Growing Pains in Addiction Recovery


For some, recovery from chronic substance abuse is a straightforward matter of tossing away the bottle, going cold turkey for a few days, and then returning to the old normal life. The former abuser who finds things so simple is the exception, though. Most substance-abuse problems start with a desire to escape the “old normal” life—a life that was too boring, too stressful, too intimidating, or too discouraging. These growing pains in addiction recovery are enough to scare many recovering addicts back to the chemical security blanket.

Truthfully, they can hardly be blamed; who wants to trade one miserable situation for another? Just “detoxing” and being sent home isn’t enough, any more than “sleeping it off” will make a dent in a larger alcoholism problem. No one is ready to leave rehab until he has a solid plan for building a new future—even if the first steps into that future lead home to face up to old problems in new ways.

Growing Pains in Addiction Recovery: Finding Courage

For many newly “clean” people, finding courage to return isn’t that much of a problem: they feel physically and mentally stronger than they have in years; they have clear visions of a well-planned, better and brighter future; and they are full of enthusiasm about what’s to come. Suddenly, the world and its possibilities again lie open before them.

Beware. There are hidden perils in the path.

The perils aren’t unique to recovering substance abusers; they can trip up anybody who has just taken a major step forward in life (completing a degree, starting a new career, even attending a self-improvement seminar) and thinks he’s ready for whatever comes next. There’s one big problem that most people have with long-term goals: those goals take longer to achieve than they do to set.

Growing Pains in Addiction Recovery: One Day at a Time

Though we understand intellectually that two years equal 24 months equal over 100 seven-day weeks, the two years we scheduled for achieving a major long-term goal somehow feel a lot longer once we’re in the middle of them. Many people go strong for the first couple of months, only to experience growing pains in addiction recovery as week after week goes by and the goal still lies far ahead. We expect, deep down, that life will reward our new commitment by letting us miraculously achieve our two-year goal in two months, or at least with a major milestone every week.

Once it becomes clear that life doesn’t work that way, it’s so easy to look at the 75% of the distance we have yet to cover, forget the 25% of the way we’ve already come, and moan, “I haven’t gotten anywhere; no matter how hard I try, nothing happens.”

If we let that idea take over our minds, we are prime candidates for stalling in an indefinite rut, or for relapsing completely.

At the root of it all lies impatience and the craving for control. It would be so nice if life proceeded smoothly, if stalls and frustrations never happened, if major achievements were—well, not necessarily effortless, but certainly easy enough that we’d only have to stretch ourselves a little. That attitude is all too close to the reasons most substance abusers give for starting in the first place: life wasn’t fair to them, they deserved an easier time, no one should have to cope with that much frustration, etc., etc.

The saddest part of it is that most of our expectations—not only of life but of ourselves—are not only thoroughly unrealistic but outright trivial. What kind of long-term life improvement can we really expect from emptying our e-mailboxes daily and never missing an episode of Wheel of Fortune?

That’s all very well—you may be saying now—but I’m already in a “rut” stage, and isn’t there a better tool for getting out than the overrated hammer of logical argument?

Of course, there are specific things you can do. Consider:

Was Your Goal Unrealistic to Begin with?

Besides tempting us to give up prematurely, impatience can also make us overambitious. If your original goal deadline is getting close and it’s obvious you’re not going to make it, don’t despair—reevaluate. Consider what progress you have actually made, and measure it against the total distance from starting point to goal; that may lead you to adjust your deadline to what it always should have been. Or perhaps your goal wasn’t specific or realistic enough; if you originally aimed to “become more popular,” rewrite the goal with details on what sort of friends you want and how much time you want to spend with them.

Do You Need a Break?

Not an indefinite break—which is just quitting under a different name—but a day or two to rest and enjoy yourself and think about nothing else? You don’t have to focus on your goal 24/7 to be serious about it; indeed, balancing work time with rest time is vital to progress.

Could Some Outside Input—or Just Some Company—Encourage You to Get Rolling Again?

If you’ve had a substance-abuse problem, hopefully you now have a good accountability partner or support group. Share your frustrations with them—or with an understanding friend or family member—to get encouragement that will help you put things in perspective and resume progress.

Just don’t kid yourself that any of the above will bring you the much-coveted quick and easy results, any more than “trying harder” on the original path did. Life is challenging—sometimes unbelievably so—and progress is often slow. Accept that reality, and you already have one solid weapon against growing pains in addiction recovery and relapse.

Addiction Recovery at Kemah Palms

With numerous addiction treatment options in South Houston, Kemah Palms can help you or someone you love stay on the right path—or even get there in the first place. We offer multiple levels of care, including:

Don’t let growing pains in addiction recovery throw you off track. Call Kemah Palms Recovery® today at 855-568-0218.