So you know somebody who wants to get sober? Great! Unfortunately, getting sober is really complex and every individual is different in how they arrive at long-term recovery. There are so many factors affecting the outcome that it’s almost impossible to predict if the person with substance use disorder will “make it” or not. But chances are, with education and many supports in your system (including family, and community outside of the medical setting), the odds of success increase.
What does it mean to treat somebody? Assuming we’re talking about addiction, the first step of treatment means stabilizing somebody in a hospital and/or residential setting… followed by many other steps that all should contribute to full recovery. Getting a person with substance use disorder off of drugs is but a tiny dent, just a beginning of often a lifelong process of treatment. The intensity of treatment is, of course, much more concentrated in the beginning where we focus on physical detox, withdrawal, and medicine, but just because a person is no longer using the substance, that doesn’t mean she is safe from falling prey to the disease, again. A new client with substance use disorder is in a very controlled setting while they adhere to many rules, attend groups, focus entirely on their getting better—they are not in the real world where relapse happens. They have none of the triggers around them, even role-play exercises popular at some rehabs seem a little too wishful thinking and don’t reflect what really happens once you leave the safety of rehab walls.
Photo by Mikito Tateisi on Unsplash
I want to dispel the myth that merely by going to a detox or even a residential treatment is how a person ends up living the rest of her life productively, free of addiction. Many people with substance abuse disorder compare their first days sober as feeling “newborn” and not necessarily because they feel the lightness and carefree spirit of a brand-new baby. No. They are newborn but… adults. Their past has not been erased, the bills still have to be paid, the family is still suffering (if there’s a family left), there’s still unemployment, health complications… And yet, here you are, sober and with all this expectation that you’ll know exactly what to do just because you put the drugs away. Be gentle with yourself. Make sure you are surrounded by professionals and other people who understand that your newbornness is actually very scary—it can be so raw because to the outside world you look just the same (maybe a little healthier) but inside you, everything is changing. I hear of people who got newly sober who were terrified of opening bank accounts, getting apartments, even getting groceries. Everything is new and overwhelming.
To me, treatment is a long-term plan. Starting with the detox, medicine, stabilization, sobriety, but then going into maintenance of this sobriety via 12 step programs or another program that will sustain your recovery. The period of adjustment following first getting clean can go anywhere from 18 months to five years. And relapse can also part of addiction, and for many people with substance use disorder, this is a reality—it might take a few (or a few dozen!) tries before recovery really sticks.
But don’t ever get discouraged. With the right support in place and your own determination to stay sober, you’ve a massive chance of “making it.” And that newborn feeling of everything seeming so overwhelming and scary might turn into the newborn-like delight at life. Suddenly those clichéd little things in life will count—a beautiful sunset, a delicious breakfast, seeing an art show… all through your new, sober eyes. Stay close to recovery, don’t take it for granted and remember—you’ve a long way to go if you’re just starting but it’s totally worth it. Life is really beautiful on the other end.
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