Failure to Launch: What To Do When Your Recovery Stalls

Posted under Recovery on April 27, 2011

What happens when you’re all jazzed up, coming out of treatment for substance abuse or process addictions, maybe co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorder, and you just can’t seem to get it going? It isn’t that you’re doing anything wrong. It just seems as though you’re stuck in neutral – not going backward, but not moving forward, either. In a way, it’s like a failure to launch. Not to worry. Here’s what to do when your recovery stalls.

Take Some Time to Reassess

You’ve just been through a huge and dramatic change in your life. By completing treatment for drug or alcohol abuse or addiction, or for addiction to compulsive gambling, overwork, eating disorders, compulsive sexual behavior, or compulsive spending, you’ve given yourself a tremendous gift – the opportunity to start over, to begin anew, free of your addiction.

Maybe it doesn’t feel that way to you right now, but that could very well be because too much has happened all at once. You can benefit by taking some time to reassess your situation.

After all, since you made the decision to get clean and sober, this is a major lifestyle change in your life. What you do and how you do it from this day forward will be markedly different from how you lived your life before.

And it can be a lot to take in.

That’s why it’s a good idea to step back, look at the items in your life that you need to address, the goals you’ve set for yourself, and the people you surround yourself with. Think of this activity as putting things in perspective. You have a goal, and that is long-term recovery. How do you get there? What are the things that you and your therapist talked about that are critical to successful recovery? What steps do you need to take, and in what order, to jumpstart your recovery?

Don’t be alarmed if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed. Write down things that come to mind, whatever they may be. Whether it’s how to get a job or assimilate back into the one you currently have, how to repair damaged relationships, get your finances back on track, adopt a healthier lifestyle, learn how to manage stress better, or find new sober friends, just write everything down.

Talk Things Over With Family

Consider the most important people in your life – your family members. Your return home after treatment is a big deal, not only to you but also to them. Don’t you think that they may have some reservations or concerns about your ability to stay clean and sober? Maybe they are worried about saying or doing the wrong thing, afraid to set you off or stir up old arguments.

There’s really only one way to reintegrate back into the family, and that’s to begin by having an honest, caring conversation with the person you’re closest to. That person may be your spouse, parent, older child or other close family member with whom you live or interact with on a daily basis. If you don’t have family, maybe it’s your best friend, your employer, or your neighbor.

Whoever you have an extremely close relationship with and with whom you share experiences, confidences, hopes and dreams is the person (or persons) you should have this conversation with.

Express first your appreciation for their support and understanding. Tell the person that you are firmly committed to your recovery and ask for their continued help and support. The closer you are – say, with your spouse – the more you can and should feel free to say what’s on your mind. It’s also quite natural to feel reluctant to talk about what you’re afraid of, or how you don’t think you’ll be able to withstand cravings and urges, but do mention concerns that you feel are critically important.

Your family is one of the two most critical components of your support network. The other is your 12-step group.

Build Your Foundation

Once you’ve arrived back home, taken time to reassess your situation, and had an initial conversation with your spouse or loved ones about your next steps in recovery, start to build your solid foundation – and build upon the strategies you learned during treatment – by going to your 12-step meetings.

One of your first priorities is to get a sponsor. The reason many in early recovery feel that their situation is stalling is that they haven’t chosen a sponsor. They may be afraid to choose one, thinking that no one wants them, or maybe they’re just inundated with all the things in their life that they have to change. That’s where your 12-step sponsor comes in.

Go to a few meetings. Try different locations, different days of the week, even different times of the day. After a week or two, you’ll start to get in the groove, to feel comfortable with a certain group, or with certain members who attend on particular days. Listen attentively to what’s going on. If you look around you, you’ll start to see who seems to have the most solid grasp on effective recovery.

How do you know who’s in effective recovery that might be a good candidate for your sponsor? Anyone who’s in recovery for at least a year without any slips or relapses that has completed all the steps and knows and lives the 12-step principles is a good place to start.

You shouldn’t feel timid or afraid to ask anyone to be your sponsor. If anything, the person will be flattered. If he or she is already sponsor to a few individuals, it’s understandable if they politely decline. And you can always change sponsors if the first one, for whatever reason, doesn’t mesh with your personality. That sometimes happens, but the remedy is to choose another person as a replacement sponsor. Just be sure that you’re not avoiding doing the work of recovery. In other words, your sponsor’s role is to encourage you to do the steps, to call you on your procrastination, to listen to your problems and support your desire to live clean and sober. He or she is not your therapist, and will not dispense counseling advice.

You’ll also build your foundation by interacting with fellow 12-step group members. Just listening to the shared experiences will be an eye opener for you. While you may think that what’s happening to you – your doubts and late-night cravings, nightmares, insomnia, temptations at work, home, or out in public, difficulties with former using friends – might be unique, they’re not. Everyone in recovery has or will experience the same types of situations. Hearing how someone else was able to deal with them effectively may spur you to think of a way to adapt their strategy or technique to fit your own circumstance.

All this helps you build your foundation for recovery. You want a rock-solid base upon which to build. Your 12-step sponsor and group members – along with your family – are that base.

Get Help to Deal With Recurring Problems

When you think about it, going to treatment for 30, 60, 90 days or longer is just the first step in the path toward recovery. Who’s to say that coming out on the other side of treatment every person has a solid grasp on everything they need to know to live a life of sobriety? Maybe some individuals have such a solid understanding and glide into recovery with no problems or recurring issues. But that’s not the case with most people in recovery.

For some, the issues are minor and easily dealt with. It could have to do with scheduling time, prioritizing responsibilities, getting needed medical attention, or going back to work, to list just a few. That’s not to say that these are always easy to handle. For some people, any one of them could be a major stressor.

But other problems may involve recurring issues – such as worsening depression, intense anxiety, suicidal thoughts, overwhelming cravings and urges, inability to sleep, and nightmares every night. There’s no sense allowing these things to continue, thinking that they’ll just go away on their own. They won’t. You need to get professional help to deal with problems that are threatening to sabotage your recovery.

If you need additional psychological counseling and have continuing care or aftercare as part of your treatment program, by all means take advantage of it. If you no longer have counseling, call the treatment center and get a referral to a therapist that you can go to for help. Ask for recommendations for free, low-cost or sliding-fee counseling that may be available as part of federal, state, or local agencies. Ask your doctor for a recommendation. But definitely get professional help so that you can manage emotional or psychological problems that are interfering with your recovery.

If you need medication to help combat anxiety or depression and your doctor prescribes it, be sure to take it exactly as directed. Don’t skip it or quit taking it because you either don’t think it’s working or feel that you don’t need it anymore. Recognize as well that it takes time for medication to work, and your doctor may need to alter the dose, brand, or frequency of the medication in order to arrive at the right prescription for you.

Find Your Spiritual Side

This next recommendation for what to do when your recovery stalls applies whether you believe in a Higher Power or God or the power of the human spirit. Every person in recovery needs to tap into their spiritual nature in order to reap maximum benefit in their new clean and sober life.

If you do believe in God or a Higher Power, go to church and pray. If it’s been a long time since you’ve been to church or synagogue, don’t let that stop you. Go and sit in the back. No one will bother you or look sideways at you. A house of worship is just that. People go there to be close to the God as they know Him. Maybe you think God forgot about you. Hint: He hasn’t. Just go and have a private conversation with your Higher Power. It’s easier than you think, and it gets easier the more you do it.

But you don’t have to physically go to church to be close to God. Talk to your Higher Power wherever you are. Say a short prayer when you wake up in the morning and before you go to sleep at night. It doesn’t even have to be a recognized prayer. Use your own words. A good suggestion is to express thanks for the gift of sobriety and for His help and blessings today.

Meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, watching a sunset, taking in the beauty of nature on a hike – these are other ways to find your spiritual side. What you’re really doing is getting outside yourself and your daily concerns and tapping into your inner self, your inner spirit.

Believe it or not, your spirit is a very powerful entity. Enrich your spiritual side and your recovery will begin to take off.

Have Some Fun

How long has it been since you’ve laughed? Recovery isn’t all boring schedules and tedious days filled with deprivation. Your new life can be boring – if that’s what you make it. But who wants a boring life? No one, of course. How do you make your life more interesting – and still be true to your recovery?

Start by having fun. If you have close friends who are sober, invite them over or go to a movie with them. A comedy would be a great choice. Family members that you haven’t seen for a while are a wonderful source of stories and shared experiences.

Take up a hobby or get involved in recreational activities that you enjoy. Not only will you be out and about with other people who are good for your sobriety, but you will also be doing something creative or helping yourself become more physically active and fit.

When you’re involved and enjoying what you’re doing, it’s hard to be down in the dumps or thinking that you’re not achieving this or that in your recovery. In fact, effective long-term recovery depends on you broadening your circle of sober friends, involving yourself in healthy activities, and building upon your solid foundation.

Not only that, but laughter and having a good time with close friends and/or family makes you feel good. Laughter releases endorphins, the feel-good chemical, in the brain – and it’s totally good for you.

Live in the Present

Last but not least, strive to live in the present. Today, the way you think and act, the decisions you make, the purpose with which you go about your day – that is what is most important in your recovery. Remember that yesterday is past, never to return. Tomorrow grows out of what you do today. With that in mind, live your life to the fullest, strive to do what you say and say what you do. Be thankful for your blessings, and give back to those whom you can.

Before long, you will no longer be worrying about what’s not happening in your recovery, or what’s not coming about soon enough to suit you. Instead, you will be joyous and alive and pursuing the life in recovery that you have created for yourself.

There is no one path to follow. There is no book that lays down exactly what you should think or do or say. Learning how to walk your path, follow the 12 steps as they pertain to you, and finding your strength in recovery is truly and uniquely your journey. Begin today with confidence, hope, and determination to actively work your recovery and create the life you want and deserve.