Early Sobriety and All Those Damn FEELINGS! The Dark Storms of Recovery.
I want to be clear about something; early recovery can be brutal. This is just a fact and if you haven’t discovered it already, then you probably will if you’re new to sobriety or trying to get sober.
I could try to convince you that the early stages of recovery is all about rainbows, butterflies and unicorns and that you’re going to feel instantly amazing every single day, as if new sobriety is one giant, continuous orgasm. But that would be a lie and my job is to be as straight forward and honest as I can. Often, early sobriety is more like being pounded by a dark storm of angry feelings and painful emotions.
At first, new sobriety can be a wonderful experience in many ways. Just the clarity of mind that occurs from not drinking or using can feel like a miracle for some people. But usually after a few days or weeks, we start to experience these things called “feelings” which overwhelm our mind and body. Some of the feelings are great. Some of the feelings truly suck. Sometimes they’re pleasant. Sometimes they’re painful. But believe me, the feelings start to come fast and furious and can occasionally scare people who are new to recovery.
When you think about it, we’ve spent years (in most cases) trying to hide from, or suppress, our feelings with booze and drugs. For whatever reason, most addicts hate feeling much of anything other than feeling high and euphoric. For whatever reason, we try to avoid any discomfort in our lives; at some point we discovered that alcohol and dope are the easiest and fastest ways to escape a wide range of feelings and emotions. We prefer numbness to just about everything else. But once you take away those numbing agents, we start to experience a flood or mental, emotional and even physical feelings that we haven’t felt in years, sometimes decades.
I remember how incredibly uncomfortable I felt in the world when I first got sober. It was like I didn’t know how to act, talk, react, engage or socialize in any way, shape or form. In many ways, I had to restart my entire life. I had to be reborn into the world of adult socialization and conversation. It was an incredibly awkward time for me, coupled with the fact that I’m naturally shy and struggle with social anxiety. Thankfully, I was living in Los Angeles at the time and had many AA and NA meetings to go to every day of the week. So slowly I began surrounding myself with recovering addicts, which gave me an opportunity to relearn how to communicate and interact with other adults without having to rely on cocktails to get me through.
But worse than the social anxiety was the physical pain and discomfort I experienced in early recovery. My body was trashed by all the substance abuse I had forced upon it for many years. I had lived on a steady diet of alcohol, drugs and cigarettes for decades and my body was fighting to repair itself.
In those early days I could hardly sleep at all and would often break out in a cold sweat as my body worked to squeeze out all the toxins that had accumulated in every pore of my body. I would sweat so much at night that I had to keep buying new pillow cases to replace the ones that were stained permanently yellow. My skin was blotchy and dry, which made me feel more self-conscious than normal (which is saying a lot). I often felt my heart racing so fast it felt like it might explode. I suffered with extreme levels of anxiety and paranoia and often became deeply depressed. I often had bad headaches and worst of all; my stomach was in constant pain. I had a horrible pain and discomfort in my belly morning, noon and night. There were times that it became almost unbearable. Of course, being a hypochondriac at the time, I convinced myself that I must have stomach cancer and that I would die soon (a quick shout-out to my first sponsor, Paul C, for patiently putting up with all my complaining, whining and panic attacks in those early days. You’re an angel, brother.).
Yet somehow I managed to stay sober one day at a time, for which I am forever grateful.
After a few months, I began to feel a little better but I still never felt great. So about six months into my recovery I made the decision to change the way I felt by learning everything I could about what I had done to my body and how I could try to repair some of the lingering damage that still plagued my body.
One thing I can tell you; the storm will pass. You will reach a point of serenity and comfort, but it takes time and effort. Stick with it. Don't give up, no matter how dark the horizon seems to be. The sun light will always return.
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