Abstaining from mind-altering substance is just the beginning of your recovery. Recovery involves changing your entire lifestyle to create a better you. You have to change your entire circle of friends, your habits and routines, sometimes even the music you listen to and the shows you watch if they are a trigger for you. This can be a great challenge, because many addicts find themselves addicted to the lifestyle of being an addict as much as the actual consumption of drugs and alcohol.
If you are trying to quit smoking cigarettes, it is recommended that you throw away your ashtrays and lighters. Ashtrays and lighters do not cause cancer, but they enable you to resume the habit of inhaling carcinogens easily. Much in the same way, recovering addicts and alcoholics need to throw away all the agents that enable them to use drugs and alcohol. Throw away your paraphernalia. Go through your contacts and delete, or even better, block all the drug dealers in your phone. If a particular situation triggers a craving, avoid it. If you have a dangerous living situation, consider changing it. Sober living houses and transitional living centers exist to help people in recovery.
One of the hardest parts of this is eliminating dangerous people in our lives. It is difficult to let go of the harmful people in our lives, because we think they are our friends. Let me share some wisdom with you: your old drinking buddies and drug friends are not real friends. They are only interested in you for their own pleasure. They find drinking and using with other people increases their own selfish enjoyment of the drugs and alcohol. Or, they find it easier to access drugs and alcohol with help from other people. If someone in your life encourages you to sacrifice your recovery and return to active addiction, cut them from your life.
Your recovery must come before everything else, because if you do not stay clean and sober, you will die. I cannot emphasize enough how deadly this disease truly is. A record number of Americans are dying from overdose. Addiction kills. Alcoholism can kill from reckless behavior. Alcohol can damage nearly every organ in the entire body. Putting your recovery before everything else means putting your recovery ahead of everyone else… even if this person is a spouse, parent, sibling, or girlfriend or boyfriend. I know an addict who had to cut ties with his own mother to eliminate a dangerous influence in his life. His mother is an active addict and would encourage him to return to drug use. It is heartbreaking when such a decisions must be made, but it is better for a person to be alive and not have a good relationship with his mother, than for a mother and son addict to have a good relationship as they both drink and drug themselves to death.
An Addictive lifestyle can be difficult to break. As one counselor told me, “drinking made me feel I was instantly smarter and better looking.” Drugs and alcohol can make us feel as though we are someone else… someone more popular, or cooler, than we actually are. It is easy to experience the glamorization of drugs and alcohol in popular music or TV shows and cinema and want to emulate this lifestyle. People can also become egomaniacs when they start selling drugs and imagine themselves earning “street cred” and becoming a tough guy. These power trips create a compulsion to consume more and engage in more dangerous or illegal behavior. But the fact of the matter is doing drugs is not cool. Drug dealers are not cool. Eventually we have to grow up and discover the things in life that are actually cool: waking up without a hangover, not being dopesick, paying bills on time, not worrying about the cops, and being able to see our children.
Recovery is about so much more than staying clean. It is about transforming a formerly lying, cheating, stealing hedonist into an upstanding, trustworthy and moral person of integrity. This amazing transformation awaits any alcoholic or addict who wants a better life. Removing ourselves from dangerous situations and limiting our contact with harmful influences is challenging but necessary in recovery. The good news is that you never have to face these challenges alone. Help awaits you in rehabilitation centers and 12-step programs such as AA and NA. They have changed their harmful lifestyles, and they can help you change yours.