By Robert Common, Managing Partner, The Beekeeper
The latest in a series on addiction
One year. It can seem like a drop in the bucket of life, or like an entire lifetime lived in 365 days.
What if one year ago you began your sobriety? What changes have happened after being one year sober?
Recovery always involves growth, and a lot of growth can happen in a year. Without the blunting effects of addicting behaviours, every day has involved facing life with a much more realistic outlook.
At some point in the past year, you’ve experienced a sudden appreciation of something that’s been unnoticed in your life for a long time. Perhaps it’s how good it feels to have the sun’s warmth on your face, or to hear the sound of your daughter’s uninhibited giggle as she watches her favourite TV show. Maybe it’s the refreshing tang of lemon sorbet without the interruption of nicotine, or tender pillow talk with your partner after an outing that didn’t end in being drunk.
Whatever that first moment of awareness was, it held the hesitating promise of more moments to come. Because in that first year, there are many times when you weren’t certain of your recovery. When you questioned the possibility that you could get to that one year of sobriety. And then you experienced the next good moment, and then the next.
After one year sober, your body has been through some major changes. At first, there were some horrible days (or even weeks) as your body slowly processed and released the toxic substances it was carrying. For many people, the physical withdrawal symptoms were agonizing, and the first few weeks left them feeling exhausted and disheartened. But as those toxins left your body, you began to feel healthier.
You might have been pleasantly surprised when you started sleeping better. And, of course, better sleep led to more energy and mental clarity. As your body stopped struggling to find balance during the constant exposure to toxic substances, you may have found yourself feeling recharged—without even taking a day off! It may have been your first year without coming down with every cold and flu virus that went around.
During the past year, you had to find new ways to spend your time that didn’t involve activities associated with your addiction. Maybe you reconnected with things that used to bring you joy. Often recovering addicts rekindle their joy in running, swimming, playing instruments, and cooking.
Others find new activities and hobbies that fill previously unmet needs for physical activity, personal connections, artistic expression, and meaningful contributions. Everyone is different, and that’s why at The Beekeeper we offer a range of activities to help you on this journey, from yoga to tai chi.
Many people in recovery decide to make meditation a part of their daily routine after trying it for the first time in the early days of their journey. Enriching volunteering is another activity that becomes both part of the healing process and part of a healthier happier lifestyle.
The first year sober wasn’t all ‘rainbows and sparkles’. There were some very challenging days and weeks. Times when the journey felt impossible, times when surviving life without addictive substances seemed like too big of a challenge, and times when the consequences of years of addiction felt too heavy to bear.
We hope that these times remain in your memory—not as a negative thing, but as a reminder of each barrier that you’ve survived and overcome. Choosing sobriety will always include remembering where you’ve been while celebrating every new milestone that marks the path you are on now.
In the past year, you’ve seen a change in your relationships. Those based entirely on sharing addictive behaviours are no longer the centre of your personal circle. The superficiality of these became more obvious without that one shared interest. But even losing superficial relationships is still a loss.
You may have spent time in counselling or learning new ways to initiate and experience healthy relationships, and you’ve had to relearn how to be in a variety of situations sober. Maybe you’ve rekindled some of the best relationships from your past—ones that weren’t compatible with addictions, but are very compatible with sobriety.
Having relationships with people and not trying to hide an addiction has given you a new way of relating to others—with honesty and authenticity instead of deception and pretending to put on a brave face. During the past year, you may have had the opportunity to make amends with some of the people you hurt when addiction dictated your choices. Some of those people may be slowly beginning to trust you, perhaps for the first time.
Sometime during the past year, you began to get to know your real self. Without addictions masking who you really are, you started to learn truths about yourself. Maybe you found out you’re an introvert who thrives in one-on-one connections with people. Or maybe you found out you love trying new activities where you’ll interact with people very different from the ones you used to spend all your time with.
You’ve also begun to take responsibility for your own care and maintenance. You’re learning to value yourself. This part of the journey can be pretty challenging. But at one year sober, you are starting to enjoy taking care of yourself and you’re conscious of how good it feels to know you can meet your needs.
Speaking of responsibility, that’s another thing that’s been changing in the past year. While you have taken responsibility for yourself and your choices and behaviours, you’ve also worked on not taking responsibility for others. You’re realising that it’s not your fault when other people make mistakes, and this realisation is life changing.
Most addicts share a history of trauma, and they’ve spent years feeling responsible for other people’s actions. But the more you’ve released that unhealthy attachment to other people’s choices, the more empowered you feel over your own life. After a year of sobriety, you’re getting better at saying no to people and situations that aren’t right for you.
You’re also learning to feel good about the choices you make. What a surprise! After years of regretting or defending your choices, you’re now feeling proud of what you choose! The very act of choosing sobriety every single morning is a reminder of how life-changing (in a good way) your choices are. Speaking of mornings, you’re also waking up every morning with a clear memory of where you are now and where you were last night. One year sober doesn’t mean last night wasn’t an embarrassment (although it often does); it means last night’s choices were made completely by you without substance impairment. That’s a big deal!
Celebrating one year sober marks the sum of hundreds of little changes that you’ve made over the past year. And those little changes really add up. This might be the first time you take an inventory of where you’ve come in the past 365 days, and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t notice how much better things had gotten!’
And one of the best things about one year sober? The mystery and excitement of how many more good things are going to come in the next year!
By Robert Common, Managing Partner, The Beekeeper
The latest in a series on addiction
Since ancient times, healers have performed cleansing rituals for unwanted spirits. This is a tradition that spans many religions, but is particularly important in the practice of Buddhism.
The early physical experiences of recovery are closely related to this spiritual practice. In Western terminology, the initial physical state after removing a drug from the body is known as withdrawal. The wisdom of the ancient understanding of this experience can be combined with the insight of the modern view of it to provide an optimal route for healing and resetting the body during this critical time.
So what happens to the body when you stop using drugs? Science shows that many chemicals in the brain get produced by the experience of using drugs. One of the most well-known of these is called dopamine, and it is responsible for the experience of pleasure and reward that can make drugs so appealing. However, as the brain begins to get used to the presence of these drugs, less and less of this reward chemical is produced. This is known as tolerance, and it is an indicator of addiction. More drug is needed to achieve the same effect, and far more of the body’s distress signals get produced when the drug is not present. These distress signals are hormones called adrenaline and cortisol. They are the same hormones that get produced when you are frightened, in danger (even if you believe you are in danger without an obvious threat). These hormones are also active when you go through a trauma or experience something unpleasant.
During the initial stages of withdrawal, adrenaline and cortisol are produced in heavy amounts. The body is sending out distress calls, and it has come to believe that it is in a fight for its survival.
In a state of withdrawal, there is an unhealthy energy, and the body has knowledge that it must move away from this condition. The body’s input, like food, water, herbs and medicines, become even more critically important during this phase then they are during normal times.
Though the experience of withdrawal is common to many types of drug use, this energy state is most pronounced when a person uses opioids. Frequent use of opioids prevents the body from creating its own natural pain relief, and during the time when you have stopped using opioids, the body has not had enough time to resume producing these pain relievers. Western medicine understands these pain relievers to be endorphins, a combination word for endogenous (internal) morphine.
In the traditional view, this initial physical experience of recovery is often considered part of the process of restoration. Even though it is painful, it allows for balance, for a more sustainable forward and present path. Withdrawal, in its most acceptable form, can be considered as helping reduce an aspect of our lives that has caused us suffering. It gives us the opportunity to reflect on the consequences of our actions, and consider a different course.
Whether you understand the experience of early recovery through a traditional or modern viewpoint, the end experience is the same: you may find yourself after a few days achy, irritable, feverish, nauseated and generally feeling unwell. Even with the knowledge that this state of being is temporary, it can be rather unpleasant.
Many still tolerate the experience of withdrawal because they believe that doing so will help them become more enlightened, or more connected with the suffering of others. Others go through the experience of withdrawal because they believe they must be punished. Some are able to approach withdrawal with a sense of acceptance and openness, acknowledging their fears and the unpleasant reality of it.
The length and severity of withdrawal depend on several factors:
● the type of drug used
● how long it was used
● how often it was used
● how much was used
● individual health status
Both the length and the severity of withdrawal can be reduced with certain medications or certain herbs after assessment by a trained professional. In Western terminology, this is referred to as a “medical detoxification”, or “detox” for short. Detox is often necessary when a person has:
● been using a substance regularly in large amounts
● used a substance over an extended period
● experienced a smaller effect over time from using the same amount of a substance
● required increasing amounts of a substance to achieve the usual effect
● craved a substance regularly when there is no access to it
● tried to quit using a substance and found it difficult to do without help
As withdrawal subsides, the body and brain must restore their natural balances, which have often been highly disrupted. For many people, this is a period where energy is low, but irritability and tension in the body may be high. Soreness in bones and muscles is common, and so are fatigue, sweating and digestive disturbance. The majority of individuals in early recovery benefit from professional and community; community members and therapists must be patient, calm and empathetic during this time to provide helpful support.
Early recovery may not be easy on the body, but it offers a unique opportunity for restoration. If you are well informed about the body’s experience of withdrawal and the early recovery period, you are more likely to be able to utilize a mindful approach to this time. With mindfulness, early recovery becomes an experience that confers wisdom and a renewal for body and spirit.
Harris, I. C. (2008). Cambodian Buddhism: history and practice. University of Hawaii Press.
United States National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction: What Science Says.” February 2016. Accessed August 20, 2020.
Sangkapreecha, P., & Sangkapreecha, T. (2013). The Cave of Healing: The Physical/Spiritual Detoxification and The Distinctive Healing Program for Drug Rehabilitation at Thamkrabok Monastery, Thailand. Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Studies, 123-138.
National Center for Biotechnology Information. “Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings.” 2009.