During early recovery, it is important to know what to expect and how to manage the potential challenges.

Early recovery can feel intimidating. During the initial six months of recovery, it is important to know what to expect. Maintaining sobriety during early recovery can feel precarious, but with proper planning, support and self-awareness, it can be a safe and successful process.

Emotional Highs & Lows in Early Recovery

Early recovery can feel like a rollercoaster of emotions. There will be highs and lows and one moment may not feel anything like the next. During this period of recovery, it is important to utilize the coping skills learned in treatment to stay balanced in spite of these fluctuations. Healthy coping skills in recovery are key to a successful journey, as the feelings that were previously masked with substances may be raw.

Depression and anxiety in early recovery are quite common. In some ways, early recovery is similar to learning to walk; it can feel scary – like you could fall at any moment, but the end result is rewarding. Taking on one moment at a time is a good pace for early recovery. There is no need to think long-term as this may feel overwhelming. Truly we only have this one moment. Staying tethered to the present and being mindful of one’s internal experiences can help a lot in early recovery.

Relationships in Early Recovery

During early recovery, relationships can experience a lot of transition. Relationships with family and friends that may have been strained prior to recovery will likely shift, particularly if there was conflict about your substance use. Friends and others with whom you had previously used may not like your newfound sobriety, and these connections may deteriorate. The recovery experience is sure to offer solid information about who your real friends are. Try not to let this get you down; new relationships with those in recovery and recharged relationships with loved ones will sustain you. Rebuilding relationships in early recovery is one of the most rewarding aspects of the journey.

While relationships and connections with supportive people is vital in the recovery process, dating in early recovery is not recommended.

The risks of dating during early recovery include:

  • avoidance of dealing with emotions related to recovery
  • replacing one emotional coping mechanism with another
  • relying on a partner to remain sober

Because of these factors, and a tendency to focus more on the new relationship than recovery, experts recommend abstaining from developing new relationships for one year.

Safe Celebrations

Social gatherings may feel risky in early recovery, particularly if they are events involving substance use. As social events arise during early recovery, it is wise to have an exit strategy prepared ahead of time. Pay attention to risk factors for relapse that may come up during get-togethers. If it starts to become uncomfortable at the event, listen to that internal warning and use the opportunity to leave the situation, given the predetermined escape plan. Think of this as self-preservation – you are worth it!

Celebrating sobriety and sober milestones are important as you progress through your journey. In essence, you are celebrating life in recovery and honoring the choice you made to commit to yourself and your wellness.

Facing Challenges in Early Recovery

Challenges in early recovery are inevitable. As you navigate this healthier life path, there will be bumps in the road, and that’s ok. You can face these common challenges in early recovery and come out wiser and more prepared on the other side.

Keep in mind 5 common challenges in early recovery:

  1. Relapse triggers. List your relapse triggers and identify ways to navigate around these triggers with an alternative response. When you know your triggers for use, you can prepare to avoid them or help yourself stay on track if they are unavoidable.
  2. Filling the time. Without the use of substances, you may experience that time drags, making it more difficult to abstain. This is a good opportunity to remember what you enjoyed doing before substance use became the focus. Come up with a shortlist of easy- to- pick- up hobbies for those difficult moments. The healthy distraction will become a more automatic go-to after a while.
  3. Cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Physical and emotional cravings and withdrawal symptoms can be a struggle early in recovery. Practice a skill called urge surfing. Think of an urge to use as a wave upon which you are surfing. The wave will end, you just need to stay on top of the board and navigate it until it passes.
  4. Dealing with feelings while sober. It can be difficult to manage feelings that one would previously have self-medicated with substances. Start a feelings journal. Write down thoughts and feelings that come up, positive and negative. Tracking your emotions during early recovery can help you identify triggers for use and make plans to avoid risky situations.
  5. Being around friends who use. It is difficult to realize that your friends who use are now a trigger for you and this puts you at risk. Arrange times with individual friends to get together and ask them in advance to have a substance-free visit, since you are early in recovery. As you continue on your journey, you’ll inevitably make new friends who are also in recovery.

Keep yourself on a short leash during early recovery. Pay attention to your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. If you are able to attend support meetings and engage a sponsor, that will be a great benefit to your recovery. Trying to navigate early recovery on your own can be intimidating; don’t be afraid to reach out, even if its to a support hotline or to a counselor. The Recovery Village offers supportive professionals to help develop a plan for recovery and to support your ongoing recovery.

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Editor – Daron Christopher
Daron Christopher is an experienced speechwriter, copywriter and communications consultant based in Washington, DC. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Paula Holmes, LCSW
Paula Holmes is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and freelance writer who lives and works in midcoast Maine. She received her master's degree in Social Work in 2008 from the University of Maine. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.