The Wellness Journey
It’s a huge step to want to make changes to your health, and prioritizing well-being is part of every individual’s journey. Reflecting on your current lifestyle can be difficult, and it takes a lot of commitment. This section introduces the different parts of the recovery journey. It explains what to expect if you or someone you know decides to cut down on substance use. No matter where you are in your journey, we want you to know that you aren’t alone and that you can live your best life.
Wellness is an active process. In other words, we don’t “arrive” at wellness. It is a journey that we continue on all through our lives. A wellness journey is about focusing on all aspects of our health — our physical, emotional, spiritual, social and mental well-being. If you want to cut down on your substance use, it can be helpful to also spend time taking care of other parts of your health.
Recovery may look different and vary from person to person – everyone has their own version of recovery. Here are 10 basic parts of the recovery journey:
1. Holistic. Healing isn’t just about feeling better physically. It’s also about your mental, emotional, spiritual and social well-being. It’s about feeling better in all areas of your life, including:
- relationships with friends and family
- connection to community
- education and work
- finding meaning and purpose in life
- treatment for your mental and physical health
2. Strengths-based. Part of recovering is focusing on what is working in our lives — our resilience or ability to deal with challenges. Focus on the positive relationships you have with friends and families. Remember your skills and abilities and the people that help you get through difficult times.
3. Social support. It is important to get encouragement, support and a feeling of belonging from our social groups – our friends, family, teammates and mentors. But everyone is on their own unique journey. It is about having people around you who believe in your abilities and are there to support you. These connections and relationships remind us that we are important and matter to others.
4. Responsibility. You are responsible for yourself and to others. Understanding how being responsible for one’s actions and decisions is critically important in the process of maturity. Deciding to place importance on one’s own self-care is transformational and liberating for a young person in their recovery journey. Adopting healthy coping strategies helps us deal with life’s challenges.
5. Empowerment. We need to be involved in any decisions made about our lives, but also have a support system to help us to do this.
6. Respect. We all deserve to be treated with respect and without bias or stigma, while honouring our journey and efforts in the recovery process.
7. Hope. Having hope is what keeps us motivated to make positive changes. It’s also what helps others in our lives encourage us in that growth.
8. Self-direction. We need to be independent and have control over our own path of recovery.
9. Individualized + person-centred: What helps each person is different. It is based on our race, class, culture, preferences and other life experiences. You are the expert of your own experience, and you deserve to have a voice in your treatment and recovery. We all can learn what we need and how to have our needs met in all areas of our lives.
10. Non-linear. A path to recovery can be like a twisting mountain road. It is not a straight line forward. For substance use, that means you may make progress, then relapse, then get back on your journey. This may be part of your process.
I want to reduce my use
If you have identified that your substance use is a problem for you, you are not alone. Many Canadians have identified substance use disorder or addiction at some point in their lifetime. Young people can be vulnerable to substance use. This can lead to risky use and a problematic relationship with substances.
The more years someone has been in recovery and the earlier they start in their recovery journey, the more they are likely to achieve health. This is true no matter how severe the substance use problem is.
To get started on recovery:
- ask for help
- seek out support from others
- accept treatment
- adopt better ways of coping
- have a good support system
- find ways to manage distress
It’s important to have a support system when you’re working on making a change. There are a number of ways to find the support that’s right for you – on the phone, online or in your community. Some young people prefer peer support from other youth who have experienced similar challenges. Others benefit from counselling or attending detox programs or treatment. You can also find support for things like family difficulties, losing an important friend or family member, or suffering a trauma. There are many kinds of programs and techniques that can help us find relief and new ways of living our best life.
Recovery time varies from person to person. Some people are able to take time off of school or work to attend treatment. Some people have more support than others. The bottom line is, no matter how long it takes, it is your own personal journey and path.
Detoxing (or detoxification) is about the physical process of getting rid of substances in your body. This means stopping use completely so that your brain and body have time to get back into balance. Your brain has to adapt to the sudden drop in a chemical (drug) that your body has gotten used to. That will likely cause withdrawal symptoms or unpleasant responses to this sudden absence of a drug your body has come to rely on. Your detox experience may be very different from someone else’s.
Detoxing can be difficult. That’s why there are medical detoxification centres or facilities to help you get off a drug and manage symptoms of withdrawal. The safest form of detoxing is a medically assisted one, where there are health care professionals like doctors and nurses who can help you manage the unpleasant symptoms that occur during the process of withdrawal. Often, you need to detox first before entering into an addiction treatment program.
Does insurance cover detox?
In BC, some detox programs are run by provincial health authorities. The costs for these public programs are covered by provincial health insurance plans. The programs they offer can vary for age groups and locations. Some programs offer free at-home detox while others offer residential detox, where people live on-site. Some are for people 15 and older, while others are for people 19 and older. Calling the Detox Referral Line (1-866-658-1221) or BC211 can help you find the support you are looking for. For more information on other options, you can check out www.canadadrugrehab.ca
You may experience unpleasant effects when you withdraw gradually or come off drugs that your system has gotten used to. These effects vary based on the type of drug and how much you have been using. They also depend on your mental and physical health. Withdrawal symptoms can be both physical and psychological.
Often physical withdrawal symptoms are the opposite symptoms of the high of the drug. See Types of Substances for withdrawal symptoms related to each drug type.
Do I have withdrawal symptoms?
You will know you are in withdrawal if you have some of the physical and psychological symptoms after going off or using less of a substance.
Common signs of withdrawal include:
- difficulty sleeping
- change in appetite
How do I stop withdrawal?
You may need to withdraw slowly and under medical supervision depending on the drug, for example when young people withdraw from opiate use (see section on detoxification.) It can be very dangerous to go “cold turkey” or stop all at once.
Medical detox programs provide a safe schedule for tapering (reducing the quantity of a drug over time) if needed. They can also help to manage symptoms and develop other ways to cope with pain and discomfort.
Why do I take drugs to get better from drugs?
It may seem weird or not logical, but there are times when drugs are used to treat drug use. For example, people may take medication:
- to help reduce withdrawal effects during detox
- to reduce cravings for the drug and to prevent relapse
- to avoid poisoned or toxic drugs
When one drug is taken to reduce the use of another, it is usually because the new drug is considered safer and less dangerous. An example of this would be opioid agonist therapy (OAT) – the drugs buprenorphine and naloxone combined (Suboxone) or methadone (Methadose or Metadol-D) are used to treat opioid use disorder.
People take different drugs to treat substance use problems, for example:
- benzodiazepines such as Valium to help with irritability and anxiety during detox
- antidepressants taken during detox for people who get depressed when they go off drugs
- clonidine to help with withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and opiates (sweating, muscle aches, anxiety and cramps). Clonidine is also used to prevent seizures and tremors
- Suboxone to treat addiction to drugs like heroin and opioid-based painkillers. It doesn’t make people high and can prevent withdrawal symptoms and cravings. A longer-acting version of buprenorphine/ naloxone (Sublocade) is available in British Columbia. It’s an injection given by a health care professional to prevent withdrawal and cravings without the need to take the Suboxone tablet daily
- naltrexone (Vivitrol) is another drug that can help those who use alcohol stop cravings and promote non-use
All of these medications should be taken only after talking with your doctor or nurse practitioner. You need to be carefully monitored by your healthcare professional.
This next section can be difficult to read. It can bring up personal situations and memories that are still fresh and difficult to think about and feel. Please take care of yourself and know that there is help within our Foundry Virtual program and other resources linked to this website.
Relapse means returning to substance use after a time we have abstained or stopped using. We know that relapse is always a possibility in the recovery process. But, this doesn’t mean we should give up after a relapse. It may mean there is more to learn about what we need and how we want to live.
Here are some reasons why recovery can be difficult:
- Triggers: You may find things that tempt you to use. They could be reminders of what it felt like to use or a place you went to use. You might run into people you used drugs with. Music and smells can also act as a trigger to use again. It is so common to consume alcohol and cannabis that it can be difficult to avoid or resist the pressure to join in with friends. It may also be difficult to resist the physical cravings to use, which makes it much harder to abstain or reduce your use. (For more about triggers, see Substance Use and You.)
- Biological changes in the brain: Some people have a substance use disorder – an addiction – and the addiction may have caused changes in their brain. Some neurotransmitters in your brain can become less active because of substance use. You may have needed to use more and more of a certain drug to get the same response (tolerance).
- Coping with difficult emotions: You may have started using substances to help you deal with your feelings or even a mental health challenge like depression, anxiety, trauma or thoughts of suicide. Not using will mean having to find different ways to help manage these difficult emotions and challenges without using a drug that will numb or distract you from the pain.
- Distress: You may have been using as a way to deal with situations that cause you distress, for example: school or work responsibilities, relationships with your friends or family, finances, climate change, world conflict, or media.
- Not feeling motivated or confident enough to stop or reduce: You may feel pressured to cut back your substance use. Maybe you have been forced to cut back or you are getting pressure from your parents or school to stop using. These feelings and thoughts are normal in the process of recovery. It is a time when support from others is so important to help us keep moving forward. We may not always know what to do next or know what’s best for our recovery. It can be very helpful to ask others who have experience or even their own personal story, like a Peer Support worker. That can help to keep us motivated for change and committed to this decision to truly change our lives.
The earlier treatment starts, the better the chances are for long-term recovery. You don’t have to wait to hit rock bottom to seek treatment in order for it to work.
The reality is that your wellness journey may cause you to feel vulnerable. You might have many different emotions while you try to take steps toward a different lifestyle. You may be tempted to go back to your comfort zone. It’s important to remember that every person experiences wellness differently, and not to compare your wellness journey to others – it is completely yours. You have the ability to make a change in your life and there are resources to help support you wherever you are in your journey.
Want to explore and learn more? Here are a couple options that will help you.