NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Early Recovery: You've Stopped Drinking. Now What?

Early recovery can be a challenging time for a person struggling with alcoholism and his or her family. Putting the alcohol down is a positive step which, in itself, can be difficult.

Early Recovery: You've Stopped Drinking. Now What?

For many people, who suffer with alcoholism, alcohol represents a "friend" who is always there to comfort and soothe. The thought of giving up drinking can be very scary during the early stages of recovery. But, beyond that, once you've made the decision to stop drinking, you'll need emotional support and the tools of recovery to help you cope with the challenges that most people face when they're newly sober.

So, what are the challenges of early recovery? 
Well, to start, once you're newly sober, you might find that drinking might have been a maladaptive way of self medicating depression, anxiety or other emotional problems. Alcohol might have done a "good job" of masking a mood disorder that is now more readily apparent.

Early Recovery: You've Stopped Drinking.  Now What?

Early on, when you first experience the discomfort of these feelings, you might be tempted to pick up again. But, before you do, recognize that many people have successfully stopped drinking and have learned new ways of coping with an underlying mood disorder that was masked by excessive drinking.

During early recovery, don't try to go it alone:
Aside from psychotherapy, getting social support in Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) or Rational Recovery is often the first best step in getting help to overcome the challenges of early recovery. Meeting other people, who have successfully navigated through the challenges of early recovery and who maintain their sobriety, can feel like a life line. "One Day At A Time" is not just an empty slogan--it's an important coping strategy. Getting phone numbers from A.A. members, reading the literature, attending meetings on a regular basis, and getting a sponsor are all important aspects in recovery.

Psychotherapy with a therapist who has expertise in early recovery can be helpful in dealing with the underlying emotional issues that often come to the surface when you stop drinking. An experienced therapist can help you to learn new coping skills to overcome a mood disorder and face life's challenges as a newly sober person. Beyond psychotherapy, you might need medication for a period of time to help you with the biochemical changes to the brain that alcoholism often causes.

Repairing your relationships:
Once you've stopped drinking, you and your loved ones might need to repair your relationships. Your spouse and children might be very happy that you've put down the alcohol, but they might also have resentments for the emotional damage that has been done by your drinking. Making amends isn't easy, but it's an important part of recovery. It's important to listen to what your family has to say and to take responsibility for your actions. Repairing these relationships begins by listening in an non-defensive way, not making excuses, and then expressing a heartfelt apology. Repair doesn't happen over night. You'll need to regain your family's trust over time. But taking these first steps are crucial.

Early Recovery: Repairing Your Relationships 

Beyond that, even though your spouse might have wanted you to get sober, when you do become sober, this is a change for you and your family. Change, even positive change, can be difficult and stressful. For instance, when you were actively drinking, your spouse might have been the one to make major decisions about money or child rearing. But now that you're sober, you want to participate in the decision making. For your spouse, sharing these responsibilities with you now, after years of doing this on her or his own, isn't easy. And you might need to develop certain skills that you missed developing while you were actively drinking.

Al-Anon for family members:
I usually recommend that spouses of people in alcohol recovery attend Al-Anon to get their own support. It's easy to under estimate the challenges of this stage in a relationship. Developing internal resources, coping skills, learning to overcome codependent behavior, and getting social support are part of what Al-Anon is all about. A relationship is a two-way street. Often, it's easy to point the finger of blame on the person struggling with alcoholism. It's usually harder to see the role of the spouse in this dynamic.

The rewards of getting sober:
The challenges of early recovery can be difficult but not insurmountable. The rewards that come with living life as a sober person usually outweigh the challenges. A healthy sense of pride, an increase in self esteem, and an overall sense of well-being are among the benefits you can experience when you decide to stop drinking and get healthy.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist. 

I provide psychotherapy services to individuals and couples, including talk therapy, hypnotherapy, EMDR, and Somatic Experiencing.

I have worked with many individuals and couples to help them to successfully overcome addictive and codependent behavior.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Also see my article:
Asking for Forgiveness: The Power of Making Amends