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Staying Motivated: Avoiding Recovery Burnout

Staying Motivated: Avoiding Recovery Burnout

by Lianne O’Donnell

Topic at a glance:

Addiction is a Progressive illness

There’s an old saying that, whilst you’re sitting in a recovery meeting, your addiction is outside doing press ups. With this in mind let’s think about our recovery as a muscle – a muscle we train, strengthen, build, and make strong. Recently reading an article on exercise burnout, I thought about applying the same principles of exercise burnout to early recovery. It may be a helpful tool to keep you on track.

Hope Rehab Sunrise View

We all know that that during the first weeks of January the gym is full of people keen to make change to their bodies, but by mid-February, it’s emptying out with the same old faces who’ve been there month in month out still around, but the majority of those inspired people who came after Christmas now just a memory. What about those who stayed, what have they done to stick to a new regime as a way of life?

On leaving treatment your recovery will be strong – you’ve just spent 30-60 days working all aspects of a diverse and robust treatment programme. You’re equipped with recovery tools, good habits, and positive mind-set ready to get out there and live life on life’s terms. So what can go wrong?

The Stages of Recovery Burnout

Stage 1 – New Beginnings / Honeymoon

You knew you needed change in your life but didn’t know what it would involve, you came to treatment and after a couple of weeks, started to become the change you’d wanted to see. You did everything you could to work on your recovery – on time to every group, doing every activity, embracing each new recovery tool that was handed to you.

When you go home it is vital to keep that momentum going.

Burn out can happen when you expect too much too soon, the changes you are making are great – but this is progress not perfection, keep going and don’t be deterred by set backs.

Each day is a fresh start.

It can be overwhelming to look at your recovery as a never ending road ahead but the longest period of sobriety is just 24hrs. Get through each day, doing the right things and each day you will build a stronger recovery. You’ll only regret the workout you didn’t do … keep training that recovery muscle.

Stage 2 – Disenchantment / Procrastionation

Like in fitness, there is a danger that your “excitement will fade when you don’t see results right away”. Sometimes we look past out small achievements, compare and despair with the progress of others, and fail to notice the significance of the changes we are making each day.

Writing a gratitude list and reminding ourselves of how far we have come is a vital part of building your recovery muscle. It gives momentum to a day to be fuelled by our achievements of the previous day rather than the anxiety of what we didn’t do.

Challenge your negative self talk and motivate your recovery muscle.

“I didn’t go to a meeting yesterday, I am letting myself down, this is all too much, how am I going to do this?”

Can be turned into…

“I am grateful I didn’t go to a meeting yesterday and feel disappointment as now I know how important it is for me to go to a meeting today!”


“I have a craving, I want to use, I can’t do this”

Can be turned into…

“I am grateful for this craving, like others it will pass and it reminds me to keep working my programme so I will not have a moment of weakness and give in to it”

Stage 3 – Stalling

Boredom is said to be a choice. When we choose to be bored, we are choosing the million and one things that we could be doing to elevate that boredom in favour of sitting with that discontentment.

Once we master a new skill, we tend to continue doing it, we feel good, it boosts our self esteem and we get a pleasure and satisfaction from our personal development. It can however breed complacency which is dangerous pitfall in recovery.

Variety is the spice of life … if you feel bored with a meeting but keep attending one meeting a week on the same night then why not shake it up? Travel to a part of your city or a nearby town you’ve never seen before, take in a meeting there, get a coffee and walk around and explore your surroundings.

If you’ve been doing the same work out every morning, why not change? You can change your running route, sign up to a new class, search online for workout videos.

Try to explore new hobbies and interests. It’s common after significant change in life such as bereavement, end of a relationship and of course post-rehab to experience what is known as an existential crisis, embrace it! You have a blank canvas to springboard from. Try new things, if you don’t enjoy or it’s not for you, then great, you know yourself a little better for the experience. If you love it then congratulations, you’ve just found your new passion in life!

Stage 4 – Frustration and the “The F**k-It’s”

If you haven’t kept up using your tools then you may now have fell into the trap of total loss of motivation. Your recovery has now slid from your list of priorities and you’re laying on the couch feeling sorry for yourself and feeling if not relapse is inevitable, then living as a dry drunk is.

The term dry drunk comes from idea that all though not using all the addict behaviours are rife and being allowed free reign of the addicts mind. The mind has once again been hijacked by the disease.

How to Stay Motivated in Recovery

Accountability – we are more likely to do something if we are taking our accountability into consideration. Committing to stay in contact with your Hope peers, setting a weekly goal to check in with the aftercare page.

Don’t give up, you have proven before you are capable of positive change, this can just be a blip. Muscles have memory, start using your tools and strengthen that recovery muscle … in no time you can regain that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment you felt walking out of Hope.

Remember, there is always Hope.

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