I spent over a decade numbing my feelings and emotions with regular intoxication. Some might think I reached rock bottom with my addiction, pushing limits most will never see. There’s truth in that. Despite coming from a great family, never worrying about food or shelter, and even earning a college football scholarship, I still fell deep into substance use. I wasn’t homeless and even had what some might call a successful work life before sobriety. Yet, for fourteen years, I was in the grip of alcohol and drugs. I started smoking weed at thirteen and finally got fully abstinent at twenty-seven.

My attempts at recovery in the past were half-hearted. I’d get drunk and claim to be “clean,” use drugs and say I was “sober.” It sounds ridiculous now, but I believed it then. Trouble with the law or family would push me toward support groups and outpatient programs, but I never fully committed. This time was different. I had escalated to IV drug use, taking anything I could get my hands on. Beaten down, I was finally ready to try someone else’s way to recovery.

After around sixty days sober, I was hopeful, motivated, and loving life. I wondered why I hadn’t tried this sooner. I felt that sobriety was possible for me. But then, around ninety days in, something changed. The hope and motivation vanished. I woke up restless, irritable, and discontent. After a few days, I hit my breaking point.

I was in long-term treatment with a therapist I saw regularly. In one session, I poured out my disdain for my current life in recovery. My therapist listened compassionately, then smiled. I was furious. When I asked what was funny, he explained Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). He shared his own experience with it, asking if I had mood swings, cravings, sleep disturbances, or trouble concentrating. My response was, “all of the above.” Though I believed him, I was skeptical. I told him if this was what sobriety would be like, I’d rather not be sober. He reassured me that it was okay to feel uncomfortable but not okay to sit on these feelings. These were the emotions I had used substances to escape for years. He explained that PAWS could emerge at different times during the first year of recovery and stressed the importance of using coping skills to manage it.

I began to understand that undoing fourteen years of daily substance use would take time. Even though I was active with my sponsor and attending at least two Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a day, I suddenly became miserable. When the “pink cloud” of early recovery burst, I ungracefully landed back in reality. I started to see how sophisticated my addiction had become. Without substances to cope, my body struggled to adjust.

Around the three-month mark, I got a job and had to socialize again. The first three months of recovery had been filled with meetings and therapy. Was my ninety-day PAWS related to starting a job? I’m no doctor, but it made me wonder. My drinking and drug use had always been tied to social settings and work. Now, for the first time in fourteen years, I was navigating these without substances. My body reminded me of its old coping mechanism: drinking and drugging through it.

With the help of my therapist and new coping skills, I overcame my ninety-day PAWS hump. I adjusted to having a job and reintegrating into society. Then my therapist suggested a home visit, triggering a new wave of anxiety. How would I handle being around my family without being intoxicated? What if my dad pissed me off? What if my sister annoyed me? What if I hurt my mom’s feelings? My discomfort grew as I stewed on these feelings, not realizing I was repeating the same pattern from ninety days in. My brain questioned why I wasn’t using alcohol to feel comfortable.

Throughout my first year of recovery, I had to learn to cope with PAWS repeatedly. To those not in recovery, PAWS might seem imaginary, but its symptoms were very real and scary for me. I feared I wouldn’t stay sober if I continued to feel like this. Yes, feelings aren’t facts, but for an alcoholic like me, consumed by long-buried emotions and thoughts, rational thinking can fly out the window. Speaking with other alcoholics keeps me grounded. This is why addiction is described as cunning, baffling, and powerful.

In hindsight, PAWS derailed my previous attempts at sobriety. Thank goodness I went into long-term treatment during my first year of recovery, with safeguards in place everywhere I turned. For those with loved ones struggling to get sober, know that early recovery is incredibly tough. I understand it can be hard to extend grace to someone who has regularly burned their life down. These early struggles are very real to us, and giving your loved one grace to navigate them with proper support is crucial.

Call Now Button