Spring and summer are prime moving months, and many people find themselves doing deep cleaning in preparation of putting their house on the market or throwing all their stuff on a truck.
It can be a stressful time, and organizing your possessions to minimize the work of unpacking when you move into your new home is a great way to mitigate stress – unless you are in recovery and happen to stumble across paraphernalia, drugs, alcohol, or memorabilia that can trigger a relapse.
For many, stumbling across a forgotten cook kit or a half-empty bottle of vodka stashed in the back of a closet can be jarring. Unprepared to suddenly find yourself holding your drug of choice – or the means to use it – in your hands could understandably throw you into a spiral. You work hard every day to avoid anything that could possibly make you start craving getting high or drinking, and out of nowhere, there you are with the means to do so in your very hands.
It doesn’t have to be a leftover bottle of painkillers or a baggie of marijuana in the back of the freezer to trigger relapse. Sometimes finding old pictures of you and your friends, a concert poster, or a letter from your ex from your using days is enough to make you feel uncomfortable emotions that can add up to the urge to drink or get high. Sadness, loss, grief, nostalgia, and longing – these are some of the feelings that often come up for people when they are unexpectedly face to face with their using past. Even if you are doing well in recovery, a tangible item can throw you into a tailspin if you’re not careful.
Get Rid of It
You may be tempted to put whatever you have found to the side to deal with it later – or you may immediately try to justify using whatever you’ve found. “It’s just a small amount.” “It’s just this once.” “I’m just cleaning, anyway. I don’t have anywhere to be.”
It may feel like it makes sense in the moment, but it’s a terrible idea. Don’t do it. Instead, get rid of it in a way that you can’t undo in a few hours by simply pulling it out of the trashcan. Dump it out. Break it. Scatter it to the winds. Whatever is most appropriate to destroy the item, do it, and do it right away.
Talk About It
Reach out to your therapist. Call your sponsor. Go to a 12-step meeting. Text a friend who is supportive of your recovery and ask him or her to come over right away. Tell someone about what happened, what you found, what you did with it, and how it made you feel. The more upset you are by the experience, the more quickly you should reach out to another person and talk about it.
Even if you feel like you were unbothered by coming across your old paraphernalia, drugs, or memorabilia, it’s important that you share about the incident with someone else. Today, you may be feeling fine, but in a few days or a few weeks, something else could come up that is triggering and the experience of holding that item in your hands even for a few minutes could suddenly feel big and like it was the first step toward relapse. Talking about it can neutralize its power, and depending upon whom you talk to, you could walk away from the conversation with some coping mechanisms to put into play in the event that you begin to feel unstable in your recovery in the coming weeks.
Focus on Your Move
One way to avoid relapse is to fill up your time with a big, positive project – like the move that originated your cleaning binge in the first place. Continue to clean out your possessions, donating and throwing away everything you don’t want or need, pack everything carefully, and when you unpack in your new home, take special care in your organization and decoration. Take on little projects to update the place, make it your own, and create a living space that is right for your new life in recovery.
If you are moving out of town or out of state, don’t forget to spend time before you leave getting the referrals necessary to continue your journey in recovery after you settle in. Speak to your therapist about connecting you with a colleague who will be able to aid you as make continued progress in addressing underlying mental health symptoms or issues related to family and/or recovery. Learn more about the recovery community where you are going and find meetings, holistic support, and other services that will enable you to not only continue the treatments that you currently find useful but perhaps explore new options that may be helpful as well. Talk to your friends in recovery and ask them if they know anyone where you are going who might be willing to go to a meeting with you if you don’t know anyone in your new town.
In short, set yourself up for success in your new home and focus on the details as you make the transition, so that coming across your old paraphernalia or other drug use items doesn’t have to be a showstopper.
The Recovery Village offers full addiction treatment services, including cognitive therapy, medical detoxification, aftercare as well as individualized and group therapy. Call us now today