As the new year approaches, it is common for people to reflect on the past year and assess their goals for the year ahead. If you’re new to recovery, you might find goal-setting difficult. What can and should you expect from your new life? What will your first year of recovery be like?

Predicting the Unpredictable

No two recovery journeys are identical. What works for one person may not work for another. People differ in what type of recovery meetings they prefer, what type of sponsor they relate to, and what they find most challenging about sobriety. While it can be helpful to talk to other people who are in recovery, try to understand that each journey is unique and shouldn’t be viewed as “right” or “wrong.”

Because there is no clearly defined path to sustained sobriety, the road can be pretty unpredictable. For this reason, flexibility and adaptability are a must for any person in recovery.

The First Week

The initial week after a person gets sober is generally unpleasant, as the body and brain are adjusting to life without chemicals they’ve depended on to function. This is a time when good medical care can be crucial in alleviating withdrawal symptoms, which may include:

  • Anxiety (can manifest as anger)
  • Hallucinations
  • High temperature
  • Increased or decreased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Abdominal pain
  • Suicidal thoughts

The Rollercoaster Ride

The first year in recovery is difficult to describe in specific terms, but it is generally fairly accurate to say that it is a rollercoaster. There are ups and downs. Some days are very easy, and others are incredibly difficult. You may be discouraged to find that you’re not feeling better even though the substances are out of your system. Learning how to survive the hard days without relapsing creates huge growth, though, and you’ll be able to look back on these times as marks of your courage.

Phases of Detox

There is a common misconception that detox only occurs in the first days of abstinence from a substance. As described by our partners at Valley Recovery Center, the detoxification process has phases. It is widely known that just after a person stops using, when the substances are leaving their body, they might need the help of medical professionals to deal with withdrawal symptoms. Many people consider this to be the full extent of detox.

Contrary to popular belief, however, a person in recovery doesn’t wake up one day, a week, or even two after ceasing substance use and feel like new. The second phase of detox is just beginning when the person’s body has cleared out the drugs from its system.


The second phase of detox, called Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), could be as short as two weeks or as long as several months. In rare cases, phase two can last longer than a year. What is critically important to remember is that PAWS is a phase and does not last forever. The duration and intensity of this second phase is determined by how long you were using, what you were using, and how much you used.

Symptoms of PAWS include:

  • Mood swings, especially emotional overreactions or depression/numbness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Cravings
  • Anxiety/panic attacks
  • Suicidal ideation and attempts
  • Inability to focus

Structuring a Successful Future

One of the words a person hears over and over in treatment is structure. In order to sustain long-term recovery, it is critical that you don’t allow yourself too much idle time. Treatment, with its scheduled counseling sessions, groups, and assignments, meets this need in the earliest phases of sobriety, but you’ll need to have a plan for how to structure your days after treatment ends.

Meetings and therapy can certainly continue post-treatment and add structure to your life. Other ways to create structure include:

  • Work – this can not only take up a substantial amount of time and give a person a sense of accomplishment, but it can also help to build up a strong support system.
  • Spiritual time – regularly attending a religious service, reading a text that is part of your faith tradition, meditating, or partaking in a mindfulness exercise can meet this criteria.
  • Volunteering – there are many different ways to volunteer, so customize it to fit your specific skills and interests
  • Giving back to the recovery community – by running a meeting, sharing your story, sponsoring someone who is newer to recovery, or driving people to meetings, there are many ways to help others who are trying to get and stay sober.

If you have questions about what recovery might look like for you or someone you love, Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, VA, invites you to reach out to us for more information.

For more information about programs at Safe Harbor Recovery Center, Virginia substance abuse rehab, contact us at (888) 932-2304. We are ready to help you make a new beginning.