By: Marilyn L. Davis
Our Brains Developed Tolerance for Alcohol and Drugs
We Thought We Could Function on Drugs and Alcohol
Our brains adjusted and we sometimes maintained that outer facade of ‘having it together’. Some of our friends and families were shocked when we entered treatment for our addictions; we had seemingly fooled them. They might even comment on how well we functioned. But what exactly is functioning?
Functioning is Not Our Best
Functioning is performing adequately. Think about the functionality of everyday items:
- Hats: they keep our ears warm, hair in place, dry, or concealed on bad days
- Computers: they store data, check our spelling, provide entertainment
- Watches: tell time, and eventually get replaced by a phone
I Gave Up Drugs, Why Can’t I Function?
I got into recovery and could not even function. I did not realize how much damage I had done to my body and brain; nor did I understand that all the emotions that I overlooked or ignored would come rushing back at inopportune times.
For some of us, we seemed to be worse off in our early recovery than we were in our use. In our recovery, we forget appointments, we lose track of a conversation, laugh when others are crying, or space out and have shiny moments for no clear reason. Our eyes betray us. We are reading one sentence, our eyes wander two lines down, and nothing makes sense.
The contradictory difference from functioning on drugs and alcohol to struggling when not on drugs and alcohol is frightening for many of us. It creates the illusion that it would be better to function on drugs and alcohol than appear stupid sober.
Healing Takes Time and Resolve
Too many give in or give up at this point and relapse. They forget the resolve that they used to develop tolerance, their steadfast approach to using. They succumb to the choice of functioning on drugs because they refuse to appear inadequate in early recovery.
Rather than think about this in binary; on/off terms, it is important to realize that the brain, our bodies, and our emotions will take some time to readjust and heal in this new non-using state. Learning to live without drugs and alcohol is part of a healing process. Our brain and body need time to regroup and recuperate. In early recovery, our brain needs to recover its ability to think without chemicals.
Be Patient and Encouraging While Healing
If we apply the same resolve to healing that we did to using, not being embarrassed about the shiny moments, asking others how they dealt with the embarrassment of forgetting, and talking about our feelings, we do begin to heal.
We strengthen our resolve to stay in recovery when we show patience with others and ourselves during this time. We are learning about something new – living without drugs and alcohol, and just like any new subject, or when we were learning to use, it will take time.
It is ironic that we were so often proud of how well we functioned on drugs and alcohol, yet cannot muster this same attitude in early recovery.
We always have to remember that we did not develop a tolerance overnight and we will not heal overnight, but we can and do heal.
By accepting that our brains, bodies and emotions are healing, we can gently move from functioning to living – that is the true healing of recovery.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart