by Joshua Hoe
Does recovery get easier? The short answer is yes, but the story is not that simple.
When I was in my early 20’s I developed some serious food allergies.
At first, I had no idea what was causing my pain.
It would manifest itself in incredible stomach pain and eventually in painful diarrhea that would come in waves.
Not pretty, not pleasant.
Often it would hit me in public places, and I had to run for the nearest public restroom.
Did I mention: Not pretty, not pleasant.
So, the first few times I experienced this reaction, I was sure it was going to kill me, the discomfort was as bad as anything I had experienced before (and I had experienced some serious pain before).
At first the pain was unbelievable, almost entirely unmanageable, and was even worse (in some ways) because I had no idea what as causing it.
Eventually I figured out it was caused by food and then through the process of elimination, I figured out what foods caused my problems and I learned what to avoid.
Eventually, I even went to a specialist and got the details (food allergies and irritable bowel).
Unfortunately, the foods and spices I am allergic to are so common, that even when I try to avoid them, I can accidentally be exposed in a restaurant. When this happens, I get sick all over again.
For instance, one of my allergies is to garlic powder.
Hard to know when something does or does not have garlic powder.
Anyway, enough feeling sorry for myself, my point is that when I have the reaction now, even though it is exactly the same, I experience it as less catastrophic.
Over time, I have gotten used to the pain levels and the discomfort, what felt like it was killing me before is now just damn uncomfortable.
I developed a tolerance for even that high level of pain through experience.
And, because I had experienced it before, I knew what to expect and it became intellectually manageable.
Tolerance and Recovery
Usually, when we talk about tolerance in recovery it is to describe how we build up a tolerance for a specific drug or acting out behavior. But, this time, I want to talk about tolerance in the context of emotional withdrawal.
I am often asked by other addicts if “recovery gets easier?”
If you are wondering why I told that long story about allergies it is because recovery, at the beginning, is a lot like when I first had that allergic reaction.
It often felt entirely impossible, painful, unmanageable.
I myself often wondered if I could keep going.
Recovery literature always promises that it will get easier over time.
And I will confirm that it does get easier, much like dealing with my allergies got easier.
I identify the triggers earlier and handle them in more mature ways, so I encounter addictive urges less often.
However, I do sometimes still feel them, and they are as strong as ever. But for the same reasons as with my allergies they don’t bother me as much or feel impossible to handle anymore.
It is not heaven, but it is manageable. I don’t mean that I can control and enjoy my addiction, I mean that through a strong period of recovery life becomes more manageable.
The Importance Of Maintaining Recovery
This is where the neat analogy/metaphor starts to break down.
With my food allergies I only had to avoid triggering foods and get to the place where I could emotionally get my head around the pain. Over time, as I got used to the pain level, it became less devastating.
Addiction recovery works in many of the same ways but requires more than just avoidance and tolerance.
I am certainly more capable of handling the urges now, but part of what makes the pain tolerable is having places to talk about what I am feeling. I know that absent my meetings, my talks with my sponsor, or my tools I would be right back where I started.
This is not a program I can graduate from, it is a way of life. Recovery is a pathway, to me it is a guide for better living.
What has been your recovery experience? How has it gotten easier for you? Would love to hear your experiences, leave a comment!