What is the point of long term treatment? Why go to all of the trouble to live in a clean and sober environment? Is it really worth it beyond the normal 28 day program that most people end up attending instead?
Long term programs can range anywhere from 90 days to several years in length. So what is the real benefit of living in one of these programs, and what can you expect to get out of it?
That’s just the thing–you can only expect to get out of treatment what you put into it. Meaning that all of the progress has to come from within, it has to be internally motivated. You are not going to check into a magic rehab center that just allows you to suddenly WANT to get clean and sober. It doesn’t work that way.
Instead, you have to want sobriety for yourself, and treatment–both short and long term treatment–are merely tools that may or may not help you to accomplish that goal. But the goal of long term sobriety has to be internally driven.
Given that you have surrendered to your disease and you are ready to get to work, then you may be ready to check into long term rehab and do some serious soul searching.
Why go to treatment at all?
In my opinion, living in long term treatment is a time for exploration. It is a time for soul searching while you are living in a stable environment. You don’t really get this luxury when you are going to a shorter term 28 day program. The problem with short term treatment is that there is really no time to start working on yourself. You get detoxed from your drug of choice, you may learn a few basics about addiction and recovery, and then they will likely tell you to follow up with some sort of aftercare program–usually going to AA or NA meetings is part of this. But you don’t really get a chance in short term residential treatment to dig into your core issues, set long term goals, or really begin to work on yourself in any meaningful sort of way.
Long term treatment gives you a chance to explore. When I first checked into long term treatment I started taking suggestions from other people. A therapist suggested that I meditate, so I did that every day for several weeks. My sponsor suggested that I go back to college and finish up my degree, so I did that too. I was open to suggestions. I saw many people who were quick to shoot down suggestions and give excuses as to why they could not try something, but I realized pretty quickly that this was a poor path to be on.
Taking suggestions from other people required some courage. I came into treatment at rock bottom and felt like I had nothing to lose. That was part of why I was willing to live in long term treatment in the first place. But because I had hit bottom I was also willing to take suggestions from other people and to actually listen to them.
What does it mean to listen to others in early recovery? If you just sit and nod politely at them while they are speaking at an AA meeting, are you really listening? No, not necessarily. In order to really listen in early sobriety you have to take action, you have to apply the concepts and ideas that you are learning about, and you have to put the ideas into action. Sometimes there is no clear way to do this other than to do the direct things that other people suggest for you to do.
One example of this is to go to 90 AA meetings in the first 90 days of sobriety. This is a common suggestion for people in early recovery. If you follow through on a suggestion like this then it helps to build routine and discipline into your life. I would highly recommend that anyone who is seeking long term sobriety to make a commitment like this to themselves.
There are really two reasons that you go to long term treatment: The first is so that you can learn how to live a sober life, and the second reason is to become the person that you were supposed to be all along.
To be honest you don’t really need to live in rehab in order to do the first one. You don’t need long term rehab to learn how to live sober. It is possible, through the use of outside support, sponsorship, therapy, peer support, and daily AA meetings for you to learn how to live a sober life in recovery without the need to live in a facility. Most anyone can do this if they have already reached the point of surrender and they truly apply themselves.
So why go to long term rehab? In order to develop yourself as a human being. In order to become the person you were meant to be.
There are several benefits to this path of personal growth. The first is that you get to enjoy a better life in recovery. If you are not on a path of personal growth then you will never be truly satisfied with yourself or with your life. You will always feel like you should be doing more and pushing yourself a bit more. No one likes to feel like they are being lazy all the time, which is exactly what you are if you don’t ever push yourself to learn, to grow, to broaden your horizons in recovery.
Second of all you will help to insure yourself against relapse if you take the path of personal growth. Anyone can stop drinking and taking drugs, the key is in staying stopped. You can go to short term treatment and learn how to live a sober life in recovery, but what happens after you leave treatment and the world unleashes its chaos on you? We all have our ups and downs in life….it is not a question of if, it is only a question of when the crap is going to hit the fan. Everyone goes through both good and bad times; the same is going to be true in your sobriety journey as well. So you have to be equipped to handle those tough times, and if you are just coasting along in your recovery, not doing any real work at all and not pushing yourself to improve your life, then you are going to be much more susceptible to relapse as a result.
The path of personal growth helps to build a protective moat around the castle that is your recovery.
How to avoid coasting in recovery
There are basically three things that you can do in your recovery journey:
1) Push yourself towards personal growth.
3) Regress towards relapse. Negative growth.
It may surprise some of you to learn that the second option, coasting along in recovery, is actually the same as the third option that ends up in relapse.
The reason for this is simple: We are addicts and alcoholics. Our natural tendency is to drink, to use drugs, to self medicate. That is our default behavior.
That is the mean that we always revert back to. If we don’t actively work away from relapse, we are–by default–drifting closer to relapse.
Every single person in recovery has the potential to relapse. Every last recovering addict and alcoholic who is sober today has the potential in them to screw up and to relapse. Is is always a possibility.
So how do we protect ourselves against this possibility? How do we avoid coasting in recovery?
The answer is simple: We must engage in personal growth. We have to live the solution, each and every day.
This is tricky because if we slack off for a few days, nothing bad generally happens. The recovering alcoholic who stops working on their recovery does not relapse immediately. It takes time.
And that is what makes it so dangerous.
A lot of people depend on daily AA meetings to remain sober. If such people skip a meeting, they might realize that it did not seem to affect their overall recovery. They did not suddenly drink as a result.
So then they decide that they can skip more and more meetings. And eventually, if they truly depend on meetings for sobriety, this eventually causes relapse.
Much in the same way that a recovering alcoholic might be able to have a single drink at a wedding or a sporting event and get away with it–at least initially. And that person may even go several weeks, months, or even years without taking another drink at that point. But a seed is planted when you take that first drink, and it ultimately awakens the dragon within. Just as skipping that one AA meeting may be like the first domino that falls that eventually leads to a relapse.
And trickier still: You can find people in AA meetings who have been going for years or even decades, and really they are stuck in a rut. They are complacent. It might even do them well to stop going to meetings, to shake up their recovery, to find something new and exciting and different in terms of personal growth.
You see, AA and the 12 step program is one path to sobriety. But it is not the only path. And ultimately it is a program based on the idea of total abstinence, followed up with the idea that you just need a lot of support and work on yourself in order to maintain that abstinence.
Let’s break that down a bit:
The basic idea of recovery is that you stop putting addictive drugs and alcohol into your body. You get clean and sober. Then you find support, create new relationships, and start working on improving yourself and your life so that you don’t relapse in the future. That’s the basic idea. Going to AA or NA meetings can be one part of this equation, but they are not the entire equation. They are but one tool in a vast toolbox that is recovery.
And so you can be going to AA or NA meetings every single day of your life and still be coasting. You can still be growing complacent and heading straight for relapse. And you may be justifying things to yourself, saying that you are well protected from relapse because you go to meetings so consistently.
The key is to realize that you are not immune to relapse just because you attend meetings every day. The key is to realize that your recovery is based on personal growth.
We improve ourselves in recovery, and we improve our lives. We work on the internal as well as the external.
So maybe you go to AA meetings and this helps initially with your external world. You are not hanging out at the corner bar any more because you are going to an AA meeting each night. This is fantastic. And perhaps you find a sponsor in AA and you start to work through the 12 steps with that person. This is addressing the internal struggle to change–working on character defects, trying to improve who you are as a person, how you react to and treat others, and so on. Maybe your sponsor gets you to eliminate some selfishness to focus on gratitude a bit more.
Recovery requires this two part approach: You have to change the people, places, and things in your life, but you also have to change yourself on the inside. You have to figure out how to be grateful. You have to figure out how to let go of resentment and self pity and guilt and shame. You have to overcome the demons that led you to drugs or alcohol. And in order to do that you have to get honest with yourself. You have to do some serious soul searching. And quite honestly I don’t really think that people have time for that level of soul searching in a 28 day (or less) program.
This is not to say that 28 day inpatient treatment programs are not useful or helpful. They are really important for creating a foundation in early recovery, and like I said–anyone can learn how to live a sober life without living in long term rehab. But you may want to give yourself more time to explore, more time to learn about yourself in a safe environment, and that is why you might look to a long term facility.
One key strategy: Holding each other accountable
Here is one key idea that can shine through in long term recovery centers: You hold each other accountable.
In the NA basic text it talks about how “we are each other’s eyes and ears.” Meaning that sometimes we need to call each other out on our behavior before we end up doing something really stupid that might lead us to relapse.
People enjoy challenging each other as well. We like to create incentives and goals for ourselves. We like to see our progress visually as compared against other people. A bit of competitive spirit can do a great deal to help motivate some people. Therefore if we tell each other our goals in early recovery then we can help to motivate each other a bit.
If you tell someone that you want to do something, then it is more likely that you will follow through and not let them down. We are motivated to do the thing and reach the goal because we don’t want the disappointment of letting others know that we failed. In this way we can help to push each other towards personal growth.
Another key strategy: Defining your personal growth objectives
In order to feel like you are making progress you should probably have some clearly defined goals and objectives.
Again, there isn’t necessarily time to do this in a short term recovery program. In long term treatment you have more of a chance to get clear on what your goals really are in life.
I would suggest that recovery is a holistic effort, and that you will need to consider your personal growth in the following five areas:
1) Physical health.
2) Mental health.
3) Emotional health.
4) Spiritual health.
5) Social health.
All of these are important for your long term recovery. Each area can have a significant impact on your life.
When I first got into recovery I believed that spiritual growth was the only thing necessary for success. I believed that the only salvation in terms of beating addiction was to have a spiritual awakening.
I learned that this was wrong. Everyone in AA and NA seemed to be telling me that the solution was spiritual, and only spiritual.
I found this to be wrong. In fact, the solution was holistic. Holistic meaning the “whole person,” not just the spiritual side of recovery.
So this started to become apparent to me when many of my peers in recovery were relapsing all around me. And many of these peers I considered to be much more spiritual than I was. They had greater faith than I did. And yet they relapsed, while I remained sober.
What was going on?
This was the line of thinking and inquiry that led me to question conventional thinking. At the time I was taking lots of suggestions from my sponsor in NA and my therapist in treatment, for example:
1) Quit smoking cigarettes.
2) Get a new job.
3) Go back to school.
4) Experiment with meditation.
5) Exercise every day and develop a routine for building physical health.
6) Actively practice gratitude and become less selfish. Find ways to give back to others in recovery.
7) Find a way to use their own unique talents and strengths to carry a message of recovery.
These are the kinds of things that worked for me in early recovery. I took many suggestions, some of which worked and some which did not.
I had to be willing to dip my toes in and get my hands dirty, if you know what I mean. I had to be willing to take suggestions and run with them. I had to be willing to try, to experiment.
Focus and avoiding complacency
People who have years or even decades of sobriety still relapse. It still happens.
Therefore are only objective in long term recovery should be relapse prevention and avoiding complacency.
How do we do that?
There are many different ways. One key point is that we should always assume that we are complacent in our everyday lives. We should assume that we are slacking off, even if we secretly believe that we are not at the time.
Now you may be asking: “Why would we make this assumption? Isn’t it dangerous to assume things?”
The answer is no. We should assume that we are complacent so that we can take action, set new goals, and push ourselves to improve our lives in recovery.
If you are leery of making this assumption, just test drive the idea for 30 days. You may even seek feedback from others during this 30 day trial and ask them what they think you need to do in order to improve your life.
This is also a great way to prioritize. Ask people: “What is the most important thing that I can work on in my recovery right now? What should I be focusing on right now?”
If you ask enough people in recovery this question, you will start to get some ideas about what you might be working on in your life.
This is one way that you discover your purpose in recovery, and begin to become the person that you are supposed to be.