On a beach in South Florida, hundreds of miles from home, Lori Dilley Anthony reached a turning point in her life.
She’d traveled from Delaware to get help for a nearly 35-year addiction to opioids and other drugs. She’d checked into the same treatment center as her husband, who’d made the trip the month before.
On a hot, muggy day in September, the couple and other residents of the center went to the beach, one of Anthony’s favorite places. As the sun began to set, she and her husband sat in the sand to talk. He told her he loved her but wanted a divorce. Anthony was devastated.
She was alone in an unfamiliar place, still fragile in her recovery. She stayed in bed for 3 days, fighting the urge to get high and refusing to rejoin the treatment program. Finally, there was a shift. “It’s like God put His hands on me and said, ‘You’re worth something. Get up, now. You need to move forward.’”
Anthony says although the experience was a low point, it was the best thing that could have happened to her. It was time for a new chapter.
Addiction experts say one of the most important first steps in rebuilding your life after opioids is to get and stay sober from all drugs and alcohol.
“Some people with an opioid dependence may believe that opioids are the sole problem and revert back to drinking alcohol socially or smoking marijuana,” says Aaron Sternlicht. He has been sober from opioids since 2012 and is the co-founder of Family Addiction Specialist, based in New York City. “Although it may be possible for some to do so in moderation, oftentimes it can lead individuals back to their drug of choice.”
He suggests avoiding all substances early in addiction recovery. Later on, when you’re consistent and stable in your sobriety, you may be able to indulge in moderation.
Anthony went through detox for 28 days and then a recovery program. She took part in group therapy with others dealing with drug and alcohol addiction. She’s been sober since 2016.
Structure and a daily routine keep you on track when you’re recovering from opioid addiction. Try to plan your day, from the time you wake up to when you go to bed. Find a hobby you enjoy. Spend time with sober friends with the same interests.
When you’re busy, your mind is less likely to wander to using drugs or other negative thoughts. Sternlicht cautions, though, that too much on your plate can also be harmful. “Stay busy, but not to the point where it becomes a distraction from dealing with underlying issues like trauma or mental health,” he says.
Remember to take care of your physical health, too. Opioid addiction often triggers disordered eating. This results in missed meals and poor food choices. As many as 35% of people who misuse drugs or alcohol also have an eating disorder, which is 11 times higher than those who don’t.
Regular exercise also helps with addiction recovery. It can curb drug cravings, ease stress, and fill your time. It also releases chemicals called endorphins from the pituitary gland for pain relief and a natural high. “When you feel good, you’re less inclined to want to use drugs,” Sternlicht says.
Today, Anthony’s life looks a lot different from when she was in the depths of addiction. She has a home and bought a car with money she saved from her job at a cleaning company.
When she’s not working, Anthony enjoys cooking and going to flea markets. She’s also taken up painting, mostly landscapes of trees, purple-blue skies, flowers, and beach scenes. She’s proud of herself, something she wasn’t able to say for years. “I’m accomplishing things that I could have never done when I was an addict.”
Friends, family, sponsors, and counselors are an essential part of the addiction recovery process, providing support and a listening ear.
Like many, Anthony faced bouts of depression and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. She had small urges to get high. Instead, she called her counselor, Angela Robinson, whom she talks to regularly.
Robinson is a licensed mental health counselor and clinical director of NorthNode Group Counseling in Dover, DE. In her work with clients, she uses cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of talk therapy. It focuses on pinpointing complex problems in your life, the emotions that surround these problems, and reshaping harmful or false thinking or behavior patterns.
Robinson says drugs are a mask for deep-seated issues that you may be afraid to confront. “It’s never about the substance. It’s always the reasons behind why you’re using them.”
Support groups like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous offer those in recovery from opioid addiction one-on-one therapy. They also give them the chance to share their struggles and successes and encourage each other in staying clean. “Having conversations within those groups can give people the understanding that someone else knows what they’re going through, but perhaps approach or see it differently,” says Robinson.
Drug addiction tears relationships apart, and healing them won’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of time and patience to rebuild trust. It’s important to acknowledge your role in damaging the relationship and then show you’ve changed through your actions.
Unhealthy relationships can trigger a relapse. Talk to the people in your life about your recovery and how they can help you in that process. There are resources like support groups and family therapists for loved ones of people in recovery from addiction.
Anthony has surrounded herself with positive influences and now works to rebuild fractured relationships. After not speaking for 14 years, she’s reunited with her sister and leans on other family and friends for emotional support.
There are also the people she calls her guardian angels — family members who support her in spirit. Photos of them hang on her wall at home: grandparents, an aunt and uncle, and a black-and-white snapshot of her mom and dad cutting their wedding cake. She’s painted a colorful flowering vine that extends to each photo on the wall behind them. They’re a reminder of where she’s come from and a brighter future ahead.