“This is WHO I AM! Why are you trying to change me? I stopped drinking!” Sound familiar? Statements like these are examples of what people might say who’ve stopped drinking but continue to behave as if they were still drinking or using. You see, becoming sober is just one part of addiction recovery. This behaviour is commonly referred to as untreated sobriety.
It’s important to recognize this behaviour because it usually presents itself as anger and resentment. These emotions are triggering for your recovery. The anger and resentment are usually a result of not being able to accept that you can no longer use substances to feel better. In essence, what you may be experiencing is grief over the loss of your drug of choice.
We spoke to Kim Holmgren, Addiction Counsellor at Bellwood Health Services to discuss what “dry drunk syndrome” looks like. Kim Holmgren teaches a session on untreated sobriety every few weeks at Bellwood to clients and has been with Bellwood’s clinical team for over three years. Kim Holmgren states, “Although a person may not have used or acted out in years they may still have never had a sober day. So not using or acting out is definitely a part of addiction recovery, but in itself, it is not recovery.” Moving from a stage of loss to acceptance can make all the difference of how you feel. If you’re having a difficult time accepting the loss of drugs or alcohol, this can keep you stuck in a nasty state of bitterness.
Kim Holmgren shared with us a list of symptoms or some things you might say when you have untreated sobriety:
- Low self-esteem
- Can’t live in the moment.
- “I don’t like myself.”
- “What do they think of me?”
- “Am I good enough?”
- “Nobody understands me.”
- “You don’t get it.”
- Tomorrow I’ll smarten up.
- I don’t fit in.
- Maybe I can control it?
- One isn’t going to hurt…or is it?
- But it is different now.
- I feel so much better
- I don’t feel any better.
- I still feel crappy.
- “I’ll stay off the hard stuff!”
- Why does everything always happen to me?
- I never get a break.
- If they don’t trust me, why am I doing this?
- It’s not going to help if I call someone.
- I’m different.
- I don’t care.
- It’s MY LIFE!
Kim Holmgren states that all these symptoms or sayings are often said by individuals by people who aren’t in recovery too, but the difference is that this type of thinking and behaviour is dangerous for a person who is in recovery. “Those who quit using or acting out and are still angry about it usually wind up living miserable lives and usually make everyone around them feel miserable too. Family members or members from a support group are often the first to notice this behaviour. Some people might argue that their loved one or friend is trying to change who they are despite the obvious. Why pay attention to this? Resentment and anger are one of the worst enemies for a person in recovery! Remember, these individuals are not addicted to the substances. The substances are just a solution. If this behaviour isn’t handled properly, it can come back after long periods of sobriety and is usually the first sign of a relapse waiting to happen.”
Recovery Vs. Abstinence/ Not Acting Out
What does recovery look like versus untreated sobriety? Kim Holmgren explains, “Recovery involves working on all of the problems and issues that led you to use in the first place. It requires major lifestyle changes and developing a support group system. You need to work on yourself and fix what was broken. Plain abstinence does not do any of the things previously mentioned.”
Kim Holmgren does mention in a previous blog post that its not always the person’s fault they weren’t able to accept and move forward in their recovery. “Sometimes people have underlying mental health illnesses that haven’t been addressed yet. Other times, it can be environmental stressors and triggers that are overwhelming for someone who is in early recovery.”
According to Kim Holmgren, one of first things you can do to stop this behaviour and move towards acceptance is to get a sponsor, “Get a sponsor and to talk to them. Ask yourself, where are the anger and the resentment coming from? Acceptance is the first step.” Kim Holmgren also suggested to look at Dr. Steven Melemis, PhD, MD’ five rules of recovery published in his book, I Want To Change My Life: How to Overcome Anxiety, Depression and Addiction:
- Change your life. You recover by creating a new life where it is easier to NOT use.
- Be completely honest. Addiction requires lying. From this day forward, you have to be completely honest, especially with yourself and your recovery circle. As you get more comfortable, the circle can widen. Honesty is always preferable, except where it may harm others.
- Ask for help. That includes doctors, therapists, addiction counsellors and people in recovery. Anywhere that will help your recovery.
- Practice self-care. Mind-body relaxation is not an optional part of recovery, it is essential. The practice of self-care during mind-body relaxation translates into self-care in the rest of life.
- Don’t bend the rules. Don’t look for loopholes in your recovery (quick fix). No change is no change.
If you need to speak to someone about the challenges you are facing in your recovery, please call us at 1-800-387-6198. It’s important that you start to be honest with yourself and ask for help.