Is a 28 day treatment program really long enough to turn your life around in addiction recovery?
Is it reasonable to expect for a struggling addict or alcoholic to check into a rehab facility, stay there for 28 days, and never touch a drink or a drug again for the rest of their life?
Some people end up doing exactly that–remaining clean and sober forever after they leave treatment.
But I think it is important to realize the monster that we are fighting against, and the difficulty of the task for the individual who is struggling.
Realistically, it often takes an addict or alcoholic more than one attempt before they are able to quit their drug of choice on a more permanent basis.
The biggest reason has to do with how we normally interact with the world. Humans are not hard wired to put in a 100 percent effort at everything that they do.
If someone asks you to write a book report when you are in the tenth grade, you do not dedicate your entire life to that book report. You make a reasonable effort and you “do your best,” but what you are actually doing is you are giving your best reasonable effort.
Look back at the last challenge you tackled in life and really analyze it. Could you have done more? Could you have put in more effort?
The answer is always yes, you could have.
You could have put other things in your life on hold and prioritized differently. In the case of the tenth grade book report, you could have told all your friends that you needed a few weeks away from their friendship in order to focus on your studies. Then you could have hired a tutor and enlisted the help and research of several different mentors and teachers in your life. You could have rearranged your entire life and all of your free time in order to support this one goal of doing the best possible job on this book report.
Sounds a bit silly, right? Why would a tenth grader ever dedicate their entire life to doing well on a single homework assignment?
And that’s the point.
You have been trained your entire life to make a reasonable effort at things. If you had a book report to do, you made a reasonable effort at it and did your best within a certain amount of reason.
So here is the point of this whole discussion:
When it comes to addiction and recovery, you cannot simply do what is reasonable. You cannot make a “reasonable effort” at addiction recovery and expect to remain clean and sober. It won’t happen. You will fail.
Instead, in order to succeed at overcoming an addiction, you must be completely unreasonable.
Meaning, you must dedicate your entire life and all of your waking moments to whatever recovery program you jump into.
So in truth, going to a 28 day inpatient treatment program is not the issue. The length of time could be only 10 days, or it could be a 90 day program, and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is how fiercely you dedicate your life to a new recovery program, whether you are at inpatient rehab or recently discharged from a program.
In other words, the day you walk out of rehab, there are a certain number of suggestions for you to follow. You have probably been advised to go to aftercare, to go to counseling, to attend therapy, to go to 90 AA meetings in 90 days, and so on.
If you expect for a 28 day treatment stay to “cure” you without following through on all of this subsequent aftercare, then you are mistaken.
If you do not follow through with aftercare then no, a 28 day treatment program is not enough. But then again, if you are not following through post-treatment, no amount of extra time is going to help you.
The attitude shift is from one of saying “I will go to rehab and then get out and be cured” to a mindset of “I live in addiction recovery now, every single day of my life, now and forever.”
In other words, the 28 day stay at rehab is just a tiny blip on the map when it comes to a lifetime of recovery. If you are truly in it for the right reasons and you genuinely want to change your life then the initial length of stay in rehab is just a minor detail.
If you really want to change your life and embrace recovery then you have to shift your entire mindset from one of “I want this visit to rehab to cure me” to one of “I am living in recovery now and I need to go to rehab to see what I can learn about recovery.”
I personally know of several people who have lived in long term treatment for more than 28 days. In fact, some of them have lived in long term treatment for over a year. And yet, many of these people go to relapse eventually, usually right after leaving treatment. So the length of stay does not necessarily make them more likely to remain sober.
In the end, it always comes back to surrender. The person who lives in long term treatment for 12 months and still ends up relapsing is someone who was still hanging on to a reservation. They were still in denial to some extent; they were hanging on to a sliver of their old life, perhaps the idea that they might drink again successfully one day. For whatever reason, they held on to some reservation and it ultimately cost them their sobriety, even in spite of their clean time and their extended stay in a treatment center.
This is not a rare or exceptional case, either. I watch this happen over and over again, proving to me quite thoroughly that it is all about your level of surrender. Either you have surrendered completely, or you have not. And those who relapse were hanging on to something and they failed to surrender 100 percent.
In order to succeed in addiction recovery you have to be willing to surrender fully and completely, not only to the fact that you are a hopeless addict or alcoholic, but you must also surrender to a new program and a new way of life. In other words, you must surrender to the point where you are willing to listen to someone else tell you how to live your own life. If you recoil in horror at that statement and say “no, I’m not letting anyone tell me how to live” then you are not ready for real recovery yet. You are still fighting for control, still struggling to overcome your addiction in exactly the wrong way.
You cannot outsmart your own addiction. If you are struggling for control over your disease then you are going to keep banging your head into the wall. In other words, if you are stuck in denial and struggling for control in your life, you are going to lose.
The way to win is to surrender. Surrender completely, surrender to a new program and a new way to live your life.
Become willing to listen to direction and take advice. Without this level of surrender you are going to remain stuck in the chaos and misery of your old life.
The only way to build a new life in recovery is to completely let go of the old one. Going to inpatient treatment can help with this letting go process, but staying for longer and longer lengths of time may not be the answer that you needed.