What You Should Know About Early Recovery and PAWS
The first few months of recovery are often filled with incredible highs and lows, and you may feel like you rarely know what’s coming around the next corner. You may find that you are fidgety, anxious, and unbalanced. This is because your body, mind and spirit are undergoing a tremendous amount of change and adjustment while trying to function without any alcohol.
These early days are quite difficult for sure! I would like to say that I remember them well, but I don’t. I do however, remember that in the first few weeks I felt really good and energized by my new-found sobriety! But then I would go through emotional spells when I felt happy and depressed, and calm and angry, all at the same time. It was really hard to deal with all the different feelings surfacing at once, as well as still feeling physically unhealthy. This emotional roller coaster often proved to be too much for me, and I ended up relapsing several times during this period.
If this sounds a bit familiar to you, you ma be experiencing some of the symptoms of PAWS.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome is a set of impairments that occur immediately after withdrawal from alcohol, usually the symptoms peak around four to eight weeks after quitting. The condition may last from six to eighteen months after the last use, and often fluctuating but incrementally improving.
Many of the problems associated with early sobriety do not stem directly from alcohol. Instead, most are associated with physical and psychosocial changes that occur after the alcohol has left our bodies. In early recovery we should accept that some period of feeling crappy is to be expected as our bodies and brain functions are slowly returning to normal. Stress especially aggravates PAWS symptoms because the natural chemicals like adrenaline, that help us to cope in stressful situations, aren’t back to full strength yet. (Source: Help Guide)
This period of time especially, requires patience and determination!
PAWS is known to have three major areas of impact upon the individual (Source: Sober Recovery):
Cognitive (possible effects):
- Concentration and attention span impaired.
- Racing or recycling thoughts (highly distracting).
- Thoughts scattered and incoherent.
- Rigid thinking and lack of (normal) required flexibility.
- Difficulties with abstract and conceptual thoughts.
- Cause and effect reasoning impaired.
- Themes and threads connecting events not recognized.
- Prioritization (management of one’s time and energy) impaired.
Emotional (possible effects):
- Emotionally dead or emotionally hyper.
- Small events of little consequence treated as catastrophic.
- Valent thoughts (not bonded with reality/experience) difficult to shake.
- Social withdrawal.
- Recovering alcoholic believes they are going, or have gone, mad.
- Lack of emotion affects personal resolve to stay sober.
Memory (possible effects):
- Recently learned information (within last 30 minutes) quickly forgotten.
- New skills or routines not learned or assimilated naturally (if at all).
- Information retained but then lost after days/weeks.
- Developmental and childhood memories broken (patchy early memory).
Post-acute withdrawal feels like a roller coaster of symptoms. In the beginning, your symptoms will change a minute to minute and hour to hour. Later as you recover further they will disappear for a few weeks or months only to return again. As you continue to recover the good stretches will get longer and longer.
During this time it is very important to allow yourself to FEEL, and recognize that, it is OK to feel, any way that you are feeling. It is also really important to take good care of yourself!
Be aware of H.A.L.T!
What is H.A.L.T. ? Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. I am not sure who come up with this acronym but it’s widely used in the 12 step programs and in recovery circles. A big part of staying sober is taking care of ourselves! When we were drinking we didn’t care about these things, one because the alcohol masked them and other because we were preoccupied with drinking anyway. But in sobriety, using this acronym is an easy way to recognize certain signs.
I think that Hungry and Tired is the most important for me. Often, when I am hungry and tired, and I’ve had a long day, and then I am aching or have a nasty headache… all of a sudden life seems so horrible that drinking seems appealing again, because that has been the only way I knew how to cope with any feelings!
If you find yourself in this situations, have something to eat as soon as possible. Taking care of the Hungry will often alleviate the other symptoms. Also go to a meeting, call someone, write about it, read blogs, and rest! Of course sleep, although it may be still unsettling, is the best cure for PAWS.
Remember that these crazy emotional roller coasters won’t last forever, so it is crucial not to get discouraged, and instead STAY POSITIVE! Most of all, remember that this is temporary and with time, and your new healthier lifestyle, these symptoms will subside.
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