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Safety in Numbers: Sticking Close to the Addiction Recovery Herd After Treatment


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What other medical condition requires recovering patients to change their social circle?

Recovery from diabetes means changing your diet. After a heart attack, recovery includes stress management.

Recovery from a substance use disorder, however, means changing your friends, your habits, your interaction with certain family members and how you spend your free time. You may even adjust your routes to and from work.

Out of all of these possible changes, research consistently shows successful recovery can be gauged by the company you keep. Surround yourself with folks committed to sobriety, and you improve your chances of staying sober.

Where do you start?

Like everything else, it’s a matter of taking one step at a time. And, remember, you’re not in this alone.

Here are some simple actions to take after treatment as you create a new circle of support.

1. Build on your treatment relationships in aftercare

Any good treatment center builds community into the treatment process. Transitioning out of treatment is more successful when you have a support team in place before you leave. Throughout treatment, you are given a chance to develop bonds with others in recovery, as well as create connections with addiction recovery professionals. In treatment, allow yourself to take full advantage of what’s offered. Fully participate and engage. These relationships become life preservers after treatment.

For example, take the case of Rachel, who agreed to share her story.

When Rachel graduated from her treatment program, she also left with a page full of support phone numbers. Some of the numbers were from the treatment facility itself and included therapists and crisis numbers. Rachel also had the numbers of fellow clients in treatment and people she’d met in the treatment program’s 12-step meetings.

About a week after treatment, Rachel got into a fight with her mom. She looked at the long list of numbers and struggled for courage. Rachel was nervous to call, and it was hard to identify the right person on this list of around 20 people. She worried she was going to bother someone. Ultimately, it came down to either dialing a number or take a drink. Rachel dialed. Turns out, the person she called was having a rough day too. They were able to connect and support each other to stay sober.

Making an outreach call may not come easily at first. Push through and reach out to the folks you know from treatment.

2. Follow the doctor’s orders, even when it’s uncomfortable

If a cardiologist told you to avoid red meat and walk daily to avoid another heart attack, you’d follow the advice, right? At first, you’d probably hate exercising if you’d been sedentary for a time. If you stick with it, though, you’d see the benefits. Your doctor didn’t give you these treatment recommendations on a whim. Instead, their recommendations were based on the success of other heart attack patients.

Addiction recovery is much the same. In treatment, you hear how attending meetings, getting to know other people in recovery and staying out of isolation provides some insurance against relapse. Do this, and you stay sober. Sounds simple, right?

It is simple, but our complicated, addictive brains usually tell us otherwise. Use your new community to help pave a better way, even when your brain tells you to find the easier way. Listen to others with long-term sobriety. Allow others with more experience to make the hard decisions. Give your brain a rest.

3. Surround yourself with sobriety and stay away from secrets

When you leave treatment, your recovery is fragile. It’s something to protect. Sadly, not everyone around you will stay sober. Yes, it’s important to provide service to struggling addicts, but never at the expense of your own sobriety. If someone around you starts to struggle, talk about it. You don’t need to mention names, but you can and should speak up to those in your circle for your own recovery.

Take the story of Jeff, for example.

Jeff kept in touch with some friends from treatment in aftercare and with outreach calls. One aftercare member hadn’t been seen in several weeks. Jeff received a call from this member, who admitted he’d gone back out.

Initially, Jeff thought about keeping his friend’s secret. Maybe they could meet for coffee and Jeff could persuade this friend to come back to aftercare?

Jeff, however, was only six months sober himself. Meeting alone with a relapsed addict wasn’t in Jeff’s best interest. Against his own instincts, Jeff called his sponsor. He told his sponsor about the friend in trouble. Jeff’s sponsor suggested Jeff meet with the relapsed friend after a meeting, together with another recovering addict. Addicts are great at keeping secrets, the sponsor reminded him. In recovery, we live life out in the open.

There are healthy actions you can take to avoid relapse. Initially, these actions may feel uncomfortable, but this isn’t because they are the wrong actions. Often, in recovery, we have to do things we feel are counter-intuitive. Our instincts push us to stay quiet, isolate, and head to familiar places with familiar people. These actions won’t keep us sober. Stay in the light, reach out to other sober fellows and tell the truth.

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