They’re BAAaaack! What should you do when he comes home from treatment?
When the recovering person comes home from treatment, the real journey is about to begin. They have just been immersed in a crash course—Everything you need to know about addiction and how to live substance free. Coming home is an important event. How successfully will your husband apply his newfound wisdom? Will your friend be able to make a lasting change now that she is back in the real world? Remember, they just left a safe place where they made friends and received daily encouragement—and now they are back, facing many of the harsh realities of life.
Most likely, your loved one will feel a real sense of accomplishment, having successfully completed the program. Having confidence that he can start a new life is a good thing. At the same time, however, he is about to receive his first dose of reality as he is home from treatment. Now all the knowledge he gained about recovery must be practically lived out. He is going to have a myriad of questions: How do I tell old friends about my new life? How are they going to react? How am I going to react if they aren’t supportive of my new lifestyle? Will I have the strength? What will I say? Who should I see and who should I avoid? What do I need to start doing right now to avoid using again? Where will I find a new group to belong to? What if I don’t find a group of people I like? How hard do I have to work to stay away from alcohol or drugs? Do I have what it takes to do this?
All recovering addicts must decide what they need to do to continue their lives in recovery with success and then follow through with action—all by themselves. In light of their own circumstances, only they can take the next step. Obviously many people and groups can be helpful, but it’s the individual that must decide to seek out the support that will make his commitment to change successful. This needs to happen soon. Some form of support will be needed to keep this recovery ball rolling, whether it’s AA, NA, an outpatient group, or counseling. This period of time, when the person has just returned home from treatment, is when all the talk and good intentions need to turn into positive action.
It should not take long to determine the sincerity of the recovering person. Actions speak louder than words, and no one successfully recovers alone. How much and how long the person makes use of outside support will depend on the situation, but everyone will need some form of support as they adjust to life on life’s terms.
What to Do
So as a family member or friend, what do you do? If possible, anticipate this situation by meeting with treatment staff for sound advice before your loved one comes home from treatment. This can be a time to debrief and get answers to some of your questions. Try not to be overly self-conscious about what you do or say to the person returning home. You don’t need to be walking on eggshells. Talking about recovery and encouraging someone is a good thing. By the same token, recovery shouldn’t dominate all discussions. The process is just beginning, and you should give it time. The recovering person is trying to build a new life—one they can call normal. The more they see that life can be normal without using, and that they can deal successfully with everyday situations, the more motivated and encouraged they will be to continue with sober living. It may take time, but it does become easier.
When I returned home from treatment, I was both confident and scared at the same time. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but it’s true. I was having an internal battle: part of me believed that I would do whatever it took to stay away from drugs, but another part of me wasn’t sure about the “do whatever it takes” strategy that we had discussed in treatment. My family knew it wasn’t going to be easy. For the most part, they left me alone. When they saw that I made the effort to go to work and regularly attend my group meetings, the atmosphere gradually grew more relaxed. They saw that I was moving in the right direction and seemed to discern that it was okay to trust me. I’m glad they gave me some space. I guess they knew they didn’t have the answers I needed anyway. Only another recovering person can really understand what it’s like, so my parents and family could not fully put themselves in my situation. Their ability to understand what I was going through was limited, yet I needed their support. This is when I began to spend a lot of time with other recovering people.
Not everyone will be able to go to a residential treatment center; therefore, recovery will look a little different in such cases. It will mean attending a lot of evening and weekend groups. A healthy level of busyness can help ensure sobriety. Work and recovery should be the two main priorities for those in recovery. If your loved one is not working, then that means they should spend more time attending groups. Idle time can be a strong temptation to revert to old habits.
For families in this recovery situation, encouraging the recovering addict to continue with his new life and not give up will take a great deal of patience. Because the user has not been totally removed from his life setting, it may take longer for him to become strong. Remember, you have a limited understanding of addiction and recovery, so attending some Al-Anon or “open” AA meetings would be an excellent idea. This will give you more knowledge about what your loved one might be going through. In addition, these meetings are a way for people in similar situations to connect and give one another support and advice. Attending these meetings is also a huge sign of support from you to your friend or loved one.
In some cases, it would benefit the recovering person to temporarily relocate. If they can live with a relative or friend for a few months, it will give them a chance to concentrate on their recovery without the pressures of dealing with old buddies, bad influences, and triggers that can cause a relapse.
If you have been a positive influence in this person’s life, continue that support. However, you will need to provide a healthy balance of support. Don’t smother them with an unusual amount of concern, as this will make them feel self-conscious. On the other hand, don’t distance yourself, because you may be afraid and unsure how to act around them. Be yourself. Help them to see that life without using can be fun. They may have been afraid of losing all their friends, including you. Be a friend. Good friends who don’t use are what they need.
It won’t take long to figure out how serious your loved one is about their new life. Their attitude will be one sign of how they are adjusting. Admitting complete defeat in the face of addiction is a humbling experience. In my case, life in recovery meant acting differently than I did before: striving to listen to others without overreacting, and learning how to be patient. This again is a process that takes time. Some moodiness should be expected, but if it persists it needs to be addressed, as it could be a sign of too much stress. It could also be a result of the void created by not using, sadness from losing old friends, and abandoning an old lifestyle that defined who they were.
There will be some peaks and valleys in early recovery. Remember: If relapse occurs, don’t be too harsh. Rather, be concerned about the next step they need to take. If you’re struggling friend gets right back to their recovery program, then stay as optimistic as possible. And when they fall down, help them to get back up and moving in the right direction. Remember, recovery is a process, and your relationship with your friend or loved one can greatly impact their desire to stay on course and make the right choices.
This article excerpted from Part 4/Life in Recovery: Why Don’t They Just Quit? Hope for families struggling with addiction.
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