The decision to abandon a life of addiction is the first big step in a long process. You have to learn to transfer your dependency on substances to a dependency on faith, relationships, and your own strength. But this isn’t an easy road to walk and often requires the help of treatment centers and sobriety programs to help you manage the transition. Even though support options vary, all programs work better when the former alcoholic commits to long-term life changes that enhance success. So what does this look like? We asked three experts in addiction counseling to offer their advice:
1. What are the benefits of choosing a treatment center versus other options?
PAUL HOKEMEYER (clinical consultant at Caron Treatment Centers): Treatment centers are for people who have tried the other options and are unable to stay sober. They are also appropriate when a person’s drinking or drug use is placing his or her life in danger. Residential programs envelop the person in a safe, contained and medically supervised environment where they can focus morning, noon and night on their sobriety. They also provide an opportunity for the person’s family and loved ones to participate in the person’s sobriety and be educated on the nature of addiction as a disease.
2. What are some of the things to look for in choosing a treatment center?
PAUL: The program should have a long and solid record of success. Reputation does matter. I would also steer clear of for-profit programs and look for a not-for-profit treatment center that has been in business for 10 years or longer. In addition, the program should have a solid and robust family program. Alcoholism and addictions are incredibly destructive to the person’s family and loved ones. Competent care includes family and relationship therapy while the person is in treatment. Solid programs provide after-care and step-down, sober living components. Finally, I’d steer clear of programs that promise to “cure” alcoholism or addiction. There is no known “cure” for this disease. Like diabetes, alcoholism and drug addictions are successfully managed and need to be continuously treated for the rest of the person’s life.
3. What happens after you leave the treatment facility?
PHILLIP VALENTINE (director of Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery): Treatment centers are geared to initiate recovery and they do a great job. When people leave treatment they may be stable, clean, and sober. That’s when the real test begins. Liken it to knee surgery; the surgeon goes in and repairs the knee (treatment), however the real work (recovery) begins with physical therapy. So when people leave treatment, they have to continue their recovery, whether that is attendance in support groups, involvement with a recovery community organization, or a similar plan.
4. What are some of the hurdles people face in maintaining their sobriety in the real world?
CALI ESTES (life coach at The Addictions Coach): Often, we see the following: 1) Anxiety rises due to the lack of substances that were used to “stuff down” the feelings. 2) You can’t go back to hanging out with the party friends. If they are using, you have to cut them out of your life. 3) If you are known to buy drugs or are triggered to use where you live, you will need to move. 4) Expect to deal with the hurricane you left behind. If you stole money, for example, you will need to explain that to those you took from and “clean up your side of the street.”
PHILLIP: Some of the biggest hurdles people face include: 1) Returning to a living situation where people are still using. 2) Overcoming the desire to use alcohol and/or other drugs to deal with emotional and physical pain. 3) Finding meaningful work. 4) Coping with fear and anxiety without being self-medicated. 5) Not being able to deal with life on life’s terms.
5. What tips would you give someone for successful long-term sobriety?
- Think positive and stay focused on the goal.
- Talk about your feelings. Most people use drugs and alcohol to not feel anything but being sober allows you to feel and that can be scary.
- Find fun sober activities. Being sober does not mean being boring.
- Hire a therapist or sober coach to support you.
- Designate a support team.
- Learn to use fitness/yoga to boost your serotonin and norepinephrine.
Remember that you are not alone, but if you continue along this way of life, you will be. Things will seem overwhelming at first, remember to breathe and take it one day and one thing at a time.
- Avoid risky situations.
- Take care of your spiritual condition.
- Associate regularly with other people in recovery.
- Practice recovery principles in all your affairs.
- Be honest, open, and willing to go to any length to maintain recovery.
You can do this – with support
There’s a reason that step-by-step programs work so well for addicts. Recovery can be a slow process, but you can mark your gains by the steps you’ve accomplished. Better yet, count on trusted friends and family members to help you make this journey. As Cali says, “A strong team that you can call if you need to be talked off that ledge is very important. You cannot do this alone, as you got yourself here in the first place. Learning how to ask for help is imperative.”
- Dr. Paul Hokemeyer is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist and a clinical consultant for Caron Treatment Centers. He is also a media personality and blogs at www.drhokemeyer.com.
- Cali Estes is a psychotherapist, life coach and fitness guru, specializing in addictions coaching. You’ll find her at The Addictions Coach.
- Phillip Valentine is an accomplished speaker and presenter. He is the Executive Director of Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR).