Our addiction had become familiar to us, our constant companion. Without the adrenaline of excitement, the anesthetic of sex, we faced withdrawal and were propelled into the world of real feelings.

Generally, withdrawal in early sobriety was a turbulent experience. It was like riding a roller coaster, with many highs and lows. We were confused and vulnerable. Emotions ranged from feelings of wholeness and wellness to feelings of despair and emptiness. Feelings that were unfamiliar overcame us in ways we didn’t understand. Feelings that seemed familiar became deeper and more intense. Many of us were overwhelmed by anger, rage, fear, loneliness, sadness and depression. Some of us cried for the first time since childhood.

In addition to the emotional distress, many of us had physical discomfort such as sleeplessness, exhaustion, hyperactivity and headaches. Some of us felt as though we were gripping the edge of a cliff, distressed and in pain, barely keeping our sobriety.

Sometimes we felt so uncomfortable that we were sure the program wasn’t working. When this happened, we often tried to convince ourselves that it was really okay to act out. Sometimes we told ourselves that it is only natural to have sex and that we should not deprive ourselves. “What harm can I do by masturbating? After all, I only use it to release tension or go to sleep,” and so on. We even heard this from our friends and doctors.

Rationalize as we might, we found that the only way to get to the other side of early sobriety was to go through it. We knew deep inside that we faced a choice: experiencing repeatedly the self-destructive pain of our addiction or going through the healing pain of our withdrawal.

As we stayed with our recovery through this period, our feelings of shame began to dissolve. We started to believe in our hearts that we were not bad people. Over time we began to laugh again and enjoy ourselves in new and healthy ways.