Living in a Sober House

Living in a Sober House


I lived in a sober house for a total of about 20 months at the beginning of my recovery. This was ultimately the decision that changed my life. Long term treatment was the key that unlocked my recovery for me. Without my time spent living there, I doubt that I would be clean and sober today (over 8 years later and counting).


Unwilling to go to long term treatment?

I was never willing to go to long term treatment when I was still trying to find my path to recovery. I went to a few treatment centers before I really sobered up, and all of them suggested that I go live in a sober house for a period of several months. I was unwilling to do so at the time. “Several months?” I would exclaim. What a waste of time!

I can look back now and see that this was a form of denial. In effect, I was saying that my problem was not bad enough to warrant long term treatment, when clearly it was. I was not willing to put in the effort to go to long term because I was not ready to stop drinking. The program talks about being willing to “go to any lengths” in order to stay sober, and clearly I was not yet at that point. When I finally made the decision to go to long term treatment, then I was ready to make real change in my life.

False preconceptions about a sober house

I had this idea about long term treatment–that it was similar to being in jail or something. I think a lot of people share this same idea. They believe that if they go to a long term treatment program, they will basically be locked down in a facility somewhere, and they won’t have any freedom to live their life as they choose. This is not true at all, and I learned this very quickly after moving into a sober house.

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The fact is that most long term treatment centers provide just the right amount of structure, while still giving the residents enough freedom to learn how to live a sober life. This is a tricky balance to achieve so most sober houses start you out with a few restrictions. They make sure that you travel with your other peers in recovery when you venture outside the home, for instance. They might also mandate that the only places you go at first outside of the home are recovery related groups or meetings. But there is still plenty of freedom and most sober homes give you the freedom to go to work, go back to school, and so on. It is not anything like being locked down or in jail or anything of the sort.

Learning the basics with structure

This structure that you get in long term treatment is important, because it sets you up for success in early recovery. Part of this structure is usually mandated recovery activities. For example, one sober home might require you to do 90 meetings in 90 days in a 12 step program, as well as to attend group therapy sessions once or twice a week and also meet with the counselor who runs the home for a therapy session occasionally.

It is this type of structure that gives a person the right framework to succeed in early recovery. They have taken what works for others and set it up as program requirements for living there.

Transitioning to freedom

Once you have the basics of staying sober down, the typical long term treatment center will start helping you to transition into long term sobriety. This means that you will start preparing yourself to eventually leave the facility and still be able to maintain sobriety on your own. This is, after all, the point of transitional housing: to transition into sober living.

The way this transition happens is by slowly giving you more and more freedom. Most sober houses that I have seen do this by extending your freedom in stages the longer you have been there. This makes perfect sense and helps to ease you into the responsibility. For example, they might allow you to stay out later each night or take weekend passes to go visit friends and family after you have stayed there long enough. Thus you start to slowly reintegrate yourself back into a “normal life” while still maintaining the safety and structure of the sober living environment.

If all you did in long term treatment was to stay locked down in a safe and sober environment, this would not be very helpful. Eventually you have to walk out the door and face the massive responsibility of having true freedom again. This is what makes the transition in long term recovery living so valuable. They can spoon feed you some of this freedom a bit at a time, so that you do not become overwhelmed and end up relapsing. It is like having training wheels for your recovery.

A comprehensive program

One thing that was nice about living in a sober house was that the program of recovery was actually very, very good. Regardless of which treatment center you live at, there is probably going to be someone in charge, and some sort of therapy or counseling on a regular basis. Most sober houses have group therapy sessions on a weekly basis and also require 12 step program participation.

What is nice about this approach is that it is so comprehensive. Some people respond better to group therapy, while others do better with one-on-one counseling. Living in a sober home, you are likely going to be exposed to several of these recovery techniques. Thus you can find what really works for you and what seems to help you the most in your recovery. People who simply attend a short, inpatient treatment center do not really have this luxury of choice in their recovery. They are exposed to fewer options for recovery and do not get the benefit of exploring what can truly work for them in the long run.

Surrounded by failure

Even with all of the advantages that you get from a sober house, the rate of failure is still pretty bad. It is surprising how many people do not manage to stay clean and sober while living in long term treatment. I know this from experience because I lived in long term treatment for almost 2 years straight and watched about 30 people come in and out of the program during that time. Maybe 3 of them are still sober today, 8 years later. I would venture to say that 80 percent of them did not stay sober for even one year.

Why is the success rate so low with long term treatment? First of all, realize that living in a sober house is not a magic bullet for success. Ultimately, the individual still has to want to stay sober if they are going to make it in their recovery. We can potentially sabotage our own recovery efforts in almost any given situation, regardless of how much support we have to stay clean. Just because we have a comprehensive recovery program and a ton of peer support and structure in our lives does not guarantee that we will stay sober. The motivation still has to come from the individual.

Remember that long term treatment is a superior support structure for those who want it. Many people need it, but success will only come to those who want it. Long term treatment does not insure success. You still have to put the work in.

A sober house as a last resort

If you are still not convinced that long term treatment is right for you, then use it as a last resort. That is what I did and it eventually worked for me.

In other words, simply keep it in your mind as a last resort, and only give it a try after other methods of recovery have failed you. Perhaps you do not actually need to live in a sober house. Maybe you can get clean and sober going to outpatient treatment twice a week. Or perhaps you can just attend 12 step meetings every day and achieve a successful recovery that way. There are many different ways to get clean and sober. Find the one that works for you.

I was never willing to go to long term treatment for a really long time, but eventually, it took what it took for me to get sober and I surrendered to the idea. Once I did that, everything fell into place and my life immediately started getting better. Long term treatment was just what I needed at the time. It does not work for everyone because some people are just not ready to get sober.

But, if you are truly sick and tired of drinking and drugging, and you feel like you need more support than what you can get from other recovery strategies, then living in a sober house might be the right solution for you.

Good luck on your journey…..


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