Leaving recovery, most of us hope, want, and expect to suddenly step into a new and better life. You’ve put in the work, are going to therapy, and you should be happy from here on out, right? Unfortunately, that isn’t in God’s plan for everyone, and millions of us struggle with mental health problems and disorders, for years or even for life after a substance use disorder.
These problems range from temporary lows that last as long as 2-3 years following a substance use disorder, relating to how that substance affected your brain, to lifelong depression that’s a simple result of how your brain developed.
Depression makes substance use disorders more likely by making you vulnerable to them, but substance use disorders, even past ones, also make you more vulnerable to mental health disorders.
As a result, some 17.3 million people struggle with depression, and many of those also struggle with drug abuse, addiction, or a former addiction. In fact, 40% of the 18.5 million people with a substance use disorder also have a mental health disorder like anxiety or depression. It makes sense that you’d have mental health problems, especially as you navigate the trials of early sobriety.
The good news is that God doesn’t give anyone trials they cannot overcome. And, no matter how difficult life gets, you are not alone.
God may have given you trials to deal with, but he also gave you tools to manage those trials. Professional help for your mental health problems can help. At the same time, you likely also want to seek out professional help for your substance use disorder to ensure you don’t relapse. If depression rears up, you might find yourself drinking again just to cope. Avoiding that means being aware that it is a risk, getting help, and seeking out social support as you navigate your sobriety and your mental health problems.
Professional help can take the form of a therapist for your depression. You should ask for one. That will normally involve going to your doctor and discussing your depression, your physical health, your history of substance abuse, and your history of treatment. For example, your general practitioner will want to test your vitamin A and vitamin D levels. Deficiencies of either of these can overlap with symptoms of depression, and they’re more common if you’ve had recent alcohol use disorder. Similarly, quitting alcohol can result in short-term depression after you’ve quit. Your doctor and your therapist will need to know these things in order to make good decisions for your mental and physical health.
And, of course, their approach towards your treatment will depend on whether or not you already have a diagnosis for depression, when you received it, and how long you’ve been sober. But, in any case, you want to seek out professional support from the people who can help you to stay sober, while guiding you on a path to coping with and managing depression.
Whether you’re seeing a counselor, going to a 12-Step program, or taking part in a program offered by your church, you should stay in it. If you’re not going to one, you should invest the time to do so. Why? Depression is difficult to manage. You will find yourself looking for coping mechanisms. And continued investment in ongoing recovery will help you to keep your head and your intentions clear. Alcoholics Anonymous will give you the social support and social accountability, which helps to motivate you to stay sober.
If you can go, “I can’t drink, I don’t want to disappoint these people” and then have someone actually checking up on you, you’re a lot more likely to stay sober. And, because AA asks you to be accountable to yourself, to your peers, and to God, there’s a lot of motivation to avoid turning to alcohol when you experience problems.
Depression makes it harder for you to invest in yourself, in family, or in others. But, it’s important to fight that. Spending at least some of every week actively engaging with your family, friends, or community can greatly help your mental health. That might translate to going to church and taking part in volunteer activities to cook, help others, or to help out at the church. It might mean spending weekends with your parents or family. And, it might mean taking up sober activities with your friends like hiking, picking up trash around town, board gaming, or anything else you’d like. The idea is to make sure you spend at least some of your time engaged in social activities, because this will help you to motivate yourself through depression.
Eventually, God wants us to invest in and take part in caring for and being around others. Humans are social creatures. Don’t allow depression to force you to give that up.
Your body is your temple and depression can push you into poor care habits and routines. But, that’s detrimental not only for your short-term health, but also for your sobriety. If you attended rehab, you know that self-care routines like cleaning, good nutrition, and exercise will help you to stay sober. They’re also essential to your ability to show respect for yourself and for God. At the same time, it’s crucial to recognize that if you’re depressed, you’re going to have trouble doing those things.
Have structure in place to make sure that you can engage in healthy patterns even when you don’t have the energy.
For example, you might not have the energy to cook every day but you can meal prep and freeze portions of healthy food when you do feel good. You might not have the energy to go to the gym every day, but you can get out of bed and go for a walk most days. And, you can’t always ensure you get enough sleep but you can build a habit of getting up and going to bed at the same time every day, so it’s more likely that you have a healthy sleep schedule.
Managing depression is difficult. It’s more so if you’re also struggling to stay sober. And, early sobriety can cause depression. It’s important that you stick to your sobriety, while seeking out treatment. Most importantly, you will never do so alone. God is with you and He has put many resources in your way to help.