What to Expect in an Early Healthy Recovery Process

The purpose of this timeline is to allow you to anticipate certain milestones in your recovery process so that you can prepare to manage them effectively. There are specific patterns that can be found in both a healthy recovery process and an unhealthy recovery process. The following is an encapsulation of the most common patterns found in a healthy recovery. Guiding you through the management of this early recovery period is the purpose of the free Recovery Workshop. While you may not experience all of these elements in this order, there is a good chance that you will experience most in a healthy recovery.

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Recovery Timeline.  Click to view full size.

Summary of the areas labeled above

#1 Commitment to Recovery

The initial commitment to recovery is covered in depth in the first lesson of the workshop. What is unique about this early commitment, is that it is often triggered by emotions, as opposed to values. On average, it takes a solid three+ months of active effort to lay the foundation for permanent change in your life.

One aspect unique to those who achieve success in recovery is their attitude relating to this initial commitment. In an unhealthy recovery, their commitment is tied to numerous external events (e.g. social/personal pressure, life salvageability, consequence resolution, their desire to give up control/responsibility for their actions, etc.) Consistently, those whose recovery evolves into a healthy, lifelong transformation have found that when they committed themselves to changing, it was an internal event. Their motivation for recovery was based on the recognition that they wanted to change — not because they had to.

#2 Euphoria/Unrealistic Expectations

Once the initial commitment to recover has been made, some rather intense emotions are produced that have the ability to help stabilize the existing emotional crisis. Ranging from euphoria/empowerment to despair/powerlessness, it is the intensity of these feelings that are capable of providing a kick-start to recovery. This occurs in both healthy and unhealthy recovery.

Additionally, the expectations of what to expect in recovery tend to be unrealistic and often times unattainable. From the expectation of maintaining complete abstinence to the expectation of walking a straight line to health, it is the measuring of one's recovery progress by these expectations that create one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome in recovery.

#3 Natural Motivation

Based on the euphoria/reprieve that has been provided by the initial commitment to recovery, the motivation to recover is experienced naturally...with each positive step being emotionally rewarded. This natural motivation to recover usually begins to dwindle in the second to fourth week, leaving a significant emotional void that must be filled. If it is not, the current recovery process will loop into relapse. This is the most common area where a dependency on the recovery process is formed, and a recovery/relapse/recovery cycle is born.

#4 Effort Required to Sustain Motivation

Once the initial positive emotions begin to wane, the efforts that have been associated with that initial commitment become more of a chore. Events like going to meetings, completing lessons, preparing for counseling sessions — where they once provided additional energy and a sense of renewal, now drain the very energy needed to fight the redeveloping addiction. This struggle begins a dangerous test of your emotional management skills at a time when they are still significantly immature. In a healthy recovery process, this lull will be anticipated and a value-based strategy will be in place to handle it. In an unhealthy recovery, the individual will rely on his/her emotions to kick start their recovery process once more.

#5 Thoughts/Urges/Behavior Return

As the intensity of the commitment to change begins to weaken; as the initial stability that your recovery efforts provided to you begin to weaken; your focus will begin to deviate. Because you have achieved several weeks of relative success, you begin looking for more stimulating events in your life. And since these events must come from your life (as opposed to compulsive behavior), you jump back into that life. A life that you were unable to manage just weeks ago. To make matters worse, now it will be even more stressful than it was previously, as you no longer have the compulsive behaviors to help you manage your emotions. And so, the thoughts, urges and behaviors return — as they are the only elements of your life that are developed enough to provide you with the stimulation and stability that you seek.

#6 Critical Point: Crisis Resolution

This brings us to the first critical aspect of your recovery. Often, somewhere around the end of first month (and as early as the first week), the crisis that led you to seek help will no longer be as intense. The eyes that were once fixated on your every move, will begin to look away. The pain that you have caused will not seem so caustic. The 'crisis' will have been resolved. A natural reaction to this resolution is that the effort that you have put into recovery has provided you with a cushion. That further intense effort now would only be 'wasted'. And so, there is a natural tendency to reduce/eliminate the recovery behaviors that no longer produce the same feelings of purpose/accomplishment that they once did. In an unhealthy recovery, the direction of recovery is turned from active recovery to a more passive 'maintenance' mode.

In a healthy recovery, this critical point in recovery is anticipated and the development of a more long-term, healthy motivational base for "Why you want to end your addiction." is created. As opposed to the initial motivation that is often based in emotional intensity and crisis; this motivation needs to stem from areas of your life that are based in a positive, constructive, healthy, stable foundation. This is the first time that values take an active role as a functional entity of a healthy recovery.

#7 Commitment to Health

Once a renewed, long-term motivator has been developed through value awareness, a recommitment to recovery is often made. Accept now, as opposed to having a goal of ending your destructive behavior, the goal becomes to strengthen the values that motivate you. And to develop the skills to help you live the life that you want to live.

#8 Actual Recovery Begins

With a personal commitment to developing healthy values/life management skills in place, true recovery has now begun for the first time. Prior, it wasn't recovery that was being pursued; rather, it was the ability to regurgitate behavior management techniques to the best of your ability. Now that you are committed to pursuing a healthy lifestyle, for reasons that you believe in, such behavior management techniques become only a small part of the life management arsenal that you will be developing.

At this stage, the learning process begins to take on a whole new meaning. Rather than learning out of interest and/or curiosity, you begin to focus on certain aspects of learning that apply to either the development of your specific identity or the understanding of your specific past. The key difference between now and in the initial commitment to recovery, is that previously, such learning was sent through an intellectual, logical filter — one that screened the majority of information from ever reaching your core identity. You sought to buffer yourself from both success and failure. Now, you actively seek ways to make direct changes to that core, with failure no longer being an option.

#9 First Overt Compulsive Urge in the True Recovery Process Occurs

Similar to the initial euphoria in early recovery, there will come a time when complacency and/or boredom will set in — even in the sincerest of individuals. There will come a time when you feel you are ready to move on, and so you begin to use your recently developed knowledge/skills in practical, functional roles. Inevitably, as this process of implementing new thought patterns/life management skills takes root, you begin to feel a pressure that wasn't there when you were initially developing these skills. When they were a deficiency in your life, you allowed yourself time to learn. But now that you posses an intellectual understanding of these skills — with no real practical experience in using them successfully — your life becomes overwhelmed as a result of the further unrealistic expectations that you have placed on yourself and your ability to utilize these immature skills.

This is when the first real test of urge control takes place because this is when emotional instability begins to creep back in, and life begins to become unmanageable once more.

#10 First Overt Compulsive Behavior in the True Recovery Process Occurs

With the urges getting stronger, with your premature foray into the 'real world' — beyond the boundaries/protection of recovery — you begin to experience significant doubts as to whether the changes that you have been developing are real. These doubts create even more emotional instability, leaving you further unprepared to deal with the normal stress that accompanies 'real life'. And because you have yet to develop mature life management skills (as you are in the process of gaining experience, but have not yet come close to mastering them), and because the stress is continuing to build, and because you are beginning to feel the anxiety of possibly having wasted so much time and effort in recovery, and because you are beginning to question whether or not you really can live without these compulsive behaviors...you act. You act in the only way that you have mastered...you act compulsively. And you experience an immediate, temporary relief from the pressure, which reinforces the need for this management tool in your life. And makes it that much easier to 'relieve the pressure' the next time. Of course, you do this in secret, and so the guilt, the lies, the shame...they all come together to create further instability in your life. Which increases the need for even more 'relief'. And even more lies. And all of a sudden, you lift your head to realize that you have fallen into the same compulsive trap that you had been in hundreds of times before.

What is important when you find yourself having stumbled into the bottom of this pit once more, is that you immediately pull yourself out ...and then use that experience to make further changes to your existing weaknesses.

#11 Self-Awareness

Your role in a healthy recovery process will be to take all urges/compulsive behaviors and healthy behaviors that you experience and use them to learn more and more who you are and the life that you are living. It will be these behaviors — that occur naturally, as opposed to premeditated — that will provide you with some of the greatest opportunities for developing a healthy self-awareness. And your ability to break them down, analyze them and use them in refining your life management skills/values will be critical to eventually transitioning to a healthy life. More on this in the foundation workshop.

#12 Critical Point: Core Doubt/Fear

With increasing pressure on your ability to actually manage your life without addiction, you will likely face a second critical point in your recovery: the experience of core doubts/fears. For most, doubt and fear are normal parts of the recovery process and are often perceived as little more than a nuisance — something to assure themselves that they are keeping their feet firmly on the ground of recovery. That they are not taking their recovery for granted. And so, to family, to friends, to counselors, to support groups...the attitude of "I will never be free of this behavior...and I will need to fight always keep it in my awareness or it will come back to destroy me." prevails. These are social doubts. Recovery fears. They are not internalized.

In a healthy recovery, such doubt and fear also occur, but unique to a healthy recovery, there will come a time when you honestly, sincerely doubt your ability to recover. When you recognize that you have truly given it your all, but relapsed anyway. These core doubts and fears will evolve after you have made a 100% personal commitment to recovery; and after you have gained some measure of success in early recovery. They will occur after you begin to feel confident in your recovery. And, they will most likely accompany the realization that you are still unable to effectively manage your life without the compulsive behaviors.

Why this is a critical aspect of the healthy recovery process is that previously, such doubt and fear were experience externally. Meaning, they were attached to your ability to relate to an existence that you couldn't fully comprehend. Intimacy, maturity, self-awareness — you might have had an intellectual understanding of such concepts, but you did not fully understand what they were in a healthy life. By this point in recovery, you now have a more healthy perception of these concepts, and have recognized that you are deficient in many of areas that you once assumed to be prolific. This comes with a deepening awareness that you really do have a long way to go in your development. That you won;t be able to just go through a particular recovery program and expect to be 'all better'. That change will occur, and will continue to occur over the course of the remainder of your life. And with this realization comes a renewed emphasis on questions such as, "Is it really worth the effort?" "What if I can't do it, no matter how hard I try?" "What if I really was born this way...and/or am biologically predisposed to act in this way?" Questions like these open the door for a 'safety net' to be developed.

In an unhealthy recovery, that safety net is a return to the compulsive behaviors and the secrecy. In a healthy recovery, that safety net is a pre-planned strategy for dealing with such doubt and fear.

#13 First Realistic Expectations Occur

With the recognition of true deficiencies in your personal development, you have opened the door to generating your first realistic expectations in recovery. Specifically, that this process is not one that begins/ends. That recovery cannot be participated in like an activity, but rather, its scope infiltrates all aspects of your life. Further, a recognition is made that you have no choice in the direction that your life will move: it will move forward. Your life will always continue moving forward — whether the behavior you choose to exhibit is constructive or destructive; whether the behavior patterns that you display are new or old; and whether the consequences of your actions are positive or negative...your life will always move forward. This awareness places you in the position of managing your life as it is, as opposed to as it is, as it was and as it will be. Learning to manage your life at the time that you are experiencing it is a major break-through in the development of life management skills.

No longer are you expecting your thoughts, desires, urges and behaviors to someday 'go away'. Instead, a recognition has been made that your goal is not to control your thoughts, decisions, behaviors...but instead, to manage them in a way that best represents the person that you are. This allows you to develop realistic expectations in your life, rather than idealistic ones.

#14 First Personal Recovery Strategy Developed

With realistic expectations in place, a healthy recovery strategy can be developed. This strategy involves a more practical, functional curriculum of learning and development. Most of this curriculum is what is found in the Recovery Workshop.

#15 Critical Point: Accepting/Managing Reality

Because the first attempt at developing a comprehensive recovery strategy is just that, your first attempt...a renewed enthusiasm/optimism and still unmastered life management skills often combine to create a recovery strategy that is too complex. There are too many simultaneous goals being attempted. Too much emphasis on "wants" without enough time being designated for "needs". Too much faith put into the current functionality of still developing skills. And so, a point comes where the person sits back and looks at the struggles he/she is facing and is forced to admit to him/herself that they are not capable of tackling such an enthusiastic and comprehensive life plan.

#16 Second Recovery Strategy Developed

With the realization from above, a second strategy is developed...this one focused on a realistic assessment of what went wrong in the first. This second strategy will form the basis for the remainder of that person's recovery platform. As well as the foundation for the transition to a healthy lifestyle.

#17 Critical Point: Relapse Prevention

With the foundation in place, with realistic goals set, with manageable learning strategies developed, it is time to move to the transition from recovery to health. This involves the implementation of the knowledge gained in the foundation workshop, as well as the mastery of the critical life skills. As this transition takes place, it is critical that a functional relapse prevention strategy is in place to assure that the time and focus in maintaining these developing patterns remain. The Recovery Workshop will assist you in developing such a plan.
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