Those who have been in recovery long-term will almost always confirm that the first year of sobriety is the most difficult. It’s recommended that those new to recovery hold off on making any major changes during the first year. These changes include (but aren’t limited to) moving out-of-state (even out of town), entering into a new relationship… even quitting smoking (taking away an acceptable vice like smoking can lead to physical and emotional stress, which can trigger relapse). Of course, this doesn’t go for all changes – change of friends, change of occupation, change of hobbies and places you frequent… these can all be positive things. It’s important to remember that in early recovery, you likely aren’t doing your best thinking – because of this, make sure you get a second opinion from a trusted sober support, like a sponsor, therapist, or counselor.

Because the first year of recovery can be such a tumultuous time, and because it’s so full of new beginnings and self-discovery (personal growth can be uncomfortable at first), it can be easy to lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel. It can be difficult to stay grateful. Fortunately, we at Immersion Recovery understand the intense ups and downs that are usually present within the first year, and we have quite a bit of insight to offer – insight that will make the journey easier, and pave the road for fulfilled recovery for years to come.

First Year of Recovery

Why is the first year of recovery so hard? First of all, it isn’t all hard. There will be many ups and downs – just as many good, amazing times as there are difficult times. In fact, as your sobriety continues and involves, the good will start to massively outweigh the bad. For example, were you may have had three rough days a week during the first month, the second month might see one rough day every two weeks are so. As you stabilize and find your footing, life will get exponentially easier. There are several ways in which to make the rough days shorter and easier, however. Here are some steps you can take to help lessen the load.

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  • Hit a meeting – and share!

Hitting a meeting is a great coping mechanism… listening to others share their experience, strength, and hope is always beneficial. However, you’ll undeniably get even more out of the meeting if you share where you’re at. Remember that everyone is in the same boat and no will ever judge you for being honest. When you share, others who have been through something similar or are going through something similar will know where you’re at, and will reach out to help you. Of course, you don’t need to wait for others to come to you – listen to what people have to say, and go talk to someone who has a message that resonated with you. Step out of your comfort zone, you’ve really got nothing to lose!

  • Call a sober support and unload – remember that you’re never a burden.

It can be easy for those in early recovery to feel like a burden… a burden on their friends, their family members, and their sober supports. The truth is, every time you call someone to vent or explain your current circumstances, you’re helping them. You’re helping them to take their mind off of their own problems and help you with yours (it may seem counterintuitive at first, but it will make a lot more sense once you start to sponsor people). This is also why sharing in meetings is so beneficial. Holding onto your problems will only intensify them. Give them away! Those with a little more experience and time in recovery can definitely handle anything you throw at them.

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  • Experiment with new hobbies and sobriety-friendly activities.

Idle hands are the devil’s playthings, as the saying goes. What does this mean? Basically, it means, “Avoid boredom!” If you start to feel restless, get out and explore new hobbies. Go on a hike, take a yoga class or a painting class, go see a movie, find a new recipe and cook something delicious. One of the most beautiful parts of early recovery is getting to learn who you are and what you like. Active addiction strips us of self-awareness, and causes us to feature drugs and alcohol at the center of everything we do. Our social lives begin to revolve around drinking and using – we lose sight of what’s important to us, and obsess solely on obtaining and ingesting. In recovery, you get to learn about yourself in a way you likely never have. It’s really a beautiful thing! Get out there and explore.

  • Do something nice for someone else.

One of the best things we can do to feel better about ourselves is to go do something nice for someone else. This could mean volunteering at a soup kitchen, helping your parents with household chores, taking a newcomer to a meeting, or taking the neighbors’ dog for a walk. The list goes on – be creative! Helping out someone in need will not only help you take your mind off of your own problems, but it will bolster your self-esteem.

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  • Exercise.

Active addiction messes with your brain chemistry, depleting your ‘feel good’ endorphins like dopamine and serotonin. It is well-known that upping exercise can help improve mood by releasing endorphins. Additionally, getting into a regular exercise routine will help add structure to your life, and structure is always a good thing! Addiction specialists recommend yoga, because yoga helps train and calm the mind as well as strengthen the body.

  • Stay engaged in your stepwork.

One of the first things you’ll want to do when you get out of inpatient treatment is to get a sponsor (we at Immersion suggest and encourage doing this while still in rehab). Your sponsor is someone who will guide you through the 12 steps of whatever program you decide is the best fit for you (Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous), and offer you advice and support when you need it. Most sponsors will wait for you to come to them for help. Tell your sponsor that you’d like to begin on your stepwork, and dive in headfirst! Working through the steps is essential to removing the mental obsession of alcoholism or drug addiction.

  • Pray and meditate – whatever that means to you.

It is strongly suggested that those in early recovery begin working on a relationship with a ‘higher power’. This doesn’t mean start believing in God, start praying to Jesus, or succumb in any way to organized religion of any kind. This simply means, “Begin to work on understanding and believing that you aren’t the end all be all.” It’s a process, and there really isn’t any rush. All that’s asked of you is that you begin to try.

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What to Expect in the First Year

Something else to expect in your first year is the cropping up of uncomfortable emotions. Keep in mind the fact that you have been drowning your brain in chemicals, messing with your brain chemistry and leading to some inevitable and serious damage (though not permanent, in most cases). It will take awhile for your brain chemistry to return to normal, and for your emotions to regulate in a healthy way. It is perfectly normal to experience unexplainable lows, changes in mood, and increased anxiety. In fact, many treatment centers will offer psychological and psychiatric care, and many newly sober individuals will need to go on a low-dose anti-depression or anti-anxiety medication. In most cases, individuals will be tapered off of these medications within the first year – they are simply prescribed to help regulate brain activity. If you don’t go on medication, you will probably experience some swift changes in mood. Try to remember that emotions and feelings are always temporary – they are never permanent. Also, remind yourself that feeling this way is normal. You aren’t damaged, you aren’t weird, and you definitely aren’t alone. Ride out your emotions… allow yourself to experience them. This is simply a part of healing.

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So long as you do what you can to remain grateful and prioritize your recovery, you will be just fine. Our Trained Profession staff at Immersion Recovery Center will help you map out a detailed aftercare program, ensuring that you have a plan in place to keep you on the right track. If you have any further questions, our staff is more than happy to answer them – give us a call at any time 24/7 at (888) 693-1604.


Reviewed for accuracy by :

Serving as the Inpatient Clinical Director at Immersion Recovery Center, Susan will work directly with staff members, clients, and family members to ensure the clinical program remains as effective and individualized as possible. Susan is no stranger to the fields of behavioral health and addiction. She has over 25 years of experience, working in an inpatient setting, an outpatient setting, acute stabilization and nearly all other settings in the realm of addiction recovery.