Every day that passes without acting out on any manifestation of addictive behaviors or processes is a victory for someone in recovery, both within the beginning stages and into long-term sustained recovery.
However, it can be more challenging to abstain from substances or addictive processes during early recovery, when a newly recovering individual is just learning to manage the stresses of daily life without reverting to unhealthy coping mechanisms in the form of substance use, abuse, or addictive behaviors. Early recovery is a tumultuous time fraught with powerful emotions, cravings, and general discomfort for many. A great deal of self-exploration and honesty is necessary, which can be challenging for a number of different reasons. For so long, people may have dealt with stress and discomfort by masking these feelings through their addictive behaviors. Early recovery is all about uncovering and facing the core issues that were neglected throughout active addiction, as well as dealing with the consequences of the addiction itself. Seemingly insignificant events can trigger overpowering cravings or urges to act out that can feel impossible to overcome for many in early recovery. It is critical for a person in early recovery to learn and adopt healthy ways of managing these feelings that they can continue to utilize throughout the rest of their recovery.
People can become triggered by a number of different things, even as simple as driving past their old neighborhood or visiting places that they used to frequent throughout their addiction. To feel triggered is to suddenly experience an intense craving or urge as a result of internal or external stimuli. Stress can be a major trigger for many people in recovery because addictive processes can feel effective in the short term as a way to relieve oneself of stress or unwind. Triggers come in all different shapes and forms and spark unique feelings for each individual. It is important to identify the events, feelings, or circumstances that lead to substance cravings, desires to act out maladaptive behaviors, or urges toward destructive relationship patterns. Identifying and confronting the discomfort that sparks urges and desires are the key to overcoming them.
There are several different ways to effectively address triggers and manage stress, and different techniques work for different people. Exercising, listening to music, or engaging in some sort of creative activity are all very effective means of coping because these activities can take someone out of their present headspace and transform their negative energy into something productive. However, it is equally important to gain a better understanding of the specific feelings or events that lead someone to feel triggered in addition to channeling that energy elsewhere. Some keep a journal and take the time to document how they are feeling and explore why they might be feeling that way. Others call their sponsors, sober friends, or other supportive people in their lives to talk through their feelings and keep themselves accountable for not drinking or using. Recovery companions are popular among those who have the means to afford them. Recovery companions are professionals who are paid to support people through particularly stressful events or situations. Often times, musicians on tour or executives in big companies or corporations embarking on business trips will hire recovery companions to accompany them, hold them accountable, and help them process cravings and triggers as they arise. Recovery companions are excellent resources, but they definitely come at a cost.
It is important to take the time to identify key triggers and sources of stress in early recovery in order to build a solid foundation upon which to rely throughout the rest of the recovery process.
Upon identification of these events, it is critically important to find ways to effectively process and manage these uncomfortable feelings using whatever techniques work best for the individual. Call a supportive friend, sponsor, or hire a recovery companion if the resources are available, and remember to celebrate every day that passes in recovery as a successful day. One day at a time. Just for today.