You’ve decided to stop, you’ve put in place your support package. You’ve got a giant stock of vitamins and minerals that friends have suggested you take. You know who you can talk to when things get rough.
You’ve consulted your doctor to make sure that it is safe for you to withdraw on your own or whether you need medical support.
If support is offered TAKE IT.
You wake up in the middle of the night knowing that last night you took your last drink.
The next few weeks will be very bumpy, so you will need all the help and support you can get. It’s time to join AA or one of the many web groups that are dedicated to helping you through the next few weeks.
I’m also guessing that you might think that now is the time to get some therapy.
I’m going to go against the flow here and suggest that if you’re not in a rehab programme, where you will work with highly qualified specialised psychologists and psychotherapists, you wait a while and make sure that you find the right therapist for you and you understand fully what your therapeutic goals are.
Initially you might want to see a therapist on your own, but further down the line you may want to take part in couples and/or family therapy. So wait until you are clear about your needs and expectations of therapy and that you’ve found a therapist that you’re happy to work with before signing up.
The reason for this is that for a while, you will be so focused and overloaded by the physical symptoms that you might not be in the right space to take on therapy as well. Remember also that if you are part of a partnership or family group, your decision to give up drinking will affect all those close to you.
Therapy stirs a lot of stuff up. Someone once described the first month of recovery as feeling like they were a bottle of soda that had been shaken so hard that if the top were removed, it would explode leaving a huge sticky, messy lake. And there is only so much stuff that you can handle at any one time.
Some people in recovery put a lot of pressure on themselves to fix things and change as quickly as possible. By doing this you may be working against yourself. Try looking at it like this: It took me x number of years to get to where I am, so it’s going to take time to change. Take it slow.
Try to look at your recovery as not just being your recovery, but also being your family’s recovery. You may be the person who is actively expunging alcohol from your life, but when it leaves you, it leaves them to, and they will be faced with a person who they recognise, but don’t know. They may need support to recover from the years of living with your addiction.
The first month alcohol free is not easy. It takes time for the toxic substance to leave the body and for the cravings to subside.
Let’s talk a little bit about your brain.
I’m not going to talk about the science behind why people drink. There are many great books, blogs, youtube videos and courses who can explain it much better than me.
Instead I’m going to talk about how your brain will help you not to drink.
Addiction changes the brain, so when you stop abusing substances your brain will use a function called neuroplasticity to heal, recover and develop normal dopamine patterns. The communication networks in the brain will change and rejuvenate overtime and bit by bit the brain rewires itself.
What this means for you is that the drive to obtain alcohol will subside and stop, and you will start to look at yourself in a different way and your outward behaviour will change. Functions that you lost, such as memory, may overtime recover. You will start to experience the world in a different way. Because your brain will be working overtime, you may experience highs known as the pink cloud where everything in the world is just groovy. You may also experience periodic bouts of depression known as Post Addiction Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), which over time tend to become less frequent and less deep. But again, if you are worried about any symptoms that you experience PLEASE SEE A DOCTOR.
Perversely, it is the ‘good’ changes that will impact your relationships. You may start to feel less dependent on those around you and stifled by their behaviour towards you. They may feel as you try to do more, that their role is being taken away from them. This is natural because while you were drinking, their job was to get shit done and keep you and themselves as safe as they could. You need to be really open and empathetic about how your recovery is impacting on them. Going into therapy at this point may help you face the challenges that will come your way together.
Once you’ve negotiated the first couple of months, you should feel physically better, but your psychological journey will have only just begun; there is no timescale as to how long it will last, possibly a lifetime. As your relationship with alcohol fades into the distance, your relationship with your emotions will take centre stage. This is the true beginning of your journey out of addiction.
My understanding of the AA premise that you never recover but are in perpetual recovery has changed over the years. I used to think that it meant once an addict, always an addict, so you have to spend the rest of your life managing yourself to make sure that you don’t slip back into addiction.
I now believe that there is a deeper meaning to that trite little slogan. As an addict your emotional growth is stunted. Once you stop, you start to grow emotionally. If you look at that phrase through a different lens: recovery is personal growth. Once you halt your addiction, you are free to carry on growing from the person you were to the person you want to become.
That is a journey that lasts a lifetime.