A heroin addict considering entering methadone maintenance may wonder if it’s even possible to live a normal, happy, and productive life after struggling with something as demoralizing and stigmatizing as heroin addiction. For many addicts, the answer is yes. However, rebuilding your life after heroin addiction means dedicating yourself to continuing the work of recovery forever — not just during your methadone maintenance program.
In order to repair your life in the wake of addiction, you’re going to need social support and professional skills. You’ll need to make maintaining your mental health a priority. You should always be mindful of the possibility of relapse — even years or decades after you get clean — and take steps to prevent it.
Make New Friends
Many people recovering from substance addiction — whether it’s an addiction to alcohol or other drugs or heroin — find that they no longer have much in common with the old friends of their using days. It’s not so much that these people aren’t really your friends, it’s more that they remain caught up in the drama of addiction and preoccupied with getting and using the substance of choice at any cost. If you continue to hang around these people after you start methadone maintenance, you’re going to feel tempted to use heroin again, and eventually you’re going to give in to that temptation.
But you can’t isolate yourself either. Isolation will lead to loneliness, which will lead you right back to your actively using friends, and back into active addiction yourself. Sober social support is a huge component of all methadone success stories, because friends allow you to have fun without relying on substances. They help you manage stress by giving you a shoulder to cry on when things get rough. Friends who are recovering addicts themselves can even give you tips on how to deal with cravings to use. If you don’t know where to find sober friends, start by looking for a Narcotics Anonymous group in your area.
Revitalize Your Career
Some addicts who are entering methadone maintenance may already have jobs; many heroin addicts manage to hide their habit for years while maintaining an outwardly normal life. If you already have a job that you enjoy and that doesn’t trigger you to use substances, you’re in luck. You can both improve your life and distract yourself from cravings by throwing yourself into your work.
Don’t work yourself too hard; overwork can result in stress that leads to relapse. But do take advantage of any opportunities to enhance your skills and make yourself a more valuable member of the work force.
If you don’t already have a job, now is the time to begin looking for one. If addiction has kept you from being an active member of the workforce, you may want to stick with working an entry-level position that will allow you to build job skills, obtain references, and boost your confidence without overwhelming you with responsibility.
If you don’t have a job and can’t find one, don’t panic. Take a volunteer position. While you should ideally find a volunteer position that will help you learn skills you can use in the workforce, a regular commitment to any volunteer program will show that you’re dependable and motivated and will help you get references for your resume. If you’ve not yet completed your education, now is the time to go back to school or enter an apprenticeship program and get training that will help you find a good job.
Be on Guard Against Relapse
When you’re in recovery from addiction, relapse is always a possibility, even if it’s been years since you last got high. Even addicts who have been in recovery for decades will still feel an occasional craving. That’s why you need to take steps to protect yourself from relapse, no matter how long it’s been since you finished treatment. In the beginning, this will mean sticking with your program, but as time passes, relapse prevention will become more focused on managing stress and avoiding triggers.
Look After Your Mental Health
Taking care of your mental health is an important part of avoiding relapse and maintaining long-term happiness in addiction recovery. If you have another mental illness, like depression or anxiety, seek therapy to treat it. It’s okay to take antidepressants or other medication to treat a mental illness, even if you have a history of addiction. Therapy can also be helpful.
Even if you don’t have another mental illness, regular exercise, a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, stress management techniques, social support, and other things that keep you healthy and make you happy are important to maintaining psychological health. You could develop depression or anxiety if you become overwhelmed by stress or loneliness or your physical health deteriorates. Make a special point of practicing good self-care during stressful times, like job loss, bereavement, or other difficult life changes.
It’s not easy to rebuild your life after heroin addiction, but it can be done. Try to forgo dwelling on the past in order to focus on the life you want in the future, and before you know it, that life will be yours.