Staying clean after drug or alcohol addiction is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. You’ll be racked with guilt, shame, and self-doubt. You’ll have moments where you think there’s no coming back from the damage you’ve done, that recovery is pointless and a lost cause. But that’s not truth speaking, it’s addiction seeping into your mind, trying to call you back. If you’re going to succeed in recovery, you need to learn how to quiet the nasty voice of addiction and maintain a positive outlook. Whether you’ve been sober a day or a year, these strategies can help.
Focusing on the Now
Staying sober seems daunting, especially when you’re looking at the long view. Sure, you’re sober today, but will you be able to keep it up for weeks, months, years? These worries are normal, but if you focus on the opportunities for failure you’ll only end up discouraged. Instead, put your energy into making good decisions from moment to moment. Right now, you can’t control what you’ll do next month or next year. You only have power over what you do right now. So make a good choice in this moment, and do the same in the next.
Finding Meaningful Work
It’s important to stay busy so you don’t have time to dwell on negative thoughts that could trigger a relapse. Employment is also a great way to rebuild self esteem and reintegrate into society. However, finding employment after addiction has many challenges. If you were terminated from a job or your resume has long gaps due to your addiction, it may be difficult to convince employers to give you a chance. Furthermore, if you’re active in treatment you may require a flexible work schedule, which not all employers are willing to accommodate.
Instead of hiding your addiction from your job, seek employers who offer an Employee Assistance Program. An EAP can help you overcome barriers to work, such as coordinating work and treatment schedules, connecting you with support groups, and requiring drug screenings to enforce accountability. You can learn more about Employee Assistance Programs at the American Psychiatric Association’s website.
If you’re unable to secure employment, there are still options for meaningful work. Get involved in volunteer work, start an internship or apprenticeship, go back to school, help a neighbor, or do something else that brings purpose to daily life.
Coping with Difficult Emotions
Guilt and shame are common feelings for people living with addiction. You may feel shame for having an addiction as well as guilt for hurting people close to you. As author Neil Steinberg points out in an interview with NPR, “no one wants to have any kind of problem, nevermind a problem which for so long was portrayed as this sin, as this sort of weakness and failing.” However, it’s important that you don’t let these difficult emotions get in the way of seeking help. While continuing to use may help you ignore these feelings, it also causes them to grow.
Guilt and shame gain their power through secrecy and dishonesty. As hard as it is, overcoming these emotions calls for facing them head-on. Find a safe, nonjudgmental setting to talk about your addiction, admit your struggles to loved ones, and apologize sincerely to those you’ve hurt. Know that even if someone can’t forgive you, it doesn’t mean they don’t want the best for you.
When you first enter addiction recovery, it can feel like you’ll never return to a “normal” life. But people can — and do — find meaning, joy, and empowerment after leaving substance abuse behind. In addition to these measures, aim to focus on what you’re gaining by choosing sobriety — from finding purpose and loving relationships, to the simple pleasure of waking up sober and healthy, there’s a lot of good to be found in recovery.