Maintaining Sobriety Through Painful Anniversaries

Maintaining Sobriety Through Painful Anniversaries

For many people, particular dates are associated with painful memories. The date might mark the anniversary of a divorce, the loss of a loved one, a previous relapse or other traumatic experience. Normal holidays like Christmas or Valentine’s Day may also produce emotional stress if they are reminders of lost relationships. When the anniversary rolls around each year, the person may experience feelings of depression and a loss of joy. Painful memories increase the risk of relapse for recovering addicts, but there are several ways to avoid or minimize these feelings in a positive and productive manner.

Depressed Moods Increase Risk

Indulging depressed feelings can cause the brain to recall a time when drugs were the only way an addict might experience joy. The culprit behind this association is a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Pleasurable experiences from drug use stem from a surge in dopamine, and with extended use, natural production of the neurotransmitter decreases, and its receptors begin to desensitize. The Neurobiology of Learning and Memory journal published research in 2002 that used positron emission tomography to study dopamine levels, and found that the early stages of recovery are more difficult due to deficiencies in natural dopamine production. This hypodopaminergic state makes people feel unhappy and increases their desire to use drugs to compensate. As the recovery progresses, the brain slowly repairs the dopamine system, while positive and healthy lifestyle choices help with the healing process. Dopamine deficiency is also associated with depression, and a preoccupation with painful memories can potentially suppress natural production and trigger drug cravings to compensate. In other words, there is a real neurobiological reason why a sad state can increase the risk of relapse, and if a particular anniversary tends to trigger these feelings, it is important to take steps to preempt the pain.

How to Deal with Painful Anniversaries

There are several ways that recovering addicts can help themselves during painful anniversaries, including the following:

  • Anticipate the anniversary’s effect and make plans to do something you always enjoy
  • Make plans that include loved ones who can provide support and accountability
  • Discuss the anniversary with your recovery sponsor and talk again that day
  • Stay active the entire day and do not allow for downtime to wallow in sad thoughts
  • Refuse to indulge any negative thoughts or memories that day for any amount of time
  • Engage in exercise, yoga and other activities that naturally boost dopamine levels
  • Meet with a recovery therapist the week before the anniversary to prepare mentally

Traumatic loss is a common cause of painful anniversaries, but individuals who believe they are responsible for the loss often compound the pain with guilt, which can drive people to punish themselves as some form of penance. Rather than indulge in pain and guilt, individuals should mark such anniversaries by renewing their recovery commitments and engaging in healthy lifestyle choices and moving forward in positive and productive ways.

Addiction and Relapse Help

Rehabilitation centers offer the most effective therapies to help people struggling with addiction, relapse and recovery struggles. From full-time inpatient treatment to outpatient therapy sessions, rehab is the best option for those who need help dealing with painful memories and anniversaries.

Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day if you need help with any of these issues. We can answer questions, make recommendations and even check health insurance policies for treatment benefits. If we can be of any assistance, please call our toll-free helpline now.