Getting sober is a huge deal. When you’re in the early stages of recovery, it can be hard to imagine any time past now. That’s a healthy way to be; it’s why people in early recovery are often told to take it one day at a time. It’s important to be present and truly experience each stage of recovery.
Still, when I was in early sobriety, I would have loved to receive a letter from my future self about longer term recovery. Since that isn’t possible, I’m writing this for others in the early stages.
It’s obvious that after my almost five and a half years sober, I would feel like a different person than I was during active addiction. But what I wouldn’t have guessed is how different I feel from who I was even in my first year of sobriety.
How Does Long-Term Sobriety Differ from Short-Term Sobriety?
A lot of this, as I have written before on this blog, comes down to practice. Early recovery is full of “firsts.” You are learning how to navigate everyday life without substances. The more time you spend in recovery, the more chances you have to use coping skills.
The way we cope with challenges colors our lives. I feel like a fundamentally different person, in large part because of the difference in how I handle stress. This impacts all the other aspects of my life; I don’t live with the constant anxiety of something going wrong. I know things will go wrong and that I’ll be able to handle it. This rids me of my need to control the outcome in situations that are uncontrollable.
In early sobriety, we learn that taking away substances doesn’t mean we automatically know how to cope with challenges or difficult emotions. Removing alcohol or drugs is the first step, which allows you to start the work. You will notice growth at every step of the way; I’m sure that in another five years, I will also feel like a different person than I am today.
A study in the journal Drugs: Education, Prevention, and Policy looks at the difference in outcomes for people in three stages of recovery: early (less than a year), sustained (1-5 years), and stable (over five years).
According to the study authors, “participants in later recovery stages have lower odds of having housing problems, being involved in crime…and higher odds of having work or education, when compared to participants in the early recovery stage. This study provides further empirical support for defining drug addiction recovery as a gradual, long-term process that is associated with various life domains beyond abstinence.”
Longer treatment stays are associated with better outcomes; the National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends at least three months, and notes that the longer, the better. This allows both the time to build coping skills and the distance from substances for your brain to heal. Addiction changes the brain.
The study also makes it even more clear how important it is to continue to do the work in recovery.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. When you leave our care, you will be set up with supports and a relapse prevention plan to promote lasting recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.