Settling into Your New Life in Recovery from Addiction
You’ve completed treatment and are now back home. Congratulations! You’ve made a huge first step toward your goal of living clean and sober. Frankly, it can’t have been easy. Going through treatment is tough for most people – no matter how committed they are to overcoming problems with substance abuse or process addictions. While you’re still feeling the thrill of being on your own again, you may also have some trepidation, even a bit of fear, about your ability to move forward.
Don’t let this time throw you. Here are some pointers on settling in to your new life in recovery.
Take Time to Rejoice
If you’re like many who’ve completed treatment, homecoming is a really big deal. Whether you have a large or a small family, the moment you step through that door and see their faces, it’s often a rather emotional moment. And it should be.
Think of all you’ve gone through to get to this point. You probably never thought about what getting clean would entail when you first went through detox and then began active treatment. Good thing, too, since you might never have gone through with it. Not that any of it was particularly onerous – your doctors and therapists were always available to help smooth out the rough edges and get you back on track – but it was intense at times, and maybe even pretty difficult for you to face. But you did it, and you are right to be proud of your accomplishment.
In fact, if your family wants to plan a small get-together – or just a quiet family meal together – to celebrate your return home, you should be all for it. Granted you may not feel like facing a lot of strangers so soon, so it’s best to keep any welcome-home party limited to the immediate family and perhaps your closest friends. Even if you feel like crawling into your bed and sleeping – let’s face it, coming home can be exhausting – put on a good face and say thanks to everyone for their sentiments. You might wish to say that you’d like to get a good night’s rest, and ask to keep the celebration short, but do be appreciative of your loved one’s efforts.
After all, they’ve been waiting for you to come home for some time. They want to show you how much they love you by welcoming you back. Let them. It’s a good time to rejoice. You’re now in recovery!
Keep It Light
Once you return home, try to keep the first conversations you have with your family members and close friends fairly light. Don’t go into any in-depth conversations or be drawn into describing in every minute detail what it was like going through detox and treatment. A good way to deflect such probing questions is to say that you got a lot out of treatment and you are eager to begin your new life in recovery.
The exact words you use are up to you, but you get the idea. They’re only asking out of curiosity, anyway, and maybe to reassure themselves that you’re really okay. So, by acknowledging that you are 1) much more knowledgeable, 2) eager to put what you learned into practice, and 3) happy to be home with loved ones you are saying all the right things.
In the event that there’s a particular relative who’s really trying to dig into your personal life, tell him or her politely but emphatically that what went on during treatment is private and you’re not going to discuss it. If he or she persists, just excuse yourself and talk with someone else or go to the bathroom or kitchen. In other words, put some distance between you and your inquisitor.
Remember to keep it light and keep it short – when you first come home from treatment.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
As odd as it may seem, since you’ve looked forward to coming home from the first day you entered treatment, you may find it tough to get to sleep on your return home. Not only are you dealing with some emotions that naturally come to the surface when you see your loved ones again, but you’re no longer restricted by boundaries and schedules and meetings and therapy that delineated your days in treatment.
It may take a little getting used to, but you’ll be okay. Just do some meditating before you retire for the night. Don’t eat any heavy meals for three hours before you want to go to sleep. Forget drinking endless cups of coffee. Stick with water if you feel the need to have any liquid. And as inviting as the idea may be to engage in a game of touch football in the yard with the kids or other loved ones, try to limit your physical exercise – at least for now. You’ll be getting yourself physically active very shortly, but not the first night home.
Aim for a good 8 to 9 hours of sleep and try to maintain this on a regular basis. It’s also wise to go to bed and rise at the same time every day. This sets a natural rhythm for your body. If it helps, dim the lights in the bedroom, put on some soothing white noise or background music – whatever will relax you and help you drift off. Obviously, you won’t be drinking any alcohol or taking any drugs – you’re in recovery, so those are completely off-limit.
Bright and Early, Breakfast and a Plan
While you want to ease into your return home, there are some things that will help you get in the groove and be helpful for your recovery. The first morning you’re back and wake up, make sure you eat a healthy and well-balanced breakfast. Don’t just grab a coffee and scoot out the door – no matter what errands or appointments you have. At least have a bagel with low-fat or fat-free cream cheese or peanut butter, or some whole grain cereal with a little fruit, maybe an egg and piece of toast with juice. This way, you’re fortified. Your body has instant energy and fuel to sustain you until lunchtime.
If your circumstance permits, and you have some private time with your spouse, partner, or loved one (or parent, sibling, or other relative, as appropriate), have a brief conversation about your immediate plans. You don’t need to go into detail at this point, but it’s a good idea to give him or her a heads-up so they know what you’ll be doing the first days and weeks of recovery. Chief among your responsibilities during this early recovery phase is going to your doctor and therapy appointments, and participating in your 12-step meetings.
You may wish to share a little of your recovery plan with your partner, if you feel that this is something you’re ready for. If not, just say that you’ll be doing what your therapists have outlined for your recovery and ask for your loved one’s support and understanding as you begin your journey.
How to Handle Questions
And it is very much a journey. Recovery is a lifelong journey, a process that you go through incrementally. Some days you will make great progress, while at other time it may seem like you’re becoming accustomed to recovery a bit more slowly.
Expect to get some tough questions from your family members at some point fairly soon. It may be when you’ve had to miss dinner because you had a minor crisis and needed to meet with your 12-step sponsor or your therapist. It could be that you had to arrange a time with your supervisor to discuss your return to work and his or her expectations. This is another discussion that you need to put on your schedule – and sooner, rather than later.
Speaking of questions, be prepared to answer some from your co-workers and close friends. They may hang back a bit, not wanting to intrude, but there will come a time when they’ll not be able to help themselves. The best way to handle this is to be prepared with an appropriate answer. Again, you can tell them that you were in a bad way before, but you learned a lot during treatment. You are committed to recovery and will put into practice all the things that you learned. You don’t need to go any further than that. It’s your business, not theirs, but they are probably just curious more than anything else.
During the final phase of your active treatment program, you most likely created a recovery plan with the help of your therapist. This is the usual course of action to prepare the client for release from treatment and re-entering society. While it may have seemed like an academic exercise at the time, or perhaps you just went through the motions, since you didn’t really know specifically what you wanted to do years down the line, now it’s time to dive into your recovery plan and begin to flesh it out with some concrete goals.
Your spouse or partner can be a tremendous asset in helping you create some short-term and long-term goals. Together you can brainstorm ideas around a possible goal, say going back to school and finishing (or beginning) a degree. Maybe one of your thoughts is to look for employment in a different field. Perhaps the two of you have long dreamed of buying a house, or having children, or selling a house and downsizing if the children are grown. Maybe you’re planning for retirement and looking at options. Just be sure that this is your recovery plan and these are your goals that will help you progress in recovery. That you create goals that may include your spouse – and probably do, in some cases – this goal-setting process is absolutely necessary to your successful recovery.
Start with some short-term goals. A good one is to attend 90 meetings in 90 days. This is known as the “ninety in ninety” rule in Alcoholics Anonymous and it’s a great one to put on your list because it focuses your thoughts on getting to those meetings and achieving your goal of attending 90 meetings. Why is 90 so important? The answer is simple: the first 90 days or three months of recovery is the time when you are most vulnerable. You aren’t practiced enough in your coping strategies when you first come out of treatment to know instinctively how to handle every situation, challenge, crisis, or opportunity that comes your way. Sometimes you won’t know what to do and will call on your sponsor for advice and counsel – and that’s exactly what you should do. Never feel like you need to tough it out. That’s both short-sighted and likely to result in relapse. So, as a first goal, put down 90 meetings in 90 days.
That was easy, wasn’t it? And attending those meetings may mean that in the first weeks you might attend one in the morning and one at night or one at lunch and one after work. If you’re in a particular crisis mode, you may go to as many as you can fit in a day. Just be sure that you’re present, not just taking up space on the chair in the room.
As for other goals, go back to the larger ideas, the long-term dreams. Naturally, you’ll need to take some action in between now and years down the line. Start writing down the things you’ll need to do in order to make progress toward your goals. For example, if your goal is to go back to school and finish a degree, you’ll need to fill out an application, perhaps apply for financial aid or arrange to pay for tuition, fees, and books. You’ll need to sign up for classes, complete semesters, and so on.
As you progress toward achievement of each step along the way, revise your goals to reflect your accomplishments. You may decide that a goal you thought you wanted no longer seems as viable or attractive. Another opportunity may have presented itself that is even better. Maybe it is an offshoot of something you’re already pursuing – kind of like an expansion of your horizon. When you first come out of treatment, it’s hard to see too far ahead. Sometimes you don’t feel capable of or deserving of reaching too far. As you become more self-confident and self-assured, your views of your potential will expand as well.
Make Time for You
Recovery is more than just attending meetings, seeing your therapist, going to work, and taking care of your physical well-being. It goes without saying that being healthy means you get proper physical exercise, eat and sleep well. But you also need to make time in your daily schedule just for you.
This is important for everyone, but even moreso for those in recovery. You can’t just limit yourself to duties. You need to allow your creative side to fluorish, to enjoy arts and music and nature. If you love to cross-country ski or go flyfishing, pencil these activities in and get about doing them. Join a group that can expose you to new and sober friends.
Enrich your spiritual side by meditating, doing yoga, going to church or just communing with nature. Read books, take up a hobby, enjoy time with your family – including mini-vacations or trips to the beach, a forest preserve, amusement park, the circus, whatever. The point is to be with other people, doing things you enjoy, or expanding your circle of friends to broaden your network.
How to Handle Difficult Emotions
It’s not always going to be rosy. That’s the honest truth. There will be times when your boss is on your case because you didn’t complete a project on time or missed an opportunity he or she felt you should have recognized – or whatever the situation is. You may be stressed out trying to get back up to the pace you worked before you left for treatment. You may be expecting too much from yourself too soon.
Maybe the kids are not doing too well in school and you blame yourself. You try to discuss the situation but perhaps they’re stonewalling or having a tough time emotionally and they take it out on you. Perhaps you’re having a difficult time in your relationship with your spouse or partner. He or she may try to control your activities, acting in a co-dependent manner.
There may be financial fallout from your being out of work for some time or as a result of the cost of treatment. If the household finances are in shambles, that’s enough to cause some emotional turmoil on the part of all concerned.
When emotions threaten to overwhelm you, call your 12-step sponsor or meet with your therapist to help work things out. You can’t be expected to have all the answers. No one does. Just being able to speak with your trusted advisors (your sponsor and therapist) will go a long way toward alleviating the situation. You will also benefit from stepping up your attendance at meetings during these rough patches.
In addition to your attending 12-step meetings, it’s also a good idea for family members to go to the family groups that are the counterpart of those 12-step groups. The family group component of Alcoholics Anonymous is Al-Anon/Alateen (where Alateen is for younger famiy members). For Narcotics Anonymous, the family group counterpart is Co-Anon. In fact, most 12-step groups have a family group counterpart. The purpose of those family groups is that members whose lives are touched by another’s addiction help each other by sharing their experience, strength and hope.
So, while you are healing and getting support and encouragement from your 12-step group, your family members can get comfort and understanding to deal with their frustrations and fears through the family groups.
One Day at a Time
You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it a thousand times. Effective recovery involves taking it one day at a time. The past is behind you. It does not define you. Live today and be present every minute of today. What happens tomorrow begins with what you do today.
As you settle in to your new life in recovery, just keep it simple and take it slow. Ask for help when you need it. Express and receive love and friendship. Make goals, and take time to thoroughly enjoy life.