Recovery: Separating Using from the Stuff of Life

Sober man having a rough dayOne recovery group states, “We know that when your addiction is over, your other problems will probably fade or disappear, and that in a consistently abstinent state, you will find solutions to the problems you face.” Indeed, life tends to get better as you remove a major source of your problems. But some people are really bummed to find out that once they stop using drugs and alcohol, their problems don’t just disappear and they really have to do the hard work of separating using from the stuff of life.

In other words, long-term recovery can involve much more than just giving up your drug(s) of choice. It also includes learning how to cope with life’s ups and downs without a glass or bottle in your hand or without turning to drugs. So many of those past associations are strong – for instance, you associate using with relief from emotional and physical pain, managing social malaise, dealing with angst about your future, coping after a hard day, and managing conflict and anger. But such relief is short-lived and doesn’t really provide meaningful resolution of the “stuff of life.”

If you stop using and don’t fill the void, it increases the chance that you’ll use again. Some ways to disentangle using from the stuff of life and then filling the void include the following:

1) Put your finger on what you’re feeling – label the problems and emotions that may be causing a desire to use.

2) Determine what put you in that place – what led to that state of mind or situation

3) Let it out – express yourself in a healthy way, for instance, by talking to a friend, relative, partner, or support person

4) Take other steps to resolve the issue in a way that will provide some resolution – if you’re worried about your future, make a phone call to start the process of change, or if you’re in physical pain, get a referral for physical therapy.

5) Prevent problematic situations – get out of the way of those stuff-of-life triggers when you can. For instance, avoid difficult people, situations, and places.

6) Practice acceptance – uncomfortable feelings are part of life and you can get through them with or without drugs and alcohol. Each time you succeed without using, it will be like getting an inoculation that strengthens you for next time around.