On a South Florida beach, hundreds of miles from home, Lori Dilley Anthony has reached a turning point in her life.
She had traveled from Delaware for help for a nearly 35-year addiction to opioids and other drugs. She had checked in at the same treatment center as her husband, who had made the trip the previous month.
On a hot and humid September day, the couple and other residents of the center made their way to the beach, one of Anthony’s favorite spots. As the sun began to set, she and her husband sat down in the sand to talk. He told her he loved her but wanted a divorce. Anthony was devastated.
She was alone in an unknown place, still fragile in her recovery. She stayed in bed for 3 days, fighting the urge to get high and refusing to join the treatment program. Eventually there was a change. “It’s like God put His hands on me and said, ‘You’re worth something. Wake up now. You have to move on. ”
Anthony says that although the experience was a low point, it was the best thing that could have happened to him. It was time for a new chapter.
Addiction experts say one of the most important first steps in rebuilding your life after opioids is to get sober and stay sober from all drugs and alcohol.
“Some people addicted to opioids may think opioids are the only problem and start drinking alcohol socially or smoking marijuana again,” says Aaron Sternlicht. He has been sober on opioids since 2012 and is the co-founder of New York-based Family Addiction Specialist. “While it is possible for some to do this in moderation, it can often lead people back to the drug of their choice.”
He suggests avoiding all substances early in recovery from addiction. Later, when you are consistent and stable in your sobriety, you may be able to indulge in moderation.
Anthony went into detox for 28 days, followed by a recovery program. She participated in group therapy with others struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. She has been sober since 2016.
The structure and daily routine keep you on track as you recover from an opioid addiction. Try to plan your day from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed. Find a hobby that you enjoy. Spend time with sober friends who share similar interests.
When you’re busy, your mind is less likely to get lost in using drugs or other negative thoughts. Sternlicht warns, however, that too much on your plate can also be harmful. “Stay busy, but not to the point that it becomes a distraction from dealing with underlying issues like trauma or mental health,” he says.
Remember to take care of your physical health as well. Opioid addiction often triggers eating disorders. This results in missed meals and poor food choices. As many as 35% of people who abuse drugs or alcohol also have an eating disorder, which is 11 times higher than those who do not abuse it.
Regular exercise also helps in recovery from addiction. It can curb drug cravings, relieve stress, and occupy your time. It also releases chemicals called endorphins from the pituitary gland for pain relief and a natural effect. “When you’re feeling good, you’re less likely to want to use drugs,” says Sternlicht.
Today, Anthony’s life is very different from when she was in the depths of addiction. She has a house and bought a car with the money she saved from working in a cleaning company.
When she’s not working, Anthony enjoys cooking and going to flea markets. She also dabbled in painting, mainly tree landscapes, purple blue skies, flowers and beach scenes. She’s proud of herself, which she couldn’t say for years. “I’m doing things I could never have done when I was addicted to drugs.”
Friends, family, sponsors and counselors are an essential part of the addiction recovery process, providing support and a listening ear.
Like many, Anthony has faced episodes of depression and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. She had little urges to get high. Instead, she called her advisor, Angela Robinson, who she speaks to regularly.
Robinson is a licensed mental health counselor and clinical director of NorthNode Group Counseling in Dover, DE. In her work with clients, she uses cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of talk therapy. It focuses on identifying the complex issues in your life, the emotions around them, and reshaping harmful or false thought or behavior patterns.
Robinson says drugs are a mask for deep problems you might be afraid to face. “It’s never a question of substance. These are always the reasons you use them. “
Support groups like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous offer individual therapy for those recovering from opioid addiction. They also give them the chance to share their struggles and successes and to encourage each other to stay clean. “Having conversations within these groups can give people the understanding that someone else knows what they’re going through, but maybe approach or see it differently,” says Robinson.
Addiction tears relationships apart and curing them will not happen overnight. It takes a lot of time and patience to restore confidence. It is important to recognize your role in the deterioration of the relationship and then to show that you have changed by your actions.
Unhealthy relationships can trigger a relapse. Talk to the people in your life about your recovery and how they can help you through this process. There are resources such as support groups and family therapists for relatives of recovering people.
Anthony surrounded herself with positive influences and is now working to rebuild fractured relationships. After stopping talking for 14 years, she reunited with her sister and relies on other family members and friends for emotional support.
There are also the people she calls her guardian angels – family members who support her in spirit. Pictures of them hang on her wall at home: grandparents, an aunt and uncle, and a black-and-white snapshot of her mother and father cutting their wedding cake. She painted a colorful flowering vine that stretches with every photo on the wall behind them. They remind her of where she is from and a better future.
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