Making it through detox and rehab are major accomplishments, but transitioning back into the real world isn’t always easy. There is no graduation date for recovery, and getting out of rehab is just a step on our journey. In a lot of ways, time spent in a treatment center is safe and sheltered. We are often told what to do and when. In rehab, meetings and counseling are easily accessible and we aren’t usually tempted by alcohol or drugs in this safe environment. Stepping back into the real world can feel overwhelming and scary. How can we make the transition back to a normal life and still hang onto everything we’ve learned so far about recovery?
Challenges of Day-to-Day Living
Once we leave the protected environment of a rehabilitation center, we are faced with many challenges that we haven’t had to deal with so far. First and foremost is the impact our relationships with our family and friends may have on our sobriety. If we still live with people who are actively using or abusing alcohol or drugs, we have to learn to deal with temptations that we didn’t have to deal with in rehab. Even if family and friends aren’t actively abusing substances, they may cause challenges to our sobriety if they are unsupportive or doubtful that we can stay sober. We have to learn to readjust to our working environment, which can be stressful. Learning to balance work, family and recovery will take time and practice. We may have to face financial problems or family problems, and we don’t have the option of numbing our feelings from stress. We may experience a rollercoaster of emotions in early sobriety.
The Threat of Relapse
Some people leave treatment believing they are cured and may become complacent about the necessity of continuing the journey of recovery. If we don’t build a support network and a plan for our continuing recovery, we are at constant risk for relapse. We may experience cravings and feelings of temptation to pick up a drink or a drug now that we are back in the real world. We have to hang in there through these feelings and learn new coping skills that don’t involve reaching for mind-altering substances. We can learn new ways to fill the time that we used to spend drinking or drugging, such as by being physically active or taking a class. We may want to write in a journal to help sort out our feelings. Using drugs or alcohol to cope with unpleasant feelings and experiences has come naturally to us for a long time. The risk of relapse never really goes away, but the more we work to build a sober network of friends and a plan for our recovery, the more we will be able to reduce the threat of relapse.
Using the Tools of Recovery
Transitioning from rehab to real life can be challenging, but there are things we can do to make this change easier on ourselves. Some will choose to stay in sober housing for several months after they leave rehab. In this environment, drinking and drugging aren’t allowed, and support of other sober people is close by. In rehab, we have learned some of the coping skills that will allow us to live a contented, sober life. We have learned about surrounding ourselves with other sober people, using the phone as a tool, reading recovery literature and reminding ourselves what to do to stay sober through simple slogans like “one day at a time,” “easy does it” and “think.” To stay sober, we need to continue attending meetings, counseling sessions or both. We need to start to build a support network of sober people whom we can talk to about our challenges and feelings. We may have to let go of some of our old friends and old hangouts. Being comfortable in sobriety won’t happen instantly, but it will happen as long as we continue to do the things we have been taught. In rehab we have started our journey. Now we are becoming reoriented to the world, and living sober will continue to become more natural one day at a time.