I’m 38 Days Clean and Sober. How Can I Keep This Up?

“Dear Hagrid,

I’m 38 days clean and sober from heroin.  This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  For real.  So, anyways, I just got out of rehab and now I’m trying to figure out what to do next.  I don’t want to go back to using, but I honestly don’t know how to be a grown up without drugs.   What do you suggest?

Former Junkie Who Wants to Never Go Back”

Dear Human,

First of all, congratulations on 38 days!  You are smelling better already.  This is a big beautiful world, and that heroin crap blocks your mind from being able to be here in it with the rest of us.

Your brain is in the process of healing now.   My best buddy, the psychotherapist, says that experts have shown that it takes a long time for the brain to recover from the stuff you were putting in it (and, while a lot of things can heal, some things may never quite be the same).

Patience with your healing brain is going to be really important.

So, hey, don’t take your brain all that seriously right now.  Since your brain is currently programmed to think that drugs are good, it’s probably going to whine frequently about how it needs drugs to be okay.  You are going to have to ignore it.  Chances are, unless you have some help, you aren’t going to be able to ignore it.

The first time I saw a cat, everything in my entire being said to kill that thing and eat it.  But, I can’t.  Apparently, some humans like cats.  So, whatever.  The point is, it’s all about not doing what your brain says you should do.  I had to trust my human sidekick’s brain instead of my own on the subject (if I wanted to ever leave our fenced yard to go on those nice long walks she takes me on).  Recovering from addiction is similar, in that you have to develop the ability to lean on what other people say (smart, wise, and healthy people, that is), because, at least when it comes to drugs, your own brain will get you into trouble.

Bottom line, don’t rely on your brain alone to get you through this first year or two.  Your brain has been reprogrammed by the drugs and needs some time to get itself on the right track again.  And while your brain is healing, you need some outside resources to be “brains” for you.  My suggestions:

  1. Get into a good intensive outpatient or outpatient program with solid group therapy options and a good reputation.  Unless you are in a very rural area, you will probably have a few different options, so ask around for recommendations.  Don’t just show up thinking that the program will do all the work, though.  This is your life and your recovery.  The program will give you some tools, sure, but they will only work if you do.   They will also have connections to all sorts of community resources–like sober housing, employment helps, and stuff like that for people who are trying to get back on their feet.
  2. Find a great individual counselor—ideally, one with expertise in addictions and in mental health.  This is because most people who struggle with addiction also have other things (like trauma, ADHD, depression, or anxiety).  You are going to need help learning how to cope with these things while clean and sober.  Having a professional to work with on this stuff is super important.
  3. If you have good 12 step support groups in your area, get involved.  AA and NA or similar groups provide a lot of totally free support by peers, for peers.  Meetings are cool because they they happen at all times of the day, and there you can meet other people who totally understand what you are going through.  Plus, if you’ve never worked through the 12 steps before, what have you got to lose?  Find a well-recommended sponsor and give it a try.  If the Higher Power idea really puts you off, check out Smart Recovery.  There are other cool peer-led options, too, like the Buddhist leaning Refuge Recovery, and more.
  4. Don’t hang out with people who are using drugs or drinking. If you put a cat in my face but tell me not to chase it, what do you think I’m going to eventually do?
  5. Don’t hang out in places where there is alcohol or drugs. This is a no-brainer.  If your brain tells you that you can hang out in bars, remember what I told you about your brain.  Don’t trust it when it comes to your addiction.  Dude.  Seriously.
  6. Be careful with newbies.  You will meet cool people in early recovery just like you in outpatient groups and at NA meetings, and that’s great, but don’t spend all of your time with fellow newcomers.  Brand new folks are the most likely ones to relapse, and you really don’t want to be around when and if that happens.  Be picky about your companions.  Be even pickier about people you think are attractive!.  This isn’t the time for romance.  Stick closest with the recovery people who’ve got a year or more of clean time and seem healthy.  Listen to their suggestions.  It’s just smart.
  7. Talk to a medical professional about their recommendations for your recovery and get a check up.  For example, there is this thing called Vivitrol that helps many people stay clean from heroin.  Doctors know this stuff.  But make sure you select a doctor that “gets” recovery, though, so ask about their addiction and recovery expertise before you go in, and if they don’t have any, ask who they would recommend you call.  You want to work with a medical professional who is going to support your hard work, not prescribe you with pain pills, if you know what I mean.
  8. If your family or spouse is supportive of your recovery, bring them along.  Family counseling is amazing.  A lot of outpatient centers offer supports and classes for the family or spouse, which is great.  Books like, “Co-dependent No More” are smart to have on your bookshelf, because addiction is something that messes with the whole family, and so the whole family has to be part of the healing.  12 step groups like Al-Anon are pretty cool. …That said, I’m a dog, so I can be blunt, right?  Some families are really awful, sadly, even if they don’t mean to be, and so it’s better if you stay away from them for awhile.  If you aren’t sure about your family or spouse, that will be a good thing for you to talk about with your individual counselor.  Together, you can decide what the healthiest approach for you might be when it comes to including your loved ones in your recovery.

Best of Luck, Mr. 38 Days.  You are off to a great start.