Addiction Therapy & Counseling

Petaluma Therapy & Counseling for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

A Fundamental Question for Those in Early Recovery

If you are early in your recovery from drug or alcohol abuse, or if you have recently overcome a relapse, you know all too well the insidious power of addiction. Early recovery is a profoundly important stretch of one’s path to sustained recovery from addiction. It is a period of vulnerability, however, requiring exquisite attention to the subtle tug of addiction and the denial that often comes with it.

The newly clean and sober individual faces hefty challenges. He or she must face life—and all of its messy twists and turns—without relying on the destructive crutch of drugs or alcohol. He or she must manage emotions, negotiate relationships, overcome stress, re-engage with commitments and responsibilities, and pick up the tattered pieces of his or her life, all while making sobriety a priority. As if that were not enough, the newly clean and sober individual must do so while in a particularly vulnerable state. Recovery symptoms are the primary reason for this vulnerability. As the brain, body, and psyche heal in early recovery, a number of expectable symptoms frequently emerge. These include: disrupted sleep, decreased or increased appetite, restlessness, fatigue, headaches, muscle and join pain, inability to focus, poor concentration, intense mood swings, irritability, difficulty making decisions, and feelings of guilt and worthlessness.

Given this vulnerable state in which newly recovered individuals frequently find themselves, I work to simplify my psychotherapy approach during this crucial period. When working with clients, I remind them over and over of a fundamental question they must consistently ask themselves with every choice they make. If this question guides their decisions, I have found that clients significantly reduce the chances of relapse. This question is: Does this decision support my recovery or put my recovery at risk? Every single choice—whether or not to eat breakfast, go to the gym, see friends who are still using, take supplements, attend a 12-Step meeting today—must be guided by this simple question.

The question is intentionally simple—it is meant to be black and white. Early in recovery, individuals often struggle with life’s grey areas, especially those grey areas having to do with sustaining recovery. When in the grip “addictive behavior,” a simple, straightforward measure is necessary. Often an individual knows, in their heart of hearts, what decisions put them at risk. Nonetheless, denial in early recovery is frequently quite strong, and can lead to some difficulties answering this question. Or, sometimes it is not denial at all, but naïve happiness about being clean and sober, that could get someone into trouble. I work with individuals to help them think through this question for many of their daily decisions. Also, I encourage clients to call on their support system—trusted friends, family members, fellow 12-Steppers, and sponsors—to help answer this fundamental question. By strengthening the capacity to answer this question honestly, newly recovered individuals regain the capacity to think into the future and anticipate potential consequences of their actions. 

So, if you are new to recovery or have recently crawled out of a relapse, consider this question to keep yourself moving toward the life you want: Does this decision support my recovery or put my recovery at risk? Sil Machado, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who offers psychotherapy and counseling in Santa Rosa, CA. He has extensive experience helping individuals and couples struggling with addiction and compulsive behaviors, including drug and alcohol abuse, sex addiction, internet pornography addiction, and codependency. Dr. Machado takes an integrative approach in which he blends depth and experiential psychotherapies with evidece-based practices in a manner suited to the unique needs of each client.