Early recovery is a time of healing, discovery, and rebuilding. It is also confusing, frustrating and challenging. One thing to remember is you didn’t end up dependent on substances overnight. The negative consequences you have experienced because of your substance use are going to take time to overcome.

You are going to have to make a concerted effort to make changes, practice good decision making, and avoid relapse. Understanding how your substance use has affected you physically, mentally and spiritually and being willing to follow direction and do the work, will help you be successful.


While you are in residential rehab for 28 days or more, you are in a protected environment. You are surrounded by people in early recovery. You will hear the ecstatic utterances of people who have a whopping 2 and a half weeks clean and sober who are just gushing about being cured.

All of your problems still exist while you are in treatment, but you have a team of people who act like a buffer. Even your family and significant others are held at bay while you go through the treatment process.

Strained relationships and unstable living situations are discussed at length, but you are cocooned in a cozy cabin or dorm away from all of that stress, unhealthy boundaries, and combative communication.

A stint in rehab of 28 days or even 60-90 days go by very quickly and you will soon find yourself back on the ‘outside’ having to deal with all of your issues with your new found coping skills.

This does not always end well.


Depending on your substance of choice, you may have caused lasting damage to your body or brain. It is not unusual to permanently alter your brain chemistry. Substances also have a negative effect on your organs.

There is also a list of conditions such as HIV, Hepatitis, and other communicable diseases that you have been exposed to. Mental health is also compromised by prolonged alcohol or drug use.

Managing conditions in recovery require medication, therapy, diet, exercise, and monitoring. You are responsible for following direction and being vigilant with your health.

Side effects of substance abuse can last a lifetime.


The first year of recovery is a blur. It takes many months for the body and mind to right itself. You will be especially sensitive to stress.

Life does not suddenly become fabulous. You have to work at it. It is up to you to endeavor to reach your goals and milestones while building the life you want.

Catastrophic, unexpected, and mind twisting things are going to occur. Life will be a struggle sometimes.

If you have built a strong foundation in recovery you will have the resources and support to get through anything. Practice using all of your new coping skills before disaster strikes so you are familiar with the process of relying on your support system.

It is ok to feel overwhelmed and unstable and scared. Those are legitimate feelings. Usually difficult times are transitory and will soon resolve.

Have a plan. Always be prepared.


Life doesn’t suddenly right itself and ‘go back to normal’ when you stop drinking or using. Abstinence is just the beginning. Phases of recovery start at day one and continue through milestones measured in days, months and years.

Sustained recovery isn’t reached until years 3-5 and beyond. Every day that you are in recovery you have to be mindful of what you are thinking, feeling and how you are behaving.

Being vigilant about people, places, and things is an ever-present reminder in your mind. After a while, your subconscious will take over and automatically set up red flags when you are making questionable decisions.

It is a natural reaction to want to jump full steam ahead back into life after 28 days of recovery. This is a big mistake.

Taking on too much too soon is a recipe for relapse. You simply don’t have the skills or capacity to handle much more than getting through the day without using.


If you did not want to be in treatment and are just biding your time until you got back out, then nothing will change.

If you hit the ground running the moment you exit treatment and pick up right where you left off, then the consequences will keep rolling in.

If you think you want to be in recovery but you don’t follow direction or employ any of the new coping skills you learned, then you will remain miserable. And the people around you will be miserable too.

If you do not want to be a better person, a sober person, a happy person, or a sane person, nothing will stop you from returning to using substances.

The only person you have any kind of control over is yourself. Learn how to respond to people and situations instead of reacting.


wireframe personHaving completed treatment you will have gained an understanding about healthy behaviors and communication. Your family and loved ones may have joined the family groups. Chances are most of the people you associate with have not had any recovery based education.

Early recovery is an especially challenging time. You have to navigate your entire life without substances. This is stressful and difficult. Being the only person with new knowledge in your group of friends, family or loved ones is frustrating.

Other people will still be acting the same way they always have. Only you will have new coping skills and insight into behavior. You cannot change other people.

There will be expectations that you are fixed in the short time you are in treatment. There will be suspicion, hostility and unresolved anger from the people around you. Getting back into good graces is going to take protracted time and effort on your part.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, there will be times where you throw epic tantrums, have uncontrolled anxiety or anger, will be irrational and will alienate people around you. And the same will be true of others.

Understand that the onus is on you to change and live by example.


Out of recovery circles there remains stigma and discrimination against people who have substance abuse issues and mental health issues. Be very careful who you divulge your status to.

A lot of the general population still associates substance abuse with a morality issue. On top of that, addiction is associated with homelessness, severe mental health, and other antisocial behaviors. You will be treated as a lower class citizen.

It is an unfortunate and unjust position to be put in when honesty and open-mindedness are cornerstones of recovery. The general population has little or no understanding of substance abuse or mental health conditions.

If you have ended up with a criminal record keep in mind that after an appropriate amount of time a lot of convictions can be expunged. Your DMV record will also clear up after a number of years.

Instead of declaring yourself in recovery when offered an alcoholic drink, decline gracefully and leave it at that. You don’t need to explain.


Being monitored by the courts, treatment team, outpatient program, or any other professional capacity will be a good incentive to remain substance free. It is no guarantee though.

Released back into environments associated with your using will have you thinking of ways to beat the system. You are only hurting yourself by tricking the systems set up to monitor you.

Turning up to DUI class drunk, drinking and using after you leave outpatient, partying on weekends only, overusing prescription medications, is all easy to do.

There is a good chance that you will end up in the system for a lot longer than you could imagine when your monitoring and restrictions become narrower as a result of your actions.

It is up to you whether you spend your monitored time at home or in jail.


Many relationships end because of substance abuse. When one or both parties are using it is not going to end well. Cumulative effects of alcohol and drugs follow a predictable path. Injury and death are often related to substance abuse.

You will learn what is healthy and unhealthy in different kinds of relationships. You will have choices to make once you enter recovery.

With therapy, education and time, relationships do recover. If you both work really hard to address issues as they occur.

When one partner enters recovery and the other does not, there are going to be problems. Or, you may find yourself served with divorce papers while you are in treatment.

If enough damage has been done to a relationship there will be no fixing it. Concentrate on building healthy, supportive relationships where you both support one another.

Although devastating, the loss of an unhealthy relationship will allow you time to heal.


Without a doubt, you have made horrible choices. You have caused chaos and drama, and have done things you are ashamed of. You harbor guilt and negative emotion and lack self-esteem and confidence.

The things you have said and done are in the past. You cannot go back and change them. Reaching a level of acceptance is necessary to move forward.

You can make amends and learn from your mistakes. You can rebuild a life you can be proud of. You do not have to be that person ever again.

Focus on today and continue to do the next right thing. Act in accordance with your values and be the best person you can be. You are not the things you have done. You are the person you are today who chooses to be in recovery.


Do not get into a rehab romance. It is easy to feel connected to people who are part of the rehab crowd. You are all in the same place for the same thing, removed from all the drama you have on the outside.

If you are busy chasing someone around the rehab facility you are not focused on your recovery. Not only that, but you could get dismissed from the program or embroiled in someone else’s drama.

It is suggested that you do not get into a new relationship within the first 12 months of recovery. You need this time to get used to managing your life without substances. You are not healthy enough to enter into relationships.

Getting into a relationship with someone who is also in early recovery is setting you up for failure. If one of you goes back out, the other is usually right there, or not far behind.

There are usually a lot of loose ends to tie up in early recovery. Stay away from complications while you focus on fixing your problems.


Having been out there running amok you are loathed to admit that you have made a mess of your life. You are resistant to change and have no idea how to follow direction.

A few weeks into treatment you feel like you can take on the world.

As soon as you try to grab the reins and make decisions based on emotion rather than logic, you are on the slippery slope to relapse. Early recovery is a time to learn about yourself and formulate solutions and goals.

It did not take you 28 days to blow up your life and it is not going to take 28 days to fix it. Recovery is going to take time. A lot of time. And a lot of effort.

If you do what is suggested you have a good chance of success.

Beware the myths and promise of quick fixes. Stick with the people who have solid recovery and have the things you want. Find mentors and build a support network. Practice making good decisions and stay focused on your recovery.


Recovery myth: You can’t force someone into treatment.

Do you know what you want? Find ways to help you figure it out.

Being clean and sober has benefits.

Read about the ways addiction will kill you.

Is your life unmanageable? How many ways?

Need to identify and rid yourself of toxic people?

How to rid yourself of negative self-talk.

You absolutely need to be setting goals.

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Drop me a line in the comments below or by email if you have suggestions or questions.

If you enjoyed this post, please share on social media. I would greatly appreciate it.

11 early recovery lessons


  1. Although I’m in recovery for something a little different, I found this to be extremely helpful. Recovery is not linear. It is different for everyone, and everyone will experience different things at different times.

    That being said a lot of what you have said here is universal, and there are certain rules that you need to follow in order to keep yourself right in recovery. Specifically the one about getting into new relationships. I always cringe when I see newly recovering people fall head first into relationships because I know, or rather I think, it’s just as a distraction from themselves. At the end of the day recovery is all about learning to cope without the crutch, and if you replace that with a person, then you aren’t really learning to cope by yourself at all.

    Very informative and wonderful post.

    1. I am glad you enjoyed the post. There is recovery from so many substances, behaviors, and disorders. You are right that a lot of the process is universal. With substance abuse there is often isolation and hiding, then the minute someone gets a few weeks or months clean, they suddenly leap into new relationships like it’s the answer to their prayers. You are right, part of it is distraction. We need to get ourselves well first.

  2. This is truly a wonderful piece that I think can serve as a powerful resource for those going through recovery and those around them. I’ve never personally experienced this, but it helped shine a light for me into the subject and what stood out the most is that in rehab you get tools to help you move through life, while those around you don’t have those same tools. I think that concept holds true for a lot of areas of life.

  3. My recovery is not due to alcohol or drugs but from food, behaviors and other health disorders. There is some very helpful information here. The biggest piece I struggle with I think is the stigma that those trying to recover have to deal with. I saw a post on Facebook the other day about the pressure to drink on playdates etc.. I don’t drink because of other health issues but I can only imagine what it is like to deal with the pressure when trying to recover from addiction to alcohol or drugs.

  4. Fantastic article, nothing sugar coated – here’s the reality of what you’ve done and the consequences they may have on your body and mind. Thank you for sharing this insight!

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