Living in a sober living house is a great thing to do during (or after) recovery. Drug and alcohol-free spaces ideal for recovering in, sober living homes allow us to practice the new skills we learned during drug rehab, and put old skills neglected during addiction back into our daily lives.
That doesn’t mean sober homes are trouble-free spaces, however. Our lives continue during recovery in a sober home or addiction center, and change is part of everyday life.
Life changes can be good, certainly … but it’s the bad changes that can create serious setbacks in recovery. Let’s take a look at what changes are … and how to work through the bad ones the right way.
What Kind of Life Changes are There?
While everyone experiences change differently, major life changes tend to be one of three kinds:
Lifestyle changes: These changes represent a major difference in how a person lives their lives. These changes can be good, such as a new romantic relationship, marriage, or a baby. It can be a resolve to live life differently, such as selling off some possessions or exercising regularly.
These changes can also be bad, too. Chronic disease, serious injury, and more are all negative lifestyle changes that can cause us to feel negative emotions. Hard as it can be, accepting negative lifestyle changes is part of the change process.
Career changes: Again, there are positive and negative changes at work. Promotions, demotions, getting hired at a new job, or getting laid off are all changes everyone who’s ever held down a job has faced.
Learning to adapt and accept these changes, unfair as they may be, is part of a healthy existence.
Changes to our relationships: These changes can literally be life or death. Celebrating a new child, sibling, or relative are changes we often look forward to, and we dread negative relationship changes such as divorce or death.
Because of their intimate nature, these changes can be devastating. Learning how to cope with them is key to maintaining a successful recovery.
How We Adapt To (and Accept) Change: 4 Stages
Life changes seem to happen all at once, but in most cases, we pass through four distinct steps towards accepting change:
Denial: It’s not just a river, etc. For most of us, our first response to change is to either minimize it … or pretend it didn’t happen. This is a normal response, especially if the change is bad news, such as a negative life event or other problems.
Fundamentally, denial is a defense mechanism we put up in order to save us some stress. In the short term, denial is actually helpful – it gives us time to adapt and adjust to a change in our reality. The biggest aid to accepting change is time.
Unfortunately, staying in denial stops us from addressing problems, getting help, or actually adapting to the change itself, however unpleasant it might be. Over the long term, denial can turn into a major environmental addiction trigger.
While denial can certainly be a problem, it’s the next stage of change that really tends to trip us up.
Resistance: Resistance is a stage where we acknowledge a life change … but act as if we can stop it. Negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, and even anger and rage rear their heads during this stage of change.
Resistance can also make us feel bad about ourselves, driving low self-esteem and inspiring self-doubt. This is especially true for changes we often blame ourselves for.
Again, like denial, resistance is often part of the acceptance journey. But it’s an easy rut to get stuck in, forever raging at the cards we’ve been dealt, and even turning towards substances for comfort.
Exploration: This third step is the first step towards acceptance. For most people, this stage is where they begin to think rationally about the life change they just experienced, seeing opportunities and possibilities for themselves despite (or because of) the change.
It’s often healthy to think of the future in this stage, perhaps even seeing the change as a fresh start.
Acceptance: Healthy acceptance of change evolves to this step. At this stage, people have accepted the life change and have adapted. This can mean making lifestyle changes, thinking of oneself in a completely different way, and perhaps finding new life goals inspired by (or mindful of) the change just experienced.
For most people, this stage comes as a relief – there’s much less anxiety, if any, around the change. People tend to feel as though they’ve lost a heavy weight on their backs, and discover new self-confidence and resolve after accepting the change.
Coping With Change Like a Pro: Healthy Coping Strategies in Recovery
Let’s talk a bit about adapting to change. We’ll set positive changes aside; those tend not to be the changes we need help coping with.
Coping with negative life changes is where the challenge lies. While these kinds of changes are never easy, there are a few things you can do to meet them positively.
- Preparation: Negative life changes tend to happen suddenly, so there’s only so much preparation you can do. If a change like potential job loss, a move, or something else is on the horizon, take steps now to offset any hardships it might cause. If possible, try to stick away some money, talk to a career or financial pro about strategies, or even create a checklist of things you want to do to prepare for the change.
- Mindset: Like we said, denial can give you some breathing room in the short term … but it’s a disaster if you do it for too long. Instead, change your mindset. Avoid all-or-nothing thinking or other cognitive distortions about your future. Instead, really examine your situation and consider how realistic your worries are. You might find your concerns don’t match the actual evidence.
- Self-care: Everyone talks to themselves, either out loud or in their head. The way we speak to ourselves really matters, too. When you talk to yourself, what kind of language do you use. Are you good to yourself, or are you beating yourself up? Showing yourself patience and kindness really helps to cope with (and move past) a temporary bad situation.
We won’t pretend these steps will work every time or will always be realistic things to do in the middle of a catastrophe. Instead, they’re more healthy things to do throughout recovery to avoid the negative thoughts and emotions which can cause relapses or worse.
Coping with life changes is part of a successful, long-lasting recovery.
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