“Chaos is now a challenge for me. I almost thrived on it while I was using.”
Like Sally, many recovering addicts return home from rehabilitation to a completely changed world. Just about everything has to change if they want a real shot at staying sober — and these changes don’t always come easily.
We recently spoke to a few addicts on the road to recovery who shared the ways their lives have changed since giving up drugs and alcohol. Each had their own unique story, but they all agreed: returning home comes with adjustments — but these efforts are always well worth the hard work.
It starts with letting go of the idea you’re in absolute control…
Sally said addiction tends to make you think you’re always in the driver’s seat, but rehab taught her otherwise.
“Addicts think they’re in control of everything — I think that’s how we think, even though we’re really not,” she explained. “You’re fooling fewer people than you think you are. Coming to terms with what’s happening is one of the hardest things to do.”
But there’s a unique kind of freedom in letting go of the idea of total control, Lincoln told us. Sometimes, it even leads to a greater understanding and appreciation of how the world really works.
“It used to be that any time a problem came up, I would get high, or anything that went wrong was because I was high. And it worked the other way, too!” Lincoln recalled. “But now, having a clear mind, I can see that when something good happens, it’s because something good should have happened, and if something bad happens, it’s because maybe it just had to happen that way.”
…but still accepting the things you can, and should, control.
When you’re neck-deep in your addiction, it’s easier to let yourself get away with bad behavior than to hold yourself accountable. A fight with your spouse? You were high. Unproductive day at work? You were drunk. But sobriety means taking responsibility for your actions, as well as their consequences.
“I’m an Italian hothead and can lose my temper really quickly,” Scott said. “It didn’t take much to get in my head and make me explode, feel resentful, or feel all those other things that would make me drink.”
Scott cites the dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) techniques he learned from his Addiction Campuses counselors as crucial to his new sober living routine. He said now he knows how to stop and consider his actions before he overreacts:
“DBT teaches you how to look at and react to things differently. I was the kind of guy that had the ‘I’m always right, you’re always wrong’ attitude, and I didn’t listen to others. I don’t do that anymore. Now I listen first and then I say my side, where in the past I just immediately thought, ‘I’m right, you’re wrong, and I don’t need to pay attention to what you have to say.’”
His new perspective, he said, has helped him accept the person he truly is — imperfections and all.
“For a long time, I had the god complex, the Napoleon complex, every complex in the world,” he reflected. “Now I know I’m a flawed person, and I know what I need to do to fix that.”
And people don’t always react to your new life the way you expect — for better or worse
Some survivors who are in recovery expect to be judged, even shunned, once they’ve left rehab. But Zach explained that often, people are more understanding than we give them credit for.
“People will forgive you. They’ll see where you were and where you are now,” he said. “Addicts are the strongest people I’ve ever met. We just got into a bad situation and something took a hold of us, and now we’ve got to figure out how to live a new life, how to find sobriety, and how to reach out if we need help.”
For some loved ones, though, the healing process can take time, and that’s natural. In those instances, Wendy said it’s the person in recovery who needs to demonstrate empathy.
“I’ve heard mothers talk about how their sons wouldn’t speak to them for two years, but they continued to call them once a week and send them birthday cards every year, and years later, they have a relationship again,” she said.
“You can’t push it,” she continued. “There’s nothing I can do about people not wanting to make amends. They’ll be ready, or they won’t.”
Life after finding sobriety may feel foreign and will likely be filled with challenges, but Sally said it best:
“Everything you do today to surrender yourself will all be worth it. We’re all going to be a work in progress forever, and that’s OK.”
Cecelia Johnson believes strongly in the power of good deeds and recognizing great work. That’s why she created RecognitionWorks.org. The site is dedicated to connecting those who’ve been awarded for exemplary work in their communities to companies and organizations that can help them continue their admirable efforts through donations, sponsorships, and gifts. By making these connections, she hopes to build stronger, more altruistic communities and citizens.