Choosing to enter treatment for a substance use disorder (SUD) is one of the bravest and most powerful things an individual can do. While it is a hard choice, it has immeasurable silver linings far beyond the obvious benefit of helping you get and stay clean and sober. Yet many of us are hesitant to take that step because we fear the intangible parts of treatment that we know will be too difficult, like getting in touch with our feelings, acknowledging past trauma, and making plans for a new life without the crutch of our substance of choice.
Do not let fear of those things deter you from making a choice that will save your life. While they might be scary, they also can be wonderful. There is a common saying in early recovery that goes, “The good thing about getting clean is you get to feel things again. The bad thing is, you get to feel things again.” Let’s break down a few of the “double-edged swords” of treatment and early recovery that are both difficult and amazing.
Rebuilding Your Relationships
Con: Mending fences can be painful. An essential part of recovery for those who follow 12-step programs is making amends to those you have wronged. This can lead to uncomfortable conversations, tears, and sleepless nights. Knowing you’re going to have those conversations and rebuild trust with your loved ones can be daunting, but it’s important to remember that meaningful connection with others is a huge part of what makes life worth living.
Pro: Rebuilding relationships often makes them even stronger than before they became fractured. Many people in recovery are pleasantly surprised to find that the conversations they dreaded with their loved ones turn out to be incredibly positive and uplifting. Those of us in recovery have found that people are usually more than willing to forgive and welcome their loved ones back into their lives with open arms. Rebuilding your community is one of the most rewarding things you can do; you’ll wonder why you didn’t get around to it sooner.
Feeling Your Feelings
Con: This one is a doozy. For many of us with SUD, our substance use was based on a need to drown out our feelings. The prospect of letting all those feelings back in after keeping them at bay for so long may be so scary that it doesn’t even seem worth it. Let us tell you why it absolutely is.
Pro: Over the years of misusing our substances of choice, we gradually numb ourselves. It can sometimes be hard to notice as it happens so gradually. This means that not only are we unable to process bad things in a healthy way and move on from them, but the good things in our life don’t have the same spark they used to. When we clear our system of drugs and alcohol and let the feelings in, we feel joy in a way that is hard to describe. As our body regains its ability to produce dopamine healthily, we start to find happiness in all parts of everyday life, even the mundane.
We fall back in love with the hobbies and things that used to make us happy. We belly laugh again. We can be silly and funny without feeling embarrassed the next morning. The little pleasures in life become worth waking up for. It is an experience that most of us would not trade for the world. All the painful emotions we have had to process since getting clean (which was usually a positive experience, by the way) pale in comparison to all the happiness we have been able to feel once again.
Con: Getting clean means no more blackouts. Memories will now stick with you when you make them, and particularly in early recovery, you may find you have a lot of time on your hands to think about the past. As you start to navigate your path in recovery, you’ll be reminded of things you may have tried to forget, things you did while you were under the influence, and perhaps mistakes you wish you could take back. Don’t fall into the temptation to relapse to drown these memories back out. Lean in, process, and move forward.
Pro: You can actually remember what you did last weekend! The relief you will feel when you wake up on a Monday morning and don’t have to wrack your brain to see if there are any apologies you need to make, social media posts you need to delete, or bar tabs you have to pay is incomparable. Gone are the days of wanting to change your name and move to a state where no one knows you! On top of that, contrary to what you may think at first, recovery can be enjoyable, and now you actually get to remember all the fun times you have with your friends. What is the point in having a wild night full of laughs if no one remembers it the next day? Recovery allows you to have your cake and eat it, too — you get to have all the fun you want and relive those memories for as long as you’d like.
Taking Care of Responsibilities
Con: Going back to a world full of grown-up demands is not an appealing prospect for most individuals. Paying bills, making good on debts, and taking care of everyday responsibilities may seem like a poor repayment for all your work in treatment or recovery. Let me tell you why it’s not nearly as bad as you fear.
Pro: Hear me out: Paying bills on time feels incredible. When you live for so long, just barely getting by because of your disease, you become accustomed to that lingering dread in the back of your mind that tells you you’re one step away from catastrophe — you’re late on rent, you forgot to pick up your kids again, debt collectors are banging down your door, you haven’t taken your trash out in weeks. In active addiction, we become used to those things nagging us as we continue to ignore them, and the heaviness of lapsed responsibilities becomes something we have to carry all the time. In recovery, as you start to take care of your responsibilities promptly, that dread begins to lift away. You will never feel so free as you do the day you pay off an outstanding bill and get to hang up on a debt collector for the last time. Cleaning your house will feel more satisfying than ever before. The small joys of having your responsibilities taken care of can become one of your biggest sources of contentment.
Figuring Out Who You Are Without Drugs and Alcohol
Con: We already went through the painful awkwardness of puberty and figuring out who we are once; who on earth would want to go through that for a second time? For many of us, our substance use helped define who we were for a very long time. It is hard to imagine who we will be with this huge piece of our identity missing, and that can be scary. Some may fear that they will lose the thing that makes them who they are once they get clean. Others may be afraid they won’t change enough in recovery. Those fears are natural but should not hold anyone back.
Pro: We in recovery get what so many people would give everything for: a chance to start over. We can take time to figure out what makes us happy, what speaks to us, and what kind of impact we would like to make on the world. Recovery marks a rebirth, allowing us to introduce the world to a new person who is no longer defined by drugs and alcohol. As you spend time focusing on your recovery, you can be present in the moment, and being present allows you to get to know yourself. How many times have you said to yourself, “if only I were more this, if only I was less that,” and wished you could remake yourself? Or how many times have you thought you just want a clean slate? Well, here is your golden ticket to do just that. Many of us discover new hobbies and passions, likes and dislikes. You also don’t have to change anything about yourself if you don’t want to. As you are released from the bondage of drugs, you become the most authentic version of yourself. Nothing may change, or everything may change. That’s up to you. You have a second chance at life, which is the most incredible gift anyone can receive.
Most of us in recovery know that the lasting benefits of these double-edged swords far outweigh any discomfort they may have caused in the beginning. If you think you are ready to see what they are all about for yourself, give us a call to see how we can help get you on the path to recovery.