How to Handle Change in Recovery

The world around us is constantly changing and we are no different. The phrase “change is the only constant” couldn’t be more true now. For those in recovery, change can be difficult and this is especially the case when in the early stages of the recovery process. It’s also important to remember that change is even difficult for those not in recovery – as human beings, we are usually more comfortable staying in the status quo.

However, when changes happen, which they inevitably do, it is important to be adaptable and having a toolbox of healthy, sustainable coping mechanisms makes handling change easier. These tools will come in handy during any change — whether it’s a small change to your daily routine, or a larger change such as a change of work, home or city, a breakup, a bereavement or even a new recovery program. 

Understanding: It is important to consider the benefits of any proposed change. Seeing the need for a change makes a person more willing to embrace it. A common reason for people resist something is that they do not understand it. Knowledge can be the key to developing a more positive view of proposed changes.

Phased Transition: Depending on the change, it may be possible to introduce a transitional phase to ease the process. If possible, discuss the anticipated change with those who will be involved in the process.

Preparation: As with most things that happen in life, good preparation is the key to success. Knowing that you are prepared in advance will also reduce stress and anxiety; for example, if you are moving house, don’t leave packing and organizing to the last minute as this will only create additional stress.

Avoid Developing Resentments and Deal with them: When going through a change in circumstances which was brought about by others, avoid developing resentments towards those who brought about the change. Listen to their reasoning and put yourself in their shoes. It is highly unlikely that they brought about the change to make your life difficult. If you feel that you are being unduly affected by the change, try talking to them reasonably and see if there is a middle ground. Before trying to block the change completely, rationalize how much of a problem it really is for you (see resistance below).

The Resistance Instinct: Our natural instinct to resist change often kicks in automatically, causing us to have a negative view of the proposed change before we really know what’s involved. Try to remain open-minded and find out all of the facts before jumping to conclusions – it may not be as bad as it first sounds!

Acceptance: The world is a changing place and changes are easier to handle if we stop resisting the inevitable and accept what is going to happen. By adopting a more philosophical view about change, you are more likely to feel accepting of it.

Beware of Nostalgia and Sentimentality: There is nothing wrong with experiencing these emotions, but don’t let them become the most important reasons for resisting change. We all like to remember certain times from the past but it is equally important to live in the present.   All we really have is this moment right now and it’s up to each individual to make the most of it.

Be Practical: Being practical about change helps us to accept it, gives us a more positive view of the change and helps us to maintain some sense of control. If the change affects your daily schedule, make a new one which accommodates the change so you can visualise how it fits in. If the change requires a change in location, plan what you will do when you arrive there. Plan out what needs to be done. This will also help you to see the change in perspective.

Talk to Others: It’s important to keep communicating. This might mean discussing your feelings around the change with those involved, or it might simply mean phoning a friend to get your feelings ‘off your chest’. Isolating is a common reaction when struggling with change and it will only serve to escalate the problem. Keep communication, stay active and don’t stop taking part in activities which you enjoy.

See it as an opportunity: This might be easier said than done but it will go a long way towards helping you accept the change. Write a list of all possible positive opportunities and outcomes as a result of the change. Remember that those who fully embrace change will experience positive emotions around it as opposed to negative thoughts.

Keep a Check on How You Are Doing: Keeping a journal is a good way to develop a better understanding of how you process change. A journal will help you see patterns in your behaviour. You can also observe how changes that once appeared threatening actually led to some wonderful new opportunities.

It Will Pass: Think of changes you experienced in the past and how quickly you were able to adopt them into your new circumstances. Times when we feel most extreme emotions (including fear and anxiety) tend to have a temporary lifespan. Visualize yourself looking back on the change in the future and thinking “it wasn’t so bad”.

Fake it Until You Make It: Positivity breeds positivity and sometimes the best course of action is to appear accepting of the change and try to embrace it. When we take this option it’s often not long before we feel genuinely positive emotions. Be careful of confusing this with bottling up emotions though which should be avoided. Make sure you continue to communicate with close friends about what you are feeling.

Steer Clear of Negative Behaviour: When people are not handling change in a healthy and productive manner they often slip into negative behavioural patterns which can include isolating, not communicating, not taking part in activities they usually enjoy, interrupted or irregular sleep patterns, appearing withdrawn and having low energy. For those in recovery, drinking or using drugs, may also present itself as a way to handle the change.

If you have thoughts of drinking or using, reach out for help immediately. Online recovery programs are not just for those who want to get clean and sober, they are also an excellent tool for those who are already in recovery but going through a difficult time. Programs can range in duration from as little as two weeks to multiple months depending on individual needs. For more information about online recovery programs, check out our Blog, “What is an Online Recovery Program”.

Depending on the nature of the change you are experiencing, online counselling is another option to help you process what is going on around you. With the help of a professional, you will be able to recognise any underlying issues which are causing you to struggle with the change, begin to put it into perspective and ultimately, move on.

If you, or someone you know, is thinking about using drugs and/or alcohol as a way to manage, reach out for help immediately. Feel free to contact us to discuss your personal circumstances and what options are available to you. No circumstances are worth, or made better by, drinking or using. Asking for help does not mean that you are a failure, it shows that you are taking a responsible and positive step towards maintaining your sobriety.

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