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Roadmap to Recovery

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Your addiction doesn't go away just because you stop drinking, drugging, binging, starving, gambling or indulging in whatever it is that you use to numb out.

The fact is, addiction is a chronic disease that needs lifelong treatment. Relapse and cross-addiction are very real threats. That's why you need to understand your addiction, where you are in the process of getting and staying sober, and how to embrace a lifestyle of recovery.

Here are the stages of recovery:

1.     Withdrawal: This stage lasts one to two weeks and includes physical symptoms that vary with your addiction of choice. It can be very uncomforable and you are likely to need medical supervision.

2.     Early Abstinence: This is the one-month period following withdrawal, commonly called the “honeymoon" or "pink cloud." You may feel very successful during this period and may want to drop out of treatment.

3.     Protracted Abstinence: This period lasts from six weeks to five months after you stops using. Generally, the honeymoon is over: Chemical changes in the brain often cause depression, irritability and low energy. Exercise is a big help.

4.     Readjustment: You've been sober for five months to a year. You feel fewer cravings but may be more susceptible to relapse. Stay on your routine and avoid triggers.

Now that you know where you are in the process, it's time to look at the things that you should be doing to fill and maintain your recovery toolbox. Here are some strategies that work for most people.

1.     Group Meetings:  Fellowship and support are at the heart of successful recovery. You need people who understand your illness and what you are going through; friends who are clean and sober. In AA, they call this finding a new playground. Whether you choose a 12-Step program or another sort that can be offered through addiction treatment centers and other organizations, you need to plug in. These groups offer accountability and non-judgmental support.

2.     Individual, Couples or Family Counseling: In addition to regular group meetings, some form of counseling also can be appropriate and helpful. This kind of work helps identify behaviors and attitudes that could lead to relapse.

3.     Time Scheduling: In the beginning it is wise to plan every hour of every day. It's critical to avoid boredom that can lead to relapse. If you write or electronically create a schedule, you will be more likely to stick to it.

4.     Calendar: Count your days of sobriety so you can experience the feeling of success. However, focus on today. Thoughts of "forever" and "never," in other words projecting, can be detrimental to your continued recovery.

5.     Triggers: Know them. Identify the things that cause cravings for drugs, alcohol, or another addiction. Learn different ways to cope with triggers, such as planning to go out for dinner with a supportive person on payday, rather than buying drugs.

There are many more strategies for staying sober. Read, meditate, take up new hobbies: It takes a lot of time to indulge in addiction. Now you have that time for other pursuits.

Enjoy it: You owe yourself this.

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