Not too long ago, I spoke with a young man who was in day 46 of recovery from crystal meth. Let’s call him Bill. He was full of joy and excitement about his recovery, riding high on a “pink cloud,” as it’s sometimes called. When I asked if he’d heard of the five stages of meth recovery, Bill shook his head. No.
“You’re in what’s called the Honeymoon,” I told him. “It’s the second stage.” Then I explained the first three stages of meth recovery as understood by many counselors and rehabs centers.
The first stage is “Withdrawal,” of course. That usually lasts from 3 to 15 days. Usually. All these numbers of days are approximate and depend upon the individual—upon your age, gender, how long you used, how you used, etc. But one thing that is pretty constant is: once the Withdrawal stage ends, you experience the Honeymoon, where everything becomes pretty effin’ wonderful. Dopamine is pumping again and you’re just so damn grateful to be living a life free of meth. You’re feeling joy at little everyday things for a change, maybe even extreme elation like Bill. Then around day 46, and this was why I was talking to Bill, the meth addict usually hits the third stage known as “The Wall.”
The Wall is where everything seems to turn to shit. Life becomes suddenly hollow and empty. Why? Because you literally lose the ability to feel pleasure. The medical term for this is “anhedonia.” It’s a real physical condition, this inability to feel pleasure, and most of us will experience it in hurricane force sometime just before the end of the second month of recovery. Like I said, usually around day 46, but it could be as early as day 30 or later than day 60, depending on the individual. Regardless, most of us experience The Wall soon enough. And it’s important to be prepared for it.
The good news is it usualy lasts 2 to 3 months and then you’re onto the fourth stage, “Adjustment,” which is definitely more pleasant (though not a walk in the park, either).
Bill wasn’t happy with my news. “Why did you tell me that,” he said like I was messing with his high. “Now I’ll be expecting it.” But that was the entire point. It’s going to come for almost all of us early in our recovery, this Wall. And if we know to expect it, we can not panic. Try to remember this sudden lack of pleasure is a normal part of recovery. (It’s literally a side-effect of the brain healing itself from meth’s previous damage. So it is actually a good sign.) But if you don’t know that, you’re likely to pick up and use again. Come on, if life is going to suck this much, why not use again—right? That’s what the disease in our brain tells us. But here, knowledge is power in your recovery. That’s why I wrote Quitting Crystal Meth: What to Expect & What to Do.
If you know hitting The Wall is normal and to be expected, you can reframe your lack of pleasure as a sign of progress – again, it’s literally a result of the brain healing itself from meth’s earlier damage – and you’ll be much less likely to pick up over it. You’ll be able to ride it out. Also, The Wall only lasts a couple of months and may not be so constantly intense. Just don’t believe your disease when it lies to you, saying, “Come on. Just a little hit and you’ll feel pleasure again.”
Knowledge is power. It’s important to know what to expect so you can tell when your disease is lying to you.