How Your Hormones Can Seriously Mess with Your Recovery
Hormonal fluctuations – you know them well. If you’re like me, hormones are the bane of your existence. (Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration). But hormones do have a profound effect on how we feel, both physically and emotionally. And it’s important to be aware of just how this stuff works, especially if you’re in recovery from substance abuse and addiction. Here’s a week-by-week breakdown of our monthly cycle so you can see how your hormones can seriously mess with your recovery and therefore be prepared for if and when those hormonal fluctuations hit.
We’re used to thinking about our period week as the end of the cycle but, it’s really the beginning. And, when you consider how we women are affected by our hormones cycling – especially when it comes to how we’re affected emotionally and psychologically, it makes sense to start here.
(Important note: No two menstrual cycles are alike. All women experience different symptoms, and the length of their monthly cycle varies.)
Week One: Your Period (-aka- D Day)
What’s happening: This is when there’s a drop in estrogen and progesterone levels that causes the shedding of the uterus lining, resulting in the flow we all know as our period.
For many women – not all (those lucky you-know-whats) – this part of our cycle is marked by pain, specifically cramps. But this is also the part of the month where we are most likely experiencing a sense of peace and calm because hormone levels are pretty much at zero.
“The beginning of the menstrual cycle is also the beginning of the follicular phase of the cycle in which Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) from the pituitary gland, stimulates the ovary to produce an egg,” says Maxine Barish-Wreden, MD, an internist with Sutter Medical Foundation. “Many women, especially those who have experienced PMS, feel much better during the early part of the follicular phase as their hormone levels have dropped back to baseline.”
What it means for our recovery: Feeling a sense of calm and even euphoria can be a double-edged sword.
Lauri Grossman, chair of the Department of Medicine and Humanistic Studies at the American Medical College of Homeopathy says that “Women [experience] positive sensations such as relief, release, euphoria, new beginning, invigoration, connection with nature, creative energy, exhilaration, increased sex drive and more intense orgasms.”
So, there’s reprieve from all the craziness we’re feeling that leads up to the actual week of menstruation but, for some, relapse occurs when we are feeling good. The euphoric feelings during this week might trigger a craving for that euphoria to be amplified (i.e. with the use of certain substances).
Week Two: Post-Period (-aka- Thank God it’s Over)
What’s happening: Yay! It’s over – until next time. Also, estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest during this week.
“The very cessation of the period itself makes some women perk up during this time,” says Hal Danzier, MD, reproductive endocrinologist and cofounder of Southern California Reproductive Center. But, because your hormone levels are low, so is your energy. During this week in our cycle, we are more likely to feel tired and experience low libido.
What it means for your recovery: Lethargy might translate into temptation to take something that will “perk” us up.
Feeling sluggish and tired is no fun, especially if you have kids to run after and/or a job to keep up with. It’s important to be aware that this is something to expect at this point in our cycle so that we can step up our self-care habits like, exercising, getting good rest, taking vitamins, etc.
Week Three: Pending Ovulation (-aka- Feelin’ Fine)
What’s happening: Estrogen levels begin to build again causing an increase in sex drive.
This increase in hormonal activity that supports ovulation could translate into heightened senses, such as smell, and taste as well as with clearer thinking and increased coordination. In fact, many women report that they feel their best at this time of their cycle, both physically and mentally.
However, Dr. Danzier points out that “right around ovulation is also the time when many women experience acne breakouts, or single pimples, usually recurring in the same area.”
What it means for your recovery: Feeling clear-headed and also maybe self-conscious – due to acne – can be triggers to use.
Those of us in recovery always hear it: be careful to not get too overconfident. The mental clarity that we experience during this week could have us thinking that we know it all and that we’re safe. But, addiction is insidious; it talks to us in our own voice. So, no matter how “with-it” or “on-top-of-things” you feel, be careful not to shirk your program.
Week Four: Post-Ovulation (-aka- Ugh. Just Ugh.)
guys with PMS be like
What’s happening: An imbalance of estrogen and progesterone, which can affect serotonin levels (one of the feel-good hormones).
This is the full-blown PMS phase. Think: bloating, slight fever, anxiety, depression, irritability and mood swings. On top of all this, our hormones are reacting with our brain chemistry, which can produce strange and vivid dreams. This is also the point in our cycle where we experience strong cravings – often for carbs and sugary foods – in response to our depleted serotonin levels.
What it means for your recovery: Feeling icky might have us reaching for a quick-and-easy fix.
With our hormones out-of-whack and our serotonin at its lowest, we might start thinking crazy thoughts like, “what can I take to make myself feel better?” It’s essential to be self-aware by knowing what to expect as well as knowing healthy ways to cope when this week hits (and it will…every month). There are homeopathic remedies, heating pads (I use two: one for my cramps and one for my lower back because I get pain through and through), as well as talking to sober supports and even professionals if this is a particularly difficult time for you.
Remember: there is no excuse to use and we now have our ability back to choose. Therefore, if you do use, it’s a choice you are making. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588.