When I first started attending a 12-step program, I kept hearing people mentioning the word “pause” or in some cases “PAWS.” Both words are important to know about with regards to alcohol recovery after detox. The first refers to the act of stopping for a second before reacting, so you don’t do something that is consistent with your old drinking behavior. The Second refers to Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), more commonly known as “Dry Drunk Syndrome”.
What Is PAWS or Dry Drunk Syndrome?
Members of A.A. often refer to people who continue to maintain sobriety but do not follow the Big Book or work the 12-steps as “dry drunks”. They are sober but in many ways, they continue to act as if they were still drinking. Hazeldenbettyford.org notes, however, that “PAWS, occurs as the brain recalibrates after active addiction. These symptoms, unlike the first stage of acute withdrawal, typically involve more of the psychological and emotional aspects of withdrawal.”
The website furthers adds that “Depending on the duration and intensity of alcohol or other drug addiction, this secondary withdrawal syndrome can occur a few weeks into recovery or a few months down the road…Often, symptoms are triggered by stress or brought on by situations involving people, places or things that remind the individual of using.” In fact, I experienced some of the symptoms of alcohol recovery after detox well into a year.
Symptoms of PAWS
A person suffering from PAWS may be able to sustain from drinking alcohol, but they continue to deal with emotional and psychological problems as if they were still actively drinking. These may include continued,
- Mood Swings.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Poor decision-making and problem-solving skills.
- Inability to manage stress.
- Alcohol cravings.
- Strain in relationships with family and friends.
- Obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
In addition to these problems, alcohol recovery after detox includes learning how to reframe thoughts. It’s quite common for someone in recovery to obsess over the fear that they will drink even though they understand that their life depends on sobriety. Some alcoholics with liver, pancreas, or brain damage continue drinking right up until their death.
For others, to never drink alcohol again is to relinquish their main tool for managing pain, anxiety, and stress. Without alcohol, trauma survivors have to face the trauma of their past, and that can lead to overwhelm and eventual relapse. Additionally, the recovering alcoholic may become angry over other people’s sobriety success or resent other people’s ability to drink. They may also resent the courts or family members who have handed down an unwanted ultimatum.
“Quit drinking or else…”
Gratitude Helps Alcohol Recovery after Detox
Unfortunately, those problems (and the behaviors that came with them) are likely what led them to drink and what could lead them to relapse. In fact, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “There is evidence that approximately 90 percent of alcoholics are likely to experience at least one relapse over the 4-year period following treatment.”
With this in mind, your overall goal should not be to get sober and stay sober. Rather, it needs to be to change your brain for the better so that you learn to manage the symptoms that come with PAWS. There are many tools that can help with alcohol recovery after detox, but one of the easiest is to learn how to be grateful.
The art of practicing gratitude is just that – an art. It’s not always easy to feel thankful, especially when things aren’t going your way. Like any art, it takes practice to get good at it. After a while, however, you may find that gratitude becomes second nature. Being grateful can be as instinctual as realizing you are hungry, except in this case, rather than being hungry for food, you are hungry for the good things in life.
Benefits of Gratitude for Alcohol Recovery after Detox
Not only does gratitude help with recovery, but gratitude has lasting benefits that make life outside of alcohol recovery after detox better. Gratitude can help create,
- Greater satisfaction with everyday life.
- Better sleep patterns.
- Decreased depression levels.
- Increased dopamine production (the same chemical in your brain you used to get from alcohol).
But rewiring brain neurons sometimes takes some effort, especially if you’re already having a bad day. How can you get into the gratitude groove when you’re not feeling it? Here are 5 simple habits you can add to your daily routine that will help you increase your gratitude.
1. Take Joy in The Little Things
Early in recovery, it can be difficult to find huge things to be grateful for. After all, you’ve likely made a mess of your life and are troubled with bills, relationships, poor health, or career damage. Sometimes early in recovery, the only gratitude that we can genuinely feel is for the small things. Taking time to be thankful for the sun on your face, your morning coffee, or your dog might not seem significant. However, recognizing and appreciating these things will improve your mood. A few minutes each day to look for small things to appreciate has the interesting effect of making you notice the bigger items you can be grateful for as well.
2. Put Envy in Its Proper Perspective
Envy can do two things. For the alcoholic, it can make you angry because you can’t drink as normal people do. It can also provide motivation to get the things you really want. In other words, instead of being angry because your friend can drink and you can’t, change your focus to gratitude. Identify the ways their normal life can inspire you. What do they have that you really want? They might have a bigger house or a successful career. On the other hand, if they live in chaos because of continued alcohol use, you might see this as something you don’t want. In this case, having clarity about your desires makes you more inspired to obtain them.
The greater gift often goes to the giver. This is so true when it comes to gratitude. One of the most satisfying aspects of Alcoholics Anonymous is becoming a sponsor and helping others in recovery. Giving your time and experience can remind you to be grateful for overcoming adversity. It also reaffirms your gratitude to see another alcoholic’s progress and appreciation. In addition, becoming a sponsor teaches you things about yourself that you can take gratitude in. You may discover you have the patience and skills for working with people that were previously hidden.
If you aren’t involved in a recovery program and are not sure how you can volunteer, ask around. You can volunteer your time helping with a food program, in a women’s or men’s shelter, or at your local church.
4. Make Gratitude Habitual
New habits can be difficult to form, but this is one worth the effort. In fact, once the habit sets in, gratitude becomes as easy as getting dressed in the morning. First, scan your day for a time that easily welcomes a gratitude routine. I suggest early in the morning to set a tone of gratitude for the rest of the day. However, bedtime encourages you to reflect on the day and sleep soundly with a happy mind. On the other hand, thinking about things you can be grateful for while driving to work is much better than ruminating over that difficult co-worker. Regardless of the time you designate for gratitude, you may find that after a while, you have implemented aspects of gratitude throughout the entire day. In fact, this is quite common as finding gratitude becomes easier with practice.
5. Keep a Gratitude Journal
Writing it down makes it more real, and it gives you a record to easily reflect on when you are having difficulty finding things to be grateful for. In fact, this was my first exercise in gratitude and probably the most important for me during early alcohol recovery after detox. First, purchase a pocket-sized notebook and set a goal to write five things to be grateful for every day. Then put the notebook in a place where you are most likely to use it. This could be in the bathroom, the center console of your car, or in the kitchen.
A bonus suggestion would be to also write five affirmations about yourself in this journal. An affirmation is a positive statement about yourself or one that you would like to believe about yourself. Statements that are true you can be grateful for now, and the ones that you would like to believe get ingrained into your mind with repetition, so they become beliefs you will soon be grateful for. Don’t forget to include, “I am grateful to be sober today” to your gratitude list and, “I live a healthy sober lifestyle” to your affirmations.
You Don’t Have to Struggle with Alcohol Recovery after Detox
Alcohol recovery after detox can take a while to achieve, but it is much easier to stay sober when you live a life of gratitude. The serenity it creates helps with mood swings, stress, anxiety, sleep patterns, and alcohol cravings. It also increases forgiveness to assist in repairing relationships. Plus, it’s one of the easiest and least expensive tools you can add to your sobriety toolbox.
Has Alcohol Wrecked Havoc on Your Life?
Years ago I saw a Saturday Night Live episode in which Bob Newhart played a psychiatrist helping a patient, and his answer to the patient’s problems was, “Stop it!” This episode always reminds me of my own troubles with alcohol. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just “Stop it!”
The truth is, stopping drinking isn’t as easy as “Stop it” because at the core of the addiction is a brain that functions on faulty thinking. The alcoholic brain thinks I’m not worthy, I have no will power, this is what my parents did, and so many more negative ideas. It tries to rationalize drinking saying, “I don’t drink as much as…” or “I only have a few beers after work.” And it minimizes or skews the effects drinking has on our lives with things like “I’m a functioning alcoholic” or “A glass of wine relaxes me and makes me a better mom.”
This is where having a sobriety coach can help. A sobriety coach can help you understand your addiction whether you’re still trying to determine if you are an alcoholic or have stopped drinking and are in the “picking up your life” stage. Our journey together will help you reframe your thinking and find clarity about your life. Sobriety isn’t just about leaving alcohol and the problems that go with it in the past. Sobriety is also about learning how to live a life filled with grace, hope, and recovery from the thoughts that led you to drink in the first place.
If you want help with your sober life, contact me so we can schedule a free start-up consultation today.