The following is an text adaptation of Chris Scott’s “solo-cast” on The Elevation Recovery Podcast. You can listen to this episode here.
What is “Early Recovery?”
The term is somewhat subjective, and everyone has different recovery timelines. But I think of it generally as the first few weeks or months without alcohol or drugs in which we still feel unbalanced and fragile, physically and emotionally.
It’s distinct from the detox phase, which is marked by acute withdrawal. So when I say “early recovery” I’m talking about the onset of post-acute withdrawal, which can last for weeks, months, or even years if it’s not dealt with properly.
I’m going to share methods with you that will help you dominate post-acute withdrawal in early recovery so that you can optimize your brain and body, and start living your life instead of obsessing about your so-called recovery.
Now if you’ve seen my website Fit Recovery, you’ll know that my experience deals primarily with alcohol. Matt Finch [my co-host] deals mostly with opiates. But while different drugs involve different detox methods, and different acute withdrawal experiences, the strategies that minimize post-acute withdrawal in early recovery are pretty similar regardless of which substance hijacked your brain.
So now I’m going to share 6 strategies that helped me, with anecdotes from my story. These strategies have also helped a LOT of my online course members and private clients. Alright, so let’s jump right into it.
- Tip #1: Devise a supplement & nutrition regimen as soon as possible.
- Tip #2: Start a workout routine ASAP!
- Tip #3: Gather at least 2 confidants and work on your relationships with them.
- Tip #4: Transform your environment to eliminate triggers and promote a fresh new sense of life.
- Tip #5: Transform your routines holistically.
- Tip #6: Embark on a mission to increase your self-knowledge, as well as knowledge about the world around you.
Tip #1: Devise a supplement & nutrition regimen as soon as possible.
You’re probably not surprised to hear me say this, since I’m known as the supplement guy. But Nutrition really is the biggest ignored factor in most recovery programs.
And it’s tragic, because people are suffering needlessly, trying their very best to improve their lives and even be saints in the case of some perfectionists I’ve worked with, and they completely lack the biochemical support they need to feel relaxed, energized, or even to sleep or make it through a day without having a panic attack during early recovery.
To make a long story short, alcohol and other drugs cause long-lasting deficiencies in nutrients, neurotransmitters, and “feel-good” hormones. These deficiencies are directly responsible for most of the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal, including anxiety, cravings, depression, insomnia, and even compulsive behavior or “cross-addiction.”
We have literally thousands of studies dating back to the 1950s that support the use of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, and herbs for enhancing recovery.
Often these nutrients have to be taken in large doses for 1-3 months to achieve the desired effect. But that’s the beauty of it – you only need most of them for a few months, and then you’re permanently rebalanced, and you can keep the supplements as a kind fo insurance policy for later use if you need them.
It’s a pain in the ass to master this subject, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that if I hadn’t done it, you wouldn’t be listening to my voice right now. I might be doing my 7th stint in rehab. That’s how important it is.
I actually discovered the benefits of supplementation gradually, in a sort of piecemeal way, during my first 6 months off of alcohol. Along the way, I found a series of “miracle supplements” that patched up holes in my biochemistry nearly overnight, catapulting me to better health and sense of well-being. These miracle supplements are different for everyone due to biochemical individuality.
Most people have a LOT of trouble escaping post-acute withdrawal because they never learn about supplements and they eat a “standard American diet.” It was common when I was in rehab years ago to see people eating mac and cheese, fries, and an ice cream sundae for lunch.
Because I valued my fitness, I made better food choices. But I didn’t realize at the time how crucial these choices were for my brain health and mood. When I say better choices, I mean that I generally chose whole, unprocessed foods with no added sugar. If it comes from a farm it’s food, if it comes from a factory it’s “foodstuff.” I don’t eat “foodstuffs” because I like feeling good.
I get a lot of questions from people about whether to start fancy diets in early recovery, and I generally say just simplify and start with whole foods. There’s no point in going through “keto flu” and post-acute withdrawal at the same time. Once you reach a baseline level of stability, you can experiment as much as you want.
I should mention that I’ve found in my work with private clients that the physical or biochemical reset begins before the mental reset. And the more thorough your physical reset is, the more impressive your mental reset will be.
When I say “reset,” I don’t necessarily mean “going back” to where you were before your addiction – I mean reaching a new place in which you’re more healed and balanced than you’ve ever been.
This is totally possible after quitting alcohol or drugs and both Matt and I can attest to it.
And it begins with biochemical repair, because repairing your body and brain provides the groundwork for subconscious reconditioning.
I’m not going to into further detail about the specific supplements here, since I have other tips that I want to cover. But we have some great episodes that discuss Nutrient Repair, including one that Matt Finch did with Julia Ross, who is a pioneer of biochemical repair for various disorders including addiction. It’s really a recurring theme on this podcast.
Tip #2: Start a workout routine ASAP!
I started hitting the tiny gym in rehab as soon as I was off of my benzodiazepines. I couldn’t do much, and it was pretty embarrassing. I was weak and had very little motivation.
I started off with 15 minutes pretty easy on the elliptical, and that was it. Each morning I would get up at the same time and get it done.
Eventually I added in a few sets of machines that they had there. I kept adding intensity little by little, trying to be compassionate to myself, but also allowing myself to chase the natural euphoria a little bit.
I used these mini-workouts as an opportunity to get out of my head and visualize what I wanted in life. I call this workout fantasizing – as you get used to your workouts, the runner’s high or lifter’s high starts to predictably kick in, and you can creatively imagine where you want to go in life.
You reach a sort of “flow state” in which your prefrontal cortex disengages and your creativity runs on autopilot. Scientists call this state exercise-induced hypofrontality.
But you can proactively feed this flow state and picture things that excite you. I used to picture myself working from home, even though I had no idea how I’d make that happen.
I also used to picture myself going to the beach with my ideal physique, which alcohol had prevented me from achieving. I pictured myself totally victorious over alcohol addiction and being able to enjoy my friends and family without alcohol.
These visualizations blended with the natural endorphin release from my workout, and provided fuel for the law of attraction – which is to say, we have a better chance of getting things that we’ve visualized and directed mental energy towards.
The type of exercise that you choose is totally up to you. Start easy and build intensity over time.
I like to say “Get a sweat a day.” Getting a sweat usually correlates with a nice feeling of release that provides positive reinforcement. I went from basic cardio and machines at first, to very heavy weights, sprints, and martial arts – all of which I’d had experience with before alcohol took over my life.
Do what makes you happy and find workout partners, since they’ll make your workouts WAY more fun, adding some oxytocin to your endorphin rush. They’ll make sure that you get to the gym when it’s too rainy or too sunny or whatever other bullshit reason you don’t want to work out.
Tip #3: Gather at least 2 confidants and work on your relationships with them.
By “confidant,” I mean someone you can trust and who roots for you during the recovery process. This is a tricky subject, so rather than try to come up with blanket guidelines that a therapist might be better at devising, I’ll tell you about my experience.
I was fortunate to have 4-6 VERY good friends, guys I’d known since high school and college, and I called them all right before I decided to quit drinking. I’d hit rock bottom and things were pretty bad. Very bad.
I spent some time in detox and when I got out, even though I still felt unstable, at least I had these guys to support me while I found my way and eventually discovered supplements and other strategies that changed my life.
One of the things I’ve been most shocked by as a recovery coach is the prevalence of loneliness. There are so many people out there who need support but don’t want to burden others with their problems.
I admit that I was lucky to have forged genuine bonds with friends who had my back from Day 1. But there are options even if you don’t have preexisting relationships.
AA is the traditional route, and some of my clients have lifelong friends from AA. But the beauty of the so-called “digital recovery revolution” is that it’s bringing together people who need each other but would otherwise never find each other. There are great communities of people in my course, Total Alcohol Recovery 2.0, and Matt Finch’s opiate detox courses.
Fitness is another great way to meet new friends who can become part of your support network over time.
After I quit drinking, I moved in with a few acquaintances who I knew through good friends. It was just us 3 guys, and I was studying to become a personal trainer and they still worked in finance.
When I learned that one of them literally didn’t know how to cook anything – he actually asked me how to microwave his takeout order once – I told them we should start cooking dinner every night and going to the gym. The three of us started eating together and working out every night, at the same time of night that I used to get obliterated on the couch alone.
This way, I actually “crowded out” my old drinking routine – I couldn’t go back to it if I’d wanted to, because I had two growing friendships, and these guys depended on me to have dinner with and then workout with.
By the time we finished the gym, it was often 11 PM and time for bed anyway. These guys came to admire my story because I framed everything positively, and on weekends they wouldn’t have let me drink if I’d wanted to.
Tip #4: Transform your environment to eliminate triggers and promote a fresh new sense of life.
The first thing I did in early recovery, which for me started in the real world when I came home from detox, was rearrange all of the furniture in my room.
I also got rid of stuff that reminded me of drinking, including two leather bucket seats that I LOVED but which had become synonymous in my mind with sitting and drinking.
Your environment also includes where you live, so it’s worth considering whether you live in the best place to optimize your chances of dominating early recovery.
I quit drinking in Atlanta, but ultimately ended up moving to Savannah. I loved both cities but I’ve always needed to be near water to feel centered. A recent study showed that people in coastal areas, especially areas with a lot of natural scenery, have significantly higher levels of well-being.
Tip #5: Transform your routines holistically.
Supplements are crucial, but optimizing yourself goes way beyond that. I’ve tried to integrate a number of basic practices into my life on a regular basis. I actually have a list of them here:
- 20 Minutes of Sunlight Per Day – This sounds like a luxury, but if you consider that we evolved to spend time in the sun, it’s not. A lot of the benefits are obtained through your eyes, so don’t wear sunglasses all the time, unless you’re dealing with glare like in traffic or on the water. I even used a light box that my mom got my in early recovery, and found that 20 minutes each morning made me feel less bummed out. And I was pretty bummed out at the time.
- Connecting with Earth & Nature – A recent study found that people with chronic pain, inflammatory issues, and mood/sleep problems benefited from walking barefoot each day. I didn’t believe this study until I read it, but you can find it by Googling “earthing health study.” It turns out that earthing promotes a stable internal bioelectrical environment that supports all body systems. I use barefoot walks outside or on the beach when I have periods of insomnia or inflammatory issues, and I wish I’d known this when I was in early recovery.
- Hot/Cold Exposure – As we discussed on our podcast with the Studio City Cryotherapy guys, exposure to cold temperatures can definitely help with recovery. It does this by increasing levels of epinephrine and releasing anti-inflammatory compounds that improve both health and mood. Similar benefits are obtained from heat exposure, although you want to make sure to stay hydrated. I didn’t know about this strategy in early recovery, but for the past year I’ve used a steam room or sauna and a cold plunge pool pretty much every day. In fact, I did it right before I prepared for this podcast because it makes my mind sharper and my mood better.
- Regular Massage – I used to think of massage as a self-indulgent luxury. Not anymore. The health benefits of massage are now better documented than ever before, and recovering from addiction is a holistic process. Feeling “restless, irritable and discontent” is a physiological issue as much as a psychological one – and it’s one that I ultimately resolved with supplementation, yoga, and a deep tissue massage every 2 weeks.
- Proactive Morning & Evening Routines – After spending years with routines that revolved around alcohol, it was actually really refreshing to create powerful new routines that I could repeat every day, adding structure and predictability to my life. I created a morning routine that made me excited to take on the day, and an evening routine that relaxed me and ushered me off into blissful sleep. Without going into detail here, I’ll just say, find things that you really like and incorporate them into your daily routines.
Tip #6: Embark on a mission to increase your self-knowledge, as well as knowledge about the world around you.
Alcohol and drugs are such confining substances.
Once you grasp the enormity of what you’ve been missing in the world in your addicted state – which, actually, is only possible to fully appreciate once you’ve repaired your brain enough to “feel good naturally” – then you’ll see how confining your old familiar drinking or drug culture was as well.
It’s stale and limiting. Boring and tasteless. Silly even, once you’ve got enough time away from your addiction.
So instead of ruminating about people or entertaining delusions about the familiar, become a student of human nature. Master something new and pursue value in life in a way that you never have before.
In my own early recovery, I tried to tackle the problem of “letting go” of social expectations and being my own person.
I started setting all of the standards in my life instead of chasing after arbitrary ones set by others.
And all of this led me to teaming up with my cohost Matt Finch, and talking with you today.
So I’ll rephrase that, because I’m not sure how clear I’ve made it: Rediscover the best parts of who you were before your addiction, and fuse those parts with new lessons you’ve learned.
Take on new roles in your personal and professional life when you’re ready. Map out a blueprint of how you’re going to get there, but be compassionate enough to yourself to realize that you won’t get there in a day.
And I really believe that if you incorporate some of the suggestions I’ve included here, the little dopamine kicks that you get from pursuing your new life post-addiction – and I mean REAL dopamine kicks, not artificial drug-induced ones – will absolutely, 100% keep you going until you get there.
Give yourself permission to enjoy the process of transformation.