What Can I Expect in the First Few Months of Recovery?

How long does it take to recover? The answer really depends. For some people, the process of recovery is a lifelong journey. Even after the physiological effects of addiction have faded, emotional and mental difficulties may still linger. Chronic substance users can also fall into certain behavioral patterns that take a long time to unlearn. Even professional recovery counselors and therapists each have their own definition of recovery. Thus overall, there is no simple way to categorize a person's trajectory. However, there are a few inflection points to look out for that occur early in the recovery timeline, especially the first few months, that are often referred to as "early recovery." 

What Happens in the First Months?

By the time you commit to working with health professionals, you have probably tried all kinds of ways to quit yourself. You've tasted sobriety or abstinence, but relapses follow. Then a friend or family member finally convinces you to seek professional help. They might also have found a trained interventionist for you to work with. Entering treatment is a milestone to celebrate. It requires a lot of humility, self-knowledge, and trust to arrive at this space. 

Once you begin detox in a closely monitored environment with supportive staff, within the first weeks, you might experience withdrawal symptoms. To some people who have tried quitting before, these are familiar but dreaded experiences. Discomfort, pain, and cravings will appear and may feel overwhelming. Some people go through insomnia and intense anxiety. This is a time to trust the expertise of health professionals. You also need to keep communication open with them to maintain realistic expectations. 

After this intense period of withdrawal syndrome, your body and mind will gradually arrive in a better place. You begin to relax and think right. But cravings can still come back with intensity, making you weary from keeping up with the fight. The possibility of relapse becomes a harsh reality again. About a month or two into treatment, you may feel that some indicators of progress are plateauing. You again experience physical and emotional disturbance. This is sometimes referred to as the "wall stage" because it feels like running up against a wall instead of moving forward.

What Are the Dangers in This Early Phase?

For most people, this wall stage of the plateau phase tends to last for about three to four months. It is important to take a step outside yourself and assess the situation more objectively. Health professionals will explain to you that although you might feel stalled, this does not mean that the treatment plan is not working. Progress often goes beyond how you feel in a given moment. More specifically, your body simply needs time to unwind from all the previous over-stimulation and unhealthy pathways caused by years of addiction. Your mind and emotions also need to adjust to the absence of drugs and alcohol. 

The primary danger in all phases of recovery, including early sobriety, is the potential of relapse. You might find yourself in the mood to give up, but that is just a temptation. Like before, you need to stay informed about how recovery generally works and how to manage your expectations accordingly. The emotional toll should be expected, but not continuing treatment is too costly. 

Another danger during this phase is a lack of communication or cooperation with healthcare professionals. Boredom can cause you to fret and distrust others, which leads to self-isolation. It is important to engage in healthy community life at your treatment center or in support groups. This training phase is crucial for long-term recovery because you need to learn how to rebuild a social life and a support system around you. Remember, once treatment at a residential facility is over, the success of your long-term recovery depends on how well you maintain a healthy lifestyle and relationships.

How to Stay Motivated for Long-term Recovery?

There are many ways to stay motivated during early to mid-term recovery. One is to grow into the habit of journaling. Writing down all the emotional ups and downs of your treatment experience can be healing and therapeutic. Keeping these emotions to yourself is not going to help. Journaling also helps you to concentrate on the here and now. It also allows for your emotional recovery. Staying in touch with yourself in the form of journaling is a form of self-compassion and self-care. In the future, journaling might also serve as documentation when you look back on how you made progress. Journaling can become a source of resilience in your own emotional support system.

Humility and honesty can be your guiding lights on the journey towards sustainable recovery. Remember how much your loved one has invested in you. Lean on their emotional support. Humility will also keep despair at bay. Sometimes you feel frustrated because you would want an immediate fix to your addiction. But if you ask most people who have achieved long-term recovery, they will tell you the same story — it takes years of patience and humility. You also need to open up and commit to helpful relationships because you cannot make this work on your own.

If you or a loved one has just started treatment, do you know what will usually take place during the first few months of recovery? Are you prepared for withdrawal syndrome? In order to manage your expectations well, it is important to become informed about the most common challenges recovering individuals face in early sobriety. At South Florida Intervention, we know how to prepare you or your loved one with healthy expectations. As experienced interventionists, we have seen many cases and understand the challenges of “post-acute withdrawal syndrome” upon entering treatment. We are willing to spend time with you and explain whatever question you may have. It is also our commitment to helping find a tailor-made treatment plan made by trusted health professionals. Our intervention services range from recovery coaching, case management, sober escort, and parental coaching. Call us at (202) 390-2273 today to start adjusting your expectations about the early stages of sobriety.