Once you complete treatment for dependence or addiction to alcohol, drugs or other addictive behaviors, it’s a whole new world ahead. This can also be a pretty frightening time if you fail to prepare yourself for a range of new emotions, challenges, obstacles and opportunities.
Let’s face it, while treatment itself wasn’t easy at times, not having the security and constant presence of your counselors and the support and encouragement of fellow group members around may leave you feeling a bit lost. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some suggestions to help you find your way on the road to recovery.
Prepare for changes ahead
Before your emotions and fears get the better of you, stop and take a moment to reflect on what’s happened to you up to this point. You’ve likely gone through detoxification, active treatment with therapists involving individual and group counseling, possibly medication to ease withdrawal symptoms, 12 step meetings, and coping skills and relapse prevention training — the whole works.
Part of your overall treatment program probably included creating a personalized recovery plan just before you finished your active treatment. This is a very important document. It serves as a roadmap for your future, but it is certainly not set in stone. In fact, it is meant to be a flexible, constantly changing guideline that you alter as you achieve milestones you’ve set for yourself, or as new opportunities arise that you’d like to investigate. Some goals that you thought you wanted while you were in treatment may prove to be no longer viable — or you may have moved past them and on to even more challenging goals.
The truth is that it’s hard to see very far ahead when you’re deep in the midst of treatment. Part of the reason addiction treatment programs are effective is the fact that it is structured. While you are learning about the disease of addiction and how environmental, genetic and other factors played into you becoming addicted, how to recognize cues and triggers, what to do to avoid falling into relapse, and other important aspects of treatment, you followed a schedule. You always knew what was on the agenda for the day ahead.
Now that you’re either out of treatment or are close to it, you won’t have the benefit of that daily structured regimen. You will need to create your own plan for how you’ll move forward. But before you do that, it’s important that you adopt a mindset that embraces change. You need to see that change is good. Look at the tremendous changes you’ve already made in your life. You overcame your addiction by your determination, genuine commitment to becoming clean and sober, and your desire to live life to the fullest.
Will you always know what tomorrow will bring? No, of course you won’t. Actually, that’s to your benefit. Some of the greatest discoveries of a person’s potential are surprises. When you open yourself up to the possibilities of whatever is out there for you, those opportunities to change will appear. So, for now, your first step on the other side of treatment is to prepare for changes ahead — lots of changes.
Refine your recovery plan
Next, take another look at your recovery plan. Now that you’re no longer in a structured treatment environment, you have a great deal of freedom. That’s the good news and the bad news. There’s more time to do what you want — and time to get into trouble if you neglect to follow the advice and recommendations of your counselors.
Put yourself to work by refining your recovery plan. There should be some immediate things that you need to do to accomplish some short-term (2-4 week, 6 months) goals. This may involve signing up for a class, enrolling in or going back to college, perfecting skills (computer, carpentry, etc.), finding a job, working on repairing relationships, fixing up the house — only you know what you’ve identified as your first priorities.
Take a look at your list. Have you forgotten anything? Are there more things that you can add? Think about short-term goals as ingredients in a recipe. The end goal is to achieve the most reasonable representation and realization of those ingredients. The more short-term goals you have, the better? Not necessarily. Be sure not to overload yourself with tasks and things to do this week and next week. You also need time to begin to address some of your longer term goals. In other words, in order to start to move forward on things you want to achieve in 1-5 years — like finishing your degree, buying a house, getting married or having children — you may need to lay the groundwork now.
When you are in early recovery — the first 6 months to a year — it’s a good idea to revisit your recovery plan once a week. Make notes on where you stand with your various goals and definitely note when you have accomplished each one. This should be cause for celebration. Every milestone you reach and can mark off as a successful endeavor is like money in the bank. In this case, it’s an investment in you and your future. As you proceed in your recovery, looking back over your list of accomplishments will build your self-esteem and self-confidence. It’s a great way to keep on track in your recovery.
Take care of yourself
With so many things on your agenda, it’s easy to neglect one very important item: taking care of yourself. While you were in treatment, you had three meals a day prepared for you, there were times set aside for exercise and leisure activities, and you went to bed at regular hours. Now that you’re on your own again, it’s vital that you pay attention to proper nutrition, exercise and getting enough sleep. In fact, this is a necessary part of the overall mind-body-spirit balance you should strive to achieve.
Maybe you don’t fancy yourself as a great cook, but you don’t have to be a gourmet chef to prepare nutritious meals. Think of mealtime as a chance to experiment with new ideas, colors, tastes and arrangement on the plate. You’ve heard the recommendation to eat five fruits and five vegetables a day. While that’s good advice, many people curl up their nose at the thought of piling all that stuff on a plate. You know it’s good for you, but you have no idea how to pull it off.
- Make a big salad each day. This can be for lunch or dinner — or make a large enough one that you have some for both meals. In the salad, use several types of lettuce: romaine, mesclun, baby lettuces, Bibb. Maybe add in endive or escarole on occasion. Other items that you can choose to incorporate include radicchio (reddish, somewhat bitter but great flavor), carrots, onion (red, sweet, or green onions), and chopped red, yellow, orange or green peppers, radishes, jicama (crunchy and sweet like an apple), cucumber, and tomato. The beauty about salads is that you can create an endless combination and never get bored. Use different salad dressings or make your own. You’ll easily come away with five vegetables right off the bat. And, with tomato (a fruit), you’re already on your way to taking care of the fruit requirement.
- Fresh fruit during the day makes a great snack. Buy what’s in season and take advantage of local farmers markets. You can also eat a half grapefruit for breakfast. And, speaking of breakfast, all nutritionists recommend that you eat breakfast every day. Don’t skip it because you think you don’t have time. There’s always time for some yogurt or cereal, if not the full-scale eggs and breakfast meat or pancakes. You need fuel to get your body nourished for the day’s activities. Never, ever just have a coffee or a latte or cappuccino from the local coffee place and think you’ve got it covered. You’re only shortchanging yourself.
- What about meat? You need protein, so meat is a good choice. Select lean meat if you’re going for red meat — and eat it sparingly. Buy fresh fish (don’t worry — you can broil them, sauté them or grill them) and especially become familiar with salmon. It’s a great source of omega-3 oils which are great for every organ of your body. Poultry is great as well, such as turkey, chicken, Cornish hens. Just go easy on eating the skin (it contains a lot of fat).
- Steer clear of too many carbohydrates or starchy foods. Avoid greasy foods and those with empty calories. That means, stay away from bags of greasy and salty potato chips, mounds of mashed potatoes — you get the idea. Another no-no is too much sugar. This throws your body off-kilter and can lead to spikes in blood sugar that could be dangerous. A little cake and ice cream now and then is fine. Just eat it in moderation.
One way to figure out nutritious meals is to watch some of the cooking shows on cable. Or buy a good cookbook. Or ask a friend to give you some easy-to-make recipes. You could even take a cooking class. The key is to use variety, lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, and use ingredients that are as fresh as possible.
- Regarding sleep, make sure you get a good 7-8 hours each night. Although some people swear they can get by on five hours or less, they’re doing their bodies a tremendous injustice. The human body requires adequate rest in order to replenish, to revitalize, and to work through things in the subconscious that the conscious state is too busy to attend to. Be sure to go to bed at the same time every night and don’t watch TV in bed. Also, don’t eat anything for the last two hours before you retire. Avoid late consumption of soft drinks or caffeine as these tend to keep you awake. If you toss and turn, get up and go to another room and read until you feel sleepy. Then return to bed.
- You also need adequate physical exercise to keep yourself healthy. Start out slow. You don’t want to overdo it and lose your enthusiasm. Go for a 20-30 minute walk a few days a week. You can vary your route or go to parks, beaches, the mountains or a nature trail so you don’t get bored. The idea is to do it regularly. You need to make time for this at first, but after a while it will become part of your routine and something that you look forward to. You can always add more strenuous exercise when you’re more physically fit – or find something you really want to do, such as mountain biking, cross-country or downhill skiing, racquetball, basketball, softball, etc.
Broaden your circle of friends
While you’re looking at your new life in recovery, make sure that you arrange to be in the company of others. The last thing you want to do is sit at home and stew about your troubles, lack of money, stresses at work, wondering how you’ll do this or that. You need to be with people, period.
If you have a supportive family, that’s a great place to start. No doubt your family will welcome seeing you back at get-togethers (Sunday dinner, watching a sports game, barbeques, etc.). Even if you have been estranged from them, however, it’s important that you make the effort to repair your relationships. Take it one day at a time, and keep at it. Sometimes this takes a lot more time that you realize. After all, you may have been at odds with them for many months or years. This doesn’t get repaired overnight.
There are other ways to be in the company of others. Some of the friends you used to associate with you may now know weren’t really your friends at all. They were enablers or your drinking buddies or those you used to do drugs with. You already know you need to steer clear of them, but where do you go to find new friends?
If your treatment program included participation in 12 step group meetings, one way to find people who have gone through the same type of situation is to find a 12 step meeting near you and continue to attend regularly. This is a safe environment where no one will criticize or look down on you. There are no judgments or expectations. Everyone is there to help themselves and other group members succeed in recovery. If you find someone that you like, cultivate a personal friendship. Use this as a stepping stone to broadening your circle of friends.
You could also consider joining a club. Start with what interests you. It could be sports, reading, going to movies, travel, even an adventure club. When you are with others pursuing a common interest, there’s always opportunity for conversation — and, perhaps friendship. You’ll also have something to look forward to in your free time — something you can add to your agenda.
What if you get down?
Of course, not every day will be a perfect one. There will be challenges and obstacles to overcome. You know that. But don’t let yourself become discouraged, either from lack of progress toward your goals or the gnawing feeling that you could be doing better. These are traps that are basically remnants from your past come to haunt you. When you find that things are piling up or you feel uncertain what to do or just need someone to talk to, contact your counselor or 12 step sponsor. Don’t stew over it. Do something about it.
Remember that you are human. You aren’t perfect. If you find yourself slipping, reach out right away and get help. And, help is always there for you. Being able to recognize and accept it is another important part of finding your way on the other side of treatment.