Recovery: A Hierarchy of Needs
When you leave treatment and are in recovery, you may feel a bit overwhelmed by the enormity of your new life. At times, it may seem as if there is so much you have to deal with that you don’t know what to tackle first, or you are tempted to throw in the towel and go back to your using ways. While you fight the urges and cravings, you still need help to make your way through your daily new clean and sober existence.
It may be helpful to look at recovery as a hierarchy of needs.
Basic Survival Needs
Primary are your needs for basic survival. These include having a roof over your head, protection from the elements, enough food to eat – basically shelter and food. While you were in treatment, things may have already deteriorated financially or with respect to your living situation so that now you have to find alternate accommodations. Or, it may be that where you lived before simply isn’t suitable anymore. The individuals you previously lived with may be still using drugs or alcohol – and you really can’t be around them and remain abstinent.
Finding, or maintaining your place to live has to be at the top of your list. Part of your recovery may involve a temporary stay in a sober living home, which allows you time to transition into a more independent living arrangement. Or, you could find yourself renting an inexpensive room while you work on building up your finances to be able to afford your own place.
Be sure to keep nourishment high on your list of must-do items as well. Shop wisely and buy food that provides all the right ingredients for good health: proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, limited amount of fats and sugars. In fact, stay away from refined sugars altogether, as these are simply a substitute for the sugar in alcohol – and aren’t good for your recovery.
Establish and maintain a regular diet, eating three meals each day. Do not skip breakfast, as the body needs essential vitamins and minerals early in the day to jump-start the metabolism and keep energy high. When energy levels dip due to lack of food intake, depression, anxiety and irritability risks increase.
Moving Ahead Financially
Once your basic needs are met with respect to food and shelter, you can give more serious attention to repairing your job situation. If you’ve lost your job, been fired or quit, now’s the time to actively look for gainful employment. Recognize that you will probably have to start at a lower salary than you had before, but that it is only temporary. Similarly, you may not be able to land a job right away, or in the same capacity as you had previously. This too, is temporary.
The important thing is that you do resume working. As you go to work each day, you are establishing a pattern of responsibility, making a gainful living, providing for yourself and your basic needs, and setting the stage for moving ahead financially. Use this first job in recovery as a stepping stone to the next one. Always keep an eye on the future in terms of how you may be able to utilize the skills you have for more responsibility.
On the other hand, if your previous, pre-treatment job was highly stressful and one you don’t want to go back to, use this time in recovery to either go back to school or learn new skills, or seek a job in a different field. Consider your interests as well as your abilities. What is the job or career you always dreamed of? While you may not yet be able to obtain a position in that field, you can certainly start getting the training or education such a job requires. Put this on your list of long-term goals.
Need for Social Connection
Those in recovery need friends, people who understand their circumstances and accept them as they are. These may be your allies in your support groups at first, those friends you’ve made in Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous or another support group. These individuals have all been where you are and will support you through the tough times of your initial stages of recovery.
Later, as you make new, sober friends at work, school, in the neighborhood or through various recreational, leisure or hobby activities, you will find your social network broadening. Just be sure these are non-drinking, non-using individuals, or you’ll sabotage your efforts and your resolve to remain clean and sober.
Need for Intimacy
None of us exist in a vacuum. Besides friendships, we all need love. For men and women, this usually equates to a sharing of sexual intimacy. But love also encompasses the intense bond between parent and child, and between siblings. As for searching out a prospective partner to share love with, it’s true that the harder you search, the less likely you are to find true love. You may easily obtain a sexual dalliance, but that’s not love. Try working on establishing true friendships based on mutual interests first, and then see if it develops into something more meaningful. Don’t ever force yourself – or another – into a relationship that doesn’t naturally evolve.
Speaking of love, at first when you’re in recovery, this may seem like the last thing you could want or need. It’s common for persons in recovery to feel totally unlovable, worthless, beyond hope. In fact, it’s one of the pieces of heavy emotional baggage you have to work on with your aftercare therapist or counselor. Before you can truly love another, you have to truly love yourself. This means you have to forgive yourself for your past transgressions.
Just be open to the idea of love at this point. Give yourself permission to be loved in return.
Need to Grow Spiritually
It may be difficult to remember a time when you felt uplifted and fabulously alive – without the chemical aid of drugs or alcohol. You may have to dredge your mind to recall such a time – but it is there, and it can be again. In fact, it absolutely must be there again in order for you to truly realize your potential in your life in recovery.
To achieve joy in all things, to see beauty in everyday life, to laugh, express and receive love, you must grow spiritually. This doesn’t mean you have to attend a specific church or participate in any religious organization. It can simply be attuning yourself to your own inner spirit, your own higher power or being. Of course, if religion has been important in your life pre-drugs and alcohol, it can be a very powerful influence in helping you to regain your joy in life.
Use prayer, self-reflection, meditation and/or other relaxation techniques to help you quiet the turmoil of outside life. This may be incredibly difficult to do at first, and you may be tempted to think it’s silly or not worthwhile. Nothing could be further from the truth. When you ask for help – from God, a higher power, your inner spirit or self – you are admitting you don’t have the answers; you aren’t all knowing and all-powerful. You are just an individual searching for the answers as to how to live a good and rewarding life. By doing this self-introspection, meditation, or praying each day, however, you are building up a reserve of goodwill inside your self that will reap incredible rewards for your psyche and well being.
Whether your prayer or self-intention or mantra is something you remember or use in meetings – or something you make up yourself – is irrelevant. The important point is to do it, and do it often. At times of stress or when drug cravings occur, close your eyes and silently say your words. Imagine a feeling of bliss, of total peace and lovingness. Take yourself out of the negative situation or thoughts and exist completely on the plane of content. Breathe in and out deeply, concentrating only on the sound of your breath. This is a form of meditation that can help you achieve a feeling of stasis.
Need to Dream
No mention of the hierarchy of needs in recovery would be complete without addressing the need to dream. What this entails is the permission you give yourself to plan for the future, to dream of what you really want, and to make plans to go after it. It doesn’t matter what your dream is, or how long it takes to achieve it. It does matter that you do dream, that you do have goals, and that you do take incremental steps to progress toward that dream.
You’re in recovery. You’re now in the first stage of the rest of your life in recovery. You have already achieved an incredible accomplishment. Now, go forward and live your life in recovery, finding new hope and increasing joy in each day – and every day. You absolutely deserve it!