Getting into treatment for addiction isn’t easy, but getting out can be even tougher. There are 86,400 seconds in a day, and each one presents challenges when your body and brain are aching for a fix.
Eve Goldberg and her son Isaac worked to face these challenges after he completed treatment for opiate addiction in 2013. But finding their way back to a normal life proved tough, especially without much day-to-day support. Isaac stayed in a sober living home, where he took random drug tests, went to meetings and lived among sober peers, but there wasn’t much training in basic life skills like grocery shopping, cooking or managing money. No activities to show tenants how fun life in recovery can be. Without these, Isaac struggled.
“He didn’t know what to do for fun, especially at night,” Eve recalls. “In New York City, everyone goes out drinking or to restaurants or clubs, all of which are triggers for people learning how to stay sober. We once walked a mile to find a restaurant where he felt comfortable.”
So what can the newly sober do to safeguard their recovery in the vulnerable days following rehab?
1. Get involved.
There are organizations and groups designed to support people in those tough early days of recovery. You probably know about outpatient treatment, sober living, therapy and support groups, but other options exist to smooth the transition back into “real life.”
For example, Eve founded BIGVISION, an organization that teaches skills and provides fun events for young adults building new lives in recovery, as a way to help others after Isaac relapsed and died from an accidental drug overdose in 2013. Twice a month, a group of young people gets together to go hiking, go-karting, jewelry-making and other activities that make recovery more rewarding than relapse.
“We’re giving them fun, sober experiences outside their norm – something different from a meeting or a therapy session but that’s incredibly important in helping them adjust to life without drugs,” says Eve. The experiences are healing for the young participants who are learning a new way of life, and they’re also healing for Eve and her family as they grieve their tragic loss. Look for similar organizations in your area, and ask around at support group meetings and rehab centers if there are other types of support available to you.
2. Make new friends, delete the old.
It’s one of those non-negotiables of early addiction recovery: you have to cut ties with old drug-using buddies. Rodney Robertson, D.Min., MA, M.Div., a family therapist at The Ranch treatment center in Tennessee, goes a step further. He suggests that his clients go through the contacts on their phones and delete the ones that may negatively influence them. You may also want to consider getting a new phone number so you’ll only be contacted by safe, sober people you’ve provided the number to post-treatment.
“You have to protect yourself from influences that are going to be counterproductive for you,” says Robertson. “You can’t go back to the same friends and the same situations and expect a different result.”
Just as important as removing unhealthy influences is meeting new, sober friends. Otherwise, says Robertson, you risk becoming isolated and bored, both of which can lead to relapse.
But it’s not easy to build a support network from the ground up. “In rehab, they tell you to stay away from people, places and things that could trigger relapse,” says Eve. “But how do you do that? How do you build a completely different network of friends? How do you create a whole new life?”
Support groups are an obvious choice for some. In addition, organizations like BIGVISION make it easier for young people to develop healthy friendships. They introduce new activities and hobbies and foster a sense of relaxed community so young people have something productive to fill their time. If you went to drug rehab, you may have other resources at your disposal, such as an alumni group, that can provide an outlet for fun and sober support.
3. Follow your recovery plan.
Most people leave rehab with a recovery plan. This typically includes support group meetings, working with a sponsor, ongoing therapy sessions and other types of aftercare. Taking care of yourself is another important piece. To keep your mind recovery-ready, rebuilding your physical health with regular exercise, adequate sleep and a nutritious diet must be part of your self-care routine.
As simple as it sounds, stick to the plan. It’s there to keep you on track, even when you’re uncertain, busy or unmotivated. “Don’t take time off from doing what’s been working,” Robertson advises. “You still need help to stay grounded in your recovery.”
4. Stay busy, but not too busy.
“Coming out of rehab, idle time is your worst enemy,” says Robertson. “When you don’t know what to do with yourself, old patterns, thoughts and behaviors can creep back.” Staying occupied with healthy pursuits, such as working a part-time job, volunteering, going back to school or attending outpatient treatment, can stave off boredom and make sober life full and rewarding.
But don’t do all of these things at once. As with most things in life, it’s a balancing act. While being active supports recovery, being too busy can trigger relapse. “There’s a fine line and it’s different for everyone,” says Robertson, “but if you’re so busy and stressed that can’t take care of yourself and practice the skills you learned in treatment, you’re putting your recovery at risk.”
5. Get help if you’re struggling.
Research tells us roughly half of people in recovery from addiction will relapse, most often within the first few months after treatment. This doesn’t mean rehab was a waste or that you’re doing something wrong. Just as someone with heart disease or diabetes needs follow-up care to stay well, a person recovering from the chronic disease of addiction needs ongoing support to stay sober.
Don’t let shame or overconfidence stop you from reaching out for help if you notice yourself slipping back into old patterns. Have an automatic response ready – go to a meeting or call your therapist, drug rehab center, sponsor, or a sober friend or loved one you trust. Just don’t assume what you’re feeling will go away on its own. Building a new life without drugs or alcohol is no easy task, and you’re not expected to do it on your own.
By Meghan Vivo