If you have struggled with drug or alcohol addiction, going through treatment and rehabilitation can be the beginning of a whole new life. But, not necessarily. In reality the relapse rate following rehab is disturbingly high for recovering addicts and alcoholics, proving that treatment is by no means a panacea or a miracle cure for substance abuse problems—or for any other type of addiction for that matter. There are many reasons addicts fall back into drug or alcohol abuse, even after receiving professional assistance. But the primary problem is that the worlds they return to following rehab simply do not provide them with the type of moral and practical support they need to stay clean and sober for the long term. Recovering addicts are always vulnerable to relapse because they suffer from a brain disease that cannot be cured, and regardless of how determined they may be to change their lives their resolve may not be strong enough to resist the powerful physical and emotional cravings for drugs and alcohol that often accompany exposure to familiar stresses, conflicts, and temptations. If you are in recovery, you have no doubt already heard much about how important it is to be aware of the various factors that can trigger relapse. Nevertheless, once your rehab was finished you probably returned home and resumed your normal life, minus that one familiar comfort of course. It is natural for recovering addicts to do this; after all, where you came from is where your home, your job, and your friends and family are, and you likely convinced yourself that if drugs and alcohol could be permanently removed from the picture everything would be dramatically different than it was before. But this view underestimates how closely connected substance abuse is to everyday life situations. Addicts develop predictable patterns of reactions that cause them to turn to drugs or alcohol in response to a wide variety of influences, many of which can be quite subtle and all of which may still be present even after the recovering addict returns home. Because their feelings of shame and self-consciousness are so strong, recovering addicts often dream of leaving everything behind and moving somewhere else to get a fresh start. Most fail to do so, however, in part because of a fear of the unknown and in part because running away from our troubles is seen as a sign of weakness and failure. We must be prepared to confront our history if we expect to transcend it, we are told, and we will not be able to transform our existence if we cannot accept the truth about ourselves and the terrible mistakes we have made in the past. This seems to make sense, and it may be part of the reason you are back where you were before your troubles with substance abuse started. And certainly, it is true that you should not attempt to run away from things simply because they challenge or embarrass you, and it is to your credit that you have not tried to do so. At the same time, however, it is also true that history tends to repeat itself, and if you do not make a full-hearted effort to change not just your patterns of behavior but also the life situations that helped to create and reinforce them, you are likely to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. The reality is that—like all recovering addicts—deep in your heart you want and need something better than drugs and alcohol, something that can fill up the empty spaces they left behind when you sent them into exile. But if you insist on staying where you are despite all the bad memories and history of negative experiences, you may be limiting your chances of finding new purpose and meaning in a very significant way. In many instances, people who relocate following a bout with substance abuse are trying to do everything they can to re-organize their lives and leave the difficult times behind them. Rather than being motivated by embarrassment or guilt or shame, these recovering addicts realize that they need something that can inspire and excite them and they are willing to risk a geographical move in order to find it. Instead of running away from their pasts, they are really running toward their futures, escaping not from the bad opinions of others but from their previous failure to embrace a lifestyle that allowed them to live up to their full potential. A geographical move can also be a relief to the spouses and children of recovering addicts, who are victimized by drugs and alcohol every bit as much as the person who uses and abuses them. A family touched by substance abuse needs a clean slate, one way or another, and relocating to another part of the country can help to provide it if that move is undertaken for the right reasons.
When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going
As a recovering addict, you do not need to stay attached to your past to stay on track to healing. But regardless of what you decide to do in the future, you will need to follow your treatment regime religiously and consistently. Fortunately, addiction counselors and peer support groups can be found everywhere, and if you do ultimately decide to move you will need to make contacts and connections with both as soon as you arrive in your new destination. Anyone attempting to make it back to sobriety after a battle with substance abuse will require a good support network, and since addicts who relocate cannot take their old therapists or healing partners with them, they will need to find new compatriots to accompany them as they continue their journey to redemption and regeneration. A geographical move in and of itself will not determine the final outcome of a person’s campaign to recover from substance abuse. But new challenges and opportunities that add a sense of adventure to life are always a good thing, and for addicts who need positive motivations that are stronger than the lure of drugs and alcohol, relocation and all of the life changes it entails can be immensely beneficial. Running away from your troubles will never solve anything, it is true. If you expect to win the race of life, however, you must be willing to run toward the finish line, as fast as you can go. Standing still and not moving at all will guarantee a continuation of the status quo, and as a recovering addicts or alcoholic the status quo can often be your enemy rather than your friend.