The hard work begins when you leave the safety of rehab and return home.
The weight of truth in that statement lingers heavy – especially during National Recovery Month. Rehab is life-saving, but the weeks and months after leaving treatment are among the most vulnerable – particularly when people receive short-term treatment (30 days or less). But what makes the rehab/home transition such a shaky, fragile time?
While a lot people enter rehab reluctantly (maybe even kicking and screaming), as the days roll by, the facility becomes a sanctuary of sorts. It’s a safe environment where your every move is structured and planned. You make friends in group therapy. You learn to trust your doctors and know they have your very best interests at heart. You’re surrounded by people who understand the addiction struggle on an intimate level – and none of them hold grudges against you or look at you with distain in their eyes. In a matter of weeks, rehab becomes a new “home” where you feel welcome and wanted. And then the day comes when you must leave that cozy new nest, bound for the old, chaotic one you left behind in a substance-fueled haze. Who wouldn’t be scared?
While you may be free from drugs and alcohol for the first time in years, you’re also being thrust back into a world where you must once again be responsible for your own choices. Temptation and triggers are lurking around every corner. Maybe you live with a spouse or family member who drinks or keeps painkillers in the house. Maybe your family isn’t supportive of your efforts or they doubt your sobriety.
In public and social settings, many of the same dangers await. You may run into old “friends” who expect you to start using again now that “you’re out” of rehab. Coworkers may expect you to nonchalantly attend office parties where alcohol is served. Stressful people or events can throw you for a loop and trigger intense urges to escape. Even driving by liquor stores or corner markets where you used to meet drug dealers can send your head spinning. Yes, it’s certainly a fair statement to say that the hard work begins after leaving rehab.
For our third National Recovery Month feature, we’re highlighting individuals as they fight to remain clean post-treatment. We sat down with four people in the early stages of recovery, and though their journeys are each uniquely different, they’re all determined to beat the odds and not fall victim to the horrors of sobriety. Here’s a look at their stories:
I was 14 when I started drinking; that quickly led to things like smoking pot and dabbling in cocaine. Once I tried crack, I was instantly hooked and in love. How crazy is that? I was in love with a drug. I hate even thinking about those days, to be honest with you.
Individuals who are more nervous about falling back into similar environments and old friends are more likely to relapse during recovery. My life spiraled out of control until one day I found myself in jail for stealing cars with my then-boyfriend. Since I’d never been in trouble, the judge ordered that I go to a 90-day rehab program and remain on probation for five years.
After I stopped fighting the process, rehab was a great place for me. I learned a lot about why I started using drugs in the first place and I learned how to utilize coping skills in the “real world.” When my time in rehab was almost up, I really started to panic. I didn’t know what I would do to make money, where I’d live or if my daughter would remember me. My anxiety levels were through the roof.
Right now I’m living with my ex-husband’s parents – strange situation to say the least, but I get to see my daughter three times a week and every other weekend. I’m having a hard time finding a job because I’m officially a convicted felon, so that’s though. I’ve had to cut out all those old “friends” I used crack with – I already know I’m not strong enough to be in that kind of environment. None of them were ever really my friends, anyway.
The one thing I’m struggling with is feeling isolated. My family members don’t really talk to me anymore – I don’t think any of them believe I’m actually clean and sober. I’ve started going to meetings once a week and that really seems to help. It’s nice to talk openly about what I’m going through without the fear of being judged. I’m taking things one day at a time.
I made my way to rehab thanks to two major injuries I got while serving in Iraq. The pain medication I was taking round-the-clock morphed into one hell of an addiction. I nearly lost my life when I overdosed.
I did three months in an intensive rehab program. The facility was nicer than any house I’d ever been in and the people were amazing. I made some life-long friends in that place – most of them were vets like me. I don’t think any of us wanted to leave when our time was up.
Once I got home, reality hit me like a ton of bricks. I had a stack of overdue bills like you wouldn’t believe, my house was a wreck and littered with empty pill bottles, there were blackened spoons and needles on my kitchen table – everything was exactly the way I left it the night I overdosed. Seeing how I’d been living was too much for me to handle; I could feel my depression coming on like a freight train.
Instead of staying there, calling my old dealer and getting high, I picked up the phone and called my mom. She told me to come stay with her – that we’d figure it out together. That woman’s a saint and she’s never given up on me, even though I’ve given her plenty of reasons to. Together, we decided it’d be best if I went to live in a transitional facility – I call it a halfway house [laughs] – where I could get some more help with learning to live on my own. I already had the tools to navigate life outside rehab, I was just scared and confused about how to put turn those tools into actions. Best decision I ever made.
Today, I’m managing my chronic pain with a couple different non-narcotic medications and acupuncture. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still in a lot of pain, but I can’t go back to taking OxyContin again. If I did that, I know exactly where it would lead me. With my injuries, I can’t work…so they consider me disabled, I guess. My depression is getting better, but I still have to manage it with therapy and medication. This road will be a long one, but it’s better than having no road to travel at all.
My sister, Kelli, and I spent two years shooting heroin into each other’s veins. When I lost my scholarship to play soccer – along with the respect of all my teammates – I knew I had to get some help. I checked myself into a rehab center that took my health insurance and just hoped for the best.
I spent three months working on my issues and thought I had a good grasp of how to navigate the world without heroin. I felt like I could conquer the world in the days leading up to my graduation from the program. If I’d only known…
When I moved back in with my family, I quickly realized Kelli was still using. And once I learned she’d added meth to her regimen, I told my parents. They just ignored the situation, like they’ve always done. I hate them for standing by, watching both of their daughters kill themselves all these years. They’ve never bothered to step in or try to save us…not once.
I’ve tried my best to either avoid Kelli or encourage her to get help. With so much of my time focused on her, I’ve neglected to take care of myself. I haven’t been to a meeting in two months now and I don’t feel like I have anyone who supports my sobriety. The really sad thing is that I’ve started drinking a glass of wine at night just to calm my nerves – a really big glass of wine. This is the road I prepared to avoid and I know I have to take action before things get worse.
I’ve made up my mind to move in with my grandparents. They live six hours away and they totally support my recovery. I’ve already found a new therapist and have a list of all the AA/NA meetings in the area. I’m scared, but I’m ready. It’ll be hard starting all over again in a strange city, but it’s my best hope for survival. I can’t depend on anyone else to do this for me; I have to do it myself…and I’ll be damned if I let anything stop me.
My drug use began with my mom. We started drinking together when I was 16; that led to us smoking pot by the time I was 17 and snorting coke before I got out of high school. When I turned 23, my mom died from an overdose – I’m the one who found her body.
Losing my mom only made me worse. I escaped my pain by crawling into the bottom of a whiskey bottle every night and topped it off with a handful of Xanax. This went on for months…until I overdosed and my son found me unconscious, lying on the living room floor covered in vomit and barely breathing. I was repeating the cycle with a vengeance.
I didn’t want to turn my son’s life into the life I’d experienced when I was younger, so I went into a short-term rehab program. Looking back, the only reason I went was to relive my own guilt. I did what I had to do to complete the program, told everyone how much better I felt, spoke the “rehab” terminology I thought they wanted to hear…fake it until you make it, right?
I got home and everyone thought I was cured – like the month I’d been “away” somehow magically erased all my problems. I didn’t want to let anyone down, so I hid my demons well. I played “sober Deenie” and muddled through life.
Six months ago, I fixed lunch for my son and, when he sat down at the kitchen table, he looked at me real serious all the sudden. Out of the blue he said, “Mom, I’m so proud of you,” and immediately went back to eating his sandwich, happy and innocent like the sweet angel he is. In that moment, I couldn’t do it anymore – I couldn’t keep up the façade.
My old rehab therapist had kept in touch with me since my time in treatment and she always said, “We’re here if you ever need anything.” I put that statement to the test. I called her up and spilled my guts…told her everything. I decided long-term treatment was what I needed, and this time, I was ready.
I spent a total of five months in treatment and rebuilt myself – from the bottom up. I see a therapist three times a week and attend daily online 12-step meetings – sometimes, when I really need it, I get greedy and attend two or three online meetings a day. It really hurt my family when I admitted I’d been hiding my alcohol and pill use; we’re working to mend those fences and establish trust again. I’ve got a lot of fence-mending to do, to tell you the truth…but this time I’m doing the mending with a clear head and a sober heart.
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