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Dealing with Change in Early Recovery


One of the most difficult things for people when they first become sober can be change. This is problematic because in order for the individual to build a strong recovery, they are going to need to go through some big changes. It is also a reality that the world around us changes all the time and if people expect things to stay the same, they are going to suffer greatly as nothing stays the same forever.

Importance of Avoiding Major Changes during the First Year of Recovery

While there is no real way to avoid change in early recovery, it is recommended that the individual avoid making any unnecessary major changes in the first year of recovery. The type of changes that are being referred to here would include things like:

  • Starting a new relationship
  • Getting a divorce
  • Moving house
  • Going on a long foreign holiday
  • Having a baby
  • Quitting a job
  • Starting a new job
  • Starting up a business
  • Taking on new major responsibilities at work
  • Accepting a promotion at work
  • Returning to education

There are some good reasons for why it is not recommended that people make major changes in the first year of recovery such as:

  • In order to stay sober the individual is going to need to be fully focused on this. If they experience other major changes, for example a new job, it will divert their attention away from where it is needed. This will make it harder for the individual to maintain their sobriety.
  • Early recovery can be a stressful time as the individual adapts to this new way of living. By making other major changes in their life, the individual will just be adding to their stress levels, and this might be enough to overwhelm them. In early recovery, the last thing that a person wants is additional stress that could have been avoided.
  • It can take a couple of years for the individual to get to know himself or herself a bit better and decide what they really want from life. This means that there is a high likelihood that the decisions they make in early recovery could be things that they later regret. It will be better for the individual to delay making any major decisions until they are more settled in recovery.
  • During the first year, the individual will be at high risk of addiction substitution or other methods for hiding from reality. By making a major change in their life, the person may simply be trying to avoid facing the things they need to face. For example, the individual might throw himself or herself into a new relationship as a means to escape their recovery.

Relationship Danger in Early Recovery

Probably the most dangerous change that the individual can make in early recovery is for them to fall into a new relationship. This is dangerous for a number of reasons including:

  • Relationships can be very intense, and they will take away much of the person’s attention away from their recovery. This is highly dangerous, and it will mean that the person is more likely to relapse.
  • It will often have been the inability to deal with emotional issues surrounding relationships that will have been a reason for alcohol or drug abuse. Early recovery is already described as an emotional roller coaster, so adding a relationship into the mix seems extremely reckless.
  • If the individual is getting to a relationship with somebody who drinks alcohol or uses drugs they will be opening themselves up for a great deal of temptation.
  • The person may be using this relationship as an excuse not to deal with their real problems. It can be a form of escapism, and the person can use this relationship as a type of addiction substitute.
  • People in early recovery will only have a limited amount of sobriety – their thinking is still likely to be clouded by the addiction. This means that there is a good chance of them making poor decisions in regards to relationships.

How to Deal with Change in Early Recovery

It is not going to be possible to avoid change in early recovery. The whole process of sobriety involved dealing with one change after another. The individual will not only be expected to change the way they live but also the way they think. Here are a few suggestions for how the person can be better able to face the changes that are going to be part of their path:

  • It is going to be vital that the individual develops an optimistic attitude to life. This means believing that all the changes that are going to happen will be taking them in a positive direction.
  • The person needs to see change as their friend and not their enemy. It will be these changes that take them further from addiction.
  • The individual needs to have a support work that they can turn to when they feel overwhelmed by change. Something like a 12 Step fellowship group can be ideal for this, as the person will have easy access to like-minded people. One of the other advantages of this type of fellowship is that they provide a program for dealing with change.
  • It is important that the person understands that they will never be expected to face anything in recovery that is beyond their ability. Things may appear tough, and they may sometimes experience failure, but so long as the individual remains sober, they will be winning. The fact that the person has been able to overcome addiction means that they will now be ready to handle anything life sends their way.

It helps to break major changes down into smaller chunks. This way as the individual achieves one small part of the change it will give them to motivation to handle the next chunk until they have accomplished the complete change.

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