The First 30 Days

“Things do not change; we change.” -Henry David Thoreau

There’s a good reason why people say the first 30 days are the hardest part of recovery – because they are. It’s not so much that we are ‘in recovery’ as hanging on for dear life. The struggle is usually the hardest during the first one to seven days after your last drink or drug because that's when your body has the most severe cravings and withdrawal symptoms. These seven days or so are very important time, as far as your physical well-being is concerned, because some of us may need medical detoxification or ‘detox’ during this period. Detox is a process where the body is thoroughly withdrawn from alcohol or drugs in an inpatient or outpatient setting, typically under the care of a physician.

This is very important because your body – used to a constant flow of poison – may feel jolted. You will probably suffer from symptoms like headaches, vomiting, shakes and sweats. Some alcoholics experience seizures, delirium tremens and hallucinations when they stop using abruptly. Managing these symptoms can be a dangerous part of your recovery. No one with a serious history of alcohol abuse and addiction should attempt to detox off of alcohol without medical supervision. With this in mind, you might want to consider a medical detoxification, for at least the first one to three days at your local hospital or clinic. If you absolutely cannot do this - it is extremely important that you have someone stay with you through the first three days so they can call for help if necessary.

After five to seven days, you might start to feel a gradual difference, although most new people in recovery tend to be in a bit of a fog for the first few weeks. Expect that your mind will be cloudy and your body will feel weak. It will probably still be difficult to focus for long periods of time. This is the time where you need to just stick with the basic survival needs: sleeping, eating and working (if you still have a job.) Bathing now and again might be a good idea too. And as trivial as it may sound, developing a regular sleep routine and trying to eat three meals a day are very important. Rest and nutrition can do wonders for helping your body and mind recover more quickly, especially if you’ve been going without either – or both – for a long time.

If you are in a Twelve Step program or would like to try one, (click here for a list of the programs,) it’s suggested that you try to attend at least one meeting a day for the first 90 days of your recovery (90 meetings in 90 days.) It's easy to find excuses not to go, like you don't have time or you are just too tired. If you have a hard time finding a free hour or two, it might help to remember the hours and the days that were wasted on drinking or using. If you really want to put your recovery first - you can probably find the time to attend a recovery meeting every day. If you truly can’t make it, or lack transportation, be aware that some programs offer online meetings and there are some great clean and sober websites too. Even if you do not have a computer or internet at home, your local library should have access. If you do not want to try a Twelve Step program, you could use the time to do some research online for other recovery options that you might want to consider. (See Recovery Resources for a list of some non Twelve Step based programs.)

Once the ‘brain fog’ starts to lift, we’re able to start thinking a little clearer and retaining information better. At this point, you can start to make some progress against your addiction if you can stay focused and keep your thoughts where they need to be. A great way to stay on track is by using your mornings effectively to set the tone for the rest of the day. For me, one of the most powerful tools was reading. There are some great books with readings and meditations in them specifically for people in recovery (see books). Reading a short meditation after you wake up in the morning is great to get focused. It helps settle the mind and relaxes the body in preparation for the day ahead. It only takes a few minutes, and it could make all the difference. The point is to make your recovery program – whatever it might be, whether its meetings, talking to sober friends or working on the twelve steps – a part of your daily routine.

Recovery is like a full time job and we need to stay on top of it to succeed. If we put the work in, we’ll reap the rewards. But, just like our real jobs, it can’t be all work and no play. It’s very important to find the right balance and know our limitations. Sometimes it’s ok that the only thing on our ‘To Do’ list for the day is ‘Don’t Drink or Drug’. No matter where you are in your first month, concentrate on the day or hour that you’re in. Thinking through small bits of time takes the pressure off, keeps your sobriety from becoming too overwhelming, and keeps you in the here and now. 

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