In the first few months of recovery it is easy to be focused on all the progress you are making, or even to feel euphoric about the changes in your life. You’ve finally stopped using drugs and alcohol and are beginning to feel better about yourself. You are working towards rebuilding trust with loved ones, and maybe, for the first time in a long time…things are starting to come together in your life.
The sometimes persistent and highly insidious tendency to romanticize and idealize past substance use is a common challenge on the road to recovery. Over time, as you are no longer facing the serious consequences of your addiction, the temptation to fondly recall memories of drinking or using, and how good this felt is compelling. If this thinking is allowed to go unchecked, some people find themselves fantasizing that their drug and alcohol use is finally manageable, and since they are healthier and doing better now…maybe this time it won’t be a problem. Can you relate to any of these thoughts? Intense cravings are expected in the early days of recovery, but it can feel shocking and scary when these issues occur after longer periods of sustained sobriety. It is important to remember that this type of thinking can plague people in all phases of recovery. Additionally, while it’s possible to use relapse prevention planning learned along the way to help stave off some of these thoughts; the best defense for ongoing thoughts like this is to have an even better offense.
Addiction is an all-encompassing illness, resulting in decreased motivation over time to do any of the things you used to love doing. Nostalgia for the drug is more common than many people realize, and is a part of the chronic nature of this illness. A good way to manage this is to prevent yourself from allowing the nostalgia to creep back into your mind in the first place. This can mean focusing on a holistic picture of recovery, including good self-care and engaging in things that help to nourish your mind, body, and spirit. Healing from the damage rendered by addiction requires focusing on the things that help you feel happy, healthy, and connected to the world around you. Ask yourself, what is contributing to your belief that times were better back then? Perhaps you’ve gotten away from doing the things that were helping you feel happy in your recovery, or maybe you’re still discovering who you are and what your passion is in life.
Even with the most careful planning in the world, we are sometimes forced to unexpected detours in life. At these times, it is important to recognize the warning signs of an imminent relapse, and implement a good relapse prevention plan, which can include:
Healthy coping skills – Including stress management techniques, hobbies, interests, distraction strategies; those things that help you avoid giving in to the feelings you are experiencing.
Sober Supports – Having people around you, supporting your efforts to stay clean and sober has been hailed as the “antidote” to addiction. It can even help prevent the type of nostalgia that leads to relapse. Support includes your sponsor, people at meetings, support groups, friends, family, and coaches — basically, people who are invested in your success, know about your recovery efforts and support your commitment to staying sober. A good network should include people in recovery to remind you that you’re not alone, as well as provide an example of what you are trying to achieve in your own life.
Ask for help – Practice rigorous honesty about your thoughts and feelings, talking about them as much as you need to. Asking for help is a major barrier for many in recovery. Talk about it, Talk about it, Talk about it! This cannot be stressed enough. No one can help you if they don’t know that there is a problem. Remind yourself of the people that love you and want to see you succeed, seeking out their help as much as needed until the feeling either passes, or has changed.
Maintain an attitude of gratitude – Romanticizing past drug can be a warning sign that you are forgetting to practice gratitude for the things you have accomplished so far; the supports you have in your corner; or even just the fact that you are no longer facing the severe consequences of past substance use. If you have difficulty identifying things you’re grateful for in your life, perhaps try balancing the nostalgia for the past by reminding yourself of just how bad things were prior to quitting. Keep reminding yourself of this as often as needed until your perspective changes.
Seek out professional help when it is needed – Many people suffering from addiction also suffer from co-occurring disorders, which can play a major role in relapses. Seeking out the help of a trained professional can serve to decrease the effects of anxiety, depression, marital conflict and strain, and other life stressors, on increased urges to drink or use. If you want to get better and stay better, addressing these issues may be a crucial ingredient in your ongoing recovery and well being.