from addict 2 advocate

Mortar Does Not Bind Us: Getting Stuck in Early Recovery

By: Marilyn L. Davis


Stuck in Old Thinking?

“If we stay where we are, where we’re stuck, where we’re comfortable and safe, we die there. We become like mushrooms, living in the dark, with poop up to our chins. If you want to know only what you already know, you’re dying. You’re saying: Leave me alone; I don’t mind this little rat hole. It’s warm and dry. Really, it’s fine.

When nothing new can get in, that’s death. When oxygen can’t find a way in, you die. But new is scary, and new can be disappointing, and confusing – we had this all figured out, and now we don’t.

New is life.” Anne Lamott, Help Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

Too many of us emphatically say that change is scary, hard, impossible, or out of reach, and we get stubborn, discouraged and stuck.   
Hello, we are the same people who just gave up:
  • Crack
  • Heroin
  • Benzos
  • Johnny Red
  • Whatever we call the newest drug
Having given up the substances should tell you something about your ability to change. The problem is that even when we give up drugs and alcohol, we still cling to the self-defeating behaviors that create life problems. 

Stuck in Old Behaviors?

Each of us has Social, Emotional, Mental, Physical and Spiritual aspects, and each of them is adversely affected by our self-defeating choices. In my recovery curriculum, I refer to them as SEMPS©. These are:
  • Social
  • Emotional
  • Mental
  • Physical
  • Spiritual

1. Social 

from addict 2 advocateConsider this the situations and experiences where you interact with others; family, friends, work, school, organizations, religious affiliations, and self-help meetings would be the most common places that you actively interact with other people.

However, your social world extends to your interactions with others, even if indirectly, such as driving and sharing a road, shopping, or any other social activity that would have others present even if you do not talk to them.

Most of us remained isolated in our use, whether we used by ourselves or with others.  We lived in our heads. When we interacted with people, we usually just tried to manipulate them into giving us something.  We got in and got out quickly at family gatherings. We didn’t know how to relate to others.

Early Recovery: Social Issues

Those social skills that we lacked in our use carry over to our early recovery as well. We go to our first meeting, and if you’re like me, you assume that the laughter is false or that everyone is part of a group, and you’ll never belong and feel vulnerable and alone. I can remember standing there, feeling awkward and out-of-place and not knowing how to string words together to interact. I was embarrassed at how socially inept I felt. Thank goodness others saw the distress, and a kindly woman came up and said, “You must be new. You’ve got the deer in the headlights look we’ve come to recognize. Come with me and I’ll introduce you to some other women.”
I will always be grateful that these women remembered how they felt and each, in turn, assured me that if I didn’t relapse, made changes and helped others, my life would improve. Simple, straightforward directions that still work today.
They encouraged me to ask questions. It’s a funny thing about questions. You seem to be a part of the conversation, but the person answering is doing the heavy lifting in it. As people would answer my questions, I listened and learned about being social.
If you are feeling awkward in your recovery support groups, or even with co-workers in the break room, ask them questions about themselves, people are usually thrilled to talk about themselves, and you get practice at being social.  

2. Emotional

from addict 2 advocate

There are five general categories of feelings: Mad, Sad, Glad, Bad, and Scared. Degrees of feelings would fit into these broad categories. 

Our emotions in early recovery seem to surface without rhyme or reason. But if you think of them as being numbed or suppressed with your use, when you take away drugs and alcohol, they will surface, sometimes at inappropriate times.

All that anger and resentment you held for someone? Well, those emotions may come out on innocent people in early recovery.
Early Recovery: Emotional Issues
Other people are laughing about something, and all you want to do is cry? Your sadness, guilt, and slights of the past weren’t resolved in your use, so they must have an outlet now that you’re not using, and often the feelings come out and don’t seem appropriate for the situation.
The three most problematic emotions for people are:
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Sadness

Anger builds up; it festers from frustration, irritation and annoyance. Learn to deal with the lesser degrees of anger so you don’t explode on people. 

Guilt is what we feel when we have done or not done something, said or not said something, or fallen through on a commitment. Learn to limit your commitments to what you can handle on any given day, think before you speak, and don’t promise more than you can deliver. I know some of those sounds like pat answers, but maybe our parents and grandparents did know what they were talking about when they told us to find the silver lining.
Sadness can just be you coming to terms with where your life is and where you thought it “ought to be”. Recovery is about reclaiming what we lost in our addiction, but it takes time.

3. Mental

This aspect deals with how you think and process information and experiences, including your attitudes and opinions about what you are processing and experiencing, and assumptions or illusions that you create about your experiences. How we think, whether it’s positive or negative thoughts affects how we live our lives. Without sounding like Pollyanna, try to find the good in your situation.

Early Recovery: Mental Issues

Think you’re always right? Try listening to other’s ideas and opinions and you may change your mind. Can’t think your way out of a paper bag? That may just be the results of the drugs you used, and they will need to get out of your system. I kept a little notebook so I could remember. Having trouble remembering? Again, that little notebook saved me embarrassment when people asked me what I’d done. Think there’s too much to remember to recover? When I’d think that, I’d remember all I’d done to get and use and then just do the next thing.
You might need to be evaluated for a mental health condition. Many people are depressed or have bi-polar and their use masked these conditions. Always seek the help of a professional or ask about county mental health options. Also, just remember that there is nothing wrong with you if you do need appropriate medications. Just make sure your mental health provider knows that you are in recovery.

4. Physicalfrom addict 2 advocate marilyn l davis

This aspect deals with the sensory system: sight, touch, hearing, tasting, and smelling. In our use, we rarely took care of our bodies. Dental concerns and basic health checkups are imperative in our recovery.

Early Recovery: Physical Issues

If you are experiencing withdrawal, then you may need to detox. There are also some drugs that run the risk of Post Acute Withdrawal, often months after you’ve discontinued using. Many people also feel tired because they are not sleeping well.

This usually corrects itself after a few weeks.  Vitamins, mineral supplements, and eating a healthy diet can also help an individual feel better in early recovery. However, if you’re going to take any supplements, be sure that they are safe for addicts.

Accidents, or chronic conditions, where there is pain need to be treated by a physician that knows your history of substance abuse. There are medications that will not lead you back to relapse. You’ve worked too hard for your recovery to let even a painful sprained ankle to take you back out.


5. Spiritual

from addict 2 advocate marilyn l davisThe use of the term “spirituality” has changed throughout the ages. In modern times spirituality is often separated from religion and connotes a blend of humanistic psychology often with mystical and esoteric traditions for personal well-being and personal development.

Many people think of this as their moral compass or socially and ethically correct or incorrect thoughts, behaviors and actions.

Early Recovery: Spiritual Issues

If you attend meetings where a Higher Power is encouraged, you may not think that you need one or are having trouble identifying one. One thing that helped me was to think of “god”, with a little ‘g’. That stood for good, orderly, direction. Another name for it was, ‘group, of, drunks’.  I could rely on that group of drunks to give me good orderly direction. 

Regardless of what you decide about your spiritual life, if you add the 17 Spiritual Principles into your attitudes and behaviors, I guarantee that you’ll get better outcomes.

Someone Has the Answers

The benefit of recovery support meetings is that someone else was stuck, and got out of it. Ask them what they did to solve their problem.

Most, if not all will be willing to share their experiences with you. So, no more excuses for being stuck, are there?


Writing, and recovery heals the heart

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