How do we deal with Withdrawal Symptoms?

by Elya (See all authors)

Today one of the great warriors on our forum had a fall after about 70 days clean. He felt he had to fall because the withdrawal was causing him to feel as if he was "on the edge of a big emotional cliff" and he claimed that he felt "the edge of his sanity coming into range".

These kind of feelings are normal within the first half a year (or so) of recovery, especially after taking a few lust hits - and even more so when unmarried or when the wife is not available. We feel we're going nuts, stress builds, we lose patience, we're uncomfortable, and we rationalize that if we don't act out we'll go totally nuts.

Elya K, who mans the hotline and moderates a 12-Step phone conference, sent me today an article he wrote that discusses the withdrawal symptoms that are typical in early recovery.

Besides for the fact that "pre-warned is pre-armed", Elya's article also gives some good practical advice on how to deal with these very uncomfortable feelings.

Elya K. writes:

In Chapter 3 of the book "Staying Sober" by Gorski & Miller, the authors speak of a phenomenon called PAW which stands for "P ost A cute W ithdrawal". These are the sobriety based symptoms people go through while they are SOBER, not while they are in their addiction. The symptoms of PAW usually grow to peak intensity at about three to six months after abstinence begins. No wonder so many of us have trouble at around the 3 month (90 day) mark. The book identifies 6 symptoms of Post Acute Withdrawal. The most identifiable characteristic is the inability to solve usually simple problems. These 6 symptoms contribute to this:

  • (1) The inability to think clearly: Intelligence is not affected, but your brain sometimes malfunctions. Most of the time, this is manifested in the inability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time. Another manifestation is rigid and repetitive thinking.
  • (2) Memory problems: short term memory problems are very common in recovery. Something you understand now, you may forget within 20 minutes.
  • (3) Numbness and overreaction: People with emotional problems overreact. It's like holding down the "times" key on a calculator. Little annoyances are multiplied by the stresses of before. You become angry over trivial matters, putting stress on your nervous system, which in turn can cause an emotional shutdown.
  • (4) Sleep problems.
  • (5) Physical coordination problems: dizziness, imbalance, slow reflexes, clumsiness.
  • (6) Stress sensitivity: Difficulty in managing stress. You feel stressed out in situations that don't normally stress you out. Also, the other symptoms (mentioned above) become worse when you're stressed out.

The problem is, acting out can alleviate many of these problems. But we cannot continue to act out and remain sober. Recovery requires abstinence. Therefore we have to do everything in our power to reduce the PAW symptoms.

How do we do this?

Because stress triggers and intensifies the symptoms, we can control PAW by managing stress while we're in withdrawal and becoming sober. The following things are important for keeping stress levels down:

  • A proper diet
  • Exercise
  • Regular habits
  • Positive attitude

When experiencing PAW, here's how to bring symptoms under control:

  • Verbalization: As much as you can, express what you are thinking and feeling to someone else, even if it seems irrational and unfounded.
  • Reality testing: Ask someone if you are making sense, not just in what you're saying, but in your behavior as well.

It is these sobriety based symptoms that lead to relapse, because relapse does not occur at the moment of acting out, but days, weeks or even months before when we do not deal with these stressors properly. A written game plan, stress busters, verbalization and reality testing should become a daily habit in your personal battle toward sobriety and serenity.

Join Elya's weekly phone conference to learn more about these important concepts, and to have a chance to express yourself amongst a group of others in a warm, accepting and anonymous environment.