Transitional time: Easing the shift from rehab to real life

Years ago, those who had completed drug or alcohol inpatient rehabilitation were considered “cured” once they were discharged and sent back to their lives. Today, however, we know better. First, there’s really no “cure” for addiction. And second, recovery is a lifelong pursuit, one in which the individual is best served by a treatment approach that outlines a long-term care continuum.

While the transition from residential treatment back to independent living is not without its speed bumps, there are tips and techniques that can help make it attainable.

  1. Continue your routine. Inpatient rehab time tends to be structured, with designated times to eat, attend therapy, exercise, and meditate. Independent life may look like a blank canvas, and filling those days can seem intimidating for someone who’s settled into a predictable routine. The solution: Work with what you know, trying to integrate elements of your treatment routine into your everyday lifestyle so the transition seems less dramatic.


  1. Fill your time. An idle mind is the devil’s playground.” There’s a reason this quote endures. Boredom is dangerous because it leaves you open to the powers of suggestion. An evening with nothing to do, for example, could put you on the path of reminiscing about happy hours with friends. Instead, find something to replace the less-than-healthy activities of your previous life. If happy hour was the end to your day, join a running or biking club that meets every night after work.


  1. Minimize your triggers. There are always going to be unavoidable triggers in life, such as feelings of loneliness or isolation, losing friends or loved ones, getting laid off from a job. Although you can’t control everything, take steps to avoid potential triggers whenever possible. If family holidays typically involve copious amounts of alcohol, for example, make an appearance and then have a reason why you can’t stick around late into the evening. If summer usually means rowdy night concerts where recreational drug use abounds, find a replacement activity.


  1. Continue to attend your meetings. No other situation can put you in such a relatable, nonjudgmental environment where you can learn from others with similar backgrounds and experiences. And there are few better ways to find reassurance that you’re not the only traveler on the road to recovery.


  1. Embrace moderation. It’s not uncommon for addicts to replace one indulgence with another. Those who stop drinking may develop an obsession with sugar, energy drinks, coffee, or chocolate – often because the physiological effects of consuming these substances tend to mimic the highs delivered by drugs or alcohol while still technically allowing the “user” to claim a sober lifestyle. So, watch your intake of substances that aren’t good for you, regardless of whether they don’t fall into the drug/alcohol category.


  1. If your “tribe” doesn’t support your recovery, find a new tribe. You may be eager to reconnect with your social group, but try to do so with an open mind – and adopt an observer’s eye to determine if they have your best interests at heart. You may find that your relationships have shifted now that you’re sober, and your peers may or may not be willing to support your recovery lifestyle. If they liked the addict you better, be ready to move on to healthier, more supportive relationships.


  1. Set future goals. Give yourself something to work toward, whether it’s eating healthier, saving for an extravagant vacation, or learning a new language just for fun. Doing so will give you a greater sense of purpose and a goal that you can derive personal satisfaction from by breaking it down into achievable steps. (Don’t forget to reward yourself when you do what you said you’d do.)


  1. Pay it forward/look for ways to help others. One of the best ways to stop focusing on your own struggles is to look for opportunities to assist others. Don’t get bogged down thinking each instance has to be a time-consuming, involved commitment; even dropping a few flowers off for your neighbor who just lost her spouse or shoveling your elderly neighbor’s driveway after it snows can make an impact. There’s plenty of evidence that appears to indicate that helping others has a positive impact on our well-being. If you are so inclined to sign up for a regular gig, you could volunteer at a homeless shelter, walk dogs or play with cats at an area animal shelter, or visit with seniors in assisted living or nursing homes.

Keep in mind that everybody’s recovery journey is different, but when you take steps to ease the transition from rehabilitation back into independent living, you improve your chances of sobriety success. A little forethought and planning can go a long way toward protecting your path to recovery.

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