The most difficult part of recovering from addiction is not the quitting part (believe it or not). The hard part is staying “quit” (for lack of a better word). For most addicted people, this is a day to day, full-time job. And contrary to what programs preach, sometimes it just doesn’t get better with time. The biggest problem in maintaining recovery from addiction is boredom. Also known as “what do I do now” syndrome. Imagine all of sudden not doing what you are used to doing for 5,10,15 years, perhaps all your life as far back as you can remember. What else is there to do? Who do you hang out with now? Everybody knows being sober in a bar is no fun. Who are you now, without that drink? What do you have to offer to the world? There are hundreds of things you can do instead of drinking and there is another hundred you can do to cope with stress.
But are they fun? Well, the bad news is, life isn’t always fun.
If you’re like any of the clients I work with, you will find anything you do without drinking/drugging boring. The truth is drugs and drinking (and I would venture addictive behavior) have long-term effects on our brain’s ability to “produce” pleasure. Opiates, for instance, are known to cause a long-term effect of general “anhedonia” or inability to feel real pleasure because they affect the brain’s ability to produce natural endorphins. The jury is still out on whether or not these effects are reversible. Sometimes you have to attempt to do things and accept that they will not produce the instant gratification you’re used to getting from alcohol or drugs.
What to do?
I don’t really know. I didn’t say this was easy. But there are a few things I do know.
You don’t know where you belong anymore. The initial sense of loneliness can be overwhelming for people in early recovery. For people who believe in AA or church finding a place to belong is easier. But AA or church do not work for everyone. There are programs and alcohol counselors who will tell you that if you don’t develop some sort of spirituality you will most likely relapse. I tend to disagree.
I believe the key to recovery is to learn to accept yourself and go easy on you. But most importantly, not reject loneliness as just an unpleasant experience but learn to accept it and tolerate it. After all, it is only human to be lonely with our pain and ourselves. Pay attention to what kinds of thoughts come up when you’re lonely and why are they so intolerable?
You can’t seem to remember why you quit in the first place. On top of facing really strong cravings for your drug, now you have to face the real world, get a job, pay your bills, go back to school, reconnect with your kids or relearn to be a parent. This stuff is hard for people who have half the struggles you have. Faced with challenges and difficulties, you are not sure you’re in it for the long hall. That’s OK. Just remind yourself why you quit. Remind yourself, this is hard. The key here is to allow yourself to be less than perfect. Take it easy on yourself. Be accepting and forgiving. Welcome back to the world! This will be an adventure!
You don’t know who you are anymore. This is not necessarily a bad thing. This means you are given an opportunity to reinvent yourself. Figure out what you like to do. Give the lists above a chance. In AA they say “fake it till you make it”. Keep trying things even though they are initially not fun because the purpose here is to rediscover yourself. Go back to who you were before you picked up a drink or a drug. The better you feel about yourself the less likely you are to go back to drinking.
You’re bored. This also sometimes means, you’re afraid others think you’re boring. You used to be such an expert in drinking or doing drugs or whatever your addiction was, you nailed it! You were the king of the parlor; you could drink anybody under the table. You took pride in that. That was fun. Now, you don’t know what you’re good at anymore. Pick one thing and if you pursue it with the same energy, excitement and persistence as you pursued drinking, you’ll be a master at it in no time. Also, get out of your head. The world does not revolve around your entertainment. Try to get involved in other people’s lives. It will open up a new window of perspective into the world that continues to exist whether you drink or not.
Give yourself time. Your addiction took years to develop. Your recovery will too. And if today bores you to death and you can’t find the meaning of life or your existence, postpone that drink till tomorrow. The world will not end. You will not dissolve into nothingness, tomorrow will still come and it’ll be a different day.
Who knows how you will feel?