While in active addiction, you punish your body and mind to a much greater extent than you realize, particularly when your drug of choice is an opiate. Once you have made the courageous decision to enter an opiate drug addiction recovery program, there are resources readily available to treat the addiction and its underlying causes. But, how can you help your body as you begin an opiate treatment program?
The Foundation for a Drug-Free World identifies long-term effects of heroin or pain pill addiction as including:
- Dental issues, with decaying teeth and inflamed gums
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Chronic constipation
- Pustules or acne on the skin
- Chronic itching and clamminess
- Muscular weakness
- Weakened immune system
- Respiratory issues
- Depression, introversion, and other emotional disturbances
- Interference with memory and ability to apply logic
- Disruption of the menstrual cycle, and sexual dysfunction in women
- Sexual malfunction and impotence in men
- Possibility of blood-borne illness such as hepatitis B and C, HIV and AIDS
- In severe cases, irreversible damage to lungs, liver, kidneys or brain; coma
That’s a pretty disheartening list, and many people don’t know where to start. The health of the body is a subject not often addressed in opiate drug addiction recovery programs, but after years of punishment can be every bit as important to long-term success as treatment of the emotional, mental and spiritual maladies. These long-term effects must be overcome to address the wellness of the whole person. Enter Jennifer Matesa, a teacher and writer in recovery from an addiction to Vicodin. She has been writing a blog since 2010, in her hopes that she can “give something back” to those fighting her fight, battling opiate addiction. In 2014, Jennifer decided to write her third book and tackle this topic, the recovery of your body.
The Recovering Body addresses five important areas: exercising the body and increasing activities, getting adequate rest, fueling the body by relearning nutrition basics, reawakening of sexuality and pleasure, and learning how to meditate and develop relaxation techniques.
Getting the Sleep Your Body Craves
Your body craved drugs above all else for so long that you don’t even realize the sleep deprivation it has undergone. Now that you are in recovery, you need to work toward maintaining a regular sleep schedule. When your body rests, it regains energy that it has expended throughout the day. But sleep does so much more! It improves your memory. It reduces your risk of developing inflammatory illnesses such as arthritis or circulatory conditions. Your body will also utilize higher levels of proteins in your system if you get more sleep, which means that damaged tissues can rebuild and repair.
Getting good sleep may be difficult during your early stages of recovery. Your body is readjusting to so much and it can be difficult to quiet your mind. Even if you cannot fall asleep, you should remain in bed with your eyes closed and rest. Your body will experience many of the same benefits with periods of reset. This is also the perfect opportunity to practice meditation, try positive imagery or test new relaxation techniques.
Nutrition Basics During Opiate Drug Addiction Recovery
When your day is spent focusing on how you can get your next fix, or being sick because you can’t, you likely don’t pay much attention to diet and nutrition. Money and time are spent on “more important things” than eating healthy or even regularly. For that reason, many people suffering from addiction experience a number of health problems including weight loss, poor dental hygiene, and inability to fight infections or colds.
The first step to improving your health is to learn about proper nutrition and focus on eating healthy foods. Don’t just eat junk foods or take-out—make certain to choose something from the daily five food groups. Fast food is more expensive than fresh food, and can wreak even more havoc on your recovering body than its already experiencing. You need protein to help both body and brain rebuild and healthy fats to keep it lubricated. Vegetables and fruits provide essential vitamins and nutrients your body has been deprived of. Grains are an essential source of nutrients and contain fiber that can greatly ease the discomfort of constipation that many experience in recovery. Last but not least, you should seek out dairy, in poured milk, yogurt, or cheese. The calcium and Vitamin D will be essential, particularly as a part of repairing and preventing damage to your teeth.
Equally important to the food you eat, is what you drink. This is the time to make certain you drink enough water. Set a goal to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. There are many opinions on how much water we need, but this is commonly known as the 8×8 rule and is easy to remember as well as a great goal to work toward in improving your health. Water will cleanse your body of toxins, provide it with the hydration it needs for cell growth, help maintain normal bowel function, and improve skin…and these are just a few of the incredible number of benefits that can be gained by drinking enough water.
Get Everything Moving Again!
Be honest: how often were you squeezing in a run between fixes, or heading to the gym on the way to your dealers house? It’s ok, you are not alone, but exercise can become an important part of your opiate drug addiction recovery program for many reasons. First and foremost, exercise pings the brain to produce endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good hormones. These are the same endorphins you used drugs to activate. When you were using, the drugs jumpstarted the brain to produce endorphins, and so it no longer had the need to produce them naturally. Without these natural endorphins, you have no way to experience enjoyment unless you are high, which means people in active addiction can’t truly enjoy life. When you quit using, your brain will gradually resume its own production of endorphins, but it takes time. You can do your part to hurry the process along by participating in physical activities.
Meditation and Relaxation
When you stop using drugs, you will have times of anxiety and depression. These feelings will stem from the struggle of recovery, but also from everyday life, the things that stress us all out. This is natural, but what is unnatural is not having your drug of choice to use as a coping mechanism. Learning how to meditate and practicing stress-reduction techniques can provide immense help in overcoming these feelings.
There are countless resources available to teach you about meditation, guided imagery, positive affirmations and other practices, including prayer. Counselors, 12-step programs, local recovery groups, books, recovery websites…the list of ways to access these tools is as limitless as the tools themselves. Taking ownership of your feelings, and learning how to cope in positive ways heals the mind and the body. This is also true of those who face dual-diagnosis of addiction disorder along with another emotional disorder or disturbance. Speak to your addiction treatment counselor or therapist to discover options that can work best for you.
Enjoying a Sexual Life Once Again
Many people experience sexual issues in addiction. These can range from the use of sex in a negative way, to physical ailments such as menstrual disruptions and impotence. It is important to first know you are not alone, and these issues do not have to be permanent. Sexual relationships can be fulfilling, connecting, and physically pleasurable in recovery, and bring with them many benefits such as the release of endorphins. It is important to be well-informed as you begin new sexual relationships in recovery. Speak to your doctor about birth control, learn how to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases, and seek counseling if needed for any emotional issues around sex. Be safe, be smart, but don’t be afraid to explore the benefits a healthy sexual relationship can bring to your recovery.
Find the Right Opiate Drug Addiction Recovery Program
Finding the right opiate treatment program can be the most important aspect of your recovery. Once you have found the one that is right for you, be sure to ask your counselor for advice, guidance and resources to help your body recover. They can provide assistance in the five key areas of sleep, nutrition, exercise, meditation and sexuality. With their help, you can take ownership of your health, and begin to improve your life, body, mind and soul.