When you decide it’s time to get sober knowing what to expect can reduce your anxiety going forward. There are various ways to break up the process into stages. If you are considering treatment, you have already become aware you may have a problem and started thinking about what to do. The next thing to do is act. Here is a general outline of what you can expect over the next few years.
This is when you decide to enter a treatment program, start attending 12-step meetings, talk to your doctor or therapist, or begin whatever plan you have for tackling your addiction. At this point, you may feel overwhelmed and doubt you will succeed. You may not even be sure you want to succeed, but you feel like something has to change. This phase is difficult because you are not only dealing with your own doubts, but you also have to endure detox, which, depending on your situation, might be an ordeal.
This is is a difficult time because although you’ve made it through detox, you may be physically and mentally a bit of a mess. You may experience the doldrums of post-acute withdrawal that could last a year or more. You will likely experience some irritability, anxiety, and cravings. This is time when you will be extremely vulnerable to relapse. It may help to enter an inpatient treatment program where you can be more insulated from stress and temptation. This period is when you will have to learn healthy ways to cope with stress, address any co-occurring mental health issues, and make positive lifestyle changes that will support recovery.
If you manage to stay sober for three months, you will then be focused on maintaining abstinence. In this phase, you will essentially be using what you learned in therapy to deal with real life problems. You will typically be out on your own but with follow-up support from a counselor or therapist. You will probably be attending 12-step meetings and working the steps. This phase is long and may have many ups and downs. Typically, the first major challenge people face is complacency. They make it nine months or a year and they feel like they don’t have to work quite so hard and can take a few risks. Maintaining your routine during this period can keep you on track.
This is after you’ve had about five years sober. At this point, life is much better than it was before and it’s relatively easy to stay sober. Your risk of relapse is dramatically reduced from early abstinence. There will certainly be challenges and you have to keep doing the things that keep you sober, but by this time, those things are familiar habits.