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What to Do When You Get Lost on the Recovery Journey

Addiction recovery is a lifelong journey, and the road isn’t always smooth. Maybe you were doing great for a few weeks, months, or even years, before you found yourself heading in the wrong direction. It’s important to remember that taking a wrong turn or two may be a necessary part of your recovery, and it’s never too late to get back on track. By recognizing the need for change, seeking support, getting professional help to avoid a crisis, or taking responsibility for addiction relapse, you can get back to growing and thriving as a healthier, happier, substance-free person. Read on to learn more about common obstacles in the addiction recovery journey, ways to move past these challenges, and what to do if you relapse.

How Did I Get Lost?

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When you get lost on your recovery journey, the first step is to examine what happened to make you lose your way. Only after you understand what factors are working against you can you make changes to turn things back around.

Neglecting Self-Care

Good self-care is the most important part of every recovery journey. It is the fuel that keeps your engine running, and the regular service and maintenance that prevents unnecessary break downs. If you don’t take care of your car; it stops running. If you don’t take care of yourself; you risk addiction relapse.

In treatment, you learn about yourself and your unique needs, and you acquire knowledge and skills that allow you to cope in healthy ways with the ups and downs of life. Some of these new skills will become second nature to you, but some may fall by the wayside when life distracts you with bad news or good news or unexpected change. To keep moving forward on your recovery journey, you have to learn how to keep looking after yourself and applying healthy coping skills in real life, which never stops changing. You need to stay strong, healthy, and self-aware in order to keep adapting to these changes in real time.

Good self-care means looking after all aspects of yourself and your life, such as:

Emotional: You have to acknowledge all of your feelings, both good and bad, and allow yourself to process them without unhealthy outbursts or bottling up. Give yourself the time and space to feel, accept, and discuss negative emotions so you can deal with them and start feeling better. You also need to learn how to really feel the good stuff when it happens, instead of hurrying past it to look for the negative. When something feels good or makes you happy, let the enjoyment really sink in. Sometimes happiness just happens, but it is also a habit that you can form through practice.

Physical: A strong and healthy body is essential for addiction recovery. You must eat nutritious food, get quality sleep, stay hydrated, exercise, and get regular medical and dental checkups. It isn’t enough to just stop hurting your body with addictive substances, you need to actively care for your physical health.

Practical: Taking care of the tasks that keep your life running smooth is another key aspect of good self-care. You need to make sure your driver’s license doesn’t expire, the bills are paid on time, and the laundry gets done. Make lists to stick on your refrigerator or program reminders on your phone—just do whatever you need to do to stay on top of things. And when you have to do something you really dislike, just think about how good it’s going to feel when the task is complete, and you don’t have to worry about it anymore!

Spiritual: The 12-Steps emphasize the importance of putting your faith in a higher power. This could be a religious faith, but it doesn’t have to be. Simply connecting with something that is larger than yourself, such as activism, volunteering, meditating, or communing with nature will maintain and strengthen your spiritual health.

Falling Back into Old Habits

Addiction wires your brain to prioritize drug seeking and using above everything else in your life, and those well-worn pathways in your brain don’t just disappear overnight. There will be times in your recovery journey where you find yourself falling back into old habits that put your health and wellbeing at risk. You might find yourself being drawn to old stomping grounds where you used to drink or use. You may start fantasizing about what it felt like to use, and how you might get ahold of drugs if you wanted to use today. These are all warning signs of impending addiction relapse.

Even getting into unhealthy patterns without concern for your overall wellbeing is a dangerous old habit. For example, it might not seem too bad to stay up late binge-watching the new season of your favorite show, but if you do it regularly, and then miss work as a result, or go to work but compensate for sleep deprivation with large amounts of caffeine that keep you awake all day and into the night when you should be catching up on sleep—well, now you’re getting into dangerous territory, where drugs or alcohol can seem like the solution to a self-created problem.

Reconnecting with Negative Influences

The people you associated with when you were still drinking or using can be major addictive triggers, and contact with them now could potentially lead to relapse. Most likely, they are still deep in their addiction and would love to distract you from your recovery journey so you can revive old times. And the bar you used to practically live at and/or the dealer who used to sell you drugs don’t care about your addiction recovery; they still want your money. These negative influences are never going to stop being negative influences. It simply isn’t safe for you to reconnect with them unless they are in treatment and are committed to their own addiction recovery.

Avoid the temptation to connect with old friends by erasing everyone’s name and number from your phone. Delete old texts and emails, and when you’re on your way somewhere, it’s worth driving a few blocks out of your way to avoid passing by your former dealer’s house. You might even want to change your number so that negative influences won’t be able to reach you. Most importantly, maintain healthy friendships, and form new ones with sober people you meet in treatment or at peer support groups.

Withdrawing from Your Support System

Pulling away from the people who care about you most and who are genuinely invested in your recovery journey is a major warning sign of impending addiction relapse. Numerous studies and research has shown that a strong support system is a major factor in a successful addiction recovery.  Supportive friends and family remind you of all you have to lose if you give up on your recovery journey. They can help you through challenges by listening, offering advice, or just being a shoulder to cry on. They can celebrate with you so that you fully enjoy and recognize your recovery milestones. And simply having people to love who love you back feels good, and boosts your sense of self and quality of life.

When you feel off track or unstable in your recovery journey, your instinct may be to withdraw from your support system because you fear their reaction. You probably don’t want to scare them, or disappoint them—and maybe deep down, a part of you knows that they would urge you to get back on track, and you are in a bad place where you want to feel free to drink or use again. Whatever the reason you are pulling away from loved ones, recognize that this is dangerous behavior, and a sign that you need your support system more than ever.

Things to Do to Get Back on Track

1. Take Responsibility

Life can be hard, but that doesn’t make you a victim. Addiction is a disease, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for taking charge of your life. You aren’t to blame for your addiction, but you are the only one who can make the changes necessary to overcome addiction behavior and live a healthier, happier life.

2. Recognize What Needs to Change

When you are in trouble on your recovery journey, it’s time to take a good, hard look at yourself to recognize what’s going on and what needs to change for you to get back on track. If you’ve reconnected with an ex who is still using, break the connection for your own good. If you’ve neglected your physical health, make a doctor’s appointment or start getting better sleep or eating more fruits and vegetables ASAP. Often, the only way to avoid a crash is to change your path and shift onto a new track.

3. Confide in Your Support Network

It’s natural to feel apprehensive about confiding in the people who care about you, but now is the time you need them most. They want to help you; they don’t want you to hide what’s going on for any reason.

4. Know When Professional Help is Necessary

Addiction is a chronic disease that needs ongoing management. Many of these management techniques are self-help techniques, such as good self-care and confiding in loved ones. But there are times when you, and your friends and family, simply aren’t equipped to get you back on track. That’s when you need the help of a trained professional with the knowledge, skills, and experience to guide you through challenges and teach you how to return to your recovery journey stronger than before.

Ask yourself the following questions to determine if it’s time to seek professional help:

  • Did you relapse, or do you feel like you’re about to?
  • Are important areas of your life (relationships, work, school, etc.) suffering?
  • Are you or your loved ones in danger from your behavior or the behavior of people you’re associating with? Remember that danger isn’t just about physical harm, but mental and emotional harm as well.

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What to Do If You Relapse

Between 40 and 60% of people in addiction recovery experience relapse. If it happens to you, know that you aren’t alone, and there is no reason to give up. All the lessons and skills that you acquired in treatment are still yours to use—there are simply a few more lessons and skills you need learn to get back to growing in your recovery journey.

The first step to getting back on track is to tell a trusted friend or family member about your relapse. Secrets only make addictions stronger, and openness will give you strength. Being held accountable by people you care about can be very motivating, and you will need the support of your loved ones as you return to treatment.

The next step is to seek professional help. If your relapse was brief and not too intense, you may find that returning to regular counseling and going to 12-step meetings as often as possible is enough to get you headed in the right direction again. If, however, your relapse led to you using heavily or for a long time, you should seriously consider getting a professional detox, and possibly returning to inpatient treatment. Be honest about the level of help that is necessary for your situation. If you’re scared of overdoing it and getting more treatment than you need—stop worrying. Better to get too much help and quickly feel strong and confident again, then to get less than what is needed to pull you out of a relapse and return you to recovery.

Ready to begin your recovery journey? Call 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) to learn about available treatment programs for drug and alcohol addiction.

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