September 7, 2020

“Any man who finds early recovery easy probably didn’t need recovery at all.”—Unattributed 19th-Century quotation. Unattributed because I just made it up.

When I was using, a lengthy period of abstinence was two or three days, an experience that began with a glorious first day. 

“I should have done this a long time ago! Feels so good to not feel bad first thing in the morning. I don’t think I’ll ever drink again!”

By around two in the afternoon, I was so sure I was done with booze that I realized I didn’t need to be fanatical about it.

“I’m not drinking, but I could still have just a couple at the end of the day. The secret to sobriety is learning how to drink responsibly.  After all, recovery is a journey, not a destination. I didn’t drink last night, so that proves I don’t have a real problem. Just need to pace myself.”

By five, I was stopping at the drug store or convenience store or supermarket—never the same place too regularly, lest someone think I have a drinking problem—and buying a 30-rack or box of wine. 

“Tonight, I’ll just have three or four drinks over the course of the evening. Tonight will be different.”

No tonight was never different. I never had just three or four drinks, no matter what kind of intentions I’d set off with.

Recovery is about way more than not drinking. It’s about redux—a return to health after a period of sickness. Sometimes, though, we get so used to being diseased that health feels unhealthy, particularly when that disease has provided our best friend, our constant companion, our soulmate—meth, dope, coke, booze. Like a starving man with a meal of diseased meat, we know we must consume even as that consumption slowly kills us.

Early recovery is filled with excitement and joy.

Early recovery is numbness and sorrow.

Early recovery offers a life of freedom.

Early recovery is a diarrhea downpour with no raincoat.

Early recovery brings peace.

Early recovery is turmoil, pain and chaos.

Each of those sentences is true, for me and, I suspect, everyone who’s ever lived through early recovery. Luckily, millions of us HAVE walked that path, whether it took three weeks or four months or five years. Early recovery ends—we have the ability to turn that work into long-term sobriety or wander into relapse or reoccurrence. 

Here are some things that helped me get through early recovery. Try them. They may help. If not, they won’t hurt.

  1. Go to Meetings, whether 12-Step, SMART, All-Recovery or anything else. Here you’ll find folks who are walking or who have walked the same path. Getting to know others in recovery—and making them central to your new life—is one of the best ways to avoid slips or relapses. 
  2. Celebrate Milestones—Whether or not you’re following a 12-Step program, they do have a great system for “rewarding” or recognizing various lengths of sobriety through handing out either keychains or chips. I know I thought the whole thing was hokey until I walked to the front of a group for a 30-day chip. I immediately felt accomplishment and recognition.
  3. Think about Attending Church or Synagogue Services. Although you may not be a believer of any kind, religious services seem helpful too. Being surrounded by people you haven’t used with makes not using now a little easier. Also, you may just hear something to lift your spirit or strengthen your resolve.
  4. Create (and Maintain) a Schedule. Most of us lived chaotic lives while using. Doing simple things like making a bed, cooking a breakfast or checking your mail can help bring your normal life a sense of normality.
  5. Write a Gratitude List (and add to it daily)—Another thing I thought was a bunch of trite hokum—until I did it. Try using a simple format. 

I’m grateful for:

  • My bed
  • My shoes
  • The $27 I’ve got
  • My recovery

 6. Try to get enough sleep, exercise and healthy food.

7. Try to avoid major life changes. No one wants hear this part, but this includes romantic relationships. One way to think of this is—you deserve a better partner than anyone who’s attracted to you now. Harsh, but true.

8. Read Positive Literature, Particularly Recovery Literature. This has a corollary—avoid literature for now that glorifies drinking and drugging. Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Bukowski, Denis Johnson and Ellen Hopkins will still be great writers once your recovery is solid. For now, they’re more likely to lead to relapse than revelation.

9. Pick up (or Start) a Hobby You’ve Abandoned—If you’re anything like me (or almost everyone I know) drugs and/or alcohol drove out lots and lots and lots of other activities. Booze (and much earlier drugs) were not just my “hobby,” they defined my life. In early recovery, you’ll have lots of dead time on your hands. Rather than simply watching tv or checking social media, try to fill some of that time with painting, writing, mechanical stuff, cooking, flower arranging or whatever damned thing is likely to make you feel good about your life and how you’re living it.

10. Believe, Believe, BELIEVE—Recovery is possible! Spend time at Hope talking with hundreds of other people who used to drink and drug and don’t need to anymore. You, no matter how low you’ve sunk or how hard it may seem, can recover. Please believe in yourself, in the recovery community and in the future.

These are some of the things that helped me—and may help you. If you’ve got other ideas to help, please send them to me and they’ll make their way into a future post. And don’t forget

You matter. I matter. We matter.