You’ve just completed a rehab program for a problematic relationship with drugs or alcohol. Congratulations, right? Absolutely! It might feel like you’ve reached the end, but in many ways, this moment is, in fact, the true beginning: the beginning of a sober life, which will in many ways be wonderfully like the old life but also can be looming and scary in its unfamiliar newness. A freshly-out-of-rehab patient must not be fooled into thinking that their life can go back to exactly how it was before, but neither should they be intimidated by the thought that everything must change.
Here are three great tips for staying sober after rehab that balances everything that was wonderful about the old you with the new you.
Reexamine Your Hobbies & Interests To Find Your True Fits
One of the most daunting-seeming tasks of coming back to your life as a newly sober individual is sorting out what you “can” and “can’t” do anymore. The pressure to sort activities into these categories can come from within, as a lecturing voice in your head chastising you never to step foot in a bar again, or from without, as a loved one or counselor telling you that you are no longer permitted to engage in certain risk activities.
During your days as an individual who oriented their leisure time heavily around access to substances, you got used to certain settings: bars, parties, social events, or, in this author’s case, behind the minibar in my own basement. Now it can feel like the “fun police,” internal or external, are leaving you with nothing to do. In fact, according to a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism study at the University of Washington Seattle, boredom and frustration were the highest triggers for recovered individuals to begin using again.
This process can be a blessing in disguise: a chance to discover who you truly are on the inside, and what parts of the “old you” deserve to live on in the “new you.” To be alive is to grow, and this is a period of renewed growth—and that can mean pruning away dead branches to make room for healthy ones.
When I became sober, I found that it became difficult to watch football and hockey without the added excitement that an alcohol buzz provided, artificially inflating my sense of enjoyment and smoothing over the boring periods between plays. Rather than rue this realization as “Yet Another Fun Thing I Can’t Do Anymore,” I saw it in a new light: perhaps I never truly loved these games as much as I thought if they couldn’t be enjoyed in their own right. Meanwhile, I had stopped playing my favorite social card game, Magic: The Gathering, during the last two years of my alcoholism—I was unable to spend a Saturday afternoon and evening at the local card store tournament when I was preoccupied with nursing a hangover and then getting ready to go out again. Newly sober, I fell back in love with the game and quickly realized that without alcohol warping my priorities, loving that nerdy social card game was part of who I truly am.
Turn First To Friends Who Advocate “Specific” Support
It goes without saying that many of the people you choose to keep around in your new life will say they “support you” in your sobriety. (If somebody won’t say even that, then the decision on whether or not they belong in your new life may be one of the easier ones!)
But what many newly recovered people, reeling with feelings of both appreciation and obligation to all these wonderful friends who say they support them, won’t intuit is that there are different tiers of supportiveness. Briefly, they are:
- Stated support: the friend says that they support you (as it would be uniquely antagonistic not to) but in fact may not be willing to go out of the way in actions rather than words.
- General support: the friend wants you to have an excellent life and sincerely wishes for your well-being and will help in whatever way they can, but they wish more for your health in a general sense than it having to specifically be via not using drugs and alcohol.
- Specific support: the friend wants you to have an excellent life and understands/advocates specifically that it must come through abstention from drugs and alcohol not being present in that life.
Studies have shown that these tiers of support make a vast difference in how helpful your friend group winds up being to your continued sobriety effort. Surprisingly, even though general supporters do want what is best for you, specific support has a much bigger impact on continued sober living. Try to make sure that in moments of need, when you’re at your weakest, you turn to a specific supporter rather than a general one: somebody who won’t just encourage you to “do what you have to do to be happy”, but somebody who will specifically know that no matter what it takes to get you through this difficult time, it has to involve a continued and specific abstention from substances.
When I announced that I was going sober, I only had “stated” support from my girlfriend at the time: she wasn’t going to sabotage me and she didn’t want to hurt me, but she wasn’t going to let my decision change anything about her life, either. (We didn’t last). I had “general” support from my best friend, who wanted to see me healthy again and was happy I wasn’t drinking, but when I turned to him in moments of weakness, he told me not to make such a big deal of sobriety if it was making me so miserable. From my roommate, however, I had total and “specific” support. He was supportive entirely and wholly not just as a friend but particularly that I never drink again no matter what, and his clear-cut attitude made the biggest difference when I was weak.
Consider An Aftercare Program or Sober Living Housing
You don’t have to go 0-to-60 on “rehab” to “back in the wild,” either. A brand new life as a sober individual is first and foremost exciting, but going back to complete freedom after the close supervision of inpatient or outpatient rehab can also be daunting, and that’s completely okay. Many people choose to enroll in either an aftercare program or a sober living house as a gradual phase between the steps of rehab and unsupervised sober living.
What Is An Aftercare Program?
An aftercare program may involve any or all of:
- Continued one-on-one therapy.
- Recurring group therapy meetings.
- Continued education programs.
- Continued access to resources.
- Access to medication.
- 12-Step programs.
Aftercare program can provide those that are sober with the tools and resources to prevent relapse, as well as offer a support network.
What Is Sober Living Housing?
Sober living housing, also known as a halfway house, is a temporary residential facility one can reside in for a period after rehab, involving any or all of:
- The freedom to come and go as one pleases subject to only minor restrictions.
- A caring environment free of drugs and alcohol.
- House responsibilities to encourage a return to dependable and resourceful behavior.
- Continued emotional support and bonding with others in sobriety.
Sober living housing can be a great in-between for rehab and returning to the environment you were in before you got sober. If you think it might be right for you, including in your aftercare plan can be beneficial to your recovery journey.
Larimer, Mary; Palmer, Rebekka; Marlatt, G. “Relapse Prevention, An Overview of Marlatt’s Cognitive-Behavioral Model” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Vol. 23, No. 2, 1999. Web. Accessed October 9th, 2016. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh23-2/151-160.pdf
David R. Groh, Leonard A. Jason, Margaret I. Davis, Bradley D. Olson, Joseph R. Ferrari. “Friends, Family, And Alcohol Abuse: An examination of general and specific social support”. PubMed Central. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2010 Nov 10. Web. Accessed October 9th 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2977912/
Havassy BE, Hall SM, Wasserman DA. “Social support and relapse: commonalities among alcoholics, opiate users, and cigarette smokers.” PubMed Central. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 1991. Web. Accessed October 9th, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1663695