For when life is good, but you still feel bad

This guest post was provided by Toby LeBlanc, LPC.

When I look over my career working as a therapist for individuals with substance dependence, I notice patterns. If someone can maintain the motivation and strength to move through the first few months of recovery, I notice they reach a place of happiness and serenity. Sometimes I even see joy. Their brain has finally started healing from the drugs and alcohol which altered it. It has learned how to produce dopamine on its own, without drugs. It can tolerate some of the most uncomfortable emotions.  Every day provides new opportunities for growth. And each time they grow, they get even happier. It sometimes feels like I’m watching one of my nieces open presents during the holidays, except it’s happening every day.

The big day comes. They leave their treatment center or sober living house and head out on their own. That part always feels like a graduation for me. Parents are proud and supportive. The recovering addict is incredibly optimistic yet humble. Everyone is incredibly appreciative and excited. Life looks like a dream come true. The recovering addict will get their own apartment with their own space (a welcome break of having to share space with people they barely know and don’t always like) and then eventually get a job. At this point they have made a full circle and have returned to being a contributing member of society.

This is where I see trouble brewing. Life has stopped moving forward in leaps in bounds. The growth moments are coming fewer and farther between. Without the constant support and insight around them, sometimes they even miss the growth moments. Despite the fact life has become healthy, it’s become a little boring. Work, meetings, and back home to do it all over again. The weekends are spent sleeping, watching movies, and hanging out with sober friends. I can see the questions before the person even asks them: Is this it? Is this what the rest of my life is going to be like?

Some view this as a slump. Others see it as a plateau. Regardless of how you see it, it is as a crucial a time in recovery as the day the recovering addict decided to get help. It’s hard to imagine having this stale life day in and day out for the rest of your life especially after having such a crazy and unpredictable time while using. But be careful when thinking you know what the rest of your life will be like. You can’t see it yet. It has many twists and turns for you. Your next growth moment could be just around the corner. This is an essential time to practice something discussed in an earlier blog: patience. Even thought it doesn’t feel as big as it did in the beginning of recovery, this is actually a new place for your brain to grow. Let it. You may find the next big step in life was just waiting for you to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

To close this, I want to point something out. Due to the complicated nature of trauma’s effects, some trauma survivors may have more difficulty with this than, say, someone who has only experienced addiction without trauma. If you have a history of trauma, and you find yourself in this stuck point, I encourage you to seek out a little extra help from someone in the mental health field or a sponsor who has survived trauma themselves. This is to say, of course, I think everyone deserves some help in a tough time like this.

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