addicts heading in to their first attempt (or 10th, there is no correct answer) think that if they can get free from their substance abuse and dependence that they will be OK, that they can turn their lives around. Unfortunately, detox on its own is rarely good enough for an addict to walk away for good. There is a reason addicts use and it is not to get high. It is a form of escape, whether it be from physical pain, emotional torment or a deeper psychological issue. Once an addict relies on using as an escape it wakes something inside an addict up. It goes from being an escape to being a need, both physically and mentally.
When you think recovery, you think about all of the things shown in the news, or on social media and one of the many reality shows on cable television. You think about the withdraw and the steps needed for someone to get through it. You think about the angst it puts on the addict’s friends and families. You do not think about the emotional trauma that the recovering addict is going through. You do not think about the lifelong process that addiction really is. No one talks about the personal, interpersonal and lifestyle changes that need to be taken in order to keep the addiction in remission.
An addict at rock bottom desperately asking for help knows one thing and one thing only, withdraw hurts. They get a taste of it as their fix begins to wear off. That is one of the ways the drug controls them. They fear that pain more than anything so they use again and again. Using more often causes desensitization, meaning the amount they need to use for the same effect just gets larger and larger. Over time, their body chemistry starts to change. Their everyday biological processes now depend on the drug that they are trying to escape. Depending on the drug of choice, like heroin for example, their brain stops making the opiate chemical. Opiate is a chemical that your body uses to regulate many everyday functions. Without it, your body does not know what to do.
Withdraw ranges from light to severe, all depending on the amount of use and the length of time the addict has been using. Within the first 24 hours, an addict may become restless, not be able to sleep, sweaty, anxious. They may exhibit all the signs of a cold or the flu. After the first 24 hours, the symptoms progress and again depend on severity of use. For a heavy user with years of active addiction, the flu-like symptoms turn in to torture. Diarrhea, abdominal cramping, blurry vision, rapid heartbeat, vomiting, nausea and sometimes even seizures. It is not recommended for any user, especially a heavy user, to detox on their own without a medical examination. Some detox cases are best done in a hospital.
The above stated reasons are a huge factor in relapse within the first 72 hours. If you can get through the first 72 hours, the symptoms start to diminish. After 1-3 weeks, depending on the drug, the symptoms are usually gone, although some can recur up to 6 – 12 months after. At this point the addict is sober. They have recovered from the chemical effects of their drug of choice. This is the point where recovering after recovery comes in to play. This is the part that no one tells you about.
Now the addict needs to become healthy again. Most have lost a lot of weight, their body riddled in track marks if using intravenously, cuts and bruises that will take time to heal, and in some cases, scar them as a permanent reminder. Because of poor hygiene and/or the effects of drugs (such as Crystal Meth), chances are their mouth is destroyed, teeth rotting and falling out, needing years of work to fix their smile. The body needs to learn how to sleep again, how to digest food, go to the bathroom properly. The muscles need to be strengthened and coordination worked on. There is a list of physical and lifestyle changes that need to be made. These changes are something an addict does not learn about until they need to make them.
After an addict begins to fix the damage done to the body, it becomes time for them to fix the mind. They need to think of what made them pick up the first time, what made them continue to pick up after the first time. Were they running from the pain of a divorce? Maybe the death of a loved one? Maybe they are over-anxious and have never been treated for it for it so they self-medicated. No matter what the reason, if it is not dealt with, recovery will turn right back to active addiction. For a lot of addicts this part is harder than withdraw. Physical pain goes away but emotional pain can scar you forever.
Once they begin to work on themselves, they need to begin the process of rebuilding their lives. New relationships need have to be formed, such as a sponsor or sober friends for a support system. Existing relationships may need to be mended, especially when it comes to family. Some relationships need to be ended. Staying in recovery does not work if you continue to associate with active users. It does not work if you continue to put yourself in a situation where you can easily use. Most will need a job and a place to live. They may need to replace most of their possessions. Addicts resort to selling most of what they own in order to support their habit. And sadly enough, a lot also have a criminal record to contend with. Without proper guidance, support from loved ones, and the help of a medical professional, the daunting task of recovery is nearly impossible.
Becoming sober is not easy, recovering and staying in recovery is just as hard, if not harder. An addict needs to be medically treated on an emotional level. The reason for using needs to be addressed. At the same time, they need to be mentally and physically treated for addiction. Treating the psychiatric illness does not cure the addiction. Treating addiction will not cure the psychological illness. Treating both will not cure the addict but can put their disease in remission. An addict’s life will never be what it was before they started using. They go from staring at death to staring at life, a life that is different and scary. But if they fight hard enough, they will attain a life they never imagined. So next time you come across an addict in recovery keep in mind that being sober is only the first step of recovery. Keep in mind that being sober does not mean they are no longer an addict. Keep in mind that after recovery they have a lifelong process of recovering, a process that they can only take one day at a time, a process that requires a physical and emotional strength that no one but an addict can even comprehend. Most importantly, keep in mind, the only difference between an addict and you is their disease.
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