Experiencing Change in Addiction Recovery
Change is one of the biggest guarantees in life so, at some point in your addiction recovery journey, you will likely have to experience it. I personally despise big life changes, not just because of my addiction, but because of the enormous impact change can have on my mental health. Change can produce so many anxiety triggers and make me feel as though my life is completely out of control. However, after experiencing my most recent life change, I am beginning to understand that change, including the anxiety, might just be a necessary evil after all.
Addiction Triggers from Change
Recently, my addiction was triggered by a life change. My husband and I recently made the big move from an apartment to a house, and even though the premise of this life change was primarily positive, I still felt incredibly triggered throughout the process. Neither I nor my husband have lived in a house in almost 10 years so it was a really big step for us. We searched and searched for months and we finally found one that fit all our needs and wants. The house isn't perfect, but, overall, I am very satisfied with our choice.
However, last weekend, when the big move finally arrived, I was crippled with anxiety, shame, and despair. My depression had peaked and I felt like I had no control over anything in my life during those major moving days. My normal morning routines were minimized (if not completely eliminated), I wasn't exercising at my normal pace, and my husband and I were so bogged down with stress we could barely function.
I had no idea how impactful those few days would be. This was supposed to be a joyous event, and yet we were both crumbling. I felt so uncomfortable in the new house even though we viewed it numerous times in weeks past and every time I was completely in love with it. What in the world was wrong with me?
I slowly realized that even though this was a healthy and positive life change, it was still a change nonetheless. Even though so much good could come from this change, like having a garage, a yard, and so much more space, it still sent some weird stress signal to my brain that frantically yelled, "This is different," and "Everything is scary."
Honestly, I have been triggered by change for as long as I can remember, but I guess I always thought this was tied to primarily negative life changes, not positive ones. This was a definite shock to me at first and I was especially surprised at how the change impacted my addiction recovery.
Experiencing Change as an Addict
I barely slept for the first few nights in the new house because I was so anxious and alarmed. Every new sound, new sight, and new experience felt weirdly terrifying. I'm certain some of this has to do with my posttraumatic stress disorder diagnosis, as change is notoriously challenging for those of us with a history of trauma. However, this life change also induced some really alarming addiction dreams I hadn't experienced in a very long time.
Addiction dreams can be so damaging because they bring up thoughts, images, and sometimes real-life experiences that many recovering addicts believed they had entirely removed from memory. In addition to the trigger of having addiction dreams, these dreams tend to create a ripple effect because they almost always lead to some intense cravings.
Experiencing a big life change, accompanied by altered daily routines, and now addiction dreams, I knew I was in trouble at this point. How could something that started out so positive somehow cause so much damage in my life in so little time?
Everything felt chaotic and scary. I felt like I had absolutely no control over my day, week, or life. It seems dramatic looking back on this experience, but in the moment, those changes really took over my thoughts and beliefs.
With some help from my therapist and my empathetic husband, I was slowly able to get back on track. I started small, by unpacking at least one or two boxes every day and consistently making time for my physical exercise classes. Even if it was something small like a light yoga flow, the simple act of moving my body reminded me that there was a tiny bit of normalcy and routine again.
Lifelong Struggles of Change in Addiction Recovery
Looking back, it seems a bit silly when I think of how poorly I reacted to this life change. I feel embarrassed and honestly a little shameful. I can't help but think that something must be really wrong with me to react this way.
Honestly though, I don't think this shame has to destroy me. Not this time anyway. I know now that big life changes might always be a struggle for me. It sucks, but if I can accept this now, then maybe I can be a bit more prepared next time.
Radically accepting my debilitating mental health and addiction struggles is no easy feat. As I mentioned earlier it is really easy to fall into a full-blown shame spiral when I think of all the ways I am forced to accommodate these difficult and unique challenges. I hate it some days, but I also can understand that acceptance is a much happier place to exist than denial.
If you also struggle with big life changes or feel like your life has completely come off its hinges, I want to encourage you to try and find even the tiniest bit of normalcy in the chaos. Restructuring your day to include simple routines like a gratitude journal, exercise, or mindfulness and meditation are all attainable ways to bring peace and self-love back into your life.
Change is hard, there's no denying it. However, I am beginning to see that change in addiction recovery doesn't always have to be so bad.
Richardson, A. (2020, August 20). Experiencing Change in Addiction Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/debunkingaddiction/2020/8/experiencing-change-in-addiction-recovery