It can be tricky to manage expectations for addiction recovery. On one hand, you have to expect life to get significantly better or else you wouldn’t be willing to invest the time, money, and effort in recovery. On the other hand, expecting things to improve too much too soon can lead to frustration, disappointment, and backsliding. Recovery is a long process that requires daily effort. Life will get better in the long run but it takes time. Here are some reasons you should manage your expectations for recovery, whether it’s your recovery or a loved one’s. 

There will always be problems.

When you’re struggling with a substance use disorder, it’s normal to feel like all your problems are caused by drugs and alcohol. It’s likely that your biggest problems are caused by drugs and alcohol, but getting sober won’t solve all your problems. People who have never touched drugs or alcohol still have problems. That’s just life. Bad things will still happen but being sober will help you in two big ways. First, you will make fewer problems for yourself. As the old saying goes, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Second, you will be better able to solve your problems when you’re sober. We can never solve all our problems, but being sober and having the tools that treatment gives you greatly expands your ability to deal with adversity. 

You may have some messes to clean up.

It would be nice if you could just draw a line under everything you had done during active addiction and start over when you enter treatment but that’s not how it works. Sooner or later, you will have to deal with the mistakes you made during active addiction. That can feel extremely unfair because getting sober, getting therapy, and having some time away can make you feel like it was a different person who made all those mistakes. You may have alienated friends and family, had troubles at work, gotten into debt or gotten into legal problems and none of that goes away when you enter treatment, with the possible exception of some legal problems if you happen to go through a drug court. Cleaning up some of these messes can take a long time. People are slow to forgive and fixing your finances might take years if you’ve piled up a lot of debt. However, dealing with these problems is part of the process. It shows you’re willing to take responsibility for your life and for your mistakes. It’s a chance to make up for the harm you caused in active addiction and really make a clean start.

Recovery is never a straight line.

Recovery doesn’t just keep getting better after detox. It’s always up and down, especially early on. You have good days and bad days. Sometimes you have really bad days and you might even slip. Sometimes you might feel like there’s no point in trying to stay sober. It’s important to recognize that these experiences are common. People aren’t machines and there are many variables that affect our moods, our decisions, and how we handle stress. While it’s a good goal to make each day better than the last, there will be plenty of times when that won’t happen. The important thing is to look for improvement over the long run. If you stick to your recovery plan, especially when you don’t feel like it, you will eventually notice improvement even if you can’t see it from day to day.

Recovery is ongoing.

Addiction is never really cured; you just get better at managing it. If you expect to be cured when you leave treatment, you’re going to have a hard time. Most treatment programs only last 30 or 90 days. That’s long enough to get sober, go through some therapy, and learn some coping skills but for most people that’s not long enough to cement those skills as part of your normal behavior. Therefore, the time after leaving treatment is especially tricky, since you no longer enjoy the shelter and support of inpatient treatment and you have to adapt your new skills to the pressures of everyday life. This is where transitional support, a sober living environment, or a personal recovery assistant may be especially helpful. They can smooth the transition and help make recovery part of your normal life.

Relapse is common.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40 and 60 percent of people who get treatment for addiction relapse within the first year. [] The risk of relapse is so high that some people say you should consider relapse part of recovery. Unfortunately, a relapse can have serious consequences, including an increased risk of overdose and feeling discouraged and unwilling to try again. What’s more, if there’s a 40 to 60 percent chance of relapsing, there is also a 40 to 60 percent chance of not relapsing, so on balance it’s better not to consider relapse part of recovery. Still, it does happen frequently. If it does happen, it’s important to know that people can and do recover even after several relapses. If you see a relapse as a permanent failure that should not happen after treatment, you will be less willing to give recovery another try.

Disappointment can lead to relapse.

Typically, a relapse isn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision but rather a gradual process that may last weeks or months. The first step of this process is emotional relapse. Emotional relapse is characterized by negative thinking, isolation, lack of self-care, skipping meetings, and bottling up emotions. [] Often, this is a result of feeling disappointed, frustrated, or cynical about recovery. In AA, this is sometimes called “stinking thinking” and veterans know it’s an early warning sign of relapse. Fortunately, it’s still easy to save your recovery at the emotional relapse stage by resuming self-care, sharing your feelings and renewing your commitment to your recovery plan. Expecting difficulties and making a commitment to sticking with your recovery plan even when you don’t feel like it can help you avoid emotional relapse to begin with.

If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 714-559-3919.

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