How To Tell If You Are in Recovery  

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This is another of my articles that is less technical but nevertheless ties together some very significant points. Why do people stay clean?  This is a different question from why they present for detox.  People present for detox for a variety of reasons reasons. All with one theme: they want to escape the negative consequences that the drug is having on their life.  Some are physically unwell, some in financial distress.  Their families are yelling at them or they are in trouble at work.  Many have legal issues.  

Patients constantly tell me that they won’t go back to using because it is too much trouble. I’ll laugh to myself because that’s beside the point. Avoiding negative consequences is a fine motivation for starting treatment.  But it won’t help long-term.

Fears have a habit of becoming less intense as time goes by.  Unfortunately, this effect is coupled with a temporary insanity where the person feels that the outcome following the next use of drug will be different from those following prior uses of the drug.  

So why do people stay clean?  The simple answer is: They stay clean and sober because they like being clean and sober.  They like their life because most of the time they feel good. 

I once read that, in marriage, if 80% of the moments were positive, it is enough to carry you through the negative moments.  I believe that something similar goes on in recovery.  If we feel good most of the time, we can tolerate periodic frustrations and other negative feelings.  

It is impossible to feel good while holding negative feelings.  One cannot be angry and feel good.  One cannot be resentful and/or envious and feel good.  And certainly one cannot be depressed and feel good.  Even if these feelings are appropriate, we
cannot hold them and feel good.  If we have been victimized and do not learn to forgive, eventually the negative feelings will overwhelm us.   

Many people have psychiatric problems that will be discussed elsewhere on this site. The treatment of such problems is necessary to feel good and to obtain long-term abstinence.   When we feel bad, we may stay clean for a while, but eventually we will give in. 

Bad feelings are associated with certain fluxes in our neurotransmitters that increase our desires for drugs.  At some point we get a case of the “fuck its”. If I am feeling bad anyway, fuck it; I may as well get high.  I will use a drug especially since my temporary insanity will allow me to ignore the consequences of doing so.   

One way to feel good is to stay emotionally connected.  Whether we connect to religion or to other people, this is a mechanism often used.  I feel that spirituality refers to this ability to connect emotionally.  AA and counseling are other avenues to provide emotional connections.  

How do we know when we are in a good place?  When we experience gratitude. If we feel good, we are thankful for our life.  If we feel bad, we are not.  I often say that if we can be truly thankful for our current life when we awake in the morning, we are in recovery.  

Stuart Wasser MD
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