Once the addict in your life has entered treatment and successfully weathered detox, the real business of recovering begins. It may seem strange to learn that completing treatment is only the tip of the iceberg. Many may think that the addict will turn “back into himself” and everything will go back to the normal state before addiction wrought it’s havoc, but as a pickle can never again be a cucumber, an addict and his family will never again be the same.
Part of the recovery process for the addict is learning to deal with life in a different manner than before. This means adding what are often called the “tools” of recovery – those things learned to stave off the pitfalls in early and continuing sobriety. If one says they don’t need this crucial step, they may be misleading you and themselves. One needs to be diligent in preventing relapse by learning new coping skills and how to avoid common pitfalls. Early sobriety involves adjusting to a life as it is, not as it should be. The addict’s brain chemicals are all over the place in those early months and escapism is no longer allowed. Mood swings abound. Life is fraught with problems for even the most well-adjusted, and in recovery one must learn alternative ways to negotiate life’s tough times. One of the most important recovery “tools” is the telephone.
How does it Help?
When one leaves treatment they are often instructed to find a mentor and continue on with some sort of support group. Usually the group will meet in some way – either in person or online – to compare notes and share experiences. This helps the addict to know what things are common in early recovery and which things are unique to him. The recovering addict at first may feel like a “deer in the headlights” and at a loss when situations come up that he doesn’t know how to handle. Since the maturing process is actually handicapped by the constant retreat into escapism his addiction afforded him, the addict (or alcoholic) must now address what he used to avoid. It seems simple on paper or to those around him, but facing life without what made it easier leaves him unprepared. Like a child, he must learn new ways to deal with things. Most people grow as they walk through their issues. Addicts run from them thus hampering that necessary process!
So come the tools. When this happens, you can do that… When that happens, ask yourself this… I had to read and learn about….. So and so taught me to blah, blah blah… I recognized myself in what so and so related… My mentor told me to use the phone and ask for help!In life, of course, no one wants to ask for help. We don’t want to be vulnerable. We don’t want others to think we’re dumb. Maybe there’s fear of rejection if others figure out how clueless we are about certain things… How can a phone call change anything?
The answer is as simple as not being able to teach yourself something you don’t know! In the new territory of a sober living, many questions will arise. Learning what those before us have done in certain situations can be of great help. Addicts know how to manipulate circumstances to continue using, but often don’t know emotionally healthy ways to avert a crisis. How does one get to the bottom of things honestly? Which things are common? Which things are really important? Are my expectations realistic? Is my response exaggerated? How do I know who’s telling me the truth? The most simplistic answer to this questions is to call someone and ask!
I Can’t ask Someone I don’t know!
That most certainly is the case for most – even those not venturing into recovery. The wise mentor knows this and must encourage their charge to start making steps in that direction before the inevitable crisis hits. Asking a newly recovering alcoholic (or addict) to call a stranger may seem an odd request. And many new in recovery would probably prefer a root canal over honoring that request! What do you say to someone you don’t know? You surely don’t want to pour out your innermost secrets and misgivings, so what does that leave to talk about? The answer is surprisingly simple – anything or everything!
The truth is that everyone in the addict’s support group is either in the same emotional place, or has been there at one time. It is nothing for a support peer to pick up the phone and take the time to chat with someone new. The misgivings may be the same for many at the beginning, so the peer may be able to reassure the newcomer by conveying his own experiences. Or maybe he will just converse, easing the awkwardness. When a recovering addict takes this crucial first step, he may see that calling a stranger wasn’t as painful or embarrassing as he expected! Whether he’s called someone he has conversed with at support meetings, or called someone he’s not even sure he knows, doesn’t effect the outcome much. And the benefit is that he may be able to call the next person with less trepidation. Practicing calling before there’s a crisis paves the way for the time when there is a crisis!
Why the Telephone? I can deal with this on my own or with my Friends!
Not necessarily. Friends may be well intentioned, but it is only other recovering people who know how the addict responds to life. It is other recovering addicts who understand the irrational thinking and coping that come with the disease process. They understand because they, too, came from that same skewed rationale that partners with addiction. They may have stepped in that same pothole the addict is teetering over. When that proverbial crisis does hit, a non-recovering person may have long ago grown past that pitfall, or they may be clueless how to handle the crisis themselves. Some things may be so sensitive that the addict may not want to discuss them in front of everyone. And if his mentor is unavailable, who should he turn to?
Hopefully, one of those comforting strangers he has already chatted with him about inconsequential matters. Because the addict has hopefully already established a small rapport with someone on the phone beforehand, it may not seem so absurd or embarrassing to turn to that person again with something personal. He may have an idea of this person’s character from touching base on a previous occasion, so now it’ easier. The newly recovering addict may realize by now that he doesn’t have all the answers and that he is not the only one that needs occasional help. He gains a little humility by realizing it’s no character defect to ask for help when needed. He has begun to recognize that his past solutions like avoidance or intimidation are unhealthy responses that may actually complicate the situation. Guidance in finding more emotionally healthy responses to problems can make things so much easier. Mentors may not have had your same experience, but so and so has! Sometimes the addict needs to weigh the responses of a few people to see whether the advice is sound! Paraphrasing, even Plato points out the wisdom of engaging and inquiring rather that assuming we already know, or assuming that which we do not know is of no value. Saving face by acting as if we have all the answers does little to help remedy an unfamiliar situation!
No one knows what I should do!!!
It does happen that in spite of following a mentor’s suggestions and calling a few people, the addict still won’t have the answer he needs. Now what?It may be that he needs to give it more time, but there may be another benefit. In the process of calling and verbalizing the problem, it doesn’t seem to weigh on him as much. The very act of reaching out and voicing his misgivings has taken some of the tension out of the situation! Maybe it turns out that what seemed like a crisis an hour ago may seem less daunting after talking about it. Maybe what he thought was awful is really not so bad! Maybe he’s needed to look at the problem with an open mind and a new angle! Maybe what seemed so embarrassing is something others have had to address themselves! It is said that a problem shared is a problem cut in half. A newly recovering substance abuser may be extra sensitive at first and simply needs to be heard and validated. Whatever the addict takes away from a phone call, he will be better able to cope once he has aired his issues.
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