When you are new to sobriety and the recovery process, everything seems completely unfamiliar—from your thoughts and feelings that are surfacing for the first time since your substance abuse, to your new sober community and friendship circles. The world seems full of unknowns. More to the point, the coping tools you’ve been accustomed to using in uncertain times like these are gone.
These uncomfortable experiences and feelings are totally normal in early sobriety. In fact, given the massive holistic transformation one begins to undergo in recovery, they are actually to be expected.
If you’re new to recovery and are feeling a bit out of sorts, here are some of the list of experiences about to come your way and why it’s OK to go through them.
1. Low Self-Worth
Often in early sobriety, individuals struggle with feelings of low self-worth. Of course, this is not entirely new to them, as active addiction typically fosters the same.
However, in recovery, there’s no longer a substance to numb or escape the feeling. So it all seems to intensify.
But, take comfort. The intensity will decrease, as you ease into the recovery process and begin dealing with the underlying issues that were present prior to active addiction and any guilt or shame resulting from it.
It’s not a permanent feeling, but it is up to you to do the work required in recovery to heal the wounds that cause the low self-opinion and shorten the duration.
2. Racing Thoughts
When you first become sober, the mind begins to overcompensate for all that time in forced inactive mode. You begin to have racing thoughts and anxiety.
Of course, most of this is usually chalked up to having a sober mind. In other words, those who do not utilize substances to quiet their thoughts or slow their brains down are experienced at this. But when you’re new to sobriety, you are new to permitting yourself to feel or think much of anything at all.
Additionally, this experience can actually be due to the brain’s adjustment to the lack of chemicals upon which it has come to rely on. The resulting chemical imbalance causes all kinds of chaos in the brain, as it tries to rebalance itself without the use of substances. It is indeed an overcompensation.
However, this too is temporary. If the racing thoughts and/or anxiety become overwhelming, it may be time to discuss this with your therapist or addiction counselor. This way, if more assistance is needed to cope with overwhelming bouts of anxiety, you will be able to receive it and avoid relapse.
3. An Emotional Rollercoaster
As stated, in early recovery, emotions you’ve likely been suppressing for the duration of your active addiction will begin to surface. Combine that with any chemical imbalance that preceded or resulted from active addiction, and it will feel as though your feelings are completely out of control.
Typically, they come in overwhelming waves. It may feel as though each wave will take you under. However, in recovery, you are learning how to float along with the waves rather than fight them.
The sudden hit of emotion is usually the scariest part, but it’s to be expected. There’s not much that’s gradual about the emotional, psychological and physical shifts that take place during early recovery, other than the gradual decrease in intensity that comes with time and healing.
Because so much shifts and changes in early sobriety, there is a lot of fear. That is normal too. However, fear is a saboteur, so it is important to focus on faith—faith in yourself, the Universe or a Higher Power—rather than fear.
In early recovery, fear is the ego’s tool used to return you to a state of active addiction. It attempts to trick you into thinking the pain and uncertainty experienced in sobriety is greater than what you knew in active addiction. However, fear of the unknown is a gift compared to what you’ve known in your disease.
So, stay the course. Know that fear is normal, but it is only as powerful as you allow it to be. And, for that matter, it will only grow if you feed it.
The loss experienced in early sobriety is not typically discussed often enough. However, it is a very common occurrence. And, unfortunately, it can lead many into relapse when they are left to feel as though they are the only ones experiencing it and are expected to cope with it alone.
Grieving the loss of friends, family members, connections as well as the drug of choice is something most people in early recovery experience. All of these are real losses that are normal for a person mourn. But more than anything, the drug of choice—something that was most reliable at one time and therefore considered a trusted friend—is now gone, hopefully forever. It’s a conflicting state that one must tread through one day at a time and could use the guidance of recovery coaches and counselors.
At the end of the day, remember that these feelings are reminders that you are alive—finally. You’ve been walking around numb for the duration of your addiction and now you have simply awakened to a new normal. A life that requires you to face uncomfortable emotion as well as (eventually) savor the positive ones that are on its way when you maintain recovery.