Yesterday we looked at how to seize the power of change in recovery. Today we want to look at what you should be saying in your post rehab interview. In other words, what your attitude and mindset should be as you leave short term inpatient rehab to go back out into the real world (if you want to be successful and not relapse).
People don’t typically get interviewed when they are leaving rehab. But perhaps they should be. Much could be revealed by their attitude alone.
How to have a bad attitude when leaving treatment
I learned a great deal during my time spent in rehab. First I lived in a long term treatment center for almost two full years, and then later I worked at a detox and residential rehab for about five years. During that time period I was able to watch thousands of people come in and go out of treatment.
Now what eventually made it so interesting was that this was really a somewhat small recovery community. It felt somewhat small because of the “repeat business” that occurred at the treatment center. In other words, a lot of addicts and alcoholics who came to treatment and then left eventually came back some day in the future, for more treatment. Obviously when this happened you could say with 100 percent certainty that the person had relapsed after leaving rehab the first time. Their stories and their confessions would confirm this.
So over the years I observed this pattern in many, many struggling addicts and alcoholics. They would leave rehab, relapse, and then come back at a later time. Our hope was always that such people would eventually “get it,” and amazingly, some of these folks really did get it. Most of them would stay stuck in this long term pattern of relapse but on the other hand you would find every once in a while a person who would “break through” and finally find recovery. It was always amazing to see that happen and I suppose that is why they do the job (of setting up rehabs and staffing them). There are a lot of people who never really “get it” but there are also a great many people who finally “see the light.” So it is all worth it in the end because you can still make a difference and you can still help people who are willing to be helped.
Another thing that always amazed me over the years was that it was almost impossible to predict who was going to “get it.” You would have a group of clients in treatment and you would sort of get to know them all and interact with all of them, and you would form opinions about who was most serious about recovery, who was just there to try to make their family happy, and so on. And so you would try to predict a bit, and you would think things such as “Oh, so and so seems very serious about recovery this time, I think they will make it for sure, I have a lot of hope for him” or you might say “So and so is not taking this seriously at all, they are just never going to get it, I don’t have much hope for them and I expect to see them back in the future.” You could not help but make mental predictions and have thoughts like these while working in an inpatient treatment center for 5 continuous years.
So the amazing thing is that you could never predict the people were going to “make it.” You could almost never predict the winners. It was nearly impossible. However, it was almost always possible to spot a “definite relapse waiting to happen.” That was much easier to predict than trying to figure out who was going to make it to a year of sobriety.
The reason for this is because having a bad attitude is so incredibly poisonous to your recovery effort. Even if you have a good attitude, it is still an uphill battle to remain clean and sober for those first few months. But having a bad attitude just makes it all the more difficult and all the more unlikely. People who are angry and still lashing out at the world have compromised their chances at remaining clean and sober.
One way to have a bad attitude when leaving treatment is to get it planted firmly in your head that you are only going to do things your own way, and that you are done listening to advice and feedback from others. Just shut yourself off from outside advice and decide to do everything on your own instead. This is a terrible attitude to have and it will almost surely lead to relapse.
Another way to have a bad attitude when leaving treatment is to have negative things to say about aftercare recommendations. If you are unwilling to follow through and do what the counselors and therapists recommend then you will also sabotage your own recovery effort. If you say things like “I will never go to AA meetings” or “I would never consider going to long term rehab” or “I don’t have time for outpatient treatment” then you are just setting yourself up for failure. Being open to continuous treatment is actually just as important as going to rehab in the first place. The battle begins when you walk out of rehab. This is just the start!
Someone has a bad attitude when they say “I did not learn anything while here in treatment” or if they have been to rehab several times and they say that they have learned it all before. Such a person obviously has not truly learned it all because they keep ending up back in rehab. So there are lessons to be learned but the person is just not learning them, and furthermore they have a bad attitude towards this learning.
If you have negative things to say when leaving treatment then this should be a red flag that you probably need more treatment. If your attitude is bad then the threat of relapse becomes that much more real.
How to have an average attitude when leaving treatment
Now it is possible that you are leaving treatment with a rather neutral attitude, and you are not exactly saying good or bad things about your experience. If this is the case then you have a shot at recovery but you have to have the willingness hidden inside of you somewhere to make it all work.
Too often the people who are indifferent while in treatment are just not ready to get clean and sober yet. They are not excited about recovery or about the possibilities of recovery. If you are still passionate about the possibility of getting drunk or high then you are probably not ready to get clean and sober yet. If you are rather indifferent to the idea of embracing recovery and staying clean and sober then you are not likely to make it in the long run. Relapse is probably coming for you because you are not passionate enough about discovering this new life. Unfortunately the best way to fix this is to go back out into the world of your addiction and get some more pain, chaos, and misery. Unfortunately that is what eventually motivates the struggling addict or alcoholic to make serious changes in their life.
If you are indifferent then you still have a glimmer of hope and a shot at recovery. Leave treatment and then try to follow through with at least one of the aftercare recommendations. This will probably mean going to more treatment in some form or going to a 12 step meeting. If you can get excited about recovery at that point then perhaps you can latch on to something and start making this new life work out for yourself.
At some point there has to be some enthusiasm on your part. You cannot just be indifferent about recovery and never get passionate about learning this new way of life and still be successful at it. The barriers to long term sobriety are too great to just slide into it accidentally. You are not going to just casually stay clean and sober for five years when deep down inside you really want to get drunk or high. That will not work so well and the truth is that you have to get excited about recovery at some point if you are going to make it in the long run.
So when you are walking out of inpatient treatment and you have 14 or 28 days clean and sober, you have to ask yourself: “Am I more passionate about getting drunk and high, or am I more passionate about discovering this new life of sobriety?” Because you are not going to be able to walk around bored for the rest of your life. You are going to have to find some excitement at some point and we all know how to find some instant excitement and passion–in a relapse. Of course the excitement does not last and shortly after you relapse you will be miserable again, but at least for a night or two you would have some excitement again.
The key is that you are going to have to generate that excitement and passion in your life without using drugs and alcohol. Doing this can be a challenge in early recovery but it is by no means impossible. Life gets exciting again if you are open to the possibilities.
But you have to be willing to give it a chance. I was not excited about the possibilities when I had ten days sober and was still in residential treatment. To be honest I was still pretty subdued at that point, and I was not sure that I could find happiness in this new life just yet. I still had that little reservation in the back of my mind that if this all turned out to be miserably boring, then I would simply go relapse and go back to the grind of addiction.
But I was willing to stick it out and give it a chance. I am not sure how many days I had in recovery when I suddenly realized that I was happy again and excited about life without the use of drugs or alcohol. I was still living in long term rehab and I believe I had between 3 and 6 months sober at that time. And I just suddenly realized one day that I was no longer miserable, and that life was actually better now that I was clean and sober. Up until that point I had more of a “neutral attitude” toward the whole thing. I was not really happy or miserable, but I was on the brink of saying “screw this recovery thing, I just want to be happy again, I am going to go use drugs.”
I had to be willing to give it that time. I had to be willing to give early recovery a chance, to give it a few months. I was not instantly happy or excited about recovery right from the start. Nor was I passionate about recovery when I had a few weeks clean and sober. It took a few months for me to really get to a point where I was as excited about my future in recovery as I had been in the past about using drugs and alcohol.
Think carefully about this relationship for a moment because it is an important one. As addicts and alcoholics, we used to be passionate about using our drug of choice. This is what made us an addict to begin with–we loved to get drunk or high.
What is the right attitude when leaving rehab? What should you be saying?
In recovery, you have to find that same level of passion in your life again. It does not have to happen right away, and it may take several months before you find it (like it did for me). Therefore you need to give yourself a chance, give yourself a break, and realize that it is going to take time.
This is the proper attitude to have when you are in early recovery. Don’t be fake and pretend that you are all happy during your first week of sobriety if you are, in fact, still miserable. Don’t try to convince yourself that you are excited about recovery when in fact you really just want to go get high. The solution is to give yourself time. Be realistic and be honest with yourself. This is what I had to do during my first few months of recovery.
Quite honestly I saw many people who were being completely fake. They called this “the pink cloud” in early recovery and they talked about how such people were overly enthusiastic and were thus setting themselves up for a big fall or for disappointment. I watched many such people who were on this pink cloud and I realized that they were just trying to convince themselves that they enjoyed their recovery as much as they enjoyed getting drunk and high. The truth was that they were too early in their recovery journey to actually be this excited and passionate about sobriety just yet. They were faking it a bit and this ended up costing them. They were just trying to convince themselves that they were happy, but they were going about it the wrong way.
In the meantime I was in my first few months of sobriety and I was not on this pink cloud, but I was also questioning myself all the time and wondering if I was really going to “get it” in the long run and make recovery work for myself. Many of these people that I watched in early recovery were passionate about sobriety and they talked quite a bit at the AA meetings, whereas I almost never spoke up. I questioned myself constantly and wondered if I had a bad attitude. In truth, I was being honest with myself and not trying to put on a show for everyone to show how “serious” I was about recovery. At least I was honest. I was not jumping for joy in recovery just yet, and instead I was just giving myself the time that I needed to come around. This is the right attitude to have in early recovery. Don’t be fake about your feelings towards sobriety, and at the same time, try to give yourself a break.
What does it mean to give yourself a break? It means that you will stay clean and sober for a long enough period of time that you give yourself a chance to “come around” and start enjoying your sobriety. It does not happen overnight. Of course if you have one week clean and sober you are going to be more excited about using your drug of choice then you would be about anything else. You are still so close to your addiction, to your disease, to that old life. Give yourself time, give yourself a chance. This is what it means to give yourself a break. You have to allow enough time to pass so that you can get to where you are excited about living a sober life again. Not the artificial pink cloud, but the real passion that you will feel for sobriety one day when you realize that you can have fun and enjoy life again without using your drug of choice.
But you have to give yourself time to get there. It takes time.
What should your plan be when you are leaving rehab?
The ideal statement in your exit interview from rehab would be something like:
“I am going to follow through on their suggestions and see where it takes me. They want me to do some counseling and also to hit these meetings, so I am going to give that a chance for a while and see where it leads. They want to see a 90 day commitment so I am going to stick it out and commit to 90 days of meetings while also doing this counseling on the side. Then I will see how it all works out.”
That would be the ideal attitude and level of willingness when leaving rehab. Notice that the person is not trying to manipulate anything, they are simply taking the suggestions and following through with them.
Your plan should be to follow direction and take advice when leaving treatment. The people who relapse and then come back to treatment again later on all tell the same sort of story: “I did not listen to your advice, I should have gone to my aftercare and I should have went to some meetings, but I just did not want to for whatever reason and I got tripped up. I tried to do it on my own and my addiction was too strong for me.” etc.
The line of surrender and how that determines success or failure
Your level of surrender post-treatment is really what determines your level of willingness, and that in turn determines your success or failure in recovery.
This is why they say “you must surrender completely.” If you just sort of half surrender, then it means that you are going to hold back and try to control too much in your own recovery program, thus sabotaging your own efforts in some way and leading yourself back to relapse.
To surrender completely means that you will be willing to follow through, to take the advice given at treatment, and to follow through with your aftercare in such a way that you do not relapse immediately. Most people who leave treatment relapse within 90 days. Over half, in fact. Those who follow through with their aftercare recommendations are far less likely to relapse.
Remember to give yourself a break. You have to give yourself time to find your passion and excitement in recovery. Give yourself a break and the rewards and benefits of sobriety will come to you in the long run.