How To Build A New Life In Recovery
I suppose that starting a new life is hard for anyone — changing careers, changing locations, changing friends, etc.
Building a new life in recovery brings extra challenges. There may be continuing legal or financial issues you need to face. Relationships are often strained and broken during any active addiction, which means they either need to be repaired or you need to figure out how to make new ones. On top of these stressors, you no longer have access to the coping mechanism(s) that you previously did for stressful situations. You can no longer drink. You can no longer use drugs. You can’t control your emotions through food, gambling, sex, etc. You now have to learn how to change a multitude of things in your life without your normal ways of coping.
For me, my life started over when I entered recovery. Ok, truthfully, my emotional life started over (or even began) when I entered recovery. My responsible, adult life had its own rebirth when I was released from jail, but prohibited from making an income in the only way I had previously (pharmacy). In the period leading up to my incarceration, I learned things about myself, my motivations, and my relationships with others that were causing me to turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to deal with life.
My life effectively went on pause when I was sentenced to jail. I spent nine months sleeping, eating, and reading while the world went on without me. Family members helped respond to any pressing matters that would come up (usually financial) by checking mail that came for me. Despite trying to help me stay on top of things while I was incarcerated, past bills soon found themselves in collections. While it was helpful to know what was going on, it certainly wasn’t anyone else’s responsibility to pay them.
I was released in May of the following year, the same month that I had checked into rehab the year before. While I had had a great deal of time to reflect on my situation, take responsibility, and develop my relationship with myself, I still needed to figure out how to support myself as an adult. I was legally forbidden to work anywhere that dispensed medication, so my previous eight years of pharmacy experience was virtually worthless.
I’ve shared my story in smaller and more detailed doses, and the important takeaways of this post are that there are going to be universal steps to at least creating a foundation that you can stand on. From my own experience, and many others I have known over the years, here are some of the guideposts and points to understand when building a new life in recovery.
It will be hard
Depending on how much of a mess you left trailing behind you before entering recovery, building a new life takes differing amounts of time. No matter the length, it will still be hard to change behavior and thought patterns that you have learned to cope and rely on. You’ll be thrust outside of your comfort zone, and know that it will be hard before it gets easier. The key to staying on the right path is accepting that and continuing to do the work.
After months of trying to find employment and trying to get all my affairs in order, things started to look a little better. Even as my life improved and I cleared a number of those initial (seemingly huge) hurdles, I was still on supervised probation for five years following my release. It was something that I had to accept and submit to as a consequence of my actions, but guess what? That ended too.
Tackle one thing at a time
When I reentered the world, I prioritized the actions that needed to be done first. I needed an income. I was able to stay with my sister for awhile, but that was not a long term solution. I applied for jobs like it WAS my job until I finally got one (three months later). My bills had gone to collections, so I called each service and told them what was going on. Once I was making money again, I negotiated a payment plan so that I was steadily able to pay them off instead of being paralyzed at the entire amount I owed.
It’s the same thing as any large goal — break it into smaller, more manageable goals and the good feeling you get from accomplishing one will help fuel you on to staying on that path.
Don’t play the victim
The easiest way to relapse is to assume that you are not the reason you’re in this situation.
- I only stole because I wasn’t paid enough and I deserve it (this was one of mine)
- My eating disorder was only because I was trying to be healthy
- My drinking isn’t the problem — it’s just that I got caught
- There’s no way to get through the stresses of school without cutting loose every now and then
The longer you blame someone or something else for what’s going on in your life, the longer it will take you to change anything. I get it, it’s not easy to take responsibility for a potentially life-threatening situation, but that’s exactly what it is. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can start to make changes for the better. You have to realize that your life and your future are YOUR responsibility.
I can’t stress this one enough. If it weren’t for the connections and relationships that I made in the recovery community (from meetings, rehab, etc.), I would have felt incredibly alone and overwhelmed — one of the main reasons why I sought out drugs in the first place.
You never know who is going to be able to help you. Talk about what’s going on. Ask for help. Bounce ideas off people. Your mindset is what helped get you where you are, so be open minded to responses and realize that you may have irrational thoughts or expectations.
Be open to change
For me to rebuild my life, I basically had to change everything about it. If I had remained rigid and unwavering, I would have made the same mistakes and gotten the same results. I would have done what I knew and that was to run and hide from the world and self-medicate.
You HAVE to be open minded. You have to be willing to shift your perspective and consider alternative ideas to your own. Try new things. I had to set boundaries, make new friends, and change my coping mechanisms. Thinking that you can simply go back to the way things operated before is naive and destined to fail.
It’s not easy, but it is doable. If you think this post may help others in a similar situation, please share! Also feel free to reach out if you need any advice or simply someone to talk to — firstname.lastname@example.org.